Is this the right question to be asking?
If we go to buy a well-known product, like a particular model of TV or laptop, then we can be sure that we will get the same product no matter who we buy it from. In a case like this, we would likely make a decision based on price and perhaps total cost of ownership if one retailer included a longer warranty, for example. Not all products are so clear-cut, and so I want to give a few more examples. If we think about an apple, then there can be a variety of ones on sale – and they will differ in how fresh they might be, how bruised they might look and even how organic the orchard where they were grown is. These differences mostly stand out visibly, and it is not so difficult to select the apple we would want to eat.
If we now look a service, then differences are not as visible, and we have a little more to consider. If you learned to drive, then you probably only considered getting your driving licence and didn’t think too much about the driving instructor or school. This is quite typical in many endeavours where the general message has been focused on the goal or “certification” more than the route to get there. When I learned to scuba dive, I didn’t know anything about my instructor – I just assumed it was all OK and of course they knew a lot more than I did – and so that satisfied my basic concern of if this person knew what they were doing – I think they did, but I really had no way to tell at the level I was at. If you ever heard a car mechanic or electrician, explain the problem with your car or house using words and jargon you have never heard of – then you can see it’s easy just to go along.
I won't get into the discussion on this initial diving course since you are probably past that point and considering your next moves for diver training, and you’ve seen that different agencies seem to offer the same thing. Almost all the dive agencies have ISO (International Standards Organisation) accredited courses, and this is the reason why equivalencies work between agencies – this is why you can usually enrol for a higher-level course with agency A if you have a recognised qualification with agency B. So, if the courses all meet the same standard, then what is the difference?
Some agencies differ in their philosophy of how they would like the course to be taught, where some allow far more discretion by the instructor. Agencies design their courses to deliver information and training in line with proven educational methods – and that’s a whole other topic of discussion. A PADI course is designed to be quite prescriptive, with specific tasks having to be completed before a diver can move on to the next part. TDI/SDI on the other hand allow the instructor far more flexibility with how they need to deliver the training – and I can tell you that this approach allows you to focus on what a diver needs and not get hung up on something today that is a problem, if it will be solved more easily another way and on another day.
Diving theory is common – it is not owned by any one agency.
No one has some magic extra bit of decompression theory in their literature – it is all an open subject. There are some other differences, like the types and quality of materials – but I do not see such a big difference when you consider the information the instructor is providing. Some materials simply say "your instructor will explain or show this" and don't provide the information directly.
Imagine now that I passed my driving test and after a few years of driving, I want to learn more advanced techniques or even consider some weekend race days. I might now be better able to measure the differences in what further training is available. Imagine also that I was lucky enough to know Lewis Hamilton, and he agreed to teach me to drive. I do not expect anyone to ask the question “what agency is he teaching for?” – you know you are going to get world-class information and training, and, in this scenario, that becomes far more important than any goal or certification.
Think about the Training
What should start to become clear is that there are a few things other than the agency that will determine the quality of the training you might receive. Your interest level in the activity will make you spend a little time researching options and will mean you are in a better position to choose that apple!
One thing that you might hear about is the phrase “agency bashing”.
You may hear things like “Yeah, that agency just wants to take your money”, or “You don’t learn anything with that agency” – the comments go on. This is too simplistic a view, and I would say that there is more to it. It is true that there are some instructors who may be better or worse than others – if you think back, most people remember their favourite or worst teachers at school – this is “normal”. The question for me is why this is the case and how you might avoid a bad experience.
Teaching diving is a business and if you are running a diver centre, you might like your instructors to finish their courses promptly, so they can start the next. You might also like to put a few more people on each course to make them more profitable. If you are going to seek training, then find out what kind of schedule there is and how big the class is planned to be. It should ring some alarm bells if everything sounds a bit rushed or with large class sizes – how much time will actually be dedicated to you?
Another thing to consider is the individual instructor. How many times have they taught this particular course, can you see any of their prior student feedback, for example? What qualifications do they hold in excess of the particular level you are looking for? What are they like to get on with? Can you talk to them before the course and ask questions?
If I am teaching a Sidemount Course, do you think I will explain something differently depending on what agency the course is with? What about something I know that I can say or show that will help the diver – will I hold it back because of one agency or the other? Of course, not – I will teach someone to Sidemount dive as best as I can every time – and if they meet the standards for agency A or agency B, then I will happily issue whatever certification they might like.
Learn more about the technical training I offer here.
Take your time and think about what would work best for you 😊
If you have something to add, please leave a comment, and please share your experiences.