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PADI vs. NAUI vs. SSI for New Scuba Divers
Greg - 8/20/2014 7:56 AM
Category: Training
Replies: 25

A couple years ago, another member posted a similar question...Which scuba training agency would be the better choice for furthering your dive education?

I’d like to ask the question a bit differently...Which scuba training agency (PADI, NAUI or SSI) would be the best choice for NEW divers and why?

PADI, NAUI and SSI aren’t the only training agencies, so is there a "better" agency to start your dive training with? Do your future scuba goals play a role in deciding which scuba agency to start with?

Please add information on education, practical application, safety, time, cost, agency reputation, reciprocity between agencies, etc.
joec1 - 8/20/2014 9:40 AM
I think it has more to do with what direction the individual wants to take their diving. PADI (which I am part of) is geared more towards the career minded diver. They push courses very hard and they are designed to get you to move into a Pro position like DM or Instructor. I think SSI is more of the true recreational diver and just diving and having fun. NAUI seems to be in line with PADI, but i only know of one location in my area that teaches NAUI. PADI is more known, and SSI is low on the pole for centers. I do agree Progrower that it is mostly about what is accessible. The reason why i choose PADI, is because we started our certification in Jamaica at a resort, and that is what they taught.
AScubadiver100 - 8/20/2014 10:56 AM
I agree the instructor makes the biggest difference. However, PADI, which I am part of as well, does have a pathway for recreational divers. The apex of this path is "Master Scuba Diver". My open water cert is NAUI and everything else is PADI. From my experiences PADI is more strict about adhering to standards in a class. Each Instructor has a set of standards to teach from and deviation is not tolerated. Therefore, when a PADI professional looks at certification levels/cards there is an expectation and comfort level that you know the card holder has met. PADI also certifies more divers and professionals than the others.
In all fairness I can not discuss NAUI nor SSI as I am not familiar enough with their pathways, standards, or processes.
RAWalker - 8/20/2014 12:21 PM
While I agree the instructor is the final determining factor in a learning experience if the program itself isn’t as well refined they are limited by the standards of that organization. So if we were to say that given the same instructor teaching, If I were to have a choice of programs I would still have multiple reasons for selecting the PADI program. First it is the best established of the certifying agencies. It certifies more divers each year than all the other agencies combined. The next reason is that they didn’t get to that distinction by being the first or least expensive program. They attained it by consistently offering programs which customers find safe, fun, easy to understand and of the highest quality education. They have not rested on their laurels but have continued to refine and update their programs as the industry has evolved. With their growth they have attracted the finest Shops and Dive operators and have grown the most jobs for industry professionals and have supported professional development programs equally as well as their recreational programs. So for those interested in taking their passion for the sport to the professional level possessing a PADI professional credential offers the greatest chance of finding a position.
peter2204 - 8/20/2014 1:57 PM
it depends where you are, in the uk as well as padi etc we have club based training with the sub aqua association and the british sub aqua club both are affiliated to cmas and have trained volunteer instructors who work on 1 to1 basis with students to build up a feeling of safety and trust. it also means
the cost can be kept down and a comfortable pace for the student can be agreed.
Brian_V - 8/20/2014 8:40 PM’s all about the instructor! All the agencies follow the same basic standards, so the instructor is the one that really makes the difference regardless of the agency!
Braam77 - 8/21/2014 10:38 AM
In general I agree that is probably the instructor that you get, I started in NAUI, but soon realized I’m more into technical and changed. So do a bit of research about the instructor if you can or instructors in the area, you will probably find other divers talking about good and bad instructors. I would not recommend big group training activities as this gives very limited time for individual training and/or somebody to spot and rectify problem areas/bad habits.
hoofpick - 8/21/2014 8:26 PM
Well I have certifications in NAUI, SSI, and PADI. With that being said, I liked all three, I just happened to get good instructors. It really boils down to which agency is available and finding an instructor that has a good reputation and is good with people, and is also flexible enough to meet your schedule and the instructors. As for this agency or that agency if the instructor is good then so is the agency.
furion1983 - 8/24/2014 1:18 PM
Ok well with that all being said. I have OW, AOW and nitrox certs from NASE and getting ready to take rescue diver course here in about a month. Now my thing is that my instructor is cross trained in all but SSI. To me he is great we go over what is needed for NASE then after the skills are done I personally talk with him about the other agencies and their differences. My reason for doing this is I want to be an instructor but once I get there I want to do cross training to all those listed. I know this is a little off topic but its the closes thing I have found to it. So to all the instructors out the should I stay the course with one agency or should I flip to one of the others?
AScubadiver100 - 8/25/2014 9:09 AM
To try to answer furion1983,
I researched which agency to go with for instructor as well. I chose PADI. Nothing bad about ANY of the other agencies. PADI certifies more divers and have more members than the others (some claim more members than all the others combined). They are recognized world wide and have more demand for instructors that the others seemed to have. Yes their fees are more, in some cases, than others. I have a friend that owns a shop that is SSI, and another friend that owns a NAUI shop. I can obtain the other agencies just by taking the tests, that’s what I have been told. However, in PADI, after you acheive a certain level of Professional Certification you can not hold certs from another agency. Again, that’s what I have been told. You would need to verify that with PADI.I like being with PADI. There are legal reasons and to a degree prestige reasons.
With all that being said.....follow what is best for you.
SKubaSteve - 8/25/2014 2:59 PM
I suppose since I’m testing for my OWI (SSI) in October I should just say "SSI RULES!". Okay now that that’s out of the way...

Fun aside - local availability is a huge consideration. If a potential diver has a limited number of choices available I’d hate for them to buy a set of golf clubs instead of learning to SCUBA dive just because someone told them that "XYZ" agency was the way to go. As was mentioned earlier - we all certify OW to the same basic set of standards.

If you actually have a choice then some research is warranted. I like the SSI program and would certainly recommend it to students. They (SSI) keep us accountable for the quality of our instruction and I like the association with a retail center (I know there’s debate about this but for me it has been a good experience). This affiliation lets us focus on teaching SCUBA rather than marketing, repair, rental gear, etc. which has been beneficial to me, our other instructors and our students.

There are good points to all the agencies though... I have a PADI ’Encyclopedia of Recreational SCUBA Diving’ on my bookshelf and I’ve also trained with SDI and TDI.

My advice to future dive buddies: Find the shops you might work with, meet the instructors and go with who makes you feel the most comfortable and excited about SCUBA then get certified and go diving!
AScubadiver100 - 8/26/2014 6:46 AM
From EskimoBluDay: From AScubadiver100: However, in PADI, after you acheive a certain level of Professional Certification you can not hold certs from another agency. Again, that’s what I have been told

I certainly hope this is not true. If it is it would be a black mark (in my opinion) on PADI and something that would make me avoid that agency completely.
I agree. I was just wanting the others to know that should be checked out before making some decisions.
Again, however, that is what I was told and easily could be bad info.
joec1 - 8/26/2014 11:47 AM
I do not think that info is correct. I know Instructors with NAUI and SSI certs. I am not sure if they held those certs first, before PADI, but I cannot see them kicking you out for other Agency certs. If you think about it, if you are PADI, you probably hold one of the top certs for Recreational Divers. Maybe NAUI might be equal. So if you had to get an SSI Instructor Cert, it probably would not be the biggest deal. And if you are an instructor, I would think I would want the one that is most recognized and sought after, which is PADI. Like stated in earlier posts, the Instructor is a good determining factor on who you go with. I myself when I go to instructor it will be with PADI, since I am finishing up my DM with them and all other certs are are PADI.
divelizard - 8/27/2014 10:40 PM
Does NAUI still exist? Where?
I think SSI is best. My friends took PADI - 1 weekend of classes and then an ocean dive out at Catalina Is.! The test was passed by everyone sharing info.! One of the women never even read the book!
My SSI class was twice a week for 5 weeks, then a shallow lake dive and then an easy ocean shore dive, followed by going with the group on some boat dives.
I learned a great deal and have developed confidence and capability that my PADI trained friends never have.
SKubaSteve - 8/28/2014 8:32 AM
From divelizard: My friends took PADI - 1 weekend of classes and then an ocean dive out at Catalina Is.! The test was passed by everyone sharing info.! One of the women never even read the book!
My SSI class was twice a week for 5 weeks, then a shallow lake dive and then an easy ocean shore dive, followed by going with the group on some boat dives.

As an SSI DiveCon soon to be OWI, I’m glad you had a good experience with SSI and I agree that we (SSI) have a quality program.

There are excellent weekend classes out there so the timeframe may be fine. Given your description above I don’t think any good instructors (PADI or otherwise) would advocate ’sharing of info’ to pass the test and students should all be held to the standards in order to be awarded their certification. This sounds like an example of an error in judgement on the part of the instructor and it may not be fair to apply that to all PADI instructors.
RAWalker - 9/03/2014 12:07 AM
And yet NAUI being the eldest of these certification agencies has slipped from once being the leader in market share of new certifications to thirds place. This while the number of per capita scuba accidents has dropped significantly in the years since PADI has risen to be the leader. Further in the years since it’s rise PADI through DSAT has contributed more to research of the sport than any of the certifying agencies.
NAUI is a legacy history that is being surpassed because of it’s complacency.
carlb8 - 12/14/2014 9:51 AM
This and the related threads on the "agency issue" are really good and informative. Thanks for starting it Greg and all the thoughtful experience of the contributors.

To be honest I had not considered the question much when I first became certified. The island dive shop that I did my initial OW and Nitrox were PADI so I just started there. The LDS that I did my AOW and Wreck were also PADI so I am somewhat committed to this path at this point. When I first started I wasn’t even aware of all the agencies. I imagine this might be true for a lot of beginners. I knew PADI was widely known and would be accepted wherever I traveled in the world so it seemed a safe bet. I understand now acceptance of C cards is not as much of an issue, but I would still think 1) PADI and 2) SSI being the most prolific would certainly offer that wide acceptance assurance.

What really pushed my interest in understanding the "agency issue" more was that recently I have been evaluating doing my RD and the shop (not local, but on an upcoming trip) I was considering told me it would be a NASE instructor, I starting asking more questions and trying to understand the differences and history of each agency. I inquired if that would be equivalent to PADI RD and recognized by them, and I received a dubious response back of probably not. Since that time I have learned from other forums that I can probably get a PADI RD C card if I demonstrate my skills under their reciprocity certification program. But I am questioning that path a little and not sure I see the value of doing it twice rather than just the first time with PADI. There is probably also some concern about knowing the full capabilities of the instructor that are also holding me back a little. As many have noted, the instructor quality, attitude, and how well you work with them is one of the most important factors in learning as much as possible with each certification.

Overall, I can say that I have enjoyed my PADI instruction I have received and I have done it both with the in class and e-Learning modules for the different certifications. I felt the material was pretty easy to learn. Wow, why would anyone even want to or need to cheat (no matter what agency)? Its pretty straightforward stuff, and of course kind of important to know to be safe doing this activity. I actually liked splitting my training between multiple instructors because I learned different approaches to certain skills and gave me feedback with different styles. I know for some they may not feel this is the best approach, but it worked for me.

At some point I might try another agency training to get different perspectives, but I think I want to continue down the path of PADI for awhile.
Samurai - 6/12/2015 1:43 PM
NAUI is still the best standard in teaching in the scuba industry. However, PADI has surpassed NAUI in the marketing side. Of course, more PADI shops (which used to be NAUI), the more PADI divers. Kudos to PADI, but more PADI dive shops has nothing to do with the NAUI standards of teaching. Dive shop owners switched from NAUI to PADI in the 90’s, because PADI offered more support in the marketing side. So, the massive exodus from NAUI to PADI began. Even so, NAUI has never slacked off from it’s teaching standard, which I consider, better than PADI. I’ve had many PADI instructor friends, who said, if they can do it all over again, from OW to Instructor, to start it over with NAUI. More so, more and more dive shops who used to be NAUI, then switched to PADI, are slowly going back to be NAUI. I wonder why?

Just my two cents.
wheeledgoat - 2/11/2016 12:46 PM
Here’s what my NAUI instructor told me;
NAUI was first. There were two NAUI-certified guys (one of whom my instructor knows personally) who thought NAUI should relax their standards to make diving more accessible to the public. When NAUI say "nope", they went and formed PADI.
Today, NAUI is non profit and continues to be the agency that certifies and teaches the US Military, including Navy SEALS. PADI is a for-profit organization that spends a lot of money in marketing.[/quote:

From my own experience, I can say that what he said makes total sense. The PADI course I started in Jamaica a few years ago pales in comparison to the NAUI certification I’m now working on, both in thoroughness and depth (pun intended). Right now, I’m at the same point in my NAUI courses that I left off in the PADI course, and I perceive a real difference. I already feel more competent and self-sufficient, though I know I still have a long way to go (100 dives according to this instructor) before I should consider myself a fully safe and competent diver. I found the attitude of my PADI course to be a bit more cavalier, which I personally didn’t like. Surely the instructor has a lot to do with that, but such was my own personal experience.