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How to choose the right scuba agency.

If you have done any online research about learning how to scuba dive, you’ve inevitably witnessed the passionate conversations regarding different scuba agencies. Sadly, there is a LOT of agency bashing out there which is completely misplaced as it’s purely tribal in nature. Every certifying agency in the world MUST adhere to guidelines issued by the WSRTC. These guidelines are loose in nature but cover the skills the instructor or dive shop must teach in order to certify a diver. 

Since every agency must adhere to the same standards, you can rest assured that the “agency” you select will not have a big impact on the type of training you receive. However, just because they all teach the same skills does not mean they teach the same way, and that is where you should focus your attention. 

Dive agency standards

A “standard” is a rule (or set of rules) put forth by the certifying agency (PADI, SDI, TDI, NAUI, etc.) which governs how classes & skills are conducted. There are many standards instructors must abide by including the structure of a class, how many training dives may be conducted in a single day, what is considered a “dive” and the order of how skills are introduced. Each agency has their own standard on how this training is conducted.

For open water training PADI requires all skills on a particular slate (a slate is what scuba instructors use to determine when a skill may be introduced to a student) before they can proceed to the next slate. 

For open water training, SDI allows the instructor some flexibility to jump between slates based on the instructors discretion to allow the class to flow more organically.

Other agencies handle the progression of skills differently as well. There isn’t a truly “right” way for scuba classes to flow. Scuba instructors are highly trained & thoroughly vetted and understand how to change up the order based on logistical & student needs.

So why all the discussion about which agency is better?

As we talked about in the opening, it’s truly tribal. If your scuba instructor is an SDI instructor, and that’s your certifying agency, of course you are going to show some pride in that agency. However, there is one area where the type of agency truly does matter, recognition. Even though each agency must adhere to the WSRTC standards, not every dive shop or charter is going to be familiar with every certifying agency, which can cause issues in some parts of the world. For this reason, we recommend sticking with one of the larger agencies. There are too many to list here in totality (over 600 worldwide) but, to name a few – SDI, TDI, PADI, SSI, NAUI, BSAC, IANTD, RAID, NASE, PSS, etc. Each of these agencies tend to specialize in a specific area of diving but they all approach things a bit differently. If you stick with any of the well-known agencies you’ll be all set no matter where in the world you’d like to dive. For recreational diving, the big 4 in the United States are PADI, SDI, SSI & NAUI.

If the agency doesn't matter, why'd you write this?

Truly, the differences in agencies will make only a minor difference in how your instructor approaches your training, so while you definitely want to know what agency they use and how the class is arranged (skill performance requirements, working through challenges, etc), your training should be fairly standard. The biggest difference you are going to see isn’t the agency, it’s the scuba instructor. The person conducting your training will have far more impact than the agency on the level and thoroughness of training you receive.

So it’s not the agency, it’s your instructor.

Wait, the instructors are more important?

Yes. (Don’t adjust your screen, this is a full sentence).

ok, so why is your scuba instructor so important?

Your scuba instructor has gone through a LOT of training to get where they are. There really are no other “career paths” that compare to becoming a scuba instructor. While a person may have hopes & dreams to become an instructor when they learn to dive, that thought is quickly diminished by realizing its a brand new experience and, if you pardon the pun, you must learn to crawl before you can walk (and as an instructor you are usually running marathons). Any instructor will have the knowledge to demonstrate the skills and have a few tools in their toolkit to help you work through any challenges. However, experience truly is king and having an experienced, dedicated, patient & knowledgeable scuba instructor will make your experience so much more fun and you’ll finish with far higher skill level than an instructor who just checks off boxes. Soft skills like being understanding, empathetic and having the experience to help you work through unexpected challenges using tricks not taught in the books (like not being able to equalize air spaces) are what differentiates instructors. While I can guarantee no instructor has “seen it all”, the more they HAVE seen will translate to a smoother, higher quality and more enjoyable experience for you.

About our instructors

At Raleigh Scuba Diving, we hand pick our instructors based on personal experience with them in the water (both diving & teaching). We personally vet each one based on their skill level, interpersonal skills, teaching methodology, patience, professionalism and, honestly, how fun they are. Scuba diving is best learned in a fun, relaxed, professional and informative environment and we require our staff to possess all of these skills.

While our instructors love having a great time while teaching or diving, each is bound to a code of professional ethics we take VERY seriously. Providing each student diver with not only the skills they need, but the reasons BEHIND the skills and sharing our knowledge after 1000’s of dives to craft them into the best divers they can be. Our students are treated with the utmost respect, without exception, by every member of RSD. Each student we teach is a reflection of our dive shop and our staff & instructors are the driving force in that.