One question which we often hear from prospective Dive Buddies is “which is the best dive training agency to learn from”. While they are all adequate – what makes a good training agency is the Instructor. They are what makes learning scuba diving great. Good instructors will create a positive learning experience, make sure you understand everything clearly and allow you to learn at your pace while mastering the necessary skills.
While there are over 350 scuba training agencies, there are 4 primary SCUBA training organizations; PADI, SSI, SDI, and NAUI. They all have different acronyms but mostly do the same thing – provide materials and standards to train future divers and to help existing divers advance their skills and knowledge with advanced and professional courses. With these four organizations you can scuba dive anywhere in the world without a problem. In fact, all of these agencies subscribe to the “Recreational Scuba Training Council” – the governing body for scuba training. This article should help understand the differences and similarities between them all to help you figure out the best fit for your needs.
The Professional Association of Dive Instructors is the biggest of these agencies. Founded in 1966, their teaching style utilizes their 4 E’s, Education, Experience, Equipment, and Environmental Conservation. Many instructors and students perceive that everything in the PADI instructional methods is “by the book” with a lot of rules. In fact, PADI does impose strict standards on their instructors, however there is some flexibility with respect to the order in which skills can be learned to customize the experience. This ensures that theoretically, you will get the same education from all PADI shops, given that the instructors follow guidelines. In reality, diving instructors tend to be more relaxed in some parts of the world. In some cases, there is a perception that some instructors may feel pressure to complete a certain number of certifications in a given period, which can lead to overall lower quality in a chase for c-card certifications. PADI makes an effort to provide quality control with diver surveys to ensure satisfaction and adherence to standards.
However, PADI was the first to introduce the diver identification card which is used today by almost all diving agencies. It is the largest of all the diving agencies, issuing over 55% of global certifications annually – and about 70% of US scuba certifications.
Scuba Diving International was formed by the parent of TDI (Technical Diving International) in 1996 to provide you with the best recreational scuba diving training available. SDI instructors are given general and course standards, however there is more flexibility for instructors to add material which they find to be beneficial for their students based on individual needs. This allows for better communication as experienced dive instructors can give you some of their own personal knowledge. Every instructor has noticed students respond better to different suggestions. SDI allows the instructor to teach with these little tricks they have learned over the years to better help each student. They adjust their training to what is new in the diving world. They change to the times and are up to date on changes in the community.
Because SDI evolved from TDI, they have a slightly more technical feel than some other agencies. They were also the first agency to require dive computers on all dives due to the proven effectiveness of these instruments in minimizing the likelihood of DCS (Decompression Sickness) complications.
National Association of Underwater Instructors, founded in 1960, has actually been teaching recreational scuba longer than any other agency, and is the largest not-for-profit dive training organization. It is used by the US Navy Seals. NAUI is more common than the other agencies in Europe. Their 6 values are Superior Leadership and Instructor Training, Trust and Respect, Dynamic Growing Body of Knowledge and Skills, Democratic Association of Equals, Academic Freedom, Ever Improving Leadership and Instructor Training. Captain Jacques Cousteau, credited with founding the SCUBA (self contained underwater breathing apparatus),
and a renowned diver and explorer served on their first board of directors. Their goal is to make the most comprehensive and safest divers in the world and is very detailed in their instructional approach.
Scuba Schools International uses what they call the SSI Diamond Diver for their training approach which consists of Knowledge, Skills, Equipment, and Experience. They were the first to use full motion video in their online training courses and altered the training process for many dive organizations. They allow for personalization to an extent with their “80/20” rule, but still have a significant amount of required training material and have high guidelines for their instructors.This means that instructors have some flexibility in how they teach certain skills. SSI also preaches “ART”, which means that instructors are required to pitch retail and additional training along with actual dive experiences. Some students find that this becomes a distraction to learning. SSI is owned by an equipment manufactures (Mares), which in turn is owned by Head Sporting Goods. Some dealers find that this relationship results in a pitch to carry Mares equipment.
The Bottom Line
All of these agencies are respected organizations and will help fulfill your goal of becoming a scuba diver. They are all recognized worldwide and will give you good learning experiences. SDI, NAUI and SSI use Instructor’s personal experience to help teach students. PADI is going to provide you with the same experience anywhere you go.
The most important thing is to have a great instructor who inspires you to want to learn and explains everything in a way that you can understand. Make sure you visit your local dive shop to get a feel for the place and figure out what best fits you. Most shops have a training agency which they prefer and will gladly tell you why. Some shops are dealers for multiple agencies and can help you to choose the experience that is best for you.
Authored by Maya Armstrong and Marshall Goldman