When you are looking to learn to dive close to home or in a destination far from here, the chances are you run into a PADI dive center first. But there are alternative certifying agencies and dive shops out there that are just as good or as some say even better, but we will let you be the judge of that.
Which one should you choose?
In this article we want to give you insight in 3 alternatives to a PADI dive certification
The Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI) is the largest scuba diving certification agency in the world. It certifies the majority of recreational scuba divers around the world. PADI divers can use their certification card at any PADI center in the world and because of recognition agreements in most dive center that are not PADI.
PADI does have its critics and some divers believe that PADI with their requirement to purchase books and extra fees actually means “Put Another Dollar In.”
This widespread availability of PADI instructors and dive centers does not mean that PADI is the only or best way to get certified. We will present three alternatives to PADI, each highly regarded and each with a different view of how they conduct their programs.
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We will review
- Scuba Schools International (SSI)
- Rebreather Association of International Divers (RAID)
- British Sub-Aqua Club (BSAC).
Most divers and even governments are confused by where the accreditation for the certification agencies come from. In reality, there is no simple, clear answer.
The Confédération Mondiale des Activités Subaquatiques “C.M.A.S.” ( in English The World Underwater Federation) was founded in 1959 by 11 federations representing 11 nations and now comprises over 130 federations from 5 continents.
Diving pioneer Jacques-Yves Cousteau was a driving force in the establishment of the organization and was it’s first President. The organization’s website states “In addition to organizing international underwater sport events it is at the forefront of technical and scientific research and development.
It can be associated with elaborating one of the oldest and most extensive dive training systems.” Each of the federations can translate and adapt the C.M.A.S training system to their local requirements without modifying the standards subject to the approval of the World Underwater Federation.
Students taken an approved national federation program will be issued an international certification from the parent organization. As other organizations started to create dive programs, the C.M.A.S. Program was often used as a guide.
In recent years ISO standards appeared and now certification agencies, such as PADI, have external auditors evaluate them against the standards. One such organization is the European Underwater Federation, who has C.M.AS. as a founder and board member.
WRSTC (World Recreational Scuba Training Council) is another organization of certification agencies who recognizes other members certifications.
Here are the five ISO standards that apply to recreational diver training:
- Introductory training programs to scuba diving – ISO 11121 – This is the program that PADI calls Discover Scuba Diving, SSI and RAID call Try Scuba Diving, and BSAC calls Try dive.
- Diver Level 1 – Supervised Diver ISO 24801-1 This is the program that PADI, SSI, and RAID calls Scuba Diver. BSAC had the Novice level but has discontinued it. Under this level, divers must be with an instructor or dive master and can dive no more than 12 meters
- Diver Level 2 – Autonomous Diver ISO 24801-2 This is the program that PADI and SSI call Open Water Diver, BSAC calls it Ocean diver and RAID is Open Water 20 (level 1).
- Diver Level 3 – Dive Leader ISO 24801-3 This is the program that PADI calls Divemaster. SSI Divemaster or Dive Control Specialist. BSAC’s title is Dive Leader, and RAID is Divemaster (Level 4)
- Training programs on enriched air nitrox diving ( ISO 11107 This is the PADI Enriched Air Diver program, SSI Nitrox Diver 40, BSAC Sports Diver and RAID Nitrox Specialty
As you can see from the above list, they all train to the same standards. However, they can use different methods to get there.
Option 1: Scuba Schools International (SSI)
By far the second most popular certification agency, however, with only about half the market share of PADI. Look up SSI vs. PADI in your search engine and you will see hundreds of debates on what is better.
Overall, for the beginning diver these is little that seems to set them apart. The point that a certification agency trains to ISO standards is important, however, much of that depends on the instructor’s quality and adherence to the training standards.
In the PADI training system, the dive instructor trains and certifies a diver. He is an independent contractor or a freelancer. He might work out the back of an of a van or as a part of a dive center. Overall, he is responsible for the evaluation of the quality of his work.
SSI or Scuba Schools International, the “schools” portion of their name is their focus. While PADI is an organization of dive instructors, SSI is a network of schools.
This quote from the SSI website does much to summarize their concept.
“To ensure that you get the highest quality training, SSI Instructors can only work through an authorized SSI Dive Center and/or SSI Dive Resort. Instructors cannot teach independently, which means you won’t inadvertently take a diving certification course from someone doing business out of the trunk of their car. We make sure that all SSI Dive Centers, SSI Dive Resorts, Dive Professionals, and Instructors are fully insured and up-to-date on all of the latest training techniques.”
This gives a much tighter span of control over the instructors. The focus does not mean that the instructors are better but does mean it is more likely that the “bad” instructors are not teaching.
The SSI organization focus on separating the management and the teaching. Before granting the application for an SSI facility, the business side is evaluated just like in the franchise world.
In addition to their certification cards, SSI certified divers can receive recognition based on the number of dives they make. At certain milestones dives, stickers are added to the diver’s certification card.
At 100 dives, the certification card is replaced with a Century Diver card. These cards will also receive stickers at milestones and are replaced at the Gold Diver (500 dives), Platinum Diver (1,000 dives) and Pro Diver (5,000 dive) milestones.
Option 2: Rebreather Association of International Divers (RAID)
Look out PADI and SSI it is a RAID. The Rebreather Association of International Divers (RAID) is a new name for many people, but, it is not a new organization just one that has expanded its focus. The last few years RAID has changed its focus from rebreather training to all forms of recreational diving including freestyle.
To expand its focus, it head hunted the best in the industry to form their management core. Following the ISO requirements, they completely developed new training programs for free style, open-circuit recreational, and open circuit technical divers including mix gasses.
They fully embrace digital learning. Unlike, PADI and SSI, who have adapted their hard copy training materials to a digital media, RAID has designed their training to be interactive in a digital platform.
RAID uses the three segments as the others do, theory, confined water and open water, however, the theory is more in-depth and must be completed before the confined water.
The confined water process is longer than the other agencies. It is a minimum of four hours underwater. The open water portion includes four dives like the others but must total more than three hours.
Many old timers feel that the current level of theory is not in-depth enough to provide a good understanding of the physics involved in diving. They see the RAID program providing that missing knowledge.
Also, in a manner of speaking, RAID has worked backwards. They know what the ultimate goal is and developed what steps and levels are needed to get there. Their program is integrated from Discover 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 course like the Peak performance buoyancy course offer by PADI
RAID with its experienced management and concentrated focus is the fastest growing agency today. Many instructors are embracing the differences in the training focus and becoming RAID instructors.
Option 3: British Sub-Aqua Club (BSAC)
The British Sub-Aqua Club (BSAC) is as the name implies primarily is in the U.K., with some clubs being found in former British possessions. While there are dive centers that operate as training centers, the hub of BSAC is the more than 1,000 clubs. The clubs get together for training, and social events and many clubs purchase small boats for club use.
Provided that there is an instructor as a member of the club, most certifications are done in a club setting spread over a few months time. The BSAC Ocean Diver student will purchase a training pack that includes manuals and other materials needed.
The cost is currently ₤32. The diver will pay the club a small fee for the air and any other expenses incurred. Training is done by instructors who are volunteers.
The program has the theory portion, five pool dives and five open water dives. The club concept includes skills development and club members will do local dives together and often organize club trips.
Get certified or cross-trained now!
There are hundreds of different certification agencies around the world, some not recognized outside of their local area. These shown here, all have recognition agreements that mean their certification cards are accepted just about anywhere.
The cross-recognition also means you can take advance training with a different agency. So select who is best for you and start the train.
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This article is published by The Scuba Page, the online magazine for Scuba Dive lovers around the world. The Scuba Page is part of RUSHKULT: the online booking platform for adventure sports. Visit the RUSHKULT platform to book your next Scuba Dive training, guided trip and accommodation.