Divers are given a briefing before an open-water training session

One of the first things you will notice about diving is that it is FOA (Full of Acronyms). In compiling this book we tried to think of a training agency that isnt an acronym and struck out. So please accept our apologies and well try and keep the capital letters to a minimum.
You could blame it all on the Americans. After all, the worlds largest diver training agency PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors) originated in the USA, as do many of the competing commercial training organisations such as NAUI (National Association of Underwater Instructors) and SSI (Scuba Schools International).
Yet we in the UK also have an abundance of acronyms. It all began with the BSAC (British Sub-Aqua Club). Other UK diving organisations you may come across are the SAA (Sub-Aqua Association) and the SSAC (Scottish Sub-Aqua Club). In Ireland there is CFT/IUC (Comhairle Fo-Thun / Irish Underwater Council) and in Europe CMAS (Confederation Mondial des Activités Subaquatiques).
A few years ago we could have ignored those training agencies that specialised in very advanced diving. The main ones are IANTD (International Association of Nitrox and Technical Divers) and TDI (Technical Diving International), but these bodies have now branched out into entry-level training, IANTD under its original acronym and TDI under the name SDI (Scuba Diving International).
So, getting away from those confusing initials for a while, we can start by dividing training agencies into school- or club-based.

A dive school is a commercial venture, where you pay money in return for a diving training course and the instructors make their living from the proceeds.
A pure club is a non-profit venture run by the members for the members. The instructors donate their time and experience as a service to the club, often with
a sense of wanting to put something back in return for the club training they received in the past.
Despite the professional versus amateur difference between schools and clubs, instructors in diving clubs are generally professional in their standards of instructing and most diving instructors, whether from schools or clubs, are motivated primarily by their love of diving and enthusiasm to share the experience with others.
You may have encountered such enthusiasm for the sport already. If you have friends who are divers, put two of them together and the conversation of the whole group will always turn back to diving and attempting to get others to give it a try. Perhaps it was an enthusiastic diving friend who encouraged you to read this book!
The distinction between schools and clubs is not as clear-cut as it may at first seem. In the UK, the BSAC is the biggest club, a national association of diving clubs with more than 1000 branches and 38,000 members, though you should be aware that membership figures have been falling steadily in recent years as more people opt to learn with commercial schools. But there are also some dive schools affiliated to the BSAC, both in the UK and overseas.

The biggest school and professional association is PADI, both in the UK and internationally. There are more than 250 schools and 4000 PADI instructors in the UK, with about 25,000 new diver certifications issued to UK residents each year and several hundred thousand a year worldwide, representing more than half of all divers trained. There are also PADI-affiliated dive clubs, though usually these are associated with a school.
As with all statistics, you have to be careful. Not all the UK PADI instructors are actively working, and of those who are, many work overseas in places such as the Mediterranean, Red Sea, Caribbean, the Maldives, Thailand and Australia. These are the sorts of places where UK divers like to take holidays, and where non-diving tourists from the UK stumble across a centre and suddenly decide to give it a go.
In fact, of those 25,000 new UK PADI divers every year, about 40% completed part or all of their training while overseas on holiday.
Its worth mentioning here that on the continent the term dive club is often used for a commercially run dive school.
So what are the real differences between the various training agencies, between dive clubs and dive schools

For the beginner learning to dive, the answer is, not much. At entry level all the training agencies now have very similar standards and course content.
Which agency you do your basic training with will not restrict your options when it comes to further training.
The level of training we are talking about is a basic course that provides the skills needed to dive with a similarly trained buddy, in a similar environment to that where you trained, without the direct supervision of an instructor. Some agencies offer lesser levels of training, where you can go diving when closely escorted by an instructor, but this is more of an experience than a qualification and common in places with warm clear water. What were talking about is becoming a real diver.
In PADI, the course is called Open Water Diver, Open Water or OWD. In BSAC it is called Ocean Diver, and all the other agencies have similar names for equivalent courses. Well refer to it as Open Water, as that is by far the most common term.
The training has three elements: theory, confined water and open water. Theory is the classroom stuff; confined water is a swimming pool or shallow sheltered water off a beach thats like a bigger swimming pool; and open water is out there in the open sea or deeper inland waters.
An Open Water course lasts four to five days, which includes theory lessons, study time, confined water lessons and four or five training dives in open water with an instructor.
On holiday this all fits nicely into a week with a dive school. At home, a dive school may split it across two or more weekends, perhaps with a bit of evening work. In a diving club it is more likely to be spread over a number of weekly evening meetings, followed by a weekend or a few day-trips to the beach, though again these distinctions blur.

Some UK dive schools offer training in which the theory and swimming-pool stuff is scheduled one evening per week over several weeks, and some clubs organise their training as intensive two-weekend courses.
Many clubs have traditionally started their training programmes in winter and stretch the theory and poolwork over several months (one or two lessons a week) so that the trainee is ready to hit the open water in spring. Fine, if youre in no hurry. Others have arrangements with local schools to sub-contract their basic training.
Typically, an Open Water course costs around 300 with a school. It may well cost less with a club, where you are being trained by volunteer instructors, though you will have to pay membership fees both to your local branch and to the club to which it is affiliated, and perhaps further amounts for training materials.
Both schools and clubs will provide the equipment you need while youre learning, so you dont have to make any commitment before being sure that diving is for you.

When you have finished your Open Water course at a dive school, you will be offered the chance of further training by the agency but otherwise your immediate
relationship is completed - your next move is up to you. It may well be to join a club, perhaps one affiliated to the school, or else to continue, with friends or family, as independent divers.
With a club, you buy into a sociable organisation that should provide continuing support, equipment loan, perhaps use of a boat and van, and regular organised outings to dive both in the UK and abroad.
You also have a certain responsibility to your branch, and not everyone wants to have that level of commitment, to meet regularly, to get involved in club politics or even to dive in the UK. You must decide which approach suits you best.

Poolwork allows divers to get used to their gear
Confidence-building exercises in the pool
Club outings provide a good way of organising your diving once qualified