SDI vs PADI: What is the difference?

There are many dive organizations in the world and SDI vs PADI is just one of the possible options you may be presented with. Choosing which dive agency you will be certified with is one of the first steps on the road to becoming an independent diver.

How to choose between SDI vs PADI?

SDI and PADI are two of the most important scuba diving agencies in the world right now, both of which offer almost the same courses, so if you’re looking to get certified you may be looking at a choice of SDI vs PADI. The regulatory organization that provides the standards under which SDI and PADI operate is the World Recreational Scuba Training Council (WRSTC). So if everyone is being led by the WRSTC, then what is available for organizations to really differ from each other is not much. So how to choose?

The best course of action is to make an informed decision which is why in this article we will talk a bit about their history and their approaches to scuba diving, so by the end, you will get a sense of which is better for your interests.

Keep reading to get the entire scoop.

Scuba Diving International (SDI)

Scuba Diving International (SDI) was created in 1998-1999 as the sister organization of Technical Diving International (TDI), specialized in training recreational divers. TDI is the world’s largest technical diver training organization, which means Scuba Diving International was created by experienced professional technical divers, following the strict protocols and procedures needed in this field.

SDI stands out from other scuba diving training agencies due to its unique perspective of teaching recreational scuba diving through the eyes of professional technical diving.

The SDI Scuba style

Thanks to is professional technical diving background, the SDI Scuba diving approach could be described as more “modern” than the average agency. SDI fully embraces the use of new technology with a philosophy of re-evaluating age-old practices with the actual needs of current divers in mind. It is because of this that they were the first agency to require the use of dive computers for their Open Water Divers.

This, however, has gained them some criticism by the diving community who point out that the (very necessary) knowledge of dive tables is being overlooked by some instructors who teach entry-level divers with SDI, instructing their pupils to rely almost entirely on their dive computers. But what happens if the diver forgets his dive computer or if the battery dies? This lack of basic knowledge makes inexperienced entry level divers reliant on their dive computers or a divemaster. While it is very true that this would expose said diver to potential danger, other people point out that, for a recreational diving level this suffices since they will be diving with an advanced divemaster with knowledge of the dive site anyway.

One interesting thing about SDI that could be the solution (and in, some cases, the cause) of this dive computer vs dive table conundrum, is that instructors have a lot more flexibility to teach what they believe is necessary, and in the order, they believe is best. The courses are designed in a way that, if a student is having difficulty with a specific part of the course, instructors may move on to other subjects and come back to that challenging part later.

SDI also stands out as being the first scuba training agency to develop and offer a “solo diver” scuba certification, unlike other agencies that will discourage this practice. It is important to point out that this course is geared towards enabling divers to be more self-reliant, rather than diving alone.

One aspect to consider is that divers who have grown within SDI’s recreational courses (and yearn for even more) can transition smoothly into technical diving with TDI.

Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI)

The Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI) was founded in 1966 by John Cronin (a former NAUI instructor) and Ralph Erickson. Their goal by creating this organization was to break down and make more accessible the single universal diving training course prevalent in those days.

The Professional Association of Diving Instructors is the most well-known and widespread agency, with over 6,500 affiliated dive centers and resorts all over the world. As of March 2017, PADI proudly reported having issued 25 million scuba certifications.

The PADI Scuba approach

Their motto “the way the world learns to dive” perfectly sums up PADI’s efforts to provide a safe and standardized dive experience for the average recreational diver all over the world.

The PADI Scuba approach is perfectly represented in their mission statement: PADI exists to develop programs that encourage and fulfill the public interest in recreational scuba and snorkel diving worldwide (PADI Instructor Manual, version 2.7pdf [12/02]).

This approach has gained them criticism by people who compare their courses to a McDonald’s meal: you get the same standardized product anywhere you go, with little-to-no room for personalization.

This means that if you struggle with something, your instructor will need to keep going over it until you get it right, before moving on to anything else. Also, the entry-level course (Open Water) does not change from one place to another which, as some people in the diving community point out, poses a serious deficiency since it is not the same to dive in the Caribbean than in the English Channel.

SDI vs PADI: which scuba certification is for me?

As we mentioned previously, both SDI and PADI are regulated by the WRSTC so they will both meet the required standards, both have extremely similar core curriculums and they are both committed to the same goal: producing great divers!

After reading a bit more about their origins and their approaches, you may get a sense of which agency may best suit your interests. If you’re looking to become professional as a scuba diving instructor you may want to opt for PADI since it is the more well-known of the two. If you want to pursue diving as a career (and not be a dive instructor) then SDI may work better for you, given their connection to TDI.

In all honesty, if you just want your “passport” to many diving adventures around the globe and plan to just stay as a recreational diver, any agency will do the trick, because we haven’t even talked about the most important factor when getting scuba certified…

The truth of the SDI vs PADI issue

The agency doesn’t matter. It’s not even the dive shop that you should be looking at. Care to guess what the most important factor is?

Agencies don’t train divers. Dive shops don’t train divers. It’s instructors who do this work. The instructor is what makes the difference between a well-versed diver and a lacking one. Both agencies may have deficiencies in different areas when you analyze their courses, but it’s the people teaching those courses that can either complement those deficiencies or aggravate them.

The best advice we could give you if you want to get certified is: get to know your potential teachers. Talk to them; ask them as many questions as you need. Most instructors may even be certified with both agencies and could probably give you the best of both worlds.

Hopefully, after reading this blog post you’ll have a more clear idea of what to do and what’s best for you. Just remember, while diving may be completely safe for well-trained divers, you will be at risk if you don’t take your lessons seriously. SDI vs PADI doesn’t matter as much as having a good teacher and following their guide.

Ready to get certified? Check out Aquaworld’s certification options. We offer both SDI and PADI!

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