When deciding to take a scuba class, the non-diver has very limited insight as to what to look for in selecting the right scuba class for him or her. Many people select the cheapest and/or quickest scuba class, but that can be a big mistake. Here we will explain in great detail the areas to consider when selecting a scuba class.
There are definitely some things to look for when selecting a class, dive shop, and/or a scuba instructor. Your question can be broken down into three distinct areas to evaluate, thus it is worthy of three separate articles which I have written. Let’s take a look at each of these areas of consideration:
A. How to Select a Scuba Diving Class
B. How to Select a Dive Shop
C. How to Select a Scuba Instructor
HOW TO SELECT A SCUBA DIVING CLASS
Let’s start here because you will need these items to assist you in selecting a dive shop and/or independent instructor.
WHAT IS SCUBA CERTIFICATION?
To become a scuba diver you must complete proper training and be issued a scuba diving certification, a.k.a. a “c-card”. Your training takes place under the instruction and supervision of a certified and insured scuba diving instructor. This instructor has professional training and credentials with one or more scuba diving training/certification agencies. There are several of these agencies worldwide and they are often referred to by their acronyms. Here are just some of the scuba training/certification agencies: PADI, SSI, NAUI, SDI, SEI, IDEA, PDIC, IANTD, GUE, PSAI, CMAS, BSAC, and L.A. County to name a few.
Note: Although there are several agencies that offer beginning/basic courses to become a certified scuba diver, it is important to note that they do not all call the class to become a certified scuba diver the same thing – in fact the same named class, for example “Scuba Diver” may have a totally different meaning from one agency to another. Common course terms are Open Water Diver, Scuba Diver, Basic Diver, with most agencies using the term Open Water Diver.
An Open Water Diver scuba class is broken up into three distinct sections of training: academics, confined water and open water. Those areas of training vary by agency, region, dive shop, and instructor. You will find the packaging of this training to be varied as well, especially in pricing and scheduling. Let’s take a close look at each:
1. Academic Training (aka “Classroom Sessions”)
This training refers to the didactic (educational) learning of becoming a scuba diver. The media for academic delivery varies by training agency and instructor but is for the most part a combination of books, videos, and instructor presentations. On-line learning is becoming quite a popular alternative since the pace of learning is up to you and can be done at your leisure. Areas of learning include diving equipment, diving science, diving physiology, dive table usage, and the diving environment.
1. Think about your personal learning style and then choose the academic medium that fits you.
2. Take a look at a sample textbook.
3. Some agencies will have a demo of their online program that you can check out.
4. Ask how many instructor presentations (classroom sessions) there are. If there are some, you might be able to check out their classroom – is it comfortable and conducive to learning?
5. Try to meet your instructor. Is he or she someone you feel comfortable with learning from? You’re looking for good communication skills, a warm and caring personality, and a genuine passion for wanting to teach you how to scuba dive.
6. If you’re okay with reading, you like the classroom environment, and you like the instructor, then go with the textbooks. If not, then perhaps the online learning would be a better option for you. Students who are very inquisitive and like to understand things at a higher level often do better with more instructor contact hours, such as using the textbook with multiple classroom sessions.
2. Confined Water Training (aka “Pool Sessions”)
Confined water is basically the “pool session” part of a scuba diving class. Confined water training is conducted mostly in pools, however the term also refers to a controlled body of water that has “pool-like” conditions. Confined water training is where you will be introduced to, and practice, your diving skills. Skills include how to breathe underwater, how to clear your regulator, how to monitor your air supply, establishing neutral buoyancy, clearing your mask, entering the water, exiting the water, and how to assist your buddy – just to name a few.
1. The pool depth can be very beneficial to your training. The deeper the pool, the better. Pools that are 9′, 10′ or 12′ feet are really good depths to train in. Some pools that have deep diving wells 14′ to 18’+ are even better. But small, shallow 6′ pools are not ideal for training.
2. What is the water temperature? You want a heated pool. Some competitive lap swimming pools are a tad too cold for extended time underwater. In some training settings a wetsuit will help. Being chilly during training distracts you and can be problematic.
3. Ask about additional time for practice or skill development. Some people may take longer than others to master a particular skill. Classes have scheduled pool times that may not be enough for you. Find out the details if you need more pool sessions. Don’t race through a course just because that was the schedule. If you need more pool time to be comfortable and confident, that is a good thing.
4. Where is the pool? Sometimes the pool sessions are conveniently located – perhaps at the dive shop, local YMCA or local municipal pool. Other times the pool is quite a distance away. Again, just like the classroom, check out if the pool is convenient, comfortable and conducive to learning.
3. Open Water Training (aka “Checkout Dives”)
In your open water training, you will apply the skills learned in the confined water sessions in an actual diving environment. This open water environment is most often the ocean, but can also be lakes, rivers, quarries, sinkholes, springs and even, in some cases, man-made environments like aquariums. In the open water training you will learn a few new skills such as navigation, beach entries, or dive boat operations; and you will also be evaluated by your instructor to see how well you apply skills on your own such as monitoring your air supply, having proper buoyancy, and being a good dive buddy. Most courses will have you complete four open water scuba dives with perhaps a skin dive as well.
1. Where are your dives? If possible, try to have your open water dives include ocean dives off a charter dive boat. The reason for this is your c-card will allow you to dive on recreational dives all over the world – the majority of which are coral reefs – in the ocean – where only dive boats can access them! If all your open water training dives take place in a lake, then you have not learned how to set up on a dive boat, dive boat etiquette, listening to briefings, dive boat entry and exits, currents, waves, sea legs, marine life, etc. And to rely on a divemaster to coach you through all that on your first ocean dives after you are certified will be a bad experience – they are just too busy to teach you all that. Yes, there are legitimate logistic considerations that prevent all dive classes from going out on ocean boat dives, so you could consider the next tip…
2. You may consider doing open water referral dives for your open water training dives. Referral dives allow you to travel to another destination and go through your open water training dives with another instructor. This is used quite a bit for northern dive shops in the winter months. They can do the indoor classroom and pool sessions, and when completed the students go to a tropical location with paperwork in hand and finish up their open water training dives. Each agency has guidelines for this, so it is best to work with your original instructor to guide you to locations to complete your referral dives.
Unfortunately, this is the most complex part in the decision making process. The reason for this is class pricing varies greatly by what is included in the class and what is required to purchase additionally by the student. Avoid sticker shock – a $500 class may be the same as a $199 class! Some classes are “all-inclusive” and others are not. The details are in what is included. I have created a Scuba Class Pricing Checklist PDF for you to download FREE. Fill out this checklist as you research class prices either by calling or visiting the dive shop, or doing internet research. Then get out your calculator and add up the items on this list for a true cost comparison.
1. Books and Materials – are they included in the class price or are they separate? Books and materials are often bundled in a kit or pack. If you have to buy them they could be $40 to $85.
2. Online Learning – if you go with online learning, do you pay for that separately or is that included? This type of academic learning could cost $100 to $150, and you may still need to purchase supplemental materials (like dive tables and log books) to go along with it.
3. Skin Diving Equipment – Most dive shops want you to own your mask, snorkel and fins. These are very personal pieces of equipment where fit and comfort are key to their proper functioning. It is a very good practice to have your own mask, snorkel and fins rather than use rental ones. Find out if the dive shop will give you a discount for the purchase of your skin diving equipment. A 10% to 15% discount is often given to a dive shop’s students. Other shops may give a discount in the “bundling” of gear – for example mask, snorkel, fins, booties, bag, and defog solution. Prices on bundled skin diving gear range from $150 to $275.
4. Other Required Equipment – Some dive shops will require you to purchase other items in addition to the skin diving equipment. These items may include lead weights, weight belt, wetsuit, bottom timing device, dive slate, dive knife, signaling devices, and/or gloves. Although these can add up quickly, don’t look at it as a bad thing. Most dive centers that are requiring these items take diving seriously and are looking to equip you to be a more prepared diver, rather than trying to make more money on you. Chances are you will purchase most of these items soon after being a certified diver anyhow.
5. Rental Equipment – Many classes include the major pieces of rental equipment such as tanks, BCD’s and regulators throughout the entirety of confined water and open water training. Some also include wetsuits and weights. However, there are some dive shops that will include the rental equipment for the confined water sessions only, but will charge you the rental prices for the open water training dives. And, there are other places that will require you to rent an item like a wetsuit and give you an option to buy it at the end of your training.
6. Confined Water Sessions – Most dive centers will include the costs for confined water sessions (pool sessions). But there are some that may have you pay the facility entrance fee for each pool session.
7. Open Water Dives – Some dive centers will include the costs for open water dives and others will not. For example, the instructor fees and equipment fees may be built into the class pricing, but you may be responsible for paying the charter dive boat fees or dive site admission fees such as at a lake or a state park.
8. Certification Fees – Money is sent to the training agency for the processing of your c-card. Some dive shops include that in the pricing and others will require you to pay that fee. You may need to provide a passport photo or equivalent on your own, or the instructor/dive shop may take a photo of you.
9. Make-up Sessions – Find out what the costs are (if any) if you have to make up a confined water pool session or an open water training dive.
10. Miscellaneous Fees – You may find that you have to pay for parking for each pool session, classroom session or at a dive site. You may also have unique needs that could increase the cost of your training such as prescription lenses for your mask or you chill very easily and need a better wetsuit than what is offered in the rental line. And there are also tips to consider. Tipping the crew of a dive boat is customary, and many people like to tip their instructor nicely.
Look at the overall schedule of the class. Does it work for you? If not, you may need private instruction. But you want a nice, even pace between classroom, pool and open water sessions. Now, I know I am going to upset may dive professionals when I say this, but I have strong convictions based on decades of diver training and observation – AVOID SHORT, THREE DAY SCUBA CLASSES. Instead go for classes that are less rushed and offer MORE training time – especially more confined water pool time. Can an entire scuba class be taught in three days (one weekend)? Well, according to some agency standards, it can. But should it? That time frame does not work for everyone. I have seen this and even taught it on few occasions and I can say that it is overwhelming for most students. To do morning pool sessions and then get on a dive boat in the afternoon – and then do it again the next day forces important skill sets to be squeezed into too little time. It is simply too much to process adequately. Again, please consider a scuba class that is spread out over two, three or four weeks or weekends. Slowing down a scuba class lets each session “sink-in” prior to the next session. You will think of questions to ask in between the sessions as you naturally contemplate the wonderful items learned in the previous session.
On My Soapbox: AVOID CHEAP AND QUICK SCUBA LESSONS You have to properly complete all of the required standards for training for each of the above areas. It is not hard, but it does require attention, focus and patience. Your end goal is NOT to get a c-card, your end goal is to be a good and safe scuba diver. For that reason you want to pay attention to what is being offered in each of the three areas of training. Cutting corners may have a negative effect on how good of a scuba diver you will be. I have seen so many divers take a class, go diving a couple times and then barely ever dive again. When you peel back the excuses, often you will find that a person was never a “comfortable” diver. They were told in their short class that, “they will calm down with time”, their “breathing rate will improve”, their “buoyancy will get better the more they dive”. But it does not because those items are the fine-tuning that develops under good teaching, not during the fast-paced-two-tank-dive-trip in the Florida Keys on your own as a new diver. Your confidence and comfort are very important to your enjoyment of the sport, so avoid the cheap and quick route to becoming a scuba diver, you will pay for it in the end. The more you invest in your scuba training, the more enjoyable scuba diving will be for you. Trust me.
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