What Every Diver Should Know About Training Agencies

This is the DeeperBlue.com Beginners Guide to Scuba Diving.  We’ve put this guide together to help budding Scuba Divers understand what is required to get started.  Part 2 of this series takes a look at What Every Diver Should Know About Training Agencies.

What Every Diver Should Know About Training Agencies

What is better, a Ford or a Chevy? That debate has been going on for over a hundred years and will likely still be going on a hundred years from now. On scuba diving message boards and dive boats around the world you will find a similar debate. What scuba diving training agency is the best? While the Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI) is the largest scuba diving certification agency in the world, it is not the only one. A few training agencies have certified around 90% of all recreational divers in the world, still there are 100’s of other agencies out there. So it begs to question, who do I train with and how do I know I can use it everywhere.

Worldwide Accreditation Myth, Sort Of

It is a common misconception that there is somewhere one authority that oversees scuba certification programs, and that authority grants worldwide acceptance of C-cards. That is not the case, worldwide acceptance is based on agreements between agencies. Before the commercialization of divers training, C.M.A.S. was the default worldwide accreditation agency. Spearheaded by its first president, Jacques-Yves Cousteau, The Confédération Mondiale des Activités Subaquatiques “C.M.A.S.” (in English The World Underwater Federation) was founded in 1959. It’s 11 founding federations each representing a country, organized to promote underwater sporting events. Their mission also involved research and technical advancements in the sports. C.M.A.S developed the first scientific based diver training program. The organization now comprises over 130 federations from 5 continents, and issues certifications to divers whose complete a federations training program. All the current commercial training programs are based on the finding and procedures developed by C.M.A.S. This common history of training has encouraged different agencies to accept each others certifications.

In recent years, the International Standards Organization (ISO) have created standards for recreational diver training. These standards are also based on the C.M.A.S programs. External auditors have formed to examine applicants for a ISO accreditation in scuba diving. The European Underwater Federation and RSTC (Recreational Scuba Training Council) are the two largest. These organizations and the ISO standards has lead to further cooperation between training agencies.

The major training/certification agencies

When looking for information to help you decided which training agency is right for you, it best to start with the major agencies. In the United States Scuba retail market, a study done 2000 showed that 98.2% of the retailers were affiliated with PADI, NAUI, and SSI. The remaining 1.8% was shared by 20 small agencies.

The major training agencies all follow the ISO standards or the European equivalent. Two ISO standards are most relevant to those looking to become certified, they are: Diver Level 1 – Supervised Diver ISO 24801-1 and Diver Level 2 – Autonomous Diver ISO 24801-2. These correspond to the Scuba Diver Certification and the Open Water Diver certification.

Scuba Divers Giving The OK Signal
Scuba Divers Giving The OK Signal

To get you started we will overview five training organizations:

  • Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI) – PADI is the undisputed leader in recreational divers training. While statistics vary, it is estimated that PADI has certified between 60-75% of recreational divers worldwide. Their course span the entire range of recreational diving and includes some technical diving. Businesses such as dive centers, dive resorts even boats can register with PADI to become affiliated. They will market them using their website as well as the dive travel company that is a part of PADI. Under the PADI system, instructors are basically a freelancer or independent contractor. They carry their own liability insurance and can work independent of any dive center or resort. PADI is instructor orientated. The certification process is between the instructor and the PADI headquarters.
  • Scuba Schools International (SSI) – SSI has grown to be the second largest training agency. They also have a scope of training similar to PADI. While PADI is an organization of dive instructors, SSI is a network of school. SSI approves the association of a dive center or a resort. The schools in turn hire instructors. When a student completes their training, it is the dive center that approves it and issues the certification. SSI believes their methods ensure that instructors are kept up to date on new procedures and advances in the industry. They also believe that the process is a better quality control over the training then the independent methods of PADI. The SSI C-card has a place for a dive recognition sticker. When a diver reaches a certain milestone of number of dives, a sticker is added to his card. After 100 dives, the diver is issued a Century diver card. Cards are also upgraded at 500,1000 and 5000 dive milestones.
  • National Association of Underwater Instructors (NAUI) – NAUI was the second largest agency before SSI took over that slot. They are a non-profit corporation, one of the oldest training agencies, but, they keep a low profile. It is not surprising to hear people ask if they are still in business or have they merge with someone. They are in business and still going strong in their niche. Most NAUI training is aligned with academic organizations. NAUI divers are generally better trained and have a deep scientific understanding of diving. It seems to be the agency of choice for marine related scientist.
  • Rebreather Association of International Divers (RAID) – The Rebreather Association of International Divers (RAID) has been around for many years but in reality unknown to most recreational divers. Until 2014, RAID was for technical divers. Now it covers the entire field of recreational and technical diving as well as freediving. While the other training agencies look to add on new training and skills to their offering, RAID took another approach. Starting with their excellent rebreather training programs, they reversed engineered what skills were needed at the levels leading up to the technical programs. The company recruited the best in the industry to build new certification classes from the ground up while following the ISO requirements. RAID has designed their training to be interactive with digital media. They fully embrace digital learning, hard copies of the training material is not available. RAID uses the three segments as the others do, theory, confined water and open water. The theory is more in-depth and has been called old school, Which many professional’s applaud. Unlike the others all theory is to be completed before the confined water. The confined water process is about twice as long as others, with a minimum of four hours underwater. The open water is four dives but must total more than three hours. Their program is integrated from scuba diving up to technical and rebreather divers. The importance of critical skills such as buoyancy control are introduced and refined in the initial training and not as an added package. RAID also requires instructors to work for an accredited center.
  • British Sub-Aqua Club (BSAC) – The British Sub-Aqua Club (BSAC) is as the name implies primarily is in the U.K., where it is till the largest trainer. It is similar to the concept that the YMCA had. It is social as well as diving, with clubs members getting together for training session at a pool in poor weather. The club concept includes skills development and club members will do local dives together and often organize club trips. Training is done by instructors who are local members. The BSAC Ocean Diver student will purchase a training pack that includes manuals and other materials needed. The cost is currently 32 GBP. The diver will pay the club a small fee for the air and any other expenses incurred. The instructor volunteers their time. The program has the theory portion, five pool dives and five open water dives.

While there are many other choices, these agencies are the largest and recognize each others programs. You can dive just about anywhere.

Continue reading more from the DeeperBlue.com Beginners Guide to Scuba Diving.


  1. #1 thing every diver should know…get into a shop, or better, multiple shops and talk with a dive professional for education or gear needs.

    Also, article is very biased towards PADI.
    “PADI is the undisputed leader in recreational divers training.” (Unclear opinion, how about ranking by open water certifications per year?)

    As an instructor with three major agencies (including PADI) it’s important that students are aware of how an agency can meet their long term goals or learning needs and the options that are available with each company. A student should contact a reputable dive shop and understand the options they can provide that best meet each students needs.

    • Kyle – great point about getting into a dive shop. Maybe something we can add to the article. As far as it being biased to PADI – totally disagree – we note that PADI is the leader as far as number of certified divers is concerned (please present us with different facts and we will happily adjust) but also present numerous agencies for people to choose from. We couldn’t possible list every agency to choose from but have picked the main international ones. If there are others we should consider please add to this post in the comments.


      • Steven – Kyle is absolutely correct – Article is biased towards PADI. Look at the opening statement: “PADI is the undisputed leader in recreational divers training.” Period. There is no explanation in the article as to how the author came to that conclusion. You only clarify it in your post by suggesting that the author’s statement is based on number of certified divers. And while could infer that is the basis of the author’s statement – from the statistics in the following sentence, that is only an assumption on your part – not the author’s. Nowhere does the author specifically state his conclusion is based on number of certified divers …

  2. Training agencies are necessary for the industry to coalesce in a consistent approach to educate and prepare customers, with the objective of being safe and comfortable in earning their certification and while diving.

    However, for students to effectively reach this goal (better yet, to become proficient lifetime scuba-divers), it takes much more than simply a Training Agency.

    While agencies play an important role (in our declining industry), I would argue that the better choice for a customer to make (in an overall condideration in learning to dive) would be which dive-shop
    irregardless of training agency they utilize.

    A professional dive-shop can provide up to six specific services (solutions) for a surrounding community to have a pathway to experience diving in a positive way.
    This helps to perpetuate diving as a serious lifestyle choice.

    The dive-shop plays a more crucial role in student development, diver experiences, support with properly fitted equipment, services and essentially entertaining our clients with everything diving.

    With the consumer’s prevalent “bucket-list” mentality regarding activities, Dive-Shops are responsible in a large way
    in preventing the industries increasing attrition.
    Dive-shops are the back-bone of the industry.

    Agencies primarily offer:
    *Training-educational materials
    *General professional standards, as well as
    general guidelines for safety
    and industry consistencies .
    *Collective and Group benefits
    such as insurance.

    With my dive-shop business (over the last 22 years), “if you build it – they will come”.
    Our goal is solution based and far fewer prospective clients will seldom ask about our training angency we utilize,
    and it doesn’t really matter as long as we offer great training and service.
    The best agency was one of the three agencies we were using at the time we marketed our program, and they all worked.

    It is the dive-shop, it’s staff of experienced dive-leaders and their mission that makes any training material come alive.

  3. It appears to me that NAUI gets the higher recommendation.
    “Most NAUI training is aligned with academic organizations. NAUI divers are generally better trained and have a deep scientific understanding of diving. It seems to be the agency of choice for marine related scientist.”

  4. Very interesting article although of course very USA biased, the rest of the world and in particular ASIA will represent the future growth of scuba diving, which is probably why PADI have been bought by a Chinese Company…. I represent ITDA the International Technical Diving Agency, operating in 56 Countries worldwide in compliance with ISO, ANSI/EN and members of many national federations, including the SUF Singapore Underwater Federation (CMAS) body… see: http://www.diveitda.com

  5. RAID???!!! You have got to be kidding me!!! Out of all the training agencies that one might mention you choose RAID???!!! I have been certified for 22 years with certs from eight agencies, including professional ratings from three agencies and technical ratings from four agencies. RAID claims I may not have heard of them because they were technical and only started offering recreational courses in 2014. Well I have been technical diving and searching for the “best” training agency for decades, and this is first time I have heard of them!

    Why didn’t you mention alternative agencies that have actually impacted dive training? GUE would have been the next logical agency to mention. GUE has a much larger following and is really one of the largest and most active diving communities – not to mention the highest standards! Or you could have mentioned IANTD – THE agency that made nitrox and technical diving more mainstream. Or ANDI – the only agency to promote Compressed Gas Association oxygen standards in the diving industry. ANDI was also largely responsible for bringing rebreathers out of their infancy. Or TDI / SDI – possibly the largest alternative agency and the first to train recreational diving based on how the majority dives – using computers. They also offered the first solo cert. After a quick search of the web, I can’t even find when RAID started …

  6. Being a newly Certificated Open Water Diver and Nitrox by a SNSI certifies favility I agree you need to physically walk into at least three facilities and see how they are operated. We are currently in La Paz, Baja California Sur in Mexico and one PADI facility was so chaotic returning from a dive trip with French divers that the English speaking staff was just running around trying to tend to the divers. We sat for 10 minutes before we were acknowledged. We decided to walk out. We then walked into a SNSI dive center where the owner not only acknowledged us upon entering his shop as other staff was tending to exiting divers but he sat us down once he found out we were interested in becoming certified. He met with us and over the. Purse of 20 minutes explained every detail of the process. He took full responsibility in committing to train us personally. By his demeanor we recognized he just loved to dive. Other facilities never returned our calls or were closed during operating hours which told us they were under staffed. We’ve gone out on 3 trios with two dives per trip and there was three guides. One for every two divers. An obvious difference in quality of operation. I thought you may be interested in my comment.

  7. Kyle, I am both an SSI Instructor and a CMAS Instructor. I want to thank you for the open and honest discussion. While I have read a lot things about a lot of subjects related to diving, in English, this is the first time I have seen comments about CMAS and a reasonable attempt to try to pin CMAS down and place it in the world of diving. Having said that, considering all the associated diving associations, I will propose to you that the SCUBA division in CMAS, which is listed in the Technical Division, is much larger than SSI. It is off the radar in the USA because Americans live in an American world. Nothing wrong with that, but we are not by our nature polyglots, so we see and experience the world primarily through English. When you crack that nut, and dive in Italian, or French, or Japanese, or Russian, or who knows, you will be flooded with new diving friends who do not dive “The American Way.” It would be an interesting study to see who is bigger, SSI or CMAS, but you could not collect the data accurately. It is curious that when you look for CMAS shops in either Greece, it is the PADI shop that more often than not pops up. On the other hand, in some places in the world where English is not the primary language, there are, get really for this one, dive operations that cater solely to CMAS card holders. Where? Well, I love you, Kyle, but those places are very carefully guarded secrets, lol!

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