Whether you’ve decided to explore the SS Thistlegorm in the Egyptian Red Sea, witness the Sardine Run off South Africa, or simply book a single day of diving during your beach vacation, you will probably need some gear, a little local knowledge and a seasoned guide to make the most of the experience.
You can find the right dive center via internet searches, social media, word of mouth or walking into a shop off the street — personal research can go a long way in helping you decide. But during your search, it’s important to ask the right questions and glean all you can from other cues. Whether you’re finalizing booking details of an upcoming trip or popping in to a beachfront shop to schedule an on-the-fly dive, it’s wise to evaluate a dive operator thoroughly instead of choosing randomly.
As you assess a potential dive operator — long distance or in person — get nosy and ask a lot of questions. Keeping in mind that your personal safety is the highest priority, advocate for yourself and ask about certifications, equipment maintenance, safety records and more.
Here are some questions to consider asking:
- How often does the operator service rental equipment?
- How often do they test their gas and service their compressors?
- What is the operator’s safety record?
- Do they have an affiliation with a reputable training agency?
- Are oxygen units regularly maintained and readily available at every dive site?
- What sort of ongoing staff training or emergency drills do they do?
- What sort of facilities are available for customers (such as postdive showers or places to store valuables)?
And there is one question to ask yourself: What are my expectations from the dive center and overall dive experience? Are you looking for a simple, intimate experience, or would you prefer a luxury dive center that organizes large-group dives? Keep your personal expectations in mind.
Beyond well-maintained equipment, evaluation of the dive center itself is important in the decision process — but it’s OK if you’re unable to visit beforehand.
Walking in off the street, look around the facility and do your own assessment. As you meander around, note whether the shop is clean and organized. Strike up a conversation with the owner, manager or associate and ask all your questions. Consider that an operation that prioritizes its customers’ safety will be eager to tell you so. Throughout your personal inspection, it needs to be obvious that the rental equipment, staff training and safety standards are maintained.
Prices among rival shops are often similar, so if there is a major difference in cost between two potential dive centers, it may be worth asking about that and seeing what’s included. The old saying is true here: You get what you pay for. But also remember: Price is not always indicative of quality.
Trust Your Gut
Throughout your research process, if an operator seems uneasy or reluctant while answering your questions, end the conversation and go somewhere else. It is the operator’s job to make you feel safe, and discomfort in talking about safety standards is a red flag. (And not the good kind with the diagonal white stripe.)
Finally, don’t forget to ask yourself this important question: Do I ultimately trust this dive operator? Rely on your intuition, and select the dive business that puts you at ease.
And before you embark on any dive vacation or adventure, be sure your DAN membership is current.