If you’re interested in becoming a scuba diver or expanding your dive training you’ve probably already done your research and stumbled across the wide variety of dive training agencies. Given that there are over 150 different certification agencies, for a first-timer, it can be very confusing trying to decide which organization to pursue your diving education with.
As a sport, scuba diving doesn’t have one centralized certifying or regulatory agency. Many agencies play a role in educating divers and regulating the sport as a whole. Over the years, these certification agencies have set the bar and developed training procedures and safety protocols as a standard for scuba divers everywhere.
In the beginning stages of your recreational scuba diving training, many divers will find that regardless of the agency, dive courses are relatively similar across the board, with a few minor variations. The more significant differences arise when divers jump to the professional or technical diving level, where some agencies do not recognize each other’s qualifications.
Important Note: While selecting a diving agency is an essential step in getting your dive certification, nothing is more important than having an instructor with experience, a good attitude and a keen mind for safety, even if this means going for your alternate choice of agency. The course will only be as good as the instructor who teaches it!
Of the alphabet soup of dive agencies to choose from, there are a handful of agencies that have surpassed the masses. These agencies have become so well recognized, that most dive outlets and dive shops use these agencies for certification.
Everybody who is anybody in the scuba diving world knows of or has heard of the three largest certification agencies; PADI, SSI or NAUI. But before throwing on that scuba tank and diving into the water, it’s worth learning more about these top agencies to decide which one might be best suited to certify you.
The Professional Association of Dive Instructors, or PADI for short, is the largest scuba diving organization in the world. PADI is a for-profit corporation with an international scope, making underwater adventures possible while maintaining a high standard for diver training, safety, and customer service. The PADI scuba diving courses focus on the student’s needs, providing maximum practice and realistic real-world applications.
The Professional Association of Dive Instructors made a splash into the diving world in 1966 by two friends in Illinois. Scuba equipment salesman John Cronin and his friend Ralph Erickson, a swimming instructor and educator, developed PADI hoping to give future divers a chance to enjoy the underwater world by instilling solid, instructionally relevant training that would lead to more confident and recurring divers.
Early on, PADI grew slowly starting in restaurants and even the basement of Mr. Cronin’s home. PADI’s first milestone arrived in 1967 when the association introduced the first recreational diving certification requirements, the first advanced scuba diver course, and the first specialty diver program. In the late 1960s, the organization was still a struggling entity with only 400 members.
It took 20 years of hard work but finally by the late 1980’s PADI’s vision had grown into the leading scuba diver training organization in the world.
Scuba Schools International, also known as SSI, is a retail-based organization. They are leaders in not only scuba diving but freediving, snorkeling and swimming as well. Bringing people together through communication and cooperation, SSI is a trusted name in the diving world that attributes their success to their high standards and focused methodology.
Scuba Schools International is a watersport organization that was first started in 1970 by Robert Clark. After its establishment, SSI became the first scuba organization to present a full training program including video. In the 40 years that followed SSI’s creation, the company expanded and was acquired by Doug McNeese and Robert Stoss, two high profile people in the diving industry and then by MARES in 2014.
Now SSI is represented in more than 110 countries with over 2,800 International locations and has materials printed in more than 30 languages.
The National Association of Underwater Instructors is a not-for-profit organization known for its exceptional training standards for recreational and tech diving. A company that prides itself on the educational aspect of diving, well-known organizations such as; Disneyland, NASA and the US Navy Seals have used NAUI for their dive training programs.
The National Association of Underwater Instructors was brought to life by the perseverance of Al Tillman. While he worked as a sports director for the Los Angeles County Parks and Recreations, Mr. Tillman established a well-crafted training program geared towards certifying scuba and skin divers through the county.
In 1955, Al Tillman’s dream grew into the world’s first civilian diver training agency as he and a fellow peer from Scripps Institute of Oceanography, Conrad Limbaugh, held the first Underwater Certification Course (1U1CC). From there, thanks to the growing number of scuba certification request, Al and Conrad began granting Provisional Certificates to dive instructors across the L.A country.
As the interest and participation in the sport of recreational diving grew, in 1959 the National Diving Patrol was renamed the National Association of Underwater Instructors or NAUI as we know it today.
Deciding on which agency to go with can certainly be a daunting task, and every certified diver will have their own opinion on which agency is best. Between PADI, NAUI, and SSI, while each company has a similar vision – to get people in the water scuba diving – each agency goes about its instructing in a slightly different way.
When considering which professional to use, take a look at your long term goals, learning style, instructor preference, and location. These are often key factors that influence a student’s agency choice. And at the end of the day, the most important thing to realize as a beginner diver, or student furthering their knowledge, no matter which organization you end up choosing, make sure you are safe and having FUN!
Dive peeps, what is your number one choice of scuba diving association and why did you select them?
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