(a) Subject to the limitations of paragraph (b) of this section, a person is not required to comply with the night flight training requirements of this subpart [Subpart E – Private Pilots] if the person receives flight training in and resides in the State of Alaska.
FAR 61.110 Night flying exceptions
If you’re training for a private pilot certificate in Alaska, and you are also residing in Alaska, you have some exceptions to the night flight training requirements that are spelled out in FAR 61.109. I myself did not do my private pilots certificate in Alaska (nor have I ever been to Alaska), but I did find myself researching this for a podcast I’m recording about FAR 61.109(a). In my research, I kept coming across statements that insinuated that the reason for this exception was because the weather conditions in Alaska make it difficult to conduct night training flights for much of the year. This may be a common reason for utilizing the Alaska night exception, and there is nothing in the regulation preventing anyone from using it this way, but it is not the reason the FAA put it in place! I will get to that later…
(b) A person who receives flight training in and resides in the State of Alaska but does not meet the night flight training requirements of this section:
(1) May be issued a pilot certificate with a limitation “Night flying prohibited”; and
(2) Must comply with the appropriate night flight training requirements of this subpart [Subpart E-Private Pilots] within the 12-calendar-month period after the issuance of the pilot certificate. At the end of that period, the certificate will become invalid for use until the person complies with the appropriate night training requirements of this subpart. The person may have the “Night flying prohibited” limitation removed if the person-
(i) Accomplishes the appropriate night flight training requirements of this subpart; and
(ii) Presents to an examiner a logbook or training record endorsement from an authorized instructor that verifies accomplishment of the appropriate night flight training requirements of this subpart.
FAR 61.110 Night flying exceptions
Why does the Alaska night exception exist? Well according to the Federal Register (Docket No. 25910, 62 FR 16298, April 4, 1997) this rule exists because of Alaska’s high latitude. Specifically the parts of Alaska where they can have daylight for weeks if not months at a time in the summer. This makes getting night experience difficult or impossible during those times. FAR 61.110 (a)&(b) allows someone to take the private pilot practical test and obtain a private pilots certificate without complying with the night requirements of FAR 61.109 [aeronautical experience required for private pilots]. Using this loophole does come with some caveats though! For example…
The back of your private pilot certificate is going to have “NIGHT FLYING PROHIBITED” printed under the “LIMITATIONS” section on the back of that beautiful green card.
For most people in The U.S. of A. this “night flying prohibited” thing wouldn’t be the end of the world, but for the great people of Alaska this can be quite limiting as they have precious little daylight throughout the fall, winter and spring months.
They CAN NOT avoid this night training indefinitely, as they must complete the required night training per FAR61.109 within 12 calendar months of the private certificate being issued to them.
To have the “NIGHT FLYING PROHIBITED” removed from the back of that pretty green card you must show an examiner proof that you have complied with the night training requirements of FAR 61.109.
If the night training requirements for FAR 61.109 are not met within 12 calendar months of the issue date on the private certificate the certificate becomes invalid until the night training requirements are met.
While finding night time conditions in the Alaskan summer can be difficult, finding daylight hours to fly in the winter can be just as challenging. For example…
The day that I’m writing this (November 18th, 2019) the sunrises at 12:44PM and sets at 1:40PM in Barrow(Utqiagvik), Alaska according to the FAA’s Sunrise / Sunset calculator. That is less than an hour of daylight. Now if we go by the definition of “Night” in FAR1.1 you could still fly during the “civil twilight” hours. Morning civil twilight began at 10:09AM and evening civil ended at 4:15PM today, so you technically had over 6 full hours of not legally flying at night.
This just progressively gets worse for the rest of the year. In fact, today was the last day that the sun will rise in Barrow, Alaska in 2019. It won’t rise again until January 22nd, 2020… And December 20th through 22nd, 2019, the civil twilight hours a pilot could technically fly without night privileges as defined in FAR1.1 would be less than 3 hours.
(c) A person who does not meet the night flying requirements in 61.109 (d)(2), (i)(2), or (j)(2) may be issued a private pilot certificate with the limitation “Night flying prohibited.” This limitation may be removed by an examiner if the holder complies with the requirements of 61.109(d)(2), (i)(2), or (j)(2), as appropriate.
FAR 61.110 Night flying exceptions
Basically this exempts 3 different categories of aircraft from being required to do night training for the private pilots certificate.
FAR 61.109(d)(2) applies to gyroplane’s
FAR 61.109(i)(2) applies to powered parachute’s
FAR 61.109(j)(2) applies to weight-shift-control aircraft
“NIGHT FLYING PROHIBITED” would be on the back of your card, but you would not be required to do the training within 12 months as in the case with Alaska pilots. You would be able to get this limitation removed the same way as the Alaska pilots get the limitation removed from the back of their private pilots certificates.
I figured going into this that I’m probably going to tick some people off with my opinions and comments of the agencies. I’m new to diving, but I do know that there are die-hard fans of PADI and complete SSI loyalists. I love this! I have many random brands in my life that I would never consider leaving and will argue till the sun comes up in their defense. I, however, have no skin in the dive agencygame and I’m ready for and expecting the hate mail once I click the publish button. What I did not expect, however, was how many anonymous people on the inter-webs would be trash talking the article before it’s even published! As I’m typing this, I’m fairly sure that the only three people who have read it are my parents and I. Even if my Mom and Dad have secret accounts setup on SCUBA diving forums that I don’t know about, there are still several individuals who are quite angered that I even dare compare the two.
Before I go over the three main concerns that have come up, I want to go on the record and say that nothing below this italicized section at the top has been edited to appease the naysayers in anyway. The un-italicized portion below has only been edited for grammar, spelling and punctuation. Honestly most of the editing beyond this point was for the word “there”.
I really can never remember the difference even though I’ve looked it up thousands of times over my life! I actually knew someone who spoke English as a 3rd or 4th language and even she had a better understanding of the “there, their and they’re” concept when compared to my native speaking tongue.
Thanks for helping with the fixes Mom!
The common theme of dissent was:
I’m too new at scuba diving to have an opinion about what’s going on during my learning.
This article will end up just showing the difference between two random instructors that I had.
Whichever course I take second will not be realistic because I already know how to scuba dive.
I want to nip all this nonsense in the butt right away so that we can move on.
Being new to this gives me an advantage, I am not predisposed to favor one agency over the other and I am looking at it from the perspective of someone who’s brand new to diving (just like everyone else who is taking the open water diving class)!
As of this article, I have never gone through ANY SCUBA instruction other than with my instructor Mark. So it is literally impossible for me to compare multiple instructors based on formal experience learning under them.
I took both the PADI and SSI courses as close together as humanly possible. I did the SSI digital home study before immediately going into the PADI eLearning as explained below. My instructor is certified to teach both agencies so we covered both lessons during the dives. Sometimes we would cover the SSI stuff first, other days we would complete the PADI requirements first.
For those of us who haven’t yet had brain aneurysms from a random guy on the Internet oversimplifying this “very controversial” subject, we will continue…
I can’t stress enough how important the actual person who’s teaching you how to scuba dive is. I’m talking about the Open Water Instructor… the individual who is actually teaching you, in person, how to scuba dive. If you find a great instructor, who you work well with, it doesn’t matter what dive certifying body they are associated with (as long as they are certified under one). Same thing goes for a great certifying agency like PADI or SSI. If your open water instructor is a rude ignoramus who you don’t respect, it’s NOT going to matter who created the curriculum under which you are now attempting to learn. My point is, don’t make this article your primary basis when making the choice on where/who to get instruction from. I’m writing this for people who are in the position of having equally great instruction opportunities from each agency. Like in my case of having a great instructor, who just so happened to be certified to teach both PADI & SSI, leaving me with a choice. Spoiler alert! I couldn’t choose, so I did both. The following are my thoughts on the experience…
Since dreaming about getting into SCUBA diving as a kid, the Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI) was the only way that every diver I knew got certified. I didn’t even realize that other organizations existed. Fast-forward 20 years… I’m now signing up for SCUBA instruction and the guy at the dive shop suggests this “Scuba Schools International (SSI)” Open Water Diver certification.
My first thought upon hearing of this new voodoo curriculum was to yell “STRANGER DANGER” as I ran for cover in the wetsuit rack where I would then hide among the nitrogen infused neoprene until Mark (an instructor that my Uncle Lee recommended) finished up with the irate customer who was dissatisfied that his new dive knife failed to scare off sharks.
I instead decided to hear this guy out and I am so glad I did!
He sold me on the great SSI app and all of its functionality and convenience (it’s actually pretty bad compared to most apps, but light years ahead PADI’s horrendous app), the ability to have your dive cards right on your phone is amazing he said…(FYI: If you want the physical certification card you have to pay; PADI is opposite, they send you a physical card and try to charge you for a digital card which I never got to work on the nice looking PADI app that was apparently coded by Jr. high students), talked up the great digital dive log (I’ll give credit where credit is due, it glitches a little, but over all is pretty sweet) and proceeded to assure me that SSI is better in every conceivable way and that only the ill informed dregs of society trained under those other agency’s…
*Didn’t actually say the last part
… So I bought the digital SSI Open Water Diver course (and the Enriched Air Nitrox course), downloaded the SSI app to my iPhone and went home to study study study.
Online/Home study vs. Classroom/Book
PADI and SSI both offer online home study courses or the traditional classroom instruction. I personally prefer the online programs due to ease of fitting it into my schedule, the convenience of learning at my slow/slug like pace & the ability to go through the materials 300 times like some OCD ridden mad man that has newspaper clippings on the wall connected with a spider web of yarn!
I do enjoy classroom instruction and believe that with a talented instructor leading the class its possible to get so much more out of the learning experience when compared to SSI digital & PADI eLearning. The big problem with me sitting in a classroom, is that my mind starts drifting off thinking about random things… like bringing a helium tank underwater and filling up “blowup-things” (pool toys people… geez) having these blowup-things expand to perfection as they ascended to the surface… leaving the non SCUBA diving/mere mortals at the pier thinking to themselves [that last Captain and Coke I had was probably one too many]. Before ya know it, I just missed the instructor’s speech about how important it is to NEVER EVER HOLD YOUR BREATH while on SCUBA! When this happens to me in the electronic courses, I can simply go back to where I was before I left to visit A.D.D. land.
I went through the SSI program literature first. This was my first formal introduction to diving. Before taking my first dive, I also went through the PADI program literature. As I was going through the PADI eLearning, I became pissed at SSI for not covering many of the seemingly important things that I was now learning under PADI for the first time. It wasn’t until after I earned both my SSI Open Water Diver and my PADI Open Water Diver certificates that I realized my error in judgment. Once I sat down to research and write this article, I came to the conclusion that had I done the PADI eLearning first and then gone through the SSI OWD home study app, I would have been just as if not more pissed, at PADI for not covering many of the seemingly important things that I would have been learning for the first time under SSI.
The differences in curriculum occur because of differences in opinion. To steal a term from the aviation community, the open water diver certification is a “license to learn” (as are all the diving & flying certifications). There is no way that any agency can cover even 1% of the skills and knowledge that encompass the sport of diving into an Open Water Diving course. A small sampling of diving knowledge is selected for the OWD curriculum and different people believe different knowledge items and skill sets should be taught at the beginning.
Both the PADI & SSI Open Water Diver Courses comply with the “International Standards Organization (ISO) and the World Recreational Scuba Training Council (WRSTC) standards. Most of the overlap that is seen between SSI & PADI is due to the curriculum items required by those organizations. Outside of these requirements however, agency’s like PADI & SSI can teach and cover whatever the hell they want. So for example, PADI can teach that the maximum ascent rate is 60 feet (18 meters) per minute while SSI teaches “no more than 30 feet (9 meters) per minute”. Both are great rules with SSI being more conservative than PADI in this instance, and both suggestions are damn near irrelevant in today’s world because most of us are going by whatever our dive computer is showing us about our ascent rate which, depending on what brand you own, is probably going to follow one of those recommendations anyway.
edit: several people have pointed out that the above comment about the ascent rate being “irrelevant” can come across as me suggesting that a diver doesn’t need to worry about their ascent rate when they have a computer. Thank You to the individuals who pointed this out to me in a polite and civil way. I want to make it very clear: Having a dive computer with you doesn’t allow you to defy physics. I was simply pointing out that once upon a time that training difference between 30fpm and 60fpm would have been more relevant than it is today. ALWAYS ASCEND SLOWLY FROM EVERY DIVE & PAY ATTENTION TO YOUR ASCENT RATE ON YOUR COMPUTER/S!!!
Once the course design team complies with ISO & WRSTC standards, it’s up to them to choose what THEY believe should be taught to students just getting into diving. Whereas the ISO chooses what the main course is going to be; SSI and PADI get to choose the appetizers, dessert and drinks… where PADI goes with diced pineapple desert and mimosas; SSI takes more of a crème brûlée and bourbon approach.
Overall PADI designs their Open Water Diver program with the type of person in mind that just wants to learn to scuba dive so they can go swim with the cute little fishes. All of the basic science/physics that you need to know in order to get started in the sport is covered, but it’s concealed behind explanations that don’t sound “sciencey”. Very rarely will PADI bring up numbers let alone mathematics. A technically minded individual like myself can study the materials and understand the rules of scuba diving just as anyone else can while going through the PADI curriculum, but it is certainly geared towards the right hemisphere of the brain.
SSI on the other hand, gets right into the physics of what’s going on when breathing compressed gasses at depth. They do not shy away from the physics, math formulas, official medical terms and general geeky “sciencey” subjects that I personally cannot get enough of! They cater more to the person who is interested in the actual act of Scuba diving, whether it’s at a beautiful reef with lots of sea life or a sandy bottom with nothing to look at; SSI has no qualms about scaring off the ditzy couple at the vacation resort with explanations of decompression sickness. They cover a little summery of diving history in the first chapter, cover pressure at the surface (similar to PADI), and then dive right into (pun soooo intended) (Pressuer1) x (Volume1) = (Pressue2) x (Volume2)… also known as… BOYLE’S LAW!
Now don’t get me wrong, SSI does a good job explaining the technical subject matter that it teaches. But it can be a little dry if you are not super interested in the book learning side of diving and/or you’re worried about class being dismissed in time to make happy hour at the swim up bar.
Fit And Finish
This is something that is near and dear to my heart, but most divers or would be divers I speak with really don’t care about it. So feel free to skip this section!
I’m an Apple guy, primarily because of the user experience and the way Apple products feel in my hand. Every detail is thought out to such an obsessive degree that most end users don’t even notice most of the details that took dedicated teams of people months to work out. It just intuitively seems correct and not in need of improvement. That’s what I mean when I say “fit and finish”. With the exception of the PADI ios app, PADI knocks this out of the park. My guess is this probably comes down to PADI having a budget several times larger than SSI’s, but it surely shines through in the final product. From the beautifully designed book to the online (desktop), eLearning program, the videos, and the graphics everything is just better thought out compared to SSI.
PADI is just a smooth learning experience on either the eLearning or the book. It is truly a pleasure to go through the materials to the point that you are wishing there was more to study and learn when the last eLearning slide comes to your screen or you hit the last page of the book. There’s a beautiful difference between studying something and being taken through an experience. Both agencies give you the life changing experience of breathing while weightless under the sea, but PADI offers an experience before your fins ever touch the water.
It’s like binge watching an incredible show on demand and seeing the series finale not realizing that it’s the series finale. You grab the remote thinking that the auto play next isn’t starting the next show for some reason and then poof… you realize that was it, the end of this great experience and story. You just sit there for a moment and wonder what Sam and Jesse are going to do without Michel and Fiona. It bothers you not to know!
PADI material is just great to binge on!
What really sets PADI’s OWD eLearning program ahead is that SSI seems to be just “checking the boxes” as cheaply as possible. Remove the mediocre videos from SSI’s “digital course” and it’s just a digital word for word version of their book with electronic self grading quizzes that report back to the instructor.
PADI seems to have designed the book from the ground up to be the best possible book that they can print and separately designed the online eLearning program to be the best possible online home study course that they can make. There are still sections that are verbatim of what’s in the book, but it’s a thought out and pleasant user experience that utilizes the advantages of a web based platform.
SSI comes out ahead of PADI with their phone app though and it is WAY AHEAD! I’m not even going to go into detail about the PADI app, because I have no way of accurately describing it without myself coming across as a nasty and vile person. It really is that bad (as of this being published). Hopefully they work on it in the future.
Before I move on I do want to mention that the PADI eLearning course is more expensive then the SSI digital learning course and PADI revokes access after 12 months, so you can’t use it as a reference in the future. I’ve had the SSI digital OWD course sitting in the mySSI app on my phone for over a year now and still have full access for reference.
Between the price point and the ability to keep the program that you paid for longer than a year makes PADI lose a lot of the ground that they gained with the quality of the curriculum in the eLearning program! But maybe that’s just me.
Learning Boyle’s Law
Now, do you need to know about Boyle’s law to safely and competently scuba dive within the recreational limits that the open water diver certification affords to you? Absolutely! Do you need to know that it’s called Boyle’s law or even know the mathematical formula to safely scuba dive within the recreational limits? … NOT Really!! PADI does an excellent job explaining Boyle’s law without ever mentioning the term “Boyle’s Law” or the math formula that it’s based on.
I chose Boyle’s law as an example because both PADI & SSI cover this topic very early in their curriculum and the differences in how they cover it sets the tone for the entirety of their OWD materials.
Excerpt from the PADI Open Water Diver Manual ISBN 978-1-878663-16-0 Product No. 79180 (Rev. 04/17) Version 3.02
Pressure and Air Volume and Density
Water can’t be compressed so its volume and density don’t change with pressure changes. And, since your body tissues are mostly made of water, you don’t feel pressure changes on most of your body while diving.
But, pressure changes do change the volume and density of air (or any other gas). As the pressure increases – as you go deeper – a gas volume decreases because the gas molecules get compressed. The gas density increases because all the molecules are there, but they’re packed into a smaller area.
This is one of the most important principles you learn, because as a diver, it affects all the air spaces in, or in contact with, your body. These include your ears, sinuses, lungs, mask and, when using one, a dry suit. You’ll also learn that this principle affects controlling your buoyancy, how long your air supply lasts and some important safety rules.
Air volume and density change proportionately with pressure. This means if you go from the surface to 10 metres/33 feet, you double the pressure to 2 bar/ata (1 air plus 1 water), a given air volume halves, and its density doubles. If you go to 20 metres/66 feet, the pressure is 3 bar/ata (1 air plus 2 water). An air volume would be one-third the surface volume, and the density would triple.
You may not have realized that you are learning Boyle’s Law from reading the excerpt above, but that is precisely what PADI is covering. They break down the critical concepts without scaring away the right brainers going through the book.
Now lets take a look at SSI’s pandering to the Left Brainers…
Excerpt from the SSI Open Water Diver Book ISBN#: 978-1-60579-216-3 SAP# 470044-US | 05/2017
Boyle’s Law says that if the temperature remains constant, the volume of a gas in a flexible container will vary inversely as the absolute pressure changes and the density will very directly. More simply stated for diving: as water pressure increases, the volume of air spaces in your body decreases – and as water pressure decreases, the volume of air spaces in your body increases.
In other words, as pressure increases, the volume decreases, and as pressure decreases, the volume increases.
Boyle’s Law is: P1 x V1 = P2 x V2
P1 = Starting Pressure
V1 = Starting Volume
P2 = Ending Pressure
V2 = Ending Volume
Using this formula, it is possible to compute the volume of a flexible air-filled container as it is subjected to increasing pressure at depth.
Notice on the chart that the greatest relative volume change takes place between 0 and 33 feet. This means that you’ll need to react immediately to pressure changes as soon as you start descending below the surface. Your body’s air spaces experience compression (diminished volume) upon descent (pressure increase) unless you introduce more air into them to equalize the internal pressure with the ambient pressure.
Now that you understand the science behind water pressure changes and their effect on your body, let’s talk about the different types of compression you might experience when you dive, as well as how to counteract them.
As you can see, SSI doesn’t shy away from the numbers and the science.
Keep in mind that I have ripped these excerpts away from the context within the books, so if you’re a little confused (about either one or both) realize that there’s informative teaching and diagrams leading up to the Boyle’s Law sections in each curriculum that will give you a much better understanding when going through the full materials.
Even without the entire context though, I hope that you can see for yourselves the different approaches that PADI and SSI take when teaching the same subject matter. If you found yourself drawn into the simplicity of never even mentioning that migraine inducing science term “BOYLE’S LAW” and all the math that goes along with it, you may be a PADI person.
If you found yourself OCDing on the math and science part of the above excerpts and opening another browser tab to search for more information, you’re probably more of an SSI person.
Again, the instructor teaching you is by far more important than the agency. Good instructors can guide the science haters through the SSI curriculum no problem as well as answer the 10,000 questions that the OCDers will have while going through the PADI materials.
The Dive is in the Details
Many (but not all) instructors that I have talked with describe SSI as a much more in depth open water diver course when compared to PADI. I don’t disagree with this, but I would argue that PADI is much more detailed when it comes to information that students new to water sports will appreciate. Not everybody getting into diving grew up as “water babies”!
I refer to water babies as people who grew up in/on the water. Usually their parents were divers or boaters or even surfers. They typically don’t remember learning to swim, or their first time on a boat because they were so young when it happened. They have likely owned many sets of masks, snorkels, fins and wetsuits over the years before they ever got into scuba diving. PADI covers in great detail things that are second nature to these people. In fact, some sections of the PADI book will bore the water baby people to tears!
For individuals who haven’t spent a lot of time in/on/around open bodies of water, these details can be incredibly valuable. PADI beautifully explains each piece of equipment and gives recommendations and advice for when you’re acquiring your own. SSI doesn’t even mention dive knives/dive tools in the entire OWD curriculum. It’s as if some pansy pencil pusher got on the final editing team of SSI and was offended by the photo of the knife and deleted it and all mentions of it. SSI obviously covers all the basic scuba equipment (EXCEPT FOR KNIVES) in their course, but the detail and explanations are second to PADI.
For somebody like myself who LOVES gear, this is very important to me. The cool gear is one of the reasons I got into scuba diving in the first place! Most of the divers who say they aren’t gear junkies are lying to you and possibly themselves. Admit it, half of you reading this right now are looking into diving because of some photo you saw of a diver decked out in gear looking like a badass! This happens to the best of us, its fine… Just make sure you’re in it for more than a good photo feed.
Even though both agencies have a separate course for Boat Diving, PADI touches on the basics during the OWD. Now I was bored to tears in this section because I grew up on boats, but for people who have spent little or no time on boats, this is very helpful. I would imagine that someone’s first time on a boat being combined with their first open water dive could be overwhelming. Having even a little information could bring the nerves down a notch.
The boat diving and equipment explanations are just two examples out of many. The PADI open water diver manual seems like it was created to answer the most commonly asked basic questions that brand new divers have been asking over the last decades. SSI relies on the instructors to fill in these blanks, while they use the curriculum to cover more technical subject matter, prepping beginning divers for possible conversations with navel academy graduates at the dive bar.
Signing for Safety
Both PADI and SSI will have you sign a gigantic waiver that explains a little about the risks of scuba diving and more importantly for them makes it difficult to sue in the event of a diving accident. While PADI had a bigger budget for the OWD textbook, SSI apparently had a much larger budget for their team of lawyers who created the SSI waiver. They even have a risk awareness video that’s required watching prior to getting into the water. I’m not saying PADI is lackadaisical when it comes to informing their open water diver students of the inherent risks involved in scuba diving, but SSI takes it to another level.
Students holding an SSI card at the end of their Open Water Diving class, (or looking at the picture of their card on the iPhone screen, because SSI charges you for the physical card), have a sobering understanding of how bad making a mistake underwater can be. I’ve been told that PADI gets into this stuff later on, but they paint a rosy picture in the OWD materials. SSI makes it very clear that even seemingly small slipups can have dire, life altering, consequences.
I feel a lot safer flying an airplane down to the runway in thick clouds, turbulence and no visibility compared to when I go diving below 50 feet in calm, crystal clear, tropical water! The margins for error are greater and survivability of an accident higher in the airplane. SSI drives this point home in graphic medical detail (in the book as well as the waiver). Covering the science behind what happens when the alveoli inside your lungs rupture because you held your breath while ascending a little.
PADI sugarcoats this lesson with graphics of red balloons popping like a 1980’s Nena video on MTV.
Diving is safe if you know what the hell you’re doing and manage the risks. I was tempted to add a rant about risk management and SCUBA diving, but I’ll save that for a separate article. My instructor brought this concept up several times during the in person training, but there is (in my humble opinion) a severe lack of this concept in the study materials from both PADI and SSI when compared to aviation. I’ll leave it at that for now.
Examples of items not covered by the other agency
It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly what PADI covers that SSI doesn’t or what SSI covers that PADI doesn’t. The following lists are the best I could do with my limited time and resources. If you see a mistake or have something to add, please let me know.
Only mentioned in PADI Open Water Diver
Long shore current
Slates and wet books
Dive flags and floats
Surface signaling devices
Dive planning software
Only mentioned in SSI Open Water Diver
Exact weight of water & air
Greatest relative pressure change happens from 0-33 feet (0-10 meters)
The process of diffusion
Arterial Gas Embolism
Haldane’s critical ratio
Pulmonary capillary bed
Like I mentioned before, choose your fancy… Mimosas or Single Malt Bourbon!
The lists are strikingly different and the content of the SSI list usually has people leaning one way or the other after I show it to them. Don’t overthink this people… if you love math, science, medicine and details of details it’s a pretty clear choice. If you hate that sort of thing, you are probably leaning another way.
Side Note: There are a lot more PADI instructors than SSI instructors out in the world and I run into people who are interested in the nitty gritty of what SSI covers. They have a great PADI instructor or already did the OWD with PADI or some other agency and that’s fine… YOU CAN BUY THE SSI OPEN WATER DIVER BOOK AND READ IT AFTER!
Same thing with the PADI book, although it’s more costly. Fit-and-finish on that PADI book is worth every penny in my humble opinion though (twice the size, gloss print, G-list actors and actresses that are trying really hard).
The most glaring, (pet peeve of yours truly), difference between the two agencies is that PADI calls the vest that you see divers wear a “BCD” (Buoyancy Control Device) and SSI calls it a “BC” (Buoyancy Compensator). My entire life I had been calling it a BC, because that’s what all the divers around me have called it growing up. Many of them being PADI trained/certified divers; granted, they got certified back when Jacques Cousteau was still on the prowl… but still!
Something else that I just can’t let go is that SSI plugs its “Totally Total” terminology like they’re in the car business. Constantly pitching their “SSI Delivery System Protection” and “Information system protection” complete with branded original-manufacture style marketing icons and rounding it all off with the slick line “The Ultimate Diving Experience”.
Some of you may be thinking that SSI stole the idea for that line from BMW… so I want to assure you that my extensive 3 minutes worth of online research into the matter resulted in ABSOLUTELY NO EVIDENCE that this is the case!
Between “Total Diving System” and “The Ultimate Dive Experience” one could make a very dangerous drinking game with a good bottle of bourbon while going through the SSI course.
Another difference is the recommended wait time before flying/going to altitude after a dive. Yes… this is an issue you will learn about and be tested on during your Open Water Diver. PADI and SSI have differing advice…
*Do not use the following information for conducting dives
Single no-stop dive needs pre-flight surface interval of 12hrs
Repetitive dives or multi day dives 18hrs suggested
Dives requiring emergency decompression stops, greater than 18hrs suggested
Always wait 24hrs after diving if you fly or drive above 1,500ft
More than one dive per day for several consecutive days, or decompression dives wait more than 24hrs
SSI is again a little more conservative with this example and again, most divers just go by the count down timer on their dive computer. However, these are used more than the ascent rate and good to know, because most people will have the flights scheduled BEFORE they surface from their last dive and see what the computer is telling them. I suggest going by whatever you learn during your training.
Another little nuance that I noticed is PADI using the term “Gas Narcosis” and SSI using the term “Nitrogen Narcosis”. You will learn about Narcosis during OWD training, but the one-sentence-highlight is that narcosis is basically a narcotic effect from breathing gas at depth. The thing that I find funny is PADI’s strong stance over what could be considered by some as splitting hairs.
Excerpt from the PADI Open Water Diver Manual ISBN 978-1-878663-16-0 Product No. 79180 (Rev. 04/17) Version 3.02
At one time, it was thought that narcosis was only caused by nitrogen, and it was common to call gas narcosis nitrogen narcosis. Today, it is known that oxygen is similarly narcotic (hence, EANx doesn’t have a gas narcosis advantage). However, some gases – such as helium – are not narcotic, and tec divers breath gas mixes with helium, which helps manage narcosis. This is beyond the scope of, and not necessary for, recreational diving.
Now had this technical splitting of hairs come from SSI and PADI was still calling it Nitrogen Narcosis, I wouldn’t have batted an eyelash. But since PADI is the one trying to start a “Mr. Lahey” style storm over a split eyelash, I find it very comical! It’s the only instance I could find where PADI was going into the technicalities of something that SSI was glossing over – usually it’s the other way around – good job PADI!
Like aviation, scuba diving has millions of nuances about how to accomplish the same thing. Example… I learned to fly on grass runways from a seasoned flight instructor who I think took some pride in the fact that aviation wasn’t his primary income stream. Compare me to a pilot who learned at a professional flight school, and you end up with comments like “what the eff … I didn’t know the airplane could even do that” from the last flight instructor that gave me an insurance checkout. Where you learn, whom you learn with and what agency you train under will have you doing things differently than other scuba divers. As you gain experience you will adjust your routines/systems to best suit your experience/preferences/equipment/diving style… just make sure it’s still maintaining a level of safety that will keep you out of trouble. And remember that just because someone is doing something a little different than the way you learned to do it, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s wrong or unsafe (or that you can do it that way without having the same experience/training). Just because someone doesn’t know what the hell Subcutaneous Emphysema is doesn’t make him or her a dumb diver, it just means they probably trained under PADI.
So do I recommend PADI or SSI?
The answer isn’t as straightforward as the article I’m dropping next about the Advanced Open Water Diver difference. I really do find myself recommending both depending on who is asking. But I find myself recommending PADI to most people. From their simple explanations, to the “fit and finish” of the learning materials, PADI is hard to beat when it comes to the Open Water Diver cert. With the exception of their mobile app, PADI just has their proverbial excrement together compared to SSI. Now when I’m giving a recommendation to my pilot or engineering buddies, I recommend SSI over PADI without hesitation! Remember the instructor choice is vastly more important than the agency. A bad instructor is a bad instructor, it doesn’t matter what the logo on your open water card happens to be at that point. I’ll wrap this up by saying that you are not locked into the first agency that you choose. You can switch from PADI to SSI after you complete the open water class and vice/versa. There are even other agencies out there like SDI and NAUI. Never feel trapped into a particular agency or instructor because at the end of the day, the dive industry is a business and there are endless instructors/dive shops/dive resorts/dive gear companies etc.… competing to give you the best service/training/experience possible. Now get out there and Dive Dive Dive!
Edited by my Mom
All underwater photographs were taken by my instructor Mark Kosarin on my first dive AFTER completing both the PADI and SSI Open Water Diver courses. (I take responsibility for the final photo edits, I know Mark is probably cringing at the photoshop-hack-job I did to the images that he was kind enough to give to me.) MarkKosarin.com