Who should you train with? PADI? BSAC? SSI? GUE? You may as well buy some alphabet spaghetti and see what comes out first. It’s difficult to choose who you are going to do your first course with. Many people here in the UK might start with that search engine and see what pops out and then head to a website or two and look at costs. However there’s a bit more to selecting your first training course.
PADI is still the gateway agency for most divers. I train through PADI and I’m happy with my choice. I have a range of courses to offer, I have support from head office when I need to ask questions, and I like the regular training bulletins. Is it perfect? No, but then I’m yet to find an agency that is. The new set up for online forms is a great step forward. I look forward to never seeing a picture of a person kneeling on the bottom grace any photo that is linked to the agency. And yet we’re taught in the IDC (Instructor Development Course) about teaching neutrally buoyant and it’s more a case of rolling it out. And PADI is not the only agency that is not perfect. It’s just the biggest. And that is a benefit in itself as the ability to transfer between courses is a huge. Many of the complaints I hear are to do more with individual instructors and schools than the agency itself. And complaints that I hear are not only attached to one agency.
SSI has one particular course that I would love to teach which is the Limited Visibility course. Here in the UK it can be useful! But it also has some great instructors and schools, one of which, Mulberry Divers, we will be linking up with in 2019 to offer a course that they are better able to run than we are. Does it matter that they’re SSI? Nope. Not to us as it’s the quality of training that matters and if they happen to be the best to offer it then we’ll book them in.
There’s many other training agencies such as RAID, NAUI, NASE, amongst others and then if you go down the technical route there are a few more added on. There’s GUE, and of course the club network that is BSAC. They all have plenty to offer and there’s room for development for the best of us. They also offer different things, in different locations that can meet different needs. A club may have a RHIB, and if you live locally you can jump into the sea regularly, which would be a dream. Schools, colleges and universities may have a particular set up that works for them.
So what agency should you train with? Well, here’s where it gets a bit difficult to say. If you’d like to continue diving in the UK then pick a school with a club that is local to you and dives regularly. What support is out there for new divers to UK waters? All of this becomes more important than the agency you choose.
Connecting with an instructor is more important than the agency. There are some super instructors out there who will go the extra mile and if you’re particularly nervous or you know you need to take time to learn and develop a new skill then this becomes even more important. You can always switch agencies easily when you’re not a professional (switching as a pro is possible and many do it, but there’s a bit more to it).
Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Your first diving course is an important one, so you need to do it as well as you can. Don’t look for the price of the course as an indicator but rather the length of time you spend in the water and how you will be supported to become a diver, rather than a certification card holder.
There are plenty of schools that will get you trained up quick so you can head off on holiday. If you’d like to keep diving and have it as a hobby at home then seek out a school that offers those opportunities. Make sure you look to see what trips they offer first and how they support people getting into UK waters.
Ultimately you need to look for a set up that allows you to train and to dive as you wish. Take a look at social media and see what the school and club does, or check the website and the diving opportunities there. Read reviews, but be aware that staffing may have changed. It’s a difficult choice to make, but not because of the training agency, but rather finding that instructor that will prepare you to enjoy the underwater world safely.