Professional courses go beyond recreational training and specialty courses, allowing you to begin making a living from diving, or at least earn some money. A bit of clarification: A professional certification does not qualify you as a commercial diver. Recreational dive organizations usually don’t even offer courses in commercial diving. Commercial divers do work-related dives in industry, fixing cables, repairing harbor structures, or working on oil rigs, often using surface-supplied dive gear, rather than scuba units. Professional divers train or guide recreational divers.
Note that the construction of professional training courses varies more between organizations than at the recreational levels, and that most of the organizations have supplemental courses to the ones mentioned here.
Courses: Divemaster (PADI), Divemaster (NAUI), Divemaster (SSI)
What can you do with it? The Divemaster certification is usually the first rung on the professional ladder, and it allows you to conduct guided dives for certified divers. Whenever you dive with a guide, there’s a good chance that he or she is a Divemaster. A Divemaster can also conduct refresher courses independent from an instructor, but cannot run any other courses. Divemasters often assist on courses, help with logistics around the shop, and help run the dive boats. Some organizations, such as SSI, have specific programs for dive guides, which don’t include the training assistance elements of the Divemaster level.
Level: Assistant Instructor
Courses: Assistant Instructor (PADI), Assistant Instructor (NAUI), Dive Control Specialist (SSI)
What can you do with it? An Assistant Instructor can assist in training scuba divers, typically from entry to advanced levels, but sometimes not on any professional courses. They can also assist in trial dives, refresher courses, and junior dive courses, but they cannot conduct any of these courses themselves; a qualified instructor must be present. A number of people start their professional dive career this way before moving on to further training. Others use it as a way of volunteering at local dive shops in return for perks such as discounts on gear or dive trips. SSI does not have a program equivalent to this level. It also varies among organizations whether this level is the first of the professional levels, or whether it comes after the Divemaster level.
Courses: Instructor (PADI), Instructor (NAUI), Instructor (SSI)
What can you do with it? The instructor level lets you teach non-divers to dive, as well as take non-divers on discovery dives before their certification. This is typically the first level of certification wherein you are allowed to take non-certified divers into the water. Depending on the organization, the instructor level can be split up in various ways. Some, like PADI and SSI, have individual levels for each recreational level, so an instructor with an Open Water Diver Instructor level can only certify divers to this level, an Advanced Scuba Diver Instructor can certify both Open Water and Advanced Open Water divers, etc. NAUI, on the other hand, only has two levels, so that Instructors can train people in from entry (Open Water/Scuba Diver) to advanced levels (Master Diver and Divemaster). Only professional levels require additional training.
Level: Instructor Trainer
Courses: Instructor Trainer (NAUI), Dive Control Specialist Trainer (SSI), IDC Staff Instructor (PADI) (note: not quite equivalent)
What can you do with it? The Instructor Trainer can train divers with Divemaster certification on the path to becoming instructors. Typically, Instructor Trainers cannot certify instructors; only Course Directors can do so. But they can facilitate the entire course up to the exam, including all theory and practical drills. In the PADI system, an IDC Staff Instructor can teach the entire Assistant Instructor course, but can only assist a Course Director in other instructor-level courses.
Level: Course Director
Courses: Course Director (NAUI), Instructor Trainer (SSI), Course Director (PADI)
What can you do with it? The Course Director is the highest recreational certification level in most organizations. Course Directors can train all levels of divers, from the instructor levels and down to open-water divers. In some organizations, Course Directors can even develop and create their own certification programs, though these must be approved by the organization. Course Director training is very demanding, and requires periodical updates to ensure that the Course Director is up to speed on dive skills, teaching practices, and any new developments within the organization or the world of diving in general. Most dive centers will have only a single Course Director on staff, unless it’s a very large center. Others have none, relying instead on other centers or freelance Course Directors for Instructor training and certification.