How PADI Works

Marine Life Image Gallery PADI is the world's major dive-training organization. And it all started with a bottle of whiskey and a plan. See more pictures of marine life.
Photo courtesy of PADI

In 1966, a couple of guys in Illinois opened a bottle of whiskey and sat down to talk about scuba diving. Both were avid divers, and they had issues with the system -- or, more accurately, the lack of one. They felt the certification process for scuba was unprofessional and ineffective, and that it wasn't nearly easy enough and safe enough for people to get started in the sport.

A couple of drinks later, they'd agreed on the solution: An organization dedicated to professional, thoughtful, full-spectrum scuba education and support. They called it PADI.


Forty-something years later, the Professional Association of Diving Instructors, more commonly known as PADI, is the world's foremost dive-training organization [source: PADI]. It offers classes, trips, online resources and multilevel certifications to anyone interested in seeing what's below the surface. Millions of people worldwide are card-carrying, PADI-certified scuba divers, from the beginners who go for shallow dives around coral reefs on vacation to the divers at the master level, who might go night diving and wreck diving, and the lifestyle divers who teach others how to safely explore the underwater world.

It's not hard to get into diving through PADI. The organization is practically everywhere. In this article, we'll see what PADI is all about. We'll explore the services the organization offers, find out what you can do with a PADI certification card and look into the special benefits available to those who join the PADI Diving Society, which is different from getting certified to dive.

We'll start with the basics: What does the Professional Association of Dive Instructors have to offer those interested in discovering the watery depths?

Benefits of PADI

The scenic view in La Paz, Mexico, might be incentive enough to get certified in open water diving.
The scenic view in La Paz, Mexico, might be incentive enough to get certified in open water diving.
Photo courtesy of PADI

While PADI is about more than scuba education, that's certainly the meat of the organization. Its mission -- "to develop programs that encourage and fulfill the public interest in recreational scuba diving and snorkeling worldwide" -- sets the stage for the multitude of classes available to those looking to breathe underwater [source: PADI].

It begins with the entry-level certification course, called Open Water Diver, that allows beginners to get underwater and look around. That's the starting point, and with a PADI certification, you can go diving practically anywhere. With 5,700 PADI dive shops and resorts spread over 180 countries, it's not hard to find someone to take you out to see the sites and swim around [source: PADI].


That's just the beginning of the offerings. PADI offers more than two-dozen specialty dive courses for those looking to expand their knowledge and experience beyond the basics, including adventure diving, wreck diving, night diving, enriched-air diving, deep-water diving and rescue diving.

Those students who work through a prerequisite set of specialty courses can reach PADI's Master Scuba Diver rank, which is the highest diving level offered by PADI short of instructor status. Master Divers who find they have a particular knack for the sport, along with a craving for island life and a year-round tan, might go on to PADI instructor training.

Beyond classes and underwater action, PADI offers online training and materials, equipment, tools, dive trips and a community of like-minded individuals looking to share their diving experiences -- which brings us to the PADI Diving Society.

The Diving Society is a members-only organization made up of those like-minded individuals, and it offers PADI divers some significant benefits.

Joining PADI

Joining the PADI Diving Society gives you access to members-only diving events and vacations, like this one in Curacao.
Joining the PADI Diving Society gives you access to members-only diving events and vacations, like this one in Curacao.
Photo courtesy of PADI

Taking a PADI scuba-diving certification course makes you a diver, but it doesn't make you a member. The membership club of PADI is the PADI Diving Society. It costs about $29 per year to join, and it offers a number of benefits, not the least of which is a network of divers willing and happy to share their knowledge and experiences with those looking for information on the best destinations, local hot spots and scuba tips. Other benefits include:

  • Ten issues of Sport Diver Magazine, a leading scuba publication
  • Current edition of "World's Best Diving & Resorts" book, a yearly publication
  • Members-only scuba-diving events and vacations (including travel packages)
  • Online access to exclusive savings on dive classes, gear and tools, and scuba-related travel (including family-friendly dive trips and adventure vacations)
  • Discount on membership to Divers Alert Network
  • Environmental conservation link through associations with Project AWARE and the National Geographic Society

Project AWARE was actually founded by PADI members in the late 1980s and then took off on its own. It's dedicated to the protection of aquatic life and ecosystems. PADI includes conservation-related information in its certification courses, too, so you don't necessarily need to be a member of the Diving Society for a PADI introduction to aquatic environmentalism.


To join the PADI Diving Society, visit PADI's membership page.

For more information about PADI, scuba diving and related topics, look over the links on the next page.

Related HowStuffWorks Articles


  • "About PADI." PADI.
  • "PADI Diving Society (Americas)." PADI.
  • "PADI History." PADI.
  • "Why PADI?" PADI.