PADI is perhaps the most popular diver training agency in the world. The way the world learns to dive is its boast and according to its statistics it has taken over the diving world. Entry-level course is Open Water Diver and for technical diving the Nitrox Diver speciality.
The agency initially recommended that I should visit its warehouse in Bristol, as its range of support material is so extensive, but eventually sent me its Open Water Crew-Pak (video, manual, CD-Rom, quizzes and exams) and the Diving Science and Technology Corporation (DSAT) Tec Deep Diver programme, including the manual, quizzes and exams. DSAT is a corporate affiliate of PADI.
I was also sent all the lesson plans and support material for the instructors on CD-Rom and paper, but not the nitrox course material.

The first task with the trainee material is to get over the guidance on the pack to take it to the edge, experience intense adventure, find pleasure in the adrenaline high, etc. It goes on and on like this, including the video. I felt as if I was going through training material written for the cast of a US sitcom.
However, once I got over this cultural difference (is it just me) the perfection of this material began to shine through.
The PADI approach accommodates all learning styles. All the material is of a high quality, both academically and in terms of content. The integrated approach is very obvious. Not only has PADI effectively linked everything together, but it has also provided the instructor with examples of how methodologies can be altered in a structured way, through the use of Dive Today Learning Pyramids.
The instructor is even advised on how to manage training for people with specific motor-skill development needs.
From the outset the trainee is introduced to the concepts of specific learning objectives, learning in a sequence that establishes skills and knowledge from simple to the complex and meeting specific performance requirements.
This was a challenge. I was determined to find some educationally unsound area. I failed.
The video was the first I had seen that had a fair representation of ethnic minorities in it (in some countries they will be ethnic majorities), though some of the characters did look to have just completed a body-building session, and the attempts at humour were distracting.
The course takes trainees through five knowledge-development and five confined-water sessions and four open-water dives. Each stage is designed to keep them from proceeding to the next until they have demonstrated mastery in the last. Ive seen this system abused by certain diving schools I have visited, but thats not the programmes fault.
Favourite price seems to be £299.
PADI is the only agency that displays a Quality Assurance Policy on its website, together with lists of instructors and schools that have been struck off.
Quality has allowed PADI courses to be accepted towards college credits in the USA and it is now talking to the UKs Qualifications and Curriculum Authority about establishing some of them as vocational qualifications.

This course is designed to qualify its trainees to plan deco-stop dives and extended no-stop dives using air, enriched air and oxygen to a depth of 50m. I can add little to what I have mentioned above - this is another high-quality training product. The five-day course costs £550. Chris Boardman evaluates it in-depth for Diver next month.

Although I have sung PADIs praises, some aspects of the training I find almost mind-numbing. Take its Extreme Adventures Programme, where divers can partake in extreme adventures to the end of the sphere.
You might expect to be diving with trainee astronauts or from submarine escape hatches, yet this programme contains nothing more adventurous than Altitude, Deep, Drift, Rebreather and Wreck dives. Ice, Shark and Whale might be exciting but they usually rely on nature doing things at the right place at the right time.
However, this is perhaps the secret of PADIs worldwide success. Its not that it offers anything remarkable for an agency of its size - its how it wraps it up.
Training dives that the BSAC or SAA approach in a lets have a nice cup of tea manner PADI describes as to the end of the sphere. Its a nice lesson in marketing.

  • PADI International 0117 300 7371, www.padi.com