How To Shop

How to Shop For a Scuba Certification Course

I am constantly being asked about scuba diving courses. The question most often being asked is how much does it cost and how quick can it happen.  The second question to come up is some form of inquire about a specific training agency.  How do you shop for a scuba course?  There is no consumer report evaluation on scuba diving certification.  You must rely on information you get from your local scuba shop and the instructor who teaches the course.  Hopefully, the information you receive for a prospective scuba certification course will be from someone with a high standard that cares about your safety, and is concerned about your interest in the sport.  This article suggests that instructor experience, cost, duration and content, provides a guideline for shopping for a scuba certification course.  Remember, if it sounds like a sales pitch, it probably is.

INSTRUCTOR EXPERIENCE

My name is Bill Foote.  I am the owner of Ocala Dive.  I began diving 47 years ago and have logged over 4000 dives. I have taught thousands scuba divers at various levels since I started Ocala Dive in 1991.  I have been an instructor with seven training agencies including: NAUI, IANTD, NASE, TDI, SDI, NSS-CDS and PSAI.  I have logged over 500 dives internationally.  I have made numerous dives to depths over 200’ in caves and wrecks.  I have been on the Board of Directors for the NSS-CDS.  I have been involved in scuba diving film and television projects, which have aired on national television networks.  I have had underwater photographs published in nationally circulated magazines.  I have provided specialized training for the Marion County Sheriff’s Office Recovery Team.   I have been involved in mapping all the major cave systems in our area and have logged numerous dives in every known cave in North Florida.  I have an easygoing teaching style that makes everyone feel comfortable and relaxed.  My experience provides the best qualification in the area for training you to scuba dive.

COST 

There are a number of components that determine how much it cost to become a certified diver.  Some courses combine the costs and some courses itemize for the different components of the course.  You generally pay for what you get and beware of hidden costs.  Basically you can expect some form of the following:

  1. Course Tuition: The cost for course tuition is usually straightforward. Most of the time the course tuition amounts to what the instructor charges to teach the course.  The cost of the certification is usually included in the course tuition but sometimes there is an extra cost for student registration or the certification card.
  2. Written and/or Online Materials: The current trend is for all the academic materials to be provided online.  Online kits come with a computer code that you purchase when you sign up for the course and may be supplemented with a logbook, dive tables, textbook and/or marketing materials from the training agency.  Some training agencies sell online materials direct.  Check with your instructor regarding scheduling before you purchase anything online.   Sometimes the student kit is combined as part of the course tuition.
  3. Personal Equipment: The personal items you need for the course are generally referred to as personal equipment and include: a mask, snorkel, booties, fins and weights.  Scuba Diving is an equipment intensive activity.  It is important to have personal equipment which is fitted for you and that is appropriate for the course.  Buy your personal equipment from the same place that you take the certification course.  Some dive shops charge added fees if you do not buy your personal equipment from them.
  4. Provided Equipment: Provided equipment includes; tanks regulators, BC’s, and wet suits.  Some dive shops charge extra rental fees for the use of this equipment on the checkout dives.  Know what you are paying for.  It is always better to purchase these items after you get certified.  Don’t be lured by fast talking sales people who offer free course tuition or discounts if you buy early.  Your business will be of more value to a dive shop after certification and you can select from a more informed point of view.
  5. Site Fees: Site fees include pool costs and entry fees to the locations of your checkout dives.  Site fees vary significantly depending on where you are located, travel requirements and options.  Those of us who live in North Central Florida are lucky to have some of the best freshwater diving right in our backyard.  Checkout dives should be outlined in advance in regard to a specific schedule and cost.  Some dive shops charge an extra fee for checkout dives.  Checkout dives may be dependent on weather conditions.  Again, know what you are getting into.
  6. Makeup Fees: If you miss a class, pool or checkout dive know what the additional costs are, if any, in advance.  If you are signed up for a group class there may be a minimum  student requirement or rescheduling possibilities.   If you are taking a private class, and have paid extra, the instructor may be more flexible than a scheduled group class.

In summary, you should list the individual cost components if you are comparing.  Remember, the lowest bidder may not be your best choice when shopping for a scuba course.  It is always best to make a face-to-face decision about who may be responsible for your safety.

DURATION

 You can’t learn to safely scuba dive in two days.  Learning to scuba dive is usually broken up into classroom, pool and open water diving.  Expect to spend about 30 hours of contact time including 5 instructor supervised open water checkout dives.  This normally takes a few weeks when scheduled as a group and could be a little quicker if scheduled as a private, one-on-one course.  There is nothing safe about scuba diving – it’s dangerous.  Mother Nature can be unforgiving so be prepared.  The danger, adventure and excitement are all part of the attraction.  The risks are acceptable if you are properly trained and equipped.

CONTENT

This subject is the most important aspect to compare.  Unfortunately it’s usually never discussed when shopping for a scuba course.  The different aspects of a scuba diving course should include discussion and application of a number of different topics.  A scuba course should include the effects of pressure on the body.  The effect of breathing high-pressure air, the effects of pressure on air consumption, the effect water has on vision and heat retention capabilities.  You should be taught how to evaluate necessary and optional equipment for safety and function.  You should know what to do if equipment malfunctions and what type of malfunction might be possible.  Dive tables and dive computers should be understood in order to track nitrogen absorption.  You should be able to plan dive profiles to safely reduce the possibility of decompression sickness.   You should learn about first aid for possible dive accidents, self-rescue and buddy rescue.  If you are told these skills are too complex for entry level diving, the course you are considering is incomplete.  The overall quality of a scuba course will depend in part on the selection of open water dive sites.  What type of environments will be experienced during the open water secessions?  You are qualified to dive in conditions similar to your training.  How many hours of open water diving can you expect to log during the course?  The minimum dive should be at least 20 to 30 minutes.  You should have 3 to 5 hours of underwater time logged by the end of the course.  Will any of the open water diving be conducted in an overhead environment? You should always have a direct accent to the surface, without exception!  What depth will be reached during the open water dive sessions?  The recommended limit for the entry-level scuba certification is 60 feet. If the course is rushed, too short or incomplete then you may be uncomfortable planning and executing open water dives without the supervision of an instructor or dive master.  Or, even worse, you may have developed a false sense of confidence, which may lead to an accident. Shop for quality using the points in this article as a guideline.  Ocala Dive offers different formats for learning to scuba dive including: Private, 1 on 1 with instructor, your schedule;  Semi Private, 2 to 4 people, your schedule;  Scheduled groups, 4 to 6 people on weekends;  Scheduled groups, 4 to 8 people, evenings and Sundays.

Training Agencies 

There are dozens of training agencies all of which are recognized all over the world.  The most recognized training agencies are:  NAUI, PADI, SSI, NASE, SDI/SDI and PSAI.  Other training agencies which are more specialized or regionally known are:  GUE, NSS/CDS, NACD and IANTD.  Some dive shops along with some instructors are dedicated to one particular training agency and have an opinion that their choice of affiliation renders all other training agencies substandard.  Use caution when you encounter this fallible logic.

In conclusion, shop for quality using the points in this article as a guideline and by all means take the time to do a face-to-face interview.  The time you put into learning to scuba dive will give you a lifetime of reward.  Welcome to the sport!