Image via WikipediaIn addition to providing all levels of diver training, agencies also regulate and represent diving professionals such as divemasters and dive instructors, regulate dive operators, participate in research in dive medicine, promote marine conservation, and market diving as a sport.
What is the Difference Between the Agencies?
The main difference between agencies is where they operate. Some agencies such as BSAC and CMAS are closely related to their countries of origin, while other agencies such as PADI are truly global organizations. All of the most popular agencies offer very similar courses from beginner through to professional level and will all recognize each other's qualifications at recreational level. They may not recognize each other's qualifications at professional level.
How to Choose an Agency?
When choosing an open water course it's important to remember that all courses are quite similar and an open water certification card from any main agency will be recognized by dive operators anywhere in the world. Your choice of agency should be dictated by which agency is active where you want to learn and which agency your preferred instructor is certified by.
Which are the Biggest Agencies?
PADI has dive centers and instructors almost everywhere people dive and is the biggest agency. Some other agencies such as SSI and NAUI are also wide spread but tend to be concentrated in particular geographical areas. Below is a brief overview of the main agencies. Of course there are many other local agencies that also provide quality training and globally recognized qualifications. You can verify any agency's credentials with the World Recreational Scuba Training Council.
The Professional Association of Diving Instructors is by far the biggest and most recognized dive certification agency in the world. It's usually possible to find a PADI instructor in any diving destination and more beginning divers are certified by PADI than by all of the other agencies combined. PADI is very active in marine conservation through their Project AWARE operation, as well as being the biggest promoter of diving through advertising and sponsorship, and is also involved in technical diving training. PADI also operates Emergency First Response, an organization providing CPR and First Aid training.
Scuba Schools International's 2000 authorized dealers and 225 Regional Centers can be found in 90 countries around the world. SSI's diver education system is very similar to PADI's system. Headquartered in Colorado, USA, SSI training facilities are in particular abundance in North America and South East Asia.
Founded in 1959 in the USA, the National Association of Underwater Instructors is one of the biggest global certification agencies. NAUI's diver education system is quite similar to SSI and PADI. NAUI has also had a technical diving division since 1997. NAUI dive centers can be found primarily in North America.
When the YMCA closed its scuba program of 50 years, Scuba Educators International was formed to continue along similar standards.
The British Sub Aqua Club was formed in the United Kingdom and is still one of the most popular agencies there. It is also possible to find BSAC training facilities in other countries, particularly those that are frequented by British divers. Known for having very high standards of training, BSAC was always known for requiring extreme levels of training to achieve certification. In recent years BSAC has implemented courses that have bought it into line with other agencies training requirements.
Confederation Mondiale des Activites Subaquatiques is the world's oldest scuba certification agency. Originally founded in Brussels, Belgium, CMAS is now headquartered in Rome, Italy. CMAS has quite a different rating system than other agencies that is based on star levels. CMAS can be found in many countries around the world but is primarily active in Europe.