Which Scuba Training Agency Should You Train With?

If you read through many of the online scuba diving forums, you’ll probably have noticed that there are a number of similar questions from new divers, or those considering becoming scuba divers. That questions is which training agency should they use? If you are a regular reader here, you’ll know my opinion on the subject. Just for the sake of argument, let’s assume that the training agency was a big factor.

There are a number of training agencies out there. I’m sure there’s more, but here’s a quick run down of a few of the biggest.

  • PADI – PADI is the largest agency out there in terms of volume (i.e number of instructors, certified divers, etc.). PADI is based out of California, but originally was founded in Chicago (the real hot bed for scuba diving). PADI became the largest by doing more marketing and advertising than the other agencies.
  • International Training (IT) – IT is made up of SDI, TDI & ERDI. SDI came about after a bunch of technical divers formed TDI (for tech training) and wanted to train recreational divers. SDI is strong in the northeast United States, but is gradually becoming larger though the midwest.
  • NAUI – I don’t know a lot about NAUI. In the Chicago area, we had one NAUI shop, but I don’t think they are in business anymore or may have moved to another agency.
  • SSI – Scuba Schools International (SSI) is slowing gaining some market share. When I first became an instructor, the shop I worked for was a SSI shop but was transitioning to PADI. Which was why they brought me in.
  • GUE & UTD – These are two different training agencies. GUE is a non-profit while UTD is a for profit organization. The history between GUE and UTD is complicated, but came out of the DIR/Florida cave diving area.

With all of the agencies out there, which one should you pick? The answer really boils down to the evaluation of one aspect of the training agency. How a training agency trains it’s instructors will give you the best evaluation of the agency.

Why is this important? Because, this is what sets the culture for instructors to teach to and lays the foundation for instructor (and eventually student) performance. Most instructors will teach their classes in the same manner as how they were taught, including instructor training courses. If the classes they had as students were very easy, short cuts taken, etc; then they will most likely teach their classes in the same manner. This is one reason why I’ve rejected the micro-teaching that is taught by PADI.

The instructor training courses need to be difficult, in terms of diving performance. Instructor candidates should be pushed to their limits of diving performance and knowledge. By doing this, instructor candidates will know their limitations and can work on improvement prior to becoming certified to teach students. This also means instructor candidates will be more inclined to push their students to perform better.

If an instructor goes through a very rigorous instructor training program, they will develop more empathy for their students who may also go through a rigorous student course. I remember talking to my GUE Fundamentals instructor Brandon. I joked with him about his enjoyment of watching us fumble around during the class. He said he didn’t enjoy it at all, but he could relate to my frustrations as he went through the same thing. He probably had it even worse for his higher level GUE classes. Empathy is a critical skill for scuba diving instructors to have.

So, the 10 million dollar question is, “How can the prospective scuba diver know how well instructors are trained?” This is a very tricky thing to do and it requires a little bit of thought on the part of the prospective scuba diver. All of the training agencies I listed above put their instructor outlines on their respective web sites. By going through these high level outlines, one can gauge the culture of the training agency.

For example, when you go through these course descriptions, there should be performance requirements that instructor candidates must live up to. There should also be a grading scale and what is the minimum score that the instructor candidate must earn prior to moving onto the next level of instructor training. This will give you an idea of what an instructor must go through to finally get their teaching c-card.

It’s not an easy task when you don’t know exactly what you’re looking for. This is why people really need to slow down and think about the diving education they want to receive rather than simply jump in the water and blow bubbles. Taking your time and research the training agency and instructor (more so the instructor) will help ensure that you get a great scuba diving class and lay the foundation for years of enjoyment of the underwater world.

About Duane Johnson

Duane Johnson is the founder of Precision Diving and runs a scuba diving blog to help scuba divers improve their diving skills and enjoyment. He teaches recreational and technical scuba diving classes in the Chicago area. Learn more about him here and follow him on Twitter at @PrecisionDiving.


  1. Rey Bango says:

    One thing I’ve realized is that good training definitely comes down to how good an instructor you have, regardless of agency.

    I think I may have just been fortunate to have a great NASDS instructor when I first got certified in 1988. He was incredibly thorough and adamant about delivering the courseware properly. And there was no concept of “virtual school” at that point so it was several hours of classroom training. And I’ve been told on more than one occasion that the materials & training provided by NASDS and their instructors were some of the best. I really do believe I was lucky to be trained that way because it set my expectation for future training.

    Just last year, I became SSI Advanced Open Water certified and can say that I was again fortunate to have an amazing instructor. My previous experience certainly influenced my search for quality instruction and I made sure that I found someone who had the similar training values as I had.

  2. Andy Clarke says:

    Great post, as always, matey.

    I think the biggest hurdle, is that you don’t know you should have paid a little more attention to which instructor you chose until you’ve already completed the class.

    When I learned to dive i never imagined there were so many agencies, or variations in instruction.

    For example; I did PADI, then went to TDI for my tech training, and have recently done a GUE class. I would never have found GUE training as a civilian interested in diving.

    The instructor b reputation I find is the best way to choose, no matter what the agency, but how do you find out if you’ve never dived before?

    I’ve no idea…

  3. Andy Clarke says:

    Here’s my take on it ; a post I did this time last year.



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