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I've been a PADI Instructor for over a decade...


I use the PADI system of education pretty much every day. I look at standards and procedures in the Instructor Manual regularly (rock and roll, I know!) I always thought I had everything pretty much pegged, and understood it really well. But every so often I'm taken back to school when I realise I've misremembered something!

This is what happened when I was sitting in a PADI webinar during lockdown and the team were talking about the PADI referral process. Students only have 12 months to complete a course, right? WRONG! The 12 month rule only applies to a true referral - not if they stay with you.

Let's have a look in more detail...


The pandemic has definitely put a spanner in the works for dive centres and instructors all over the world. We haven't been able to get out diving as much as we'd have liked and in some cases, we might have had to interrupt a student's course slap bang in the middle of their training with no definite plan for when things would get going again.

If you're in a domestic market like The Fifth Point in the UK, it's not a massive worry - most of our students are local to us and they live in the area. We'll just see them again as soon as we can. But what about if you were in the middle of a course when your students were on holiday and COVID cut their time short? You might have been forced to fill in the paperwork that documents their progress so far and send them on their way. You'll have told them "you've got 12 months to complete your course", not knowing if you'll see them again.

When does the 12 month rule apply?

So, before my little revelation, I thought that if any student had a break in their training for more than a year, they had to "restart" their course. It's funny how certain ideas get stuck in your head because someone told you about it that one time or you've extrapolated data wrongly. The 12 month rule ONLY applies to referrals, and NOT to students who stay with you.

What exactly is a PADI referral?

PADI Instructors use referrals in situations where training can't be completed in full at the time. Maybe...

  • The student has planned to work through the confined water and theory sections at home and jet off somewhere amazing to complete the open water dives (a popular way to do things in the  UK).
  • The student only had a set amount of time, something got in the way and it's unlikely they'll return to you. Perhaps they were on holiday, got ill or they're moving house.
  • The student has chosen to switch dive centres or instructors for some reason

You fill in the paperwork and give them a copy to take with them to their next Instructor. This is the beauty of the PADI system. Because we all teach the same curriculum and to the same standards, any instructor can pick up where you left off.

These students have 12 months to get back to their training and the clock starts ticking from the date of their last training session. If they go beyond this deadline, their referral has expired.

Which courses can I refer?

Referrals are most common for the PADI Open Water Course. Because of that, you'll notice that there's a specific referral form designed for it. In theory, you can refer any course. Just use the student record paperwork instead as they won't have a dedicated referral form.

The only course that's a bit weird is the Advanced Course. Technically, each adventure dive is a stand-alone block of training. You can record this in their logbook and fill in the individual adventure dive paperwork. Then it's up to the certifying instructor to make sure that all the required adventure dives and/or speciality crediting dives are completed. It might take a bit more searching for this info compared to the other courses where it comes on a conveniently filled-in document.

What do you do if their PADI referral has expired?

Let's say a student comes to you and they've gone over that 12 month cut off. It's not that they have to start their course from scratch - I used to think they'd have to buy the materials again and whatnot. That isn't the case, but you do need to evaluate all learning and performance objectives and give them a refresher. Depending on the circumstances, you can probably do this a bit faster than compared to someone who was a total newbie.

If you're accepting an Open Water referral (let's use this as an example as it's the most common, but you'll get the idea for the other courses too) and let's say they only have the open water dives left to complete. You need to make sure you...

  1. Have them review their manual or eLearning
  2. Have them answer the knowledge reviews again and fill in any knowledge gaps as needed
  3. Administer the quizzes and final exam again
  4. Re-do confined 1 to 5 (you'll probably be able to do this quite quickly as they'll have done it before)

And once you're happy with them, you can crack on with the rest of the training.

Where the 12 month rule doesn't apply...

And this was my every day's a school day moment. The 12 month expiry doesn't apply to your students who stay with you. Let's say if I had a student where life just got in the way of their training, and I didn't see them for over a year. Because I know them and I trained them initially, their course has not expired. All I need to do is make sure that their paperwork (medicals, liability releases etc. etc.) are in date (and resign them if they're not) and review and refresh their knowledge and skills then carry on with their course.

I used to think I'd have to follow the expired referal process I've written above, but I don't! Of course, there might be some students where I think that would be the best route so we take it anyway. But in terms of most students, I can continue their training without there being any worry about the price of redoing and refreshing them. Woo!

The only thing to watch out for is eLearning. The content of PADI eLearning is accessible for life, but the interactivity of it - where students can complete knowledge reviews, quizzes, exams etc - is only accessible for 12 months. If they don't manage to complete their theory in that time frame and they're locked out, you'll have to get them to complete the paper versions instead.



What was I saying about every day's a school day?! The awesome Rachel Watts (who's our Regional Manager at PADI) read this blog and reached out to let me know that the NEW eLearning  never runs out and will be interactive forever! This applies to all new style eLearning that's running on the new platform and you can tell because the codes start with "6".

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