Did you know that there are over 100 dive certification agencies worldwide. Many are country specific and base their affiliation with CMAS (World Diving Federation). So when it comes to learning to dive and getting certified which agency should you choose?
Personally, my first instructor rating was with BSAC & CMAS and since then I have also earned PADI & NAUI instructor ratings and have gained different experiences teaching under different organisations.
The most well known organisations are BSAC, NAUI, PADI, CMAS & SSI.
British Sub Aqua Club (BSAC) – BSAC is unique diver training agency in that it operates under a club system. It was founded in 1953. You become a member of a Club and you participate in regular training over time, typically meeting once a week for training, usually in the evenings at the local sports centre and then on the weekends participating in diving excursions. You can however participate in intensive training where you complete a course in a week or more of solid training as well. Most BSAC instructors are amateurs as opposed to professionals operating in diving schools. Diving with BSAC is therefore a social activity and hobby that you continue to build on with training over an extended period of time. Given that UK waters are relatively cold and have restricted visibility, BSAC training is regarded by its members as more comprehensive than some. Specifically it places emphasis on rescue training very early in the programme. BSAC’s Motto is ‘Dive with friends’.
Confédération Mondiale des Activités Subaquatiques (CMAS), also known as the World Underwater Federation – This organisation like BSAC follows a club system and sets a very high standard. Founded in Monaco in 1959 with Headquarters in Italy, it is one of one of the oldest dive organisations. CMAS itself does not provide training or conduct the issuing of certifications, the federation sets the standard. To be certified, firstly, through national diving federations affiliated to the CMAS Technical Committee using their member diving clubs, their member instructors where the federation is exclusively an instructor organisation or by agreement with independent underwater diving training organizations operating in the countries where those federations are based. Secondly, from specially accredited dive centres known as CMAS Dive Centers (CDC) who use dedicated CMAS training materials. Their Motto is ‘Quality in diving’.
Scuba Schools International (SSI) – An organisation that offers both scuba & free-diving training. Founded in 1970 and one of the pioneers in professional scuba training. A major difference between SSI and other diver education organizations like PADI, NAUI OR CMAS and others is that SSI is a retail based organization, intended to ensure the quality of training worldwide. SSI also has a swim school, teaching all levels from beginner through to lifeguard certification.
Professional Association of Divig Instructors (PADI) – PADI is recognised as the worlds largest dive organisations and was founded in 1966 by a NAUI Instructor. They were one of the first organisations to offer diving on a recreational level opening up diving to the gnerl public. Previously, diving was considered a professional sport and most systems were based on military training techniques. PADI are masters of marketing and dive shops are empowered to establish a profitable business model and therefore the most frequently recognised. When you ask someone if they are diver certified, most commonly people will respond, ‘Yes, I have my PADI certification’ as opposed ‘yes I have my Open water certification’ which is a testament to their marketing skills. PADI has been at the forefront of introducing diving to the common masses but is subject to criticism as it has grown, in particular, that it “dumbs down” scuba diving training courses, making them over-simplified, too short and easy;and that it “profiteers” from demand for diver training. Their Motto is ‘The way the world learns to dive’.
National Association of Diving Instructors (NAUI) – Founded in 1959, NAUI is not-for-profit organisation and registered as an NGO. Jaques Cousteau was on their board of advisers and they were the first organisation to sanction nitrox diving. Often referred to as following an ‘old school’ philosophy of diving based on original Navy diving training, they strive to instil a sense of learning from experience. Their Motto is, ‘Dive safety through education’
Equivalences between agencies in course training vary. There are many examples. To illustrate one is that a PADI Advanced Open water Diver course involves 5 certification dives while an SSI Advanced Open water rating involves 4 specialty courses and completion of 24 dives. No other agency’s advanced diver level compares.
When, I ask to see a divers’ certification, I will not only look at their certification level and logbook but also which organisation they are trained with. This gives me a better idea of their e
xperience and training background. Likewise when I take someone diving, I can see clearly that the better trained ones are often as a result of having been trained with a specific organisation. However, it’s not necessarily the defining factor. Ultimately it comes down to the quality of instruction; the standards set by the dive school and most importantly the instructor. It’s not about biggest is best. Often times when any organisation gets bigger, the level of quality delivered can be diminished.
It should be remembered that learning to dive and building on your experience is not necessarily about getting your entry level open water certification and walking away but to build on your knowledge with continued training and let your passion evolve. After all, if you want experience night diving or diving on a wreck at depth and broaden your underwater experiences, then you are going to need more training and practice beyond that of open water level.
Big Bubbles, No Troubles!