March 18

SDI vs PADI – which training organization is better?

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SDI vs PADI - a closer look into the pros and cons 

You have heard of SDI and PADI if you want to start your dive training. Or continue your dive education, become a dive instructor or think about changing your training organization.

If you are looking for your first scuba agency to start your diving adventure, most likely you have heard first of PADI. The reason is that they are already a long time in the market, founded in 1966. They have an intense marketing and achieved that "got my padi" became a synonym for "got my scuba license". 

SDI was founded in 1998 as addition to TDI, a training agency focused on technical dive training. TDI instructors asked for adding a recreational sector so they didn´t had to pay membership fees for different agencies. 

Is being the biggest in the market a guarantee for being the best in the market?

No, it´s not. If you check out scuba forums or groups on social media, "PADI bashing" is present everywhere. SDI TDI bashing on the other hand is pretty hard to find. 

Sure, big players always draw envy and criticism, but often for good reasons. 

Let´s have a look at the most common critics about PADI:

Most common critics about PADI

The training standards are very low

SDI and PADI are both members of the RSTC, a roof organization to set global standards for scuba training. All members follow the same basic standards of what a diver must fulfil to become certified

BUT the standards how their instructors have to conduct the training to achieve those goals are different. 

Let´s compare the standards for a try dive program. PADI calls it Discover Scuba Diving, SDI calls it Scuba Discovery. 

SDI

PADI

Minimum duration pool/ confined water training:

30 min

Minimum duration pool/ confined water training:

none

Skill performane requirements:

Breathing underwater

Regulator clearing
Regulator recovery
Mask clearing
Equalization techniques
Inflate and deflate a BCD at the surface

Weight system adjustment

Pre-dive check

Removal and replacement of weight system on the surface

Mask clearing partial and full at depth

BCD inflation and deflation at depth

Buoyancy control

Controlled descents

Controlled ascents

Underwater swimming; proper use of fins

Computer use; use and reading of computer if worn by diver

Skill performane requirements: 

Breathing underwater

Regulator clearing
Regulator recovery
Mask clearing
Equalization techniques
Inflate and deflate a BCD at the surface

Prerequesites: Demonstrate comfort and adequate swimming skills

Prerequesites: none

Maximum ratio instructor to student in open water 1:2, in case the student is less than 14 years old it´´´´´ s 1:1

Maximum ratio instructor to student in open water 1: 4

Maximum depth in open water 9m/ 30ft

Maximum depth in open water 12m/ 40ft

Conclusion:

The standards of SDI vs PADI help to avoid certain problems you can experience in many PADI dive centers: Often the instructor has around 20 minutes for the knowledge development and then another 20 minutes in confined water to rush through the skills with up to 4 students.

Mask cleaning, a skill many students struggle with in the beginning, is reduced to its very basic. While SDI demands a full mask cleaning, PADI just demands "mask cleaning" without a clear definition.

The interpretation in reality is that students have to show the skill without actually having water inside their mask. Experiencing this the first time during the first open water dive makes some people freak out and hence creates risky situations.

SDI focuses more on making the diver independent while PADI supports a "valet diver" - someone that is completely lost without an instructor doing everything but breathing for him.

Job offers for PADI dive instructors on the Maldives always list "Chinese DSD" as special type of activity you have to teach. Chinese don´t learn swimming in school like in European countries, so many tourists don´t know how to swim. The instructor is basically dragging them for 30 minutes through the water, doing everything for them. And this is absolutely within the PADI standards for the Discover Scuba Diver Program.

This is leading to a mentality called "bucket list divers" - been there, done that, check. Got a video and some pics for social media to proof it. They sold them for 80 USD. In certain destinations there are huge dive shops making most of their money with those divers that never will get certified. The goal is to reduce the time effort to a minimum to maximize the amount of lessons each instructor can conduct in a day. 

Not all PADI dive centers are like that and for sure there are some SDI dive centers dealing the same way, but even if a shop just follows the standards, SDI vs PADI guarantees a higher level of training for the very first scuba experience.

PADI is very expensive and offers useless certifications just to make money

Regarding the certifications each agency offers basically the same types with different names. PADI demands for his Master Scuba Diver that you have besides Rescue diver level finished 5 specialties. SDI´s equivalent expects only 4, so PADI sells one more. Some specialties might be discussable, but they both offer them.

Certification fees are in general much higher with PADI which influences the price a dive center can offer. Also learning materials are less expensive with SDI.

For the pros

The difference is more obvious on the professional level. While a PADI instructor for PADI Americas pays for PADI and Emergency first response separate (together around 350 USD, increasing every year), SDI offers both in one for 210 USD. 

If you also want to teach cave diving, you need to be member of another agency because PADI offers no cave training and doesn´t plan to. 

SDI also offers serious public safety diver training like search and recovery, crime scene diver and more.

The instructor levels in SDI are Divemaster, Instructor, Course Director and Instructor Trainer. PADI is adding a few levels, some of them very expensive to achieve: PADI OWSI Instructor (=SDI Instructor), Specialty instructor (when you can teach at least 5 specialties), Master Scuba Diver Trainer (when you can teach 5 specialties and have certified 25 divers). Next level is IDC Staff instructor, then Master Trainer. Course Director is the same in both, Instructor Trainer is in PADI the examiner from the headquarters.

While the Specialty instructor and the Master Scuba Diver Trainer are just cards you can buy for the actual specialty certification fee (78 USD in 2015, since then it increased yearly to 99 USD in 2020), the Staff instructor is a couple of hundred Dollars, Master Trainer several thousand and the course director around 10,000 USD. 

Do you have a dive center?

If you have a dive shop, PADI really takes serious money. The title "Watersport Facility", which you can have if you rent Kajaks and SUP´s and offer some snorkeling, is already around 500 USD, everything above gets more and more expensive.

A dive center title for SDI is 180 USD per year (with early bird discount) and offers a much better access to wholesale prices and marketing tools compared to PADI.  

Conclusion:

Prices for SDI vs PADI courses might be less expensive due to much lower fees and wholesale prices for dive centers and instructors. 

It´s the instructor, not the agency

I used to say this, too. Until I got to know TDI SDI better when I started technical and cave diving. 

Standards are made to be broken...

...is a typical saying amongst PADI instructors. The skills that have to be fulfilled in each inwater lesson during an Open Water Diver course are mainly the same in both agencies. The difference is that PADI wants most of the skills in strict order, leaving very little flexibility for the instructor. Often it makes sense for an individual teaching approach to change this order, which is a violation of standards and can lead to problems for the instructor if someone files a complain to PADI.  

SDI gives more freedom to the instructor and provides just a rough guideline for the order skills have to be conducted. What a good PADI instructor does by violating the standards, he or she can do "legal" in SDI. 


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