Learning to scuba dive is a skill that quickly becomes an addiction. Diving can be done in almost any body of water, and discovering the world underwater is an indescribable thrill. The first step to becoming a certified scuba diver is getting your Open Water Certification. There are many dive schools, but the two biggest in the world are PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors) and SSI (Scuba Schools International). When getting certified at most of the diving meccas around the world, these are the two schools you’ll have to choose from. So, how to decide?
The first thing to know is that the most important part of choosing where to be certified is finding a school and an instructor that you are comfortable with, much more important than the certifying body you choose. PADI and SSI both follow the standards of the World Recreational Scuba Training Council, meaning that both are safety certified and recognized worldwide. Therefore, with either organization you will receive a safe, professional training, as long as you choose a school and instructor that makes you feel this way. In addition, both schools have huge online databases which allow you to access your certifications online. Through these online databases both schools also allow students to do the theory portion of their courses online, saving classroom time and letting students get right into the diving when they arrive at their program.
The biggest difference between the two is the way they affiliate instructors. SSI instructors must be affiliated with a specific SSI store; whereas, PADI instructors can teach independently of a store. This has both positive aspects and negative. If you’re choosing SSI it just means to really be sure you are comfortable with the store as a whole, since they will be surveying your instruction. However, its a safe assumption that all stores (whether PADI or SSI affiliated) want their students to be safe and happy, so having an instructor linked to a particular store is not a bad thing.
One of the biggest perks of SSI is that they are less rigid in how instructors have to teach the information. SSI and PADI teach the same skills, but in different methods. With SSI, the skills are taught through constant repetition. However, if one person is not mastering a skill, they have the choice to skip it and come back to it later. This is not the case with PADI. With PADI, each skill must be successfully mastered in order to move on to the next. Also, SSI has an 80/20 rule, meaning that 80% of what instructors teach is the structure set in place by SSI, but 20% is flexible for the teachers to add more information based on student’s interests and abilities, or what they think will benefit the students. This is a nice level of personalization that is not necessarily present with PADI, who is very rigid about the order of information and skills presented.
Another large difference is that PADI requires students to purchase their learning materials for the course. These prices are almost always built into the price of the course; nevertheless, PADI courses run a little bit higher than SSI. SSI does not require you to purchase manuals and dive schools will loan you books to use during your course. SSI schools are generally smaller than PADI schools, meaning the dive groups are smaller and students get more personalized attention from their instructors. The larger size of PADI courses creates a very social atmosphere and lets you meet lots of people.
Both schools and certifications are recognized worldwide, and as long as you are certified with one you can dive with any dive school. PADI as a brand is more internationally recognized, because it has been marketed much more heavily than SSI. When deciding between PADI and SSI take note of the few differences between the two and decide which one fits your personal tastes more. Overall, much more important than choosing PADI or SSI is choosing a school with a professional, safe, and fun atmosphere, and an instructor who you are comfortable with. A good instructor is much more important than the branding behind your certification.