I originally learnt to dive with PADI but have since moved over to BSAC.
I originally learnt to dive with PADI.
There's always a lot of debate about who gives the best training and pop over to any forum and you'll probably find a PADI vs BSAC vs TDI vs god knows who else debate raging.
Personally I don't care. PADI has it's faults but the main differences is that PADI is expensive but less time consuming. Also the BSAC courses cover more and spend more time repeating the same skills untill they are second nature.
The Long Way Round
I have definitely taken the long way to train up to where I am now. I've taken each course and done a few dives in-between. Even got a few in-between SD and OWD. I personally feel this is the best way to do it. Get qualified, have a few dives, get next qualification, do some more dives always sticking within your experience and training. You can get on a course and go from non-diver to advanced in a week or so. Personally I advise take it slow and enjoy yourself. Anyway, this is how I did it....
PADI Scuba Diver (SD)
I took this course in Hurghada at the Grand Hotel. It was a two(?) day course involving theory, dives in the lagoon and dives in the open ocean!
It allows you to dive to 12m deep but only dive when accompanied by a PADI profession diver (divemaster or above I think??)
My first dive in the open water was at Gota Abu Ramada. A great reef but was too busy doing exercises and thinking OH MY GOD I'm underwater on a tropical reef!!!!
PADI Open water Diver (OWD)
6 months later we went back to the Grand Hotel to upgrade to PADI Openwater Divers.
We didn't want to waste any holiday in a classroom so we did the theory and confined water divers in Nottingham with the Nottingham Scuba Centre. The confined water divers and exercises were done in a heated swimming pool.
When we got out there, we showed our referral and spent the mornings on the beach sunning ourselves whilst the other students worked in the classrooms. At lunchtime we jumped on the boat, went out to Small Gifton and El Aruk, Ras Hossan to do the open water training exercises. Nice!
The OWD qualification let us go to 18m and if you had buddy with the same or higher qualification you could go 'alone'
PADI Advanced Open Water Diver (AOWD)
6 months later on we went to the Kuredu in the Maldives to upgrade to AOWD.
You need to do deep diver and underwater navigation and then 3 more option units to become an advanced open water diver. We did night, drift and wreck diver. You have about 20 to choose from. At Kuredu they throw in the peak performance buoyancy for free (or did when we did it). This is the first unit you do as it's one of the most useful and helps out on all future dives. We did PPB, underwater navigation and night courses on the gorgeous house reef. Turtles, free swimming morays, eagle rays surrounded by corals in 28 degree water. That's the way to train!!
The drift adventure dive was done on Kuredu Express. Now it's called express for a reaso. It's a channel into the atol and the current thunders through there. I felt like Superman. Really flying! The wreck dive was done at the shipyard where there are two big wrecks that came unstuck on the reef. The deep dive was donw on Bodu Giri watched by a large curious napoleon wrasse and lots of leopard morays.
PADI Enriched Air Diver (I+II)
Whilst doing the AOWD course we added on Nitrox. We did levels I and II (I doesn't allow you to take advantage of the extended bottom time that Nitroxs gives and only allows 32% mix.)
PADI Rescue Diver
Did PADI Rescue Diver at ProDivers on Kuredu. We were there 9 nights and the course (along with Emergency First Responder) took up a big chunk. Thank god I did 12 nights liveaboard on the run up!
The Rescue Diver course is a different level to AOWD. AOWD is just a bit of theory and generally lots of diving, Rescue Diver has a lot of exercises and is hard work.
After PADI Rescue Diver I did the cross-over.... to the other side....
From PADI Rescue Diver, I've SALT'd (Standard of Alternative Training) across to BSAC and started the training to become a Dive Leader.
The training was in some ways similar to PADI, just more repetitive with a slower build up. The theory exam however is a different world to PADI. The BSAC questions make you think. With PADI you can skim over the question and answer with a high degree of certainty you'll be OK as long as you've understood the question. With BSAC carefully read the question, then re-read it just to be sure. I scraped through the dive leader theory exam, just getting above the pass mark. After being a 95%+ on my PADI exams I was not a happy bunny. I asked to retake and do the B paper a few weeks later just for my own piece of mind. This time carefully reading the question. The mark that time was much higher and nearly up to what I expect on a PADI test, but certainly not to that 95% area. BSAC definitely set harder theory exams!
Took me just under a year from starting the course to finally having all bits signed off. May sound a lot of time but the cost compared to PADI qualification was worlds apart. The instructors who teach you give up their own time to train you so apart from the books and paying for your diving there is not a lot of else to fork out on.
BSAC Instrutor Courses
I did the Instructor Foundation Course (ICF) in the Autumn of 2007. Its a two day course that teaches you the essentials of teaching scuba diving.
Next up was the Open Water Instructor Course in March 2008. This builds directly on what you learnt in the IFC and progresses it to teaching in open water. I did the one-day course in a wet and miserable Brixham. You spend a lot of time in the sea, but don't worry, you work too hard to get cold!