Our goal with this essay is to make a more informed consumer when it comes to pursuing instruction in the sport of recreational scuba diving. While our attempts are to be as unbiased as possible the reader must recognize that the standards we seek to meet may not be the same as theirs or others so it may appear we are being unfair. This essay is targeted at the person with little or no exposure to scuba and will probably appear biased to those that have already developed certain prejudices, although, if read with an open mind, should even give them pause for thought. 



Most dive shops and resorts that cater to divers will require some sort of proof that a person has met certain standards before providing services such as access to dive boats, rental equipment, air, etc. This proof usually comes in a certification form referred to by the industry as a C-Card and is bestowed upon a student after passing the criteria established by a scuba agency. It does not typically have an expiration date and is therefore good for life and remains valid even if the agency issuing it ceases to exist.



Scuba certifications and the agencies that issue them have become more and more an increased topic especially with the rise of the internet which gives everyone a platform that reaches millions to voice their opinions. If you’ve ever been witness to brand loyalty arguments such as Canon vs Nikon, Ford vs Chevy, or Mac vs Windows get ready for another one when it comes to debating scuba certifying agencies.To begin with there are well over sixty certifying agencies worldwide and still counting. There is no governing board in scuba and it is, for the most part, a self regulated industry. Agencies develop their own curriculums and standards for certifications. In 1999 The World Recreational Scuba Training Council (WRSTC) was founded with the intentions of providing minimum training standards worldwide.The National council of the WRSTC in the United States is the Recreational Scuba Training Council (RSTC) and is comprised of the following members : International Diving Educators Association (IDEA), Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI), The Professional Diving Instructors Corporation (PDIC), Scuba Diving International (SDI), and Scuba Schools International (SSI). These members have agreed that their standards will at least meet the minimum standards set forth by the RSTC but non-members have no such obligation although most have adopted them with several agencies even exceeding them.

Some opponents of one agency or the other would like you to believe theirs gives greater access to the world of diving than a competitors. While members of the WRSTC are obligated to recognize each others recreational certifications and, by extension, the dive shops and resorts that may be affiliated with them, any C-Card should be honored worldwide no mater how regional it may be. Just ask divers with a C-Card issued by Los Angeles County Underwater Instructors Association, the oldest certifying agency in the US and one of the most respected. A good analogy here would be a drivers license. No matter the size of the state or their standards a license from any state gives one permission to drive anywhere in the country.



The unfortunate fact is most prospective divers have a limited choice, if any, of the agency to whom they will receive training from. Most will seek a shop or instructor close to home since the course can take place over several weeks or weekends. A person may have read about the excellent training LA County (UICC) students receive with over 200 hours of training spread across three months but has to settle for the closest instructor that teaches the course with about 20 hours of training. If you are fortunate to have a choice at least explore what each has to offer. Asks questions so you can make an informed decision. Some divers will cite the mantra that it's the instructor not the agency and this is simply not true. It is true that some instructors are better than others but some agencies allow no academic freedom or deviation from the prescribed curriculum. The instructor cannot enhance the program and is not permitted to teach to any higher standard. This is especially true with some of the larger agencies as it would be a logistical nightmare for them to have every instructor submitting different curriculums for the agencies approval. This is where the lesser known agencies sometimes offer an advantage by allowing their instructors to go above and beyond the minimum standards.  A few years back someone presented a detailed comparison of three of the more well known agencies. It pointed out differences and similarities in each of their curriculums but one agency in particular brought a suit against the internet service provider for publishing the comparison. Additional perspectives into training philosophies can be gleaned from this thread linked here that explains the conclusion of the suit. It makes for some very interesting reading and shows the misconceptions some divers have of training even after years of diving.

Also be sure to ask about the total costs of the course. Some instructors will advertise a low cost course then once payment is received will tack on charges for educational material, pool fees, certification fees, rental equipment, etc. Better to ask as many questions upfront than finding you can't complete the course because you've exceeded your budget. 



Be forewarned if receiving advice from a friend that has already been certified to consider the point of reference they may be coming from. While their intentions may be good, one should keep in mind the story of the blind men and the elephant. What they say may seem to be accurate but it may be drawn from a narrow view though they think it is the entire picture. A thread exists on the internet where one person was giving advice to someone asking the difference about the agencies. Their response was that the agency they had gotten certified from had the best course material of anybody. I would seriously doubt that person had knowledge of all the course material from all the certifying agencies. A comment like that would elicit a raised eyebrow from someone with a certification from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, which trains some of the top research divers.


Finally, as powerful as marketing can be try to be objective in making a decision. Some agencies spend a lot of money trying to convince you they are the best while others quietly go along relying on a close knit community to promote them. Some people like to know they are part of a large fraternity while others prefer to belong to a more distinct group. Just because you may not have heard of an agency doesn’t mean they may not be an excellent agency. Any day count the car commercials on TV for the top selling brands and then think to yourself how often you see an ad for  Porsche, Bentley, Ferrari or how about Hennessey's Venom F5 ?