So, you’ve just arrived in paradise or maybe you’re about to jet off to a new destination. You can’t wait to get underwater, but you don’t want to take the plunge with just anyone.
In most scuba diving destinations, the streets and beach fronts are littered with an overwhelming number of dive centres offering day trips and courses, but how do you choose? Although it is tempting to just pick the first one you stumble across, there are a few important things that you might want to consider.
Here is our advice for picking the best scuba diving shop for you.
You get what you pay for.
Price should never be a deciding factor when choosing a scuba diving centre. You wouldn’t skydive with the cheapest operator just because they were the cheapest, would you? Never put your desire to save money above your personal safety. Check out theses dive computer reviews.
There is no such thing as cheap scuba diving.
If the price appears low it’s often because you will have to pay extra to cover; training books, rental gear, fuel for the boat or the certification fee. It is always worth checking that the price includes everything for your day’s diving or diving course.
A dive shop with an outstanding reputation and supplies like best scuba masks, including a highly experienced staff, who will prioritise your comfort and safety, is what you will be focused on. Fortunately, many places, like here on the Gili Islands, standardise all prices for scuba diving courses and fun dives across the board to ensure best practices. Make sure to check for dive agency standards, for example, PADI accredited.
Ask around for recommendations.
Speak to friends, family and other divers.
It is always great to hear other people’s first-hand experience of a dive centre. Ask friends, family or even other travelers if they have any recommendations of who to dive with in the area.
Even if you don’t know anyone that has dived in the area, there are some fantastic online communities that you can tap into for suggestions. Scuba Board is the world’s largest community of scuba divers with a helpful and active forum. Alternatively, there are insightful groups on Facebook that you can join and ask for advice, such as ‘Girls That Scuba’. These online networks of divers and travelers can provide invaluable insight into what it is like to dive with a given shop.
Browsing on TripAdvisor is also a good place to start.
But don’t automatically reject a centre if there are a few negative reviews. Have a look at whether the management has responded and how they’ve approached the negative feedback. Is there a fair explanation or apology? This can give you an indication of the dive centre’s professionalism and how they handle problems or challenging situations.
Everyone has a bad day occasionally, often due to factors out of their control. If most of the reviews are overwhelmingly positive and they’ve responded to complaints professionally, then they’re probably a good choice.
Take more notice of a shop’s overall score rather than their ranking. The ranking is more about how well a shop markets to customers for reviews. For example, there may be several shops with a high review score but some rank higher on trip advisor because they have been more effective at getting their customers to write reviews.
Check out their social media.
Word of mouth is a powerful tool. If they’re treating their customers right, you’ll hear about it across all platforms. Social media is an excellent window into a dive centre’s day to day activities and their unique personality.
Does it look like they are having fun?
What sort of marine life are they seeing?
Are customers positively engaging?
If, on social media, the dive shop looks like they engage with their customers; is somewhere you could see yourself, and gets you excited about diving with them, that’s a pretty good sign!
If you are in the area, go and visit a few dive centres.
It’s good to be able to get a feel for how they operate, but try not to get too distracted by the tanned instructor with the cute smile behind the desk!
Is the dive centre itself looked after?
This may give you an idea of their equipment and boats. Pay attention to the details. Check out the reception area; if they can’t keep that clean, then what else aren’t they looking after?
It is always important to check the equipment. Ask to have a look and see if it is well maintained. Do they regularly service their equipment? Are the certificates on the wall up to date? Make sure that the centre adheres to the PADI or SSI standards. You wouldn’t step on a boat or plane that you deemed unsafe, so use your common sense. ever use unsafe equipment.
Make sure you ask questions, that’s what the staff are there for.
How many divers to do they take per guide? A maximum should be 4 divers per guide.
What is their cancellation or refund policy? This can vary from shop to shop so always worth checking you are happy with their policy.
Is there somewhere you can shower and change after the diving?
Is there a safe place to store your valuables?
Are the staff enthusiastic about their dive sites?
How much experience do they have?
Were they helpful and engaged in the conversation?
If they won’t answer your questions, then move on to the next shop. They should be convincing you as to why they are the best fit for your diving needs.
Whilst at the shop you could also get the opportunity to speak to their current customers about their experiences.
Looking to take a scuba diving course?
If you’re looking to gain a certification, have a look at where you will be learning, both the swimming pool and classroom area. Is it a pleasant environment? Would you be happy to spend your time there?
How many students do they take per instructor? As with fun diving, a good maximum is 4 per instructor. This makes sure that you get the attention needed and do not have to waste a lot of time waiting for others.
It is also worth asking the staff about their experience teaching. It is always good if they have been teaching a while, as they will have developed multiple techniques that are effective across different people’s learning styles. If the shop has onsite course directors this is a great opportunity to learn from highly experienced dive professionals.
When should you move on to the next dive centre?
If the staff are unenthusiastic about their dive sites, the equipment is not well maintained or you just feel uncomfortable, then listen to your gut, it’s time to move on.
What if you are not in the area?
Don’t worry if you aren’t in the area and want to choose a shop before arriving, most will be more than happy to answer any questions you have over an email, a phone call or their social media platforms so just reach out!
If you want to double check that you are in safe hands, you can also use PADI’s Dive Shop Locator to check a shop’s credentials. All dive shops that are featured must fully adhere to the Professional Association of Diving Instructors standards. You can also see those operators who go above and beyond and have been awarded Five Star status and additional recognition as an Instructor Development Centre.
Listen to your gut.
You don’t need to have much, or even any experience, when choosing a dive centre. Listen to your intuition, don’t choose anyone that makes you feel uncomfortable. The most important thing is that you feel safe and confident. Pick somewhere that you trust, with staff that you are excited to spend time with and you can’t go wrong!
Here at Oceans5, we are committed to providing professional and enjoyable diving for everyone, regardless of age, ability or experience. As a PADI 5* Dive Resort and 5* Instructor Development Centre we prioritise safety and high standards. We are all about making our customers happy.
Our highly experienced instructors will work with you to make sure that you are comfortable, happy and confident in the water. With no more than 4 divers per instructor we guarantee that you are well looked after. Our 5 onsite course directors are always sharing their wisdom with our customers, helping to teach all PADI courses from Discover Scuba up to Instructor Development.
As well as top notch staff, equipment and standards, Oceans5 provides a laid back and comfortable environment to spend time in. The dive shop has lockers to store valuables, fresh water showers and a place to change. Out front, there is a spacious area where you can relax, enjoy a coffee pre dive or a beer post dive, whilst chatting with your new dive buddies about the best underwater finds of the day!
We hope these tips have given you a bit more confidence in making an informed decision when choosing the best dive shop. What do you look for in a dive centre? Do you have good or bad experiences with choosing a dive centre? It would be great to hear what has worked for you!