Diving Certification Agencies Overview
Scuba diving is a great way to explore the underwater world, but before taking a plunge into the deep blue with a tank behind your back, you need to get certified. Scuba certification is designed to provide aspiring divers with proper training and knowledge required to practice scuba diving safely and responsibly. Moreover, most dive shops will not rent or sell gear without proof of certification.
That being said, recreational scuba diving doesn’t have a centralized certifying or regulatory agency. Many different bodies around the globe award diving qualifications. Overall, there are more than 50 scuba diving certification agencies worldwide. Each of them differs slightly in terms of philosophy, teaching methods and their "certification level" system, but all teach roughly the same principals at the beginner level.
So are there any standards for recreational diver training? Well, all the current commercial training programs are largely based on the findings and procedures developed by C.M.A.S., an organization that created the first scientific-based diver training program. This common history has encouraged different agencies to accept each other's certifications. In addition to that, the International Standards Organization (ISO) has recently created standards for recreational diver training. So now different certification agencies have external auditors evaluate them against the standards. Two of the largest such organizations are the European Underwater Federation and the RSTC (Recreational Scuba Training Council).
Here are 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
And here is a list of the most recognized scuba diving certification agencies around the world today (listed alphabetically).
As the name implies, the British Sub-Aqua Club is based in the UK and is the nation’s leading trainer. Founded in 1953, BSAC now operates through 1600 local independent dive clubs and over 400 diving schools worldwide. Given that UK waters are relatively cold and have restricted visibility, the agency places emphasis on rescue training very early on in the program. In addition to that, BSAC clubs have a strong social component. Members can enjoy a range of club and training activities, including specialist Skill Development Courses, weekend dive trips across the UK and diving holidays. Many clubs meet regularly, with weekly pool sessions, social get-togethers, weekend dives, and regular open water training.
The Confédération Mondiale des Activités Subaquatiques (in English The World Underwater Federation) was founded in 1959 and now comprises over 130 federations from 5 continents. Unlike many other agencies, it is a non-profit making organization. Headquartered in Rome, Italy, CMAS has a unique scuba certification system based on star levels. It can also be associated with creating the first scientific-based diver training program, which was used as a framework by other recognized dive agencies. Nowadays, CMAS continues to be at the forefront of technical and scientific research in the diving industry.
IANTD is an organization that has both recreational and technical dive training. Formed in 1985, it was the first training agency to offer enriched air diver certification. Today, IANTD has offices in over 25 countries and instructors in more than 60 countries. This diving certification agency offers a complete range of diving courses from Open Water Diver through Expedition Trimix using both open and closed circuit equipment. IANTD’s training programs and philosophy have a strong emphasis on in-depth diving knowledge and skills.
NAUI is a non-profit organization and one of the oldest training agencies (founded in 1959). It offers both recreational and technical dive training. Established for the promotion of dive safety through education, NAUI continues to be a recognized leader in innovative training. Many organizations specifically choose NAUI for their diver education programs including Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida, United States Navy SEAL Teams, and NASA’s Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory in Houston, Texas (USA) where astronauts train for their spacewalks.
Based in the United States, PADI is currently the biggest and most recognized dive certification agency in the world (it is estimated that PADI has certified between 60-75% of all recreational divers). Established in 1966, the organization now has over 6,200 dive schools worldwide, meaning that you can find one at almost any dive destination. PADI offers a variety of courses for scuba, freediving, technical diving, and other diving disciplines. PADI courses are divided into theory and practical skills development. The theory is mainly conveyed by way of self-study using manuals or online learning. They are also very active in promoting the sport and advocating marine conservation through their Project AWARE operation.
Scuba Diving International was created in 1998 and grew out of the success of its sister company TDI, which is considered the largest technical diving certification agency in the world and one of the first agencies to provide training in mixed gas diving and rebreathers. SDI has streamlined the course materials to let students study only the essential academics (all the academic requirements can be completed online) and make emphasis on practical diving skills learned in both the pool and open water environments. SDI is the only scuba training and certification agency to require students to be taught with modern dive computers from the onset of training.
SSI was established in the 1970s in the United States and has expanded to include more than 30 service centers and over 2500 international locations in 110 countries. SSI is the only scuba diving certification organization that requires instructors to work with professional dive centers or resorts. SSI believes this practice ensures that instructors are kept up to date on new procedures and advances in the industry. They also think that this allows for better quality control over the training. The SSI C-card has a unique feature - place for a dive recognition sticker. After 100 dives, the diver is issued a Century diver card. Cards are also upgraded at 500,1000 and 5000 dive milestones.