Have you ever been presented with age old questions of preference, like whether you prefer Sith or Jedi? Whether you prefer Starbucks or Costa? In most sets of direct comparisons we can identify that they basically do the same things at their core but will differ somewhat in their various approaches, philosophies and applications. SCUBA training agencies are no exception. Most of the major training agencies these days are offering a full range of certification courses from recreational through to instructor as well as varying ranges of specialty training and technical training. Most divers opt to train with these bigger agencies because we believe them to be credible as they have established solid practices and have well structured course standards that focus on diver education & safety. Upon successful completion of courses these certifiction cards are never ‘questioned’ elsewhere because there is a global recognition of the training recieved regardless of agency. So, with this in mind, does it really matter which agency we affiliate our training with?
When choosing an agency the first thing to know is that agencies aren’t necessarily individually responsible for all the core content within courses. There are two primary organisations that establish the standards for which member agencies are then responsible to create their courses around. These organisations are;
WRSTC (World Recreational Scuba Training Council). The WRSTC is an organization of scuba certification agencies that establishes international minimum training standards for recreational scuba diving agencies. The WRSTC is comprised of smaller Recreational Scuba Training Councils each of which deals with one region of the world.
ISO (International Organization for Standardization). The ISO sets standards for products and services around the world, including scuba diving. The five ISO standards that apply to recreational diver training:
Introductory training programs to scuba diving – ISO 11121
Diver Level 1 – Supervised Diver ISO 24801-1
Diver Level 2 – Autonomous Diver ISO 24801-2
Diver Level 3 – Dive Leader ISO 24801-3
Training programs on enriched air nitrox diving ISO 11107
Although the basic skills each agency teaches remain the same, the agencies will differ (as mentioned earlier) in areas such as their approaches, philosophies and applications. As a quick example, some agencies, like PADI, have a strong focus on repeating safe diving practices at all levels, NAUI and CMAS run as a non-profit agencies and RAID adopt a tec philosophy from the very start of recreational training.
Here are a few of the most recognized scuba certification agencies today and a little about them. There are hundreds of agencies so I can only select a few of the more well known providers to ensure this remains an article and not a book!
PADI are by far by the biggest and most recognized diver certification agency in the world. Starting in 1966 PADI created a system of diver education which introduced things like standards and achievable objectives so that students know exactly what is expected of them in order to achieve success. This removed itself from the then traditional ‘military’ approach and made it much more appealing for divers to get involved with. Due to the success of this teaching philosophy, the range of diver education was extended to include more advanced levels up to and including all instructor levels. Today this has extended further and now includes Tec diver training and free diving. All courses are performance based, objective driven.
For the professional, PADI instructors opearte on a freelance basis and can teach courses anywhere as long as they hold the required insurance and can meet the standards of the courses they are teaching.
SSI was established in the 1970s in the USA. It has authorised dealers globally and primarily supports dive businesses and resorts, this is a major difference between SSI and other diver education organisations.
SSI also teaches through online academic sessions (elearning) before putting those theories into practice with scuba diving training in confined & open water sessions. For the professional, unlike PADI where an instructor can conduct activity on a freelance basis, the SSI instructor must be affiliated with a registered SSI dive centre/resort and conduct their activity through the centre. This might at first seem limiting, however SSI work hard to encourage divers towards SSI centres in their areas.
NAUI is the oldest recreational scuba certification agency in the USA dating back to 1959. As mentioned earlier, NAUI is a non-profit association that was created to promote diver safety through education. Its diver courses are very similar to those conducted by PADI, meaning they are performance based and objective driven.
Rebreather Association of International Divers (RAID)
Firstly, don’t let the word ‘rebreather’ discourage any affiliation with this organization. Yes, it started out on the technical side but RAID have continued to advance their platform and offer a full range of courses that are supported by quality (and free!) digital learning. Since their conception in 2007 the recreational offerings that are now available are influenced by their tec philosophy. RAID courses are taught neutral in their entirity, never touching the bottom and regulator set up mirrors that of tec diving where the primary second stage is on a long routed hose and this is given to a buddy who is out of gas - just to give a couple of examples of how tec diving has influenced a recreational course structure.
BSAC was founded in 1953 in the UK and is the largest dive club in the world with over 50,000 members. It's recognized as the official governing body of recreational diving in the UK. BSAC operates through local independent dive clubs and hundreds of diving schools worldwide. Since UK waters are generally cold with limited visibility it is for these reasons BSAC training emphasizes rescue training procedures early on in their program. It is a bit of a common misconception that BSAC training takes a really long time before you qualify/certify but this isn’t entirely accurate. It doesnt really take much longer than other courses of similar level but the preference generally is to stretch the training out over numerous weeks by doing only an hour or two each week but this is not a rule of the agency, its just accommodating to the lifestyles of those who don’t have a solid few days to commit entirely to training.
All of these diver training agencies consist of well trained, certified instructors. As an entry level diver, it doesn’t really matter which certification agency you choose as the courses offered are extremely comparible between the top training agencies and they will be recognized by dive operators anywhere in the world.
Remember, selecting a training agency is one thing, but choosing a good instructor is perhaps equally, if not more important as the course you are taught is only going to be as good as the instructor teaching it. Our contributor Stephen J. Aynsley is a 4-year PADI Platinum Awarded Course Director in Utila, Honduras. Follow him on Instagram @padicoursedirectorsja or on Facebook