How to choose the best dive center for your diving vacation
Too many people research the best location to dive, but not the best destination. What is the difference? The dive center. There are plenty of awesome diving locations that have really poor dive shops operating in that area. It doesn’t matter if the diving is great if you don’t get to experience it because you planned your holiday booking around certain dive operators or resorts who are not worth the time. Nothing will ruin your diving vacation more than choosing the wrong center to dive with. And trust us, not all dive centers are created equal. Some are downright awful. This article will serve as an all inclusive guide to help you make sure you choose the right dive shop for your diving holiday.
Here are the major things to consider:
Dive prices are fairly consistent, but do vary slightly. When different dive operations are charging different prices for the same service, you need to ask yourself why? Is the cheaper option really offering the same service? Here are some things you can look for before you put down a deposit:
5 Star PADI Dive Center
Are they maintaining their equipment?
Most divers on holiday rent equipment due to the cost of bringing our own while travelling. The quality of diving equipment available can vary drastically from one dive shop to the next, especially in third world countries or the Caribbean. You might find a very professional dive shop just down the road from a shack with 2 scuba tanks waving a dive flag. From personal experience, I have seen dive shops catering to a wealthy tourist destination that had next to no equipment to begin with. We will break down how to tell if the dive shop maintains their equipment BEFORE YOU BOOK in the relevant section in this article.
Do they maintain proper safety standards like having top watch on their boats?
Safety standards can also be verified prior to booking a dive or a course. A very common method of saving some cash for smaller dive shops, is not having anyone to do top watch. Some dive shops think its a waste of money to hire someone to sit on the boat, but in fact it plays a crucial role for the safety of everyone. Every dive operator can tell you stories of times when the moorings snapped or anchors came loose or bad weather came out of absolutely nowhere. All of these things can put the boat at danger if there is no one left to look after it. If the boat is in trouble, you are in trouble. However you might be in trouble anyway, in which case there is now no one on the boat to see you on the water, keep a look out, help make sure everyone is geared up correctly, get medical equipment ready, call for help, bring the boat over etc. Ask you diver operator if they have top watch, and if the answer is no, find another shop or do something else with your money. Other problems to look out for is a lack of emergency equipment. Do they have emergency oxygen and a medical box on board? These are easy things to ask for beforehand. Are life jackets or flotation devices available? You get the idea. Never be afraid to ask for these things, and if you are given a hard time, you may wish to think again about diving with them.
Are they overcrowding the boats?
This is quite an obvious one to look out for because its so common, especially in places that are known for heavy tourism like Dominican Republic, or any popular destination in season. An overcrowded boat can be screened out before hand by asking the diving operator how many other people you will be diving with. Do not accept an answer of “we don’t know”, because they always do. Even in season, they are likely booked up so its not like 10 people will walk in and dive the same day. They should have a good idea of how many people will be on the boat, and then you can judge whether its crowded based on the size of the boat. An overcrowded boat is a hazard for several reasons, one being the obvious problem that like an elevator, too much weight on the boat is going to result in problems with the boat itself which can ruin your trip and your whole day. Another problem is that it simply ruins the dive. Diving is far more fun with a lower diver-to-guide ratio for a variety of reasons. Not to mention the danger in having too many divers to one guide. If one guide cannot easily assist or help other divers, then there is a built in safety risk there as well. You should get full value for the service you pay for. So don’t dive with a guide who wont be able to truly pay any attention to you.
Are they affiliated by a reputable agency?
Check their affiliation. Just because a facility displays a PADI, NAUI, BSAC or other agency sign on their website or store front, does not mean they are actually affiliated. Go to the agency website and check under their list of affiliate dive shops. For example, PADI offers a search tool for affiliate dive shops. Also consider their ranking. A PADI 5 Star ranking has had to meet much more stringent requirements than a normal PADI Resort.
Are their staff qualified and experienced?
Have you actually checked to see if the dive guide is a divemaster or instructor? Many times you will find diving operations that have staff who are not even certified divers. More commonly you will have dive guides who have just an open water license. In this case you need to ask yourself a) what are you paying for? And b) how on earth is this safe? Unless your guide is a divemaster, he/she is simply not qualified nor have they been trained in handling divers underwater.
These are all areas where dive shops try save money to compete on a price basis. Now consider how much your vacation is costing you with flights, accommodation, meals and of course your vacation time. Is saving a few dollars and going with a low quality operation to save $10 really worth it?
Look at the dive shop reviews on sites like Tripadvisor. Read the reviews. Don’t you ever wonder why some dive operators who have been in business for 30 years only have 30 reviews, while others only open for a year have 70 reviews? Make sure to find out how long they have been around. Read the bad reviews, and the operator’s response to the reviews. More often than not, a poor operator is going to show a poor an unprofessional response. This is probably not an operator with all their ducks aligned.
Look at the qualifications and experience of the staff. Try their website, or ask via email. An experienced instructor/guide with 20 years experience is going to offer a far superior and safer trip/course than a new instructor, or qualified guide. Just like the shop should ask you for proof of certification, you should ask them for proof of qualifications. You will be amazed at how many operators are not actually qualified as instructors or divemasters.
Well organised dive boat
Look carefully at the standard and maintenance of the equipment used. Is the boat clean and seaworthy with all required safety equipment? Is there shade and water on board? You will be amazed at how many dive operators have no top watch, no emergency oxygen, no marine radio, no shade, and are generally not seaworthy. Look on their website for photos of the boat and ask questions.
You can also check the quality of equipment quite easily when you first walk into a dive shop. Be warned, that not being able to check the equipment before your dive or before you pay is a red flag; get out and don’t come back.
The most important thing to check is the condition of their tanks. If they look really worn out, look around for the hydro static test date to make sure they are verified as safe to dive with. The tanks should be marked with an annual inspection sticker.
Next up would be the regulators. You can visually inspect these from afar just by looking at the first and second stages for wear and tear. If they look really worn out, its definitely worth taking a closer look. If you feel comfortable you may wish to ask if you can take a test breath from it connected to a tank. Having a bad second stage that is difficult to breathe from is going to ruin your dive and can be stressful for people who are nervous while diving.
The BCD’s are the final component you really need to check at this point. Like the rest of the equipment, it’s probably not worth saving 10 bucks if they look like their better years are behind them.
Well maintained scuba regulators.
Scuba gear neatly prepared for dive trip
Organised dive shop
Scuba unit setup
If choosing a destination for diving, think about a few logistics. Are there direct flights? Is the political situation safe? Is the diving good? Is it a crowed and over dived destination? Is the diving seasonal?
Consider where you are choosing to stay. How far is it to travel to your chosen dive operator? How long are the boat trips from the dive center to dive sites?
These are few considerations to consider while planning your trip. But once you get to you destination consider a few other factors before going diving.
- Does the facility look clean and well maintained?
- Are they asking to check your certification and completing a medical form?
- Is the equipment well maintained and are they doing equipment checks?
- How many people are going diving with you with one guide? And is the guide going to be in the water with you?
- Are they giving a thorough briefing, doing buddy checks etc?
I hope this helps you make an informed choice for your next dive vacation. If you have any further question or would like assistance, contact me EMAIL [email protected]