You’ve always been intrigued by the ocean realm and now you’ve done the snorkelling, you’ve had the Discover Scuba Diving experience perhaps, so now is the time, you want to learn how to scuba dive. Time to take the great plunge and get certified! But how and where to start? Here are a few tips to make the right decisions and have a great, safe and enriching experience during your first level certification.
Apart from being comfortable in the water, being able to swim 200m and float for 10mn, there are few prerequisites to doing your first level scuba diving course. Of course, if you’ve already been snorkelling or had a try at diving there’s a higher chance you know what you’re getting into and are truly ready for the adventure. You’ll have a better grasp of what the course might entail and be able to progress faster but it is by all means not a necessity, some great beginners just know that diving is for them and have a wonderful time without ever having donned a fin in their life! Just make sure you are not getting pressured by friends or a partner into doing a course if you don’t feel the time is right and you have not already discovered for yourself that you love being in the underwater realm.
Meet your instructor
We all learn differently and teach differently and what works for one may not work for another. Choosing the dive centre you want to dive with is important. You can ask about safety features, get an idea of their professionalism and of the vibe you get from the people working there (are they happy or tired; excited or jaded?). Most important though is whether you click with your instructor. Now clearly, they don’t have to be your best mate, but their style needs to work for you. Some of the more burly macho guys might not work for less sporty and more intellectual divers who may prefer a quieter female instructor... or not…
If you get to chat to your teacher for a few minutes first you can see how you feel, if communication is easy and you get a good, safe and comfortable feeling being around them, when you begin the course, you’re already on to a head start.
How to decide if a dive centre is safe and professional
After you check their credentials on Tripadvisor, Google, etc. and check if they’re on the agency website, you might want to look for other clues as to the quality of the dive centre. As mentioned above, the impression you get from the vibe in a dive centre is pretty important. If people are happy to work there, chances are they are treated properly, paid fairly and respected in their work and will thus put energy and effort into doing their job well, which is paramount if they are going to be your teacher! You can also ask about group sizes (how many students for one teacher), ask to see the gear (is it newish, everything working, right size), ask about safety (oxygen easily available, full first aid kit, emergency action plan). Feel free to ask about the dive course set up: where will I do the confined water skills - a pool or protected sea, where will you dive, over how many days etc. ` Learning to dive in one place or another will not be exactly the same so ask first so you know what you’ll be doing. The more people are happy to answer your questions and show you around, usually the more professional they are. Professional outfits are happy to show off where that additional money spent goes. They may not be the cheapest outfit but when it comes to diving you get what you pay for, most of the time. You don’t want to be rushed through your course in 2 days with 6 other people, with less than standard gear and an exhausted unhappy scuba instructor.
Which scuba training agency
This is a difficult one because a lot of what they teach is similar. An entry-level scuba diving course, the Open Water Diver, has a lot of similar skills and requirements with various agencies. Prices vary slightly and usually because of the learning materials/manuals, which certain agencies let you keep (PADI) whilst others don’t (SSI). Choose your dive centre on their professionalism and the quality of your instructor.
PADI is the most known training agency, but it doesn't mean another curriculum will not work for you depending on what the dive shops in your area offer.
At home or in a tropical paradise
When you think about diving, you think clear tropical waters and exceptional coral, or maybe Bali and manta rays in Nusa Penida. You may want to do the whole course in the tropics or if you are short on time you might choose an option where you do part of your course at home and do the dives when you are on your Bali holiday. The option of doing part of your dive course at home is very appealing as it will give you more time to relax and do other stuff whilst on holiday, but doing the theory and pool as you go along also works fine when you have the time. You will often find that courses are quite a bit cheaper when you do them in Asia (Bali prices compared to UK prices for instance are almost single to double).
Most people also find learning to dive in warm clear waters easier than in freezing quarries and doing the whole course in consecutive days tends to make for more ease since you can Immediately build on your improvements, instead of waiting a week or two before you get in the water again… Whichever you choose, most courses are standardised so you’ll get a very similar training - just different conditions, the most important thing though as pointed out above is a good instructor.
What's in the course
Most scuba diving courses include a theory part that teaches you the basics of diving science - the physiology and physics associated with it - , gives you some knowledge of the equipment and runs over safety and practice features for the practical part of the course.
You will also do a number of sessions in confined water (protected shallow water, can be a pool or protected bay). You'll learn important skills like emptying your mask of water if a little got in when you smiled, or recovering your breathing equipment - regulator - if it popped out as you gawked at the amazing fish. It will help prepare you to move comfortably and efficiently in the water once you dive in open water- the sea.
The last part is actually going scuba diving, typically 4 dives in a natural environment (sea/lake) where you can experience the weightlessness and meet the fish. Most courses are mastery learning based, so you continue repeating a skill until you get it.
If you do a consecutive days course on holiday in a dive destination , expect a full scuba diving course to last 3 to 4 days.
Diving is an incredible way to discover those 7/10th of our blue planet and encounter animal life unlike anything you've ever seen before, don't miss out!
Ready to take the plunge? Check out our Open Water course details.
If you'd like more in depth additional advice on starting to dive, check out Simon Pridmore's excellent book Scuba Fundamental.