Probity in the Australian recreational dive sector: What does it entail?

For pretty much all Australians the idea of travelling to exotic locations like Belize, the Galapagos Islands or even our very own Great Barrier Reef to go diving or snorkelling feels like a distant dream. Now that we are almost at the finish line for what will more than likely be a 2 year lockdown, thousands will likely be looking to go SCUBA diving and there are really only two agencies to choose from; PADI [AP] (Professional Association of Diving Instructors [Asia Pacific]) and SSI (SCUBA Schools International).

Who are the people training new divers? Well, you can't be sure.

I reached out to both PADI and SSI with very simple questions regarding the verification of identity, background check and information exchange practices between the agencies. This is to ensure;

  • Consumers can be sure that if an Instructor gives their name as 'John Smith' and they are issued an ID card in that name, that is their real name.

  • That vulnerable people (children, elderly persons, women etc.) are protected from convicted violent offenders, sexual offenders and thieves.

  • That if a professional member (i.e. Instructor or Divemaster) engaged in misconduct at one agency, they would be barred from 'jumping ship' to another agency.

Sadly, it appears, this is not the case.

PADI maintain a register of expelled Divemasters and Instructors. It can be found here:

This at least offers the public some way to check that their instructor has not been expelled from PADI. As far as I can tell, SSI do not have a similar register. It should be noted, this list is not the be all and end all for disgraced/dangerous PADI members.

An example is Mr Keith Cardwell who was recently convicted for Child Pornography offences. Mr Cardwell reached the highest level of professional rating in the PADI system (Course Director). This rating is where the member is Authorised to "train trainers" (course directors run the Instructor Course). He is yet to be listed as a Expelled member however his registration has been updated by PADI as shown below;

The only flaw with this system (available for free at: is that it requires you to know the membership number of the PADI Pro.

I reached out to PADI and SSI with five (5) questions about their probity. These were:

  1. How does PADI/SSI verify the identity of a person who applies for professional membership?

  2. What checks do PADI/SSI perform of a person's criminal history in Australia?

  3. When processing an application for membership, does PADI/SSI commence enquiries with other bodies (i.e. other dive agencies) with regards to that persons standing in the organisation (as an example, whether they have ever been suspended or expelled)?

  4. Does PADI/SSI have an appointed investigator for allegations of misconduct?

  5. Does PADI/SSI consider adverse legal findings against current members?

SSI Australia provided the following statement:

The recreational Dive Industry fall under ISO standards which have been officially adopted by the Australian Standards Committee. We are NOT a COMMERCIAL diving training agency.
In regards to further Government regulations there is the Queensland Code of practice that overseas all of the recreational dive industry in Queensland. Currently in NSW we have some Government regulations in regards to Government accreditations and these are based on creating a safe working environment, these will be mandated by Dec 2022 and . I believe that these may be adopted by other Safe Work in other states. ADAS did push for the mandatory uptake of certain ADAS units by all recreations Dive Pros but SAFEWORK NSW has agreed that this would be unnecessary for Dive Professionals engaged in Normal recreational Dive Practices.
Any incidents that we have are overseen by our Quality Management Team and information is sent to DAN.

The SSI ended the correspondence stating they are unable to provide further comment.

PADI refused to comment.

I do not believe SSI's response addresses any of the five questions put to them (maybe it partially addresses Question 4, but not directly). It is great to see they are aware of their obligations in Australia as far as dive training goes, but I am not questioning their status as a training school or their safe work practices. The only reasonable conclusion for me based on the statements (or lack thereof) is;

PADI and SSI do not verify a professional members identity against Government documents.

PADI and SSI do not conduct criminal background or working with children checks on their professional members.

PADI and SSI do not share a 'blacklist' of expelled divemasters/instructors.

SSI did state that they have all incidents overseen by a 'Quality Management Team' I would hope this means proper investigations by a person with training in Regulatory, Civil and Internal investigations.

Does this mean PADI and SSI are dangerous?

Not at all. The checks may be very lacking and most parents wouldn't leave their kids around a complete stranger anyway and 1 on 1 training is quite rare. Diving at the recreational level is a group activity so you would expect to have at least 3 - 15 students in a group at a time.

In my opinion, paedophiles, rapists and thieves exist in all industries. There will never be complete assurance of a persons character however the community could be reassured if all dive professionals were formally identified and at the very least had to hold a working with children check, this would also stop people jumping ship to other agencies right after misconduct allegations are made.

How can I choose a good dive school?

Being a PADI or SSI dive school doesn't make you 'good'. This is why they have tiers of dive school. In PADI it is being accredited as a '5 Star' dive centre/resort that sets you apart. In addition to this, independent review sites are crucial, if you see reviews like "the instructor lost us" or "the instructor didn't brief us properly" multiple times, run. These are the types of instructors who may kill people through negligence and end up getting expelled anyway.

Ask local divers who they went through. I don't think there is a difference in quality between PADI or SSI, both train to ISO standards and the qualifications are recognised pretty much all around the world. Don't hesitate to ask for proof of certification if you have any doubts. PADI and SSI issue instructors certificates/cards for this very reason.

Like undertaking any activity, go have fun, but exercise caution and participate in group training if you don't want to do one on one training.

Any comment/opinion/view in this article are the authors own and are not those of Northern Rivers Diving. I am not claiming that any agency is actively endangering students or are negligent in any way. This article was written to fill an information void in the recreational diving sector.

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