Choosing a dive centre is one of the most important decisions divers need to make - especially beginners. Even so, there are some simple ways to question and confirm professionalism and integrity.
This help guide contains a list of 'red flag' questions that learners should be asking to determine whether the scuba operation and instructor are trustworthy and credible.
To begin with, let's be clear about the kind of "dive shop red flags" that we are referring to.
We don't mean coloured diving flags (e.g. red and white "diver down").
The question is:
How do new divers know what to look for (and what questions to ask) to feel confident they're choosing a safe dive shop?
It's fair to say that an experienced diver is going to spot most red flag caution signals right away (e.g. fudging the paperwork).
But, what should you do when you are ready to start a scuba diving course and you don't know who to choose for the training?
Let's make it clear that the vast majority of dive shops and operators will be running a successful scuba business with an established reputation for providing high quality services.
Here's the thing:
Last time we checked, there are more than 6,600 PADI Dive Centers and Resorts around the world. So, how can you narrow it down and find one that suits your particular circumstances?
Well, there are some simple ways to check whether they're running a safe operation before you book a snorkeling tour or a dive course.
Keep in mind, there are more than 164 recreational scuba diving certification agencies around the world. Most of them can offer PADI equivalent qualifications, including CMAS, SSI, NAUI, RAID, GUE, and BSAC.
An old adage says there's no better advertising than "word of mouth". In other words, a good place to start is to ask a trusted friend (or someone on one of the scuba social networking sites) to recommend a safety conscious dive centre that they've used before.
Often, shopping around for the cheapest price is relevant before you decide to book a course. But, this list of scuba questions to ask a dive shop focuses on the general safety aspects within the industry.
Some severe medical conditions can stop you from scuba diving, such as having a history of spontaneous pneumothorax.
If you have any kind of medical issues, the dive shop and the instructor will need to know about it. Hence, you should be filling out a self-assessment medical questionnaire prior to diving.
Beginners must also have no medical contraindications for scuba diving. Thus, new divers need to sign the RSTC Medical Statement before performing any in-water training activities.
The bottom line is this:
Although this is mandatory for scuba course participation, some less reputable operations fail to carry out this medical screening process in the proper manner.
The best advice is to take a 'proactive' approach. Make them aware of any medical conditions that may be potential contraindications to scuba diving by asking for a medical form.
Plus, you need to be honest when you write your answers. You should consider it a major 'diving red flag' if any dive shop staff or scuba professional encourages you to give false information (e.g. lie about a known health condition).
Keep in mind, filling in your diving log book to record all the important data (especially the maximum depth and the total dive time) is an integral part of the recommended scuba diving safety tips and protocols. It is best not to skip this part!
Pro Tip: Despite not being a common occurrence, it may become necessary to go a step further. Another section contains information about how to complain about a scuba trainer or how to submit a report about a scuba certification agency.
It's fair to say that the onus and responsibility begins with the diver [you] in the first instance. So in other words, you should always check the state of your own health before you go diving. Let's face it, no one is a better judge of your current health condition.
Do you feel healthy and strong enough to cope with the rigours of diving without endangering yourself (and others)? Is your current mental state free of worry and anxiety?
These self-imposed questions assess your readiness and capability of making the dives safely, both for you and for the safety of your buddy.
Beware of dive shop staff that "pressurise" you into making the trip if you're not feeling relaxed, ready, and able. If ever there is doubt, visit your doctor and get a professional evaluation.
Qualified divers can rent dive gear from most reputable stores, using their certification card as verification of their experience level.
In most cases, a well organised dive centre will include free rental of used scuba diving equipment in the course price.
Either way, the majority of dive shops of good repute won't be charging you to use:
But, rental dive gear at a disreputable operation will:
Normal wear and tear is going to produce some visible signs, such as small holes in thin neoprene wetsuits or colour fading on Buoyancy Compensators (BC). Nonetheless, when gear gets old it usually means it's not well cared for.
You might also need to ask about safe storage facilities for your personal equipment. Most scuba shops will accommodate and provide you with name tags for marking your gear.
This may sound like an unfair question to ask. However, it could be important why the dive shop chooses a particular metal type over another (e.g. steel tanks vs. aluminium cylinders).
We're not suggesting that a wrong answer should be a 'deal breaker'. But, it may be of interest to you why they prefer using a certain brand over another.
This is an ideal situation for you to have an informed, knowledgeable discussion about the advantages and some of the benefits of steel cylinders over alloys.
Note: We appreciate that personal preference also plays its part. But, knowing which type of tank you will be using helps you to prepare your weight assembly and make other buoyancy adjustments ahead of the actual dive.
Talking about really important scuba diving questions to ask about before you go diving, ask the dive shop if the Divemaster is going to be in the water during the dives.
In most cases, the answer will be 'YES'. But, not having a qualified professional present in the water might be a valid reason for giving that particular enterprise a miss.
We always recommend that you have a professional dive guide with you at all times during the dive. Plus, reputable dive centres will provide a leader who is a local marine life expert and familiar with the site.
Ask if they can provide customer testimonials or references submitted by happy divers from some previous activities.
In case you were wondering:
Even experienced divers benefit from a local orientation to new diving destinations, avoid hazardous areas, and find the best points of interest.
When offered the assistance of a Divemaster, it is also a good idea to confirm that he or she can speak and understand your language. In fact, clear diver communications and an enthusiastic attitude are key roles of the best dive leaders.
Unless you have a solo diver certification, you should never scuba dive alone. So, what happens if you don't have a diving friend to buddy-up with?
A professional diving association will 'pair' you up with another certified diver (or group of divers). So, you should ask who you will be diving with, to see if you're comfortable with the response.
Discuss and compare PADI hand signals that you'll be using underwater. Then, familiarise yourself with the scuba gear that your buddy is using, especially the BCD inflation mechanism(s), weight configuration, and alternate air source (e.g. octopus).
Pro Tip: As a rule, you won't be diving alone and an ideal maximum ratio is 1:4. Check out what makes a good diver buddy and how to follow the recommended safety procedures when there are more than two divers in a group.
Dive boats vary in size, facilities, and comfort. So, would you be happy diving from a crowded boat? Large groups of divers can be intimidating for learner divers.
A prudent diver ratio is around four divers to one dive leader (1:4). But, you should expect to have higher ratios at some of the best dive sites in the world.
But wait - there's more:
Ask if the crew are competent (trained) to cope for the tally and has the boat been regularly serviced and repaired? Will they allow you to check your own gas mix (e.g. if you're diving with enriched air nitrox (EANx)?
Does the boat have shower and toilet facilities? Will there be fresh water to clean the dive gear? Will there be somewhere to safely store my personal dive gear and belongings? Are life jackets available for everyone onboard?
The answers given to these friendly, yet important, scuba diving questions will help you to decide whether the outfit is trustworthy and professional - or not!
Pro Tip: Always pay close attention to the boat briefings. But, if the staff decide to skip the boat briefing you should consider this as being a huge red flag and a significant sign of a badly run operation.
You should never underestimate the importance of finding out where you will be diving. It helps with pre-planning and your comfort level.
Other important factors to consider are the maximum depth, what marine life you'll see, and how to make the safety stops. You can avoid confusion and disappointment by asking all the right questions before you make the dive.
Note: Take a look through our marine life education section to find out more about fish families and their interesting behavioural patterns.
Other important items that may be relevant and important for your particular situation, might include:
Once on board, become familiar with the storage location of medical equipment in case you're the one who needs to find it.
Despite the prudence and meticulous planning by the best operations, there's no getting away from the fact that scuba diving accidents are going to happen.
So, it's essential to check if there is emergency oxygen available (e.g. on the dive boat). Moreover, is there someone qualified that knows how to provide oxygen to an injured diver?
It's wise to ask your trusted dive center what their emergency procedures and contingency plans are in the event of a diving incident.
If the unthinkable happened, how long would it take them to arrange speedy transportation to the nearest medical facility or a hyperbaric recompression chamber?
Of course, we also recommend that you get diving insurance. Helicopter evacuation from a remote island to medical facilities can be very expensive.
Note: The short video [15:35 seconds] presented by 'Scuba diver Magazine' highlights 10 red flags with important questions that new divers should be asking to help them find a sound dive center for diving.
We discussed some of the top questions that divers should ask before they go diving with an unfamiliar dive shop. The list contains popular topics that may be on your mind when choosing a dive facility for scuba diving.
The internet allows us to find the answers to most of these questions ahead of time and without too much fuss.
Nonetheless, one final point is that the timeliness and professional response to emails is usually a sign of a customer-focused dive shop.
Speedy, polite, and knowledgeable replies with informative, helpful answers, generally mean you made the right choice. Hence, your dives should be pleasant and enjoyable experiences.