The 5 Best Scuba Diving Certification Programs of 2022
Jessica Macdonald lives in South Africa’s Eastern Cape province and has been TripSavvy’s Africa Expert since 2016. She also covers travel products and has written about everything from camping knives to climbing chalk.
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Best Overall: PADI
“As one of the most popular certifications, wherever you live or plan on going on vacation, you’re likely to have access to PADI dive courses.”
Runner-Up, Best Overall: SSI
“The academic portion of the course is completed online.”
Oldest Agency: NAUI
“its ethos revolves around training a few divers well rather than many divers with weaker skills, so you get hands on training.”
Best British Contingent: BSAC
“Many courses are aimed at equipping members with the skills to support club diving, while cold water specialties include Drysuit and Ice Diving.”
Best for Future Tec Divers: SDI
“Many SDI instructors are also TDI instructors, giving them the ability to teach basic skills in a way that translates well to future tec courses.”
Best Overall: PADI
In 1966, John Cronin and Ralph Erickson founded the Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI) with the intention of upgrading existing instruction methods and making the sport more accessible. In the years since, the U.S.-based training organization has become the largest and most recognized scuba diving agency in the world. Its motto, “The Way the World Learns to Dive” is no exaggeration, with more than 29 million certifications issued to date by over 6,600 PADI Dive Centers and Resorts and more than 128,000 PADI Professionals worldwide. This means that wherever you live or plan on going on vacation, you’re likely to have access to PADI dive courses. You can also rest assured that your certification card will always be recognized and accepted.
The entry-level course is the PADI Open Water Diver Course, which promotes performance-based learning through online or in-classroom theory sessions and practical training in confined and open water. In addition to teaching students about diver physiology and underwater safety, PADI courses promote marine conservation through a partnership with non-profit organization PADI AWARE Foundation. After gaining your initial certification, you can choose from an impressive range of further education courses and diver specialties. Learn how to take photos underwater, or train for cavern diving, deep diving, diving at altitude, or shark conservation. PADI also offers a full range of tec and professional courses leading all the way up to Course Director (the ability to train instructors).
If you plan on making a career out of scuba diving, PADI’s large market share gives you the best chance of employment after qualifying as a divemaster or instructor. The company is also well-known for its professional support, although the course and membership fees are higher than most other agencies.
Interested in getting out to the reefs? Check out our round-up of the best scuba diving destinations.
Runner-Up, Best Overall: SSI
Scuba Schools International (SSI) was founded in 1970 and is currently headquartered in Germany. It is the second-largest scuba training agency after PADI, with over 3,500 dive centers representing the brand in more than 150 countries. SSI courses are available in 40+ languages. Their primary entry-level certification courses are Scuba Diver and Open Water Diver.
The academic portion of the course is completed online, making certification more flexible (you can also learn offline through the SSI app). However, some students prefer a traditional classroom environment, especially if they have difficulties with any subjects covered.
The practical aspects of the course are completed through a series of sessions in confined and open water, under the supervision of an SSI instructor. When registering students choose a training center as their partner center to be affiliated with. This helps to ensure personalized service and welcome them into the world of diving.
After gaining your entry-level certification, you can continue your education with a range of advanced courses. Extended Range diving includes deeper dives, wreck and cave diving, and rebreather diving. Other skills courses teach you technical skills like the math behind gas blends in air tanks, dry suit diving, and decompression diving. SSI rounds out its water-based offers with lifeguard training, mermaid training courses, freediving, and snorkeling options.
SSI professionals have free access to SSI job listings, whereas PADI professionals have to pay an annual membership fee to view career opportunities. However, SSI instructors can only teach courses through an SSI Dive Center and not independently (as PADI instructors can do).
Oldest Agency: NAUI
If you’re based in the U.S. and like the idea of an agency that has stood the test of time, the National Association of Underwater Instructors (NAUI) could be the best fit for you. Founded in the 1950s, it is the oldest civilian diver training agency, along with similar European agency CMAS. Over the years, NAUI has pioneered many of the training concepts now accepted as global standards throughout the industry. Unlike profit-based businesses like PADI and SSI, NAUI is registered as a not-for-profit education association. Its motto is “Dive Safety Through Education”, and its ethos revolves around the concept of training a few divers well rather than many divers with marginal skills. Safety awareness is a focus of all courses, including the entry-level Scuba Diver course.
Training programs are regularly updated to reflect the latest developments in dive safety, training, and equipment, while instructors are frequently evaluated to ensure that they meet NAUI teaching standards. Nevertheless, instructors have the freedom to teach in “any reasonable manner” that meets those standards, meaning that they can adapt teaching methods or the order of skills learned to suit individual students.
If you need a little more time in the water to feel confident on your own, NAUI courses also allow instructors to exceed the number of required open water dives. Once you achieve your entry-level certification, there are several recreational, technical, and professional courses to choose from thereafter.
Specialty courses are relatively limited, with just five offered as well as the option to do custom studies with their instructors in comparison to the 50+ offered by PADI. If you plan on becoming an instructor yourself, the ability to teach independently makes up for the fact that NAUI has far fewer dive centers worldwide than either PADI or SSI.
Best British Contingent: BSAC
Another not-for-profit organization, the British Sub-Aqua Club (BSAC), was founded in 1953 as a recreational diving club. It launched its first instructor training course in 1960 and is now the national governing body for scuba diving and snorkeling in the United Kingdom. Many British divers choose BSAC as a less commercial alternative to PADI. The agency has a reputation for high-quality training (reinforced by the fact that diving conditions in the U.K. can be more challenging than tropical destinations around the world). BSAC divers are taught to cope with cold water and limited visibility from their first open water dive, and as such, certifications from this agency are typically well-respected.
The entry-level certification is called Ocean Diver and includes theory sessions, in-pool training, and a minimum of four open water dives. It qualifies you to dive to up to 30 meters of depth. Further education opportunities include a full range of skill development, special interest, technical, and professional qualifications. Many courses aim to equip members with the skills to support club diving, while cold water specialties include Drysuit and Ice Diving courses. BSAC primarily operates in the United Kingdom but has affiliated centers offering various levels of training in locations that range from around Europe to the United States, Mexico, Egypt, and Australia.
Above all, BSAC stays true to its roots by promoting the dive club lifestyle. With locations around the U.K., these community centers encourage divers to make new friends and get the most out of their sport with social events, dive trips, and overseas expeditions.
Best for Future Tec Divers: SDI
If the idea of extreme underwater exploration appeals to you, you may be planning on becoming a tec diver. Tec divers use specialized equipment, gases, and advanced training to exceed recreational diving limits, often with the purpose of reaching extraordinary depths. Scuba Diving International (SDI) is a top choice for future tec divers because it is part of International Training, a group of diving organizations that includes Technical Diving International (TDI) – the world’s largest technical training agency. In fact, SDI was founded in 1998 as TDI’s recreational diving division and as such, has close connections to the advanced diving community. Many SDI instructors are also TDI instructors, giving them the ability to teach basic skills in a way that translates well to future tec courses.
The entry-level Open Water Scuba Diver course involves a combination of theoretical e-learning, pool sessions, and open water dives. SDI has a reputation for innovation, being the first to present online specialties including Wreck, Computer Nitrox, Deep Diving and Navigation. It was also the first to offer diving programs for children and the first to allow divers to learn to dive using a dive computer rather than traditional dive tables.
Most importantly for those that like to push boundaries, SDI offers the first and only insured Solo Diver qualification, which trains you to dive without relying on the traditional buddy system. Other recreational specialties that give you a good foundation for tec diving include Advanced Buoyancy Control, Nitrox, Deep, Sidemount, Full Face Mask, and Equipment Specialist.
SDI has training centers in more than 100 countries. Other sister agencies include Emergency Response Diving International (ERDI) and Performance Freediving International (PFI), giving you further avenues to explore in terms of specialist diving and careers.
What Should I Look for When Choosing a Scuba Certification Program?
Deciding which scuba certification program to train with is usually a matter of convenience, meaning whatever certification is offered at your nearest dive center. If you have a choice, things to consider include the agency’s reputation, its presence both where you live and wherever you’re most likely to go diving on vacation, the cost of the course, the contents covered, and the time it takes to complete.
How Much Does a Scuba Certification Program Cost?
The cost of getting scuba certified differs from one program to the next, but also from dive center to dive center depending on many different factors, including location, operating costs, and the owner’s discretion. Various courses have different prices, too. However, the cost of an entry-level course in the United States usually ranges from about $200 to $600, depending on the location and certification program you select.
What Qualifications or Documents Do I Need to Become Scuba Certified?
Most scuba certification programs have a list of prerequisites for those wanting to sign up for an entry-level course. For PADI—the world’s largest and most popular certification agency—these include being at least 10 years old for a Junior Open Water Diver certification and 15 years old for full certification. You must also complete a medical questionnaire and in some cases even consult with a physician. Basic water skills needed to complete the course include the ability to swim 200 yards without stopping and to tread water for 10 minutes. You will also need to purchase a personal set of learning materials.
Which Is the Best Scuba Certification Agency for Tec Divers?
SDI is widely recognized as the best training agency for those that eventually want to become a tec diver. This is because it is the recreational division of TDI, the world’s largest technical diving agency.
Military Discounts and Scuba Programs for Veterans
In honor of Remembrance Day and Veteran’s Day, PADI ® would like to thank all current and former members of the military for their service.
As divers, we owe so much to the military divers and scientists who helped establish many of the recreational diving best practices we follow today. Ever wonder where the 40-meter/130 foot recreational depth limit comes from? Answer: the U.S. Navy.
Below is a list of locations around the world that offer military discounts and special programs for veterans. We’ve also included veteran-owned PADI Dive Shops.
The list is by no means comprehensive. Please contact your local dive shop to find out what programs they may offer.
Dive and Cruise Gold Coast (Main Beach, QLD)
Military members leaving the service can participate in the ReSurface programme. After a Discover Scuba ® Diving Experience, dive training can be funded through T.A.F.E.
CoJo Diving (Lincoln, NB) offers a 10% military discount on most products and services for Canadian Forces Members (which covers all who qualify for CFOne). CoJo also partners with Canex for a No Interest Credit Plan.
Dive Force Scuba (Trenton, ON)
Owned and operated by a 24-year veteran of the Canadian Armed Forces, Dive Force Scuba specializes in serving past, present and future veterans.
La Scubathèque (Québec City, QC)
Course Director Frank Lafleur is a Police Militaire (Forces armées canadiennes) veteran.
Pacific Divers Scuba Club (Comox, BC)
A Personnel Support Program operating within the Canadian Forces Morale and Welfare Services. Membership is open to current military members, veterans, DND employees and dependents (spouse and dependent children).
Buddha Divers (Valparaíso)
Assists active members of the Chilean military forces (Naval and Army) to get better qualifications and positions through diving and PADI Public Safety Diver™ certifications. Assists former members to start a new profession and open their own diving business.
Warfighter Scuba provides free scuba certifications to veterans from NATO countries with combat wounds. Transportation, training, accommodation and food are funded by donations. There is no cost for the wounded veteran.
Planet Scuba India (Bengaluru, Karnataka)
Provides military diving equipment and training including altitude and dry suit diving.
Scuba Evolution India (Bardez, Goa)
Founders and operators Skandan Warrier and Vishwanath Rajan are both Indian Navy veterans.
Dive Post (Valkenburg ZH and Zoetermeer)
Dive Post offers free Discover Scuba to veterans through the charitable organization De Gewonde Soldaat (The Wounded Soldier).
Discovery Divers (Veenendaal)
Also offers free Discover Scuba Experiences for veterans.
London School of Diving
All members of Britain’s Armed Forces receive a 20% military discount on any recreational scuba diving experience or courses.
Two PADI Dive Centres in the UK offer OW and AOW courses free of charge to personnel through Help for Heroes.
Special ops veterans and military-trained combat divers can receive training and redeploy on marine conservation missions.
Patriots for Disabled Divers
Patriots for Disabled Divers provides scuba training and therapeutic experiences to people with disabilities. Founded in 2009 by Jeff Currer, a retired US Navy Captain and his wife Merial, Patriots for Disabled Divers has trained more than 600 wounded military veterans suffering from PTSD, TBI, amputations and other injuries. Read their stories.
Kadena Marina (Kadena Air Base, Okinawa)
Scuba.com (Costa Mesa)
Scuba.com offers a 6% discount for members of the military and their families, veterans and first responders. Visit scuba.com for more information.
Rainbow Reef (Key Largo, FL)
10% military discount for active duty personnel (except IDC-level courses), VA-approved, chapter 31 VR&E, chapter 33 Post 9/11 GI Bill® benefit. Learn more.
E.A.S.E. (Vero Beach, Florida)
VA-approved, chapter 31 VR&E, chapter 33 Post 9/11 GI Bill benefit. Learn more.
Pura Vida Divers (Singer Island, Riviera Beach, FL)
VA-approved education facility, GI Bill benefit-eligible. Learn more.
Emerald Coast Scuba (Destin, FL)
Military veterans can use Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits to pay for scuba instructor training.
Sea Experience (Ft. Lauderdale, FL)
VA-approved, chapter 31 VR&E, chapters 30, 31, 33 and 35 Post 9/11 GI Bill benefit. Learn more.
Chattahoochee Scuba (Columbus, GA)
Most scuba courses, including scuba instructor training, are G.I. Bill benefits-eligible. Contact the dive shop for details.
The Dive Shop (Albany, GA)
“We proudly offer military discounts. Stop by and show a current military ID for your discount. Thank you for all you do!”
Aaron’s Dive Shop (Oahu)
Active duty military received a 10% discount (excludes tanks and weights), VA-approved. Learn more.
Dive Oahu (Oahu)
Use GI-Bill (chapter 30 or 33) to take any professional-level dive courses including Divemaster and instructor training. Learn more.
Reef Pirates (Oahu)
Active Duty U.S. Military members receive a $15 discount. CAC and certification card required, visit Reef Pirates’ website for additional details.
Trident Adventures (Oahu)
U.S. Navy SEAL owned and operated, offers Navy SEAL experiences.
Dive Right In Scuba (multiple locations)
Dive Right In Scuba was founded by a Vietnam veteran and is a proud leader of veteran employment in Illinois, USA. As a VA-approved dive shop, veterans and their beneficiaries may use G.I. Bill benefits to learn to dive and start a new career as a scuba instructor. The shop also posts an annual video tribute to veterans.
Massachusetts and Rhode Island
Operation Blue Pride
Since 2014, Operation Blue Pride has financed Open Water and continuing education certifications for 300+ local veterans. The organization also offers Discover Scuba, refresher programs and guided dives in Cape Ann and Plymouth, Massachusetts, Cumberland and Fort Wetherill, Jamestown, Rhode Island. The donor-supported organization pays for online training, pool sessions, and open water shore dives. Equipment is available at at low or no cost.
Scuba.com (New York City)
Scuba.com offers a 6% discount for members of the military and their families, veterans and first responders. Visit Scuba.com for more information.
Discovery Diving (Beaufort, NC)
VA-approved, GI Bill benefits-eligible. Learn more.
Waterdogs Scuba & Safety (Clarksville, TN)
Waterdogs is a VA-approved education facility.
Escuela Naval de Venezuela (Estado Vargas)
Trains Venezuelan Naval officers and special task forces from other military groups. Email: [email protected]
Evo isn’t a scuba retailer, but they offer military discounts on beach gear and equipment for other water sports. Learn more.
VA-approved Scuba Certifications
What is the VA-approved Scuba Certification Program?
The International Training VA program enables veterans to use their GI Bill®benefits to learn to dive, continue their SCUBA education, or become a dive industry professional. This program offers various different VA-approved certifications and professional-level licenses. These programs cover a range of courses, including beginner scuba diving education, technical and public safety diving, freediving, instructor courses, and more.
Are you eligible to enroll?
We encourage veterans to confirm their eligibility for this program with the Department of Veteran Affairs Regional office or local VA Assistance offices prior to committing to a course. Eligibility is based on Chapters 30, 32, 33, 35, and 1606. These licenses and exams should deduct portions of months based on the dollar amount of the course taken. Vets should confirm eligibility, time left and benefit level with their VA representative. Each individual veteran has a different situation so confirming with the VA before starting is the best scenario to confirm eligibility and reimbursement.
What licenses and certifications are offered?
Currently, there are 18 VA-approved programs available through International Training. You may see a full list of all the certification and licensing programs available from International Training here. Programs currently available at Scuba-Fun:
- SDI Basic Scuba, $1,000
- Open water
- Oxygen administration
- Bloodborne pathogens
- Airborne pathogens
- Air Fill
- Nitrox Blender
- Advanced blender
- Equipment tech
- O2 Service Tech
- Advanced Nitrox
- Deco Procedures
- Air Diluent CCR
How do you sign up?
1. Contact us and sign up for one of our VA-approved programs offered here at Scuba-Fun.
2. Pay for the program you have selected. Make sure you retain your proof of purchase/receipt. You will need those in order to be reimbursed.
3. Complete your training with us.
4. Submit VA Form 22-0803. See the section below for instructions to streamline the paperwork process. The VA will process your form and issue reimbursement once approved. You MUST have your proof of purchase/receipt!
What is the required paperwork?
You’ll need to fill out VA Form 22-0803 and upload it to the VA website through Ask VA along with all supporting materials, or mail it to your regional VA processing office for reimbursement. It is important that all required items are included. To make this process easier, we have pre-filled portions of the form according to each of our programs. You can find a .pdf of the form for your selected program at tdisdi.com/gibill.