Not all dive schools are created equal. For the most part, most dive schools and their instructors are well-meaning. They want to make sure students learn as much as they can in a safe environment. But, there are also a lot of dive schools operated by bad instructors which should be avoided. We’re going to examine what the difference is between a good dive school and a bad one. We’ll then go into different factors to consider when choosing the right dive school for you.
What Makes A Dive Center Good Or Bad?
Let’s go ahead and clarify that when we speak about good and bad, we are doing so from an educational standpoint. Saying a dive center is bad does not imply malintent on the part of the operators of the dive center. Instead, it may be bad because of the culture they have developed. It also may be the case that a dive center is good for some students but bad for others for various reasons.
We aren’t here to demonize certain dive centers over a perceived superiority in pedagogy. This isn’t a PADI vs. SSI type of article. Instead, we want to give you a better understanding of dive shops to help you pick the right one for you.
So, with that out of the way, what does make a dive center good or bad? Well, generally speaking, there are a few main factors which contribute to this.
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Good Dive Centers:
- A good dive center hires certified divemasters and instructors who have experience teaching. They don’t hire people who lack the proper experience for the job they will be doing. For example, they don’t have brand new divemasters leading giant groups of new students.
- Divemasters and dive instructors at good dive centers create a culture of safety. This means they teach students proper safety procedures. They make sure each student understands everything before moving onto the next topic. They enforce standards by making sure students review before each dive. At every step in the education process, safety is the first thing in mind.
- Good dive centers are sticklers for the rules. This means they vet every single diver who will be learning or diving with them. They check for proper certification before they let divers onto their boats. Before they let someone in an advanced class, they ensure they’ve taken the prerequisites. Rules are important when it comes to potentially dangerous activities such as diving. Good instructors and divemasters know this.
- Good dive centers have equipment that is well maintained and kept updated. Owners of good dive centers understand updating equipment is part of doing business. So, they make sure that it is taken care of for the safety of their students and divers.
- Finally, good dive centers will limit class sizes and student to instructor ratios. These standards will be strictly enforced, even if it comes at a small cost.
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Bad Dive Centers:
- Bad dive centers hire whoever will work for them for the lowest price. Even if the people aren’t certified or don’t have the appropriate experience to fulfill their duties.
- Instructors and divemasters at bad dive centers enforce the rules inconsistently. One instructor may be strict about not exceeding depth limits for your certification level. Another may lead you well past your depth limits and into harm’s way. There is no standardization when it comes to how safety measures are applied.
- Bad dive centers put profit before people. They rarely replace their equipment. Even if it is putting their students in danger. When they do replace equipment, it’s with the cheapest alternatives they can find. The people working at bad dive centers don’t maintain the equipment. This can lead to equipment failures during dives.
- Employees at bad dive centers are careless when it comes to things like filling the air tanks. They don’t pay attention to what they are doing and could at any moment make a mistake which puts people in harm’s way.
- Instructors at bad dive centers are concerned with getting as many people as possible into the classes. They cram the classes full with a high student to teacher ratio. They don’t take the time to make sure each student is comfortable with all the concepts. The end result is students do not feel comfortable or prepared after the course.
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There are other examples you could add to each of these lists. But, the above represent some of the most important things to look out for. The most important thing is safety. Every good dive center puts safety first. The instructors prioritize the safety of their students and anybody diving with them.
What Should You Look For In A Dive Center?
Now that we’ve got the most important part out of the way, let’s look at some other factors. Aside from safety, some personal preferences make a dive school better for some. These are:
- Instructors and divemasters spoken languages
- Certification organization the school falls under
- How large or small the school is
- Extras offered to students
Each of the above four factors is going to be largely up to personal preference. Whether a school has French or English dive instructors, for example, isn’t going to affect how good of a school it is. It will affect how good of a school it is for you though if you only speak English and all of the instructors speak French.
Let’s take a look at each of these factors individually so you can get a better idea of what you are looking for.
Spoken Languages at the Dive Center
Chances are if you are planning on getting certified in your home country, you won’t have to worry about this. Most likely, all of the dive instructors in your area are going to speak the local language. When you have to worry about this is when you are traveling abroad to get scuba certified.
Go to any well-known dive destination and you will find dive instructors from all parts of the world. You can walk around Koh Tao, for example, and find signs in front of the shops listing languages from German to Japanese and everything in between.
Obviously, if you are learning to dive while abroad, you want a dive instructor that speaks a language you are familiar with. If you are bilingual, then you need to choose the language you feel most comfortable learning in. Remember that diving is a highly technical sport. If you speak both English and German but feel more confident learning technical concepts in German, find a German instructor.
Certification Organization the School Falls Under
This one is going to be a bit less important than other factors in the short term. In the beginning, almost everything you are learning is the same regardless of which organization you are certified under. PADI and SSI, despite the ongoing debate, have almost identical training manuals. The same goes for SDI and NAUI.
Where this becomes important is when you are factoring in what you want to do after you are certified. Are you looking to progress into more advanced forms of diving such as technical diving? Then it might be better to go with a certification organization such as SDI. Do you plan on sticking to warm water tropical diving while on vacation? You will be just fine with SSI or PADI.
You can read up more about the difference between each of the organizations. This can give you a better idea of the pros and cons of each and which one is right for you. Also, make sure you talk to the instructors at the different schools where you plan to get certified. This will give you a good idea of where they stand on the matter.
How Large or Small the School Is
We spoke in the good or bad section about the student to teacher ratio. Obviously, a lower student to teacher ratio is better. But, as long as the ratio doesn’t get past 4 or 5 students to every 1 instructor, you are fine. That being said, you are going to have to figure out what type of environment you learn best in.
There are large dive schools that certify dozens of people every day. On the other hand, there are smaller dive schools that have a policy of no more than 3 students for each instructor. There is no right or wrong answer to which one is best. Instead, it is going to come down to personal preference.
Think back to when you were going through school. Did you prefer to be at the front of the class and focusing on what the teacher was saying? Did you enjoy the classes that had fewer students and more discussion? Or, did you prefer larger classes where you got to meet a lot of people?
If you prefer the former, you will probably do best at a smaller school. But, if you want to meet a lot of people and don’t mind there being less time with the instructor, go with a larger school.
Just remember, your number one priority should be learning safe diving procedures. Even if you prefer a larger school, if you get distracted easily, put yourself in the environment that is better for you to learn in.
Extras Offered to Students
There is a lot of competition for your diving dollar. Especially in popular destinations such as Koh Tao or Utila Island. So, to remain competitive, many schools offer extras with their dive packages to attract students. These can range from free accommodation if you are traveling to discounted fun dives for life.
If you are looking at a few different schools and each of them meets the criteria we laid out above, check out what extras they offer. Do not let this be the sole factor in your choosing the school. It is never good to discount what we mentioned makes a good dive school just because you are getting free accommodation, for example.
Remember that diving isn’t a cheap activity. It wasn’t cheap for the dive instructors to get to where they are. It also wasn’t cheap for the dive center to set up shop. If you are seeing deals that are too good to be true, they probably are. Getting open water certified doesn’t have to break the bank. But, always remember the old adage you get what you pay for.
There are thousands of dive centers around the world. Most of them are excellent places with knowledgeable instructors who have your safety in mind. Pick the right school, and you will have an amazing experience that will set you up for a lifetime of safe and memorable diving. As long as you apply the above criteria when selecting the right school for you, you will be fine.
Do you have anything else to add? Maybe you’re an instructor with experience at different schools?
Let us know in the comments section what you think. We enjoy hearing from fellow divers. You also never know when what you have to say might help someone else.