Scuba diving’s one sport where your guide matters just as much as your destination in determining whether you have a great time, safe dives and achieve your goals – whether it’s to see a specific marine animal, getting that shot that you’ve always wanted to, or simply getting the most out of your dives.
Every single time we plan a dive trip – whether it’s to offer it as a new destination, or for personal holidays – it’s back to the tedious routine of deciding on a dive operator. But it’s worth every minute of effort; after all, we all want enjoyable and safe dives (which, honestly, are way too expensive to waste on hasty and wrong choices).
So here it is, some tips on how to choose the right dive operator for your needs:
1. Get a Sense of What’s Available
You’ve likely done some research on your destination. Make a list of all the dive centers that you’re going to consider, and dive sites that you want to visit.
There is usually so many dive operators that sometimes the easiest way to start is simply identifying who you wouldn’t want to dive with. Usually, it’s easy to eliminate by looking through their websites or reading reviews.
Good dive operators make sure their equipment is well maintained.
There are some dive centers none of us would dive with if they don’t meet certain criteria. Period. Some questions you should ask, or deal breakers that you should look out for (whether it’s from online reviews, or word of mouth) are:
- Are they willing to take divers beyond the depth limits set by their certification levels?
- Do they allow divers to go on specialty dives for which they are not qualified?
- Are boats overcrowded?
- Have they received complains of poor equipment or boats? A dive company willing to rent poor equipment simply doesn’t care about your comfort or safety.
- Have they had notable incidents?
- Do they have an affiliation with a trusted dive agency (e.g. PADI, SSI etc)?
How many divers are on your dive boat? Do divers of all qualifications go on the same boat?
Some things you should look out for are:
- Guided vs. independent diving – some of us value having a guide that know the area well, others may prefer having the flexibility to plan their own dives
- Dive sites – in some diving destinations, only certain operators have access to dive sites that are in your wish list. Check what dive sites they go to so that you avoid any disappointment during the trip.
- Number of people on the boat – some of us may prefer small, personalized service while others prefer bigger dive operators used to organizing dives for larger groups.
- Environmental considerations – does your dive operator display care for the marine environment? Or do they allow divers to touch corals? The latter might be a warning sign that your dive operator is less than careful.
By this step, you should be down to about two of three choices and it’ll then be about finding the shop that best fits your goals. This is when we’d usually start email or phone conversations to find out more. Sometimes, the speed at which and how emails and calls are answered also give you a general gut feeling for which dive operator you’re most comfortable with.
Price is not always a reflection of quality. Just because it’s the most expensive doesn’t mean that they’re the best (or the best choice for you), and this statement also works vice versa.
There’s usually a reason why dive operators charge the amount they do – whether it’s to do with taking more divers in a single boat (and hence cheaper prices), or perhaps having access to special sites or having better facilities (and hence more expensive).
As long as the prices are fair (always look at inclusions and terms), more often that not, prices don’t matter as much as safety and suitability. Savings sometimes come in different ways, and a more expensive dive operator might sometimes get you access to discounted lodging, which may then negate any price difference.
What’s your objective? Sometimes, we choose different dive centers for courses than we would for fun dives.
Sometimes the choice of dive operator depends on the objective of your dive trip – are you headed over to take a course or fun dive? Some dive operators are excellent for courses because they put you through rigorous training; others are better at organizing leisure trips because they have skilled and experienced divemasters who know the area exceptionally well and can make sure you have a fun time. Note now that we’re already looking at good dive operators.
If you’re an underwater photographer, or have special requirements, having facilities that cater to that would make the difference between one dive center and another. If you’re concerned about environmental friendliness, perhaps choosing a dive operator accredited with Green Fins, is 100% AWARE etc, or have spent years helping local communities would be your choice.
How many dive boats does your operator have? Having more boats sometimes means greater ability to segregate novice from advanced divers (which would affect the dive sites visited), as well as better flexibility in catering to schedules.
Boat facilities – if you’re planning for the entire days on the boat, having amenities for comfort might make the difference between two dive centres.
4. Make Your Choice!
There are many other considerations that we use to finally decide on one dive centre, but by following this, you’d likely have arrived at a dive center that you’re at least comfortable with. Trust your gut and have a great time!