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Choosing the right Dive Center and Scuba Instructor

Kenneth Konyshak   Mar 08, 2021

You’re ready to take that Giant Stride into your next great adventure. Where to start? GOOGLE immediately provides ads, images, and a smorgasbord of information on everything from Aqua Lung to Zeagle (again… scuba certification) and a map of the closest Dive Centers in your area. Don’t get button happy. You have reached the most important part of your scuba diving journey… selecting a Dive Center AND the most important person in your upcoming adventure, your Dive Instructor.

Here are some considerations for narrowing down where to go and how & whom to choose.

We live in the information age where the answer to any question is literally at your fingertips.

Start with identifying the Certification Agency or Agencies that the dive center is aligned with. It’s an alphabet soup of certifying agencies: SSI (Scuba Schools International), NAUI (National Association of Underwater Instructors), SDI (Scuba Diving International), and PADI (Professional Association of Dive Instructors) are known as the Big 4 and are the largest and most popular, but at the end of the day…they are all members of, and governed by, the RSTC (Recreational Scuba Training Council) & WRSTC (World Recreational Scuba Training Council) which dictate the standards that the scuba industry adheres to worldwide. I highly recommend SSI or PADI for numerous reasons, but largely because the student materials are easily accessed, comprehensive, and user friendly… not to mention that both agencies have over 50 years of experience in the industry. Just as scuba divers must earn SSI certifications, SSI Retail and Resort Members earn the right to fly the SSI flag. Dive centers that fail to adhere to SSI’s standards have their credentials revoked. Centers that go above and beyond are awarded SSI Diamond status and may receive additional recognition as an Instructor Training Center. Finding an SSI Diamond Instructor Training Center (PADI’s equivalent is a 5 Star IDC) simply ensures that you will be receiving the highest quality of training & service.

Once you’ve identified the certifying agency, you can begin to dive a little deeper (pun intended) into the status of the store. Be sure the Dive Center is in good standing and has not been suspended or expelled for unscrupulous and unsafe business practices and/or standards violations. Be leery of shops that have jumped from agency to agency, and owners & managers that over promise and under deliver. If something appears “to good to be true”…it usually is.

Other things to ask your dive shop include class size, what fees (if any) are incurred if you need to reschedule a training session, and where in-water training takes place. If you are on a tight timeline, have any medical issues, or have a student diver under the age of 15, let the dive center know in advance of your training.

Ask about fee structures. Many shops require a 3-step approach: Academics, Pool/Confined Water, and Open Water. A full scuba certification course is not something that could or should be completed in a day or even two. I would leave skid marks in the parking lot if a Dive Center or Instructor tries to sell you  a shortened version of a full certification course. Ask about the equipment you will be using for certification and what gear (if any) will need to be purchased beforehand.

Lastly, inquire about the available Instructors. A reputable dive center will have more than just one or two staff Instructors. Ask to see credentials and verify they are in good standing on SSI’s website. Different instructors have different educational philosophies. But what you need to decide is how you like to learn. Some students can learn new things quickly while others learn at a slower pace. Some like home study while others like the discipline of meeting with and learning from an instructor in a classroom. Which is best depends on you and how you learn. Be honest with yourself.

Questions to Ask Your Diving Instructor

  1. How long have you been teaching and how many divers have you certified?

It’s okay to be paired with a new(er) Instructor…as long as they are coteaching with an experienced instructor or have direct supervision of the course. Experience wins every time.

  1. Which agency are you affiliated with? Why?

We all have choices, especially within the scuba industry. The journey of a dive pro and how they arrived in their present situation is as important as their experience level.

  1. Will you be in the water with me continuously?

RSTC standards dictate that we are in the water with you from the first splash in the pool to the last deep-water exit. Anything else is unacceptable, inexcusable, and dangerous, and warrants suspension or expulsion from the agency. Period.

  1. Why do you love diving?

Does your potential instructor dive for fun and what sort of diving do they do? Really passionate instructors will dive beyond their teaching and continue to push themselves to learn by adding to their repertoire.

  1. What is included in the price?

This is kind of a repeat but… Ask how many confined water sessions there are before you head to open water. Is the course material and rental equipment included in the price? Are boat fees, marine park fees, food etc.… included. It is best to know the full cost upfront.

  1. What is the process and how long will it take?

Most scuba certification courses require a minimum number of hours in classroom and pool, and a minimum of 4 open water evaluation dives conducted over multiple days. Make sure to get the specifics.

  1. Ask to observe a class. Is the instructor patient with his/her students? Does he/she communicate well?

Find an instructor that you get along with and trust. They will be involved with your “scuba life” way beyond your Open Water Diver course. Take as much time as you need to be comfortable.

Never make your choice(s) simply based on price. A cheap course will always mean rushed lectures, short dive times, a tight schedule and little time for questions, individual assessment, or remedial work. If the course seems cheaper than courses offered elsewhere, it’s usually because the instructor will cut corners. You will not notice when this happens or know which corners have been cut.

Learning to scuba dive takes time. Time costs money. The more contact time you have with the Instructor, the more in-water time you have, the better the course, and the better value you are getting for your money.

Now that you’re “scuba savvy” …. Let’s go diving!