Picking a dive centre for your family’s first scuba course
By: Mark Powell
You are booking the trip of a lifetime or just the traditional annual family vacation and have decided that this would be an ideal opportunity for the whole family to learn to dive. You and your spouse have always wanted to give it a try and the kids are now old enough to also learn. The resort you have booked has many local dive centres, so how do you decide which to go with?
The most important piece of advice is do not go for the cheapest option in virtue of it being the cheapest. For a family vacation, you want to invest in a good experience for your whole group, not just pursue the most efficient path to certification cards. Learning to dive with a good instructor is a memory you and your family will cherish for the rest of your lives and it will make you a hero to your whole family. However, a poor experience will probably put your family off from what could be a lifelong passion, ruin the holiday, and you will never be allowed to forget it. Don’t risk this fantastic opportunity by jumping on the most affordable option right away. The cheapest dive centre is the cheapest for a reason. Maybe they have older equipment, spend less on servicing the equipment, or just cover the minimum requirements at each level of the course. If you are a backpacker in your early 20s looking to tick scuba diving off your bucket list before also going on to do a bungee jump and spend the night in a tent in the jungle, then the cheapest dive centre may be exactly what you want. However, for the family vacation, it is likely not the best option.
What you are looking for is a dive centre that has modern, reliable, and well-serviced equipment.
You also want to look for a dive centre that is willing to take the time to teach your family properly. Many dive centres will push clients through in the minimum amount of pool dives and open water dives. Don’t be afraid to ask questions of the dive centre. Ask what will happen if one of you struggles with a particular skill. Will additional pool sessions be possible to gain confidence before going into open water? Ask how many open water dives will be included. The open water dives will show you the wonders of the underwater world. They will start off in shallow water and gradually move a little deeper. As you are learning you should never be taken deeper than 18m/60ft.
The minimum required number of open water dives is four, but consider paying a little more to get additional dives to build your confidence and experience with an instructor.
When you are taking a scuba course with your family, you will want the instructor’s full attention. Research private and group class size options ahead of time. The same applies if the instructor is trying to teach multiple courses simultaneously. This is one of the techniques that dive centres that offer the cheapest courses will often employ.
If there are four of you then a group of four with an instructor and a divemaster is ideal. Avoid any centres that suggest that taking eight students in with a single instructor is a good idea. An individual instructor, no matter how experienced they are, only has two eyes and two arms and can only be in one place at a time. Do not hesitate to confirm these types of logistics with the dive centre in advance. Reputable dive centres welcome this type of question as it shows you have thought about what’s involved and have a good attitude toward safety and quality training.
No one wants to spend their holiday in a classroom, so look for an option to do eLearning in advance. This gives you the chance to go through the theory at your own pace. It also means that you can arrive at your destination with a good idea of what is involved. It’s also a great way to build up the excitement and anticipation for the upcoming trip. If one of the family members struggles with any if the theory you can work through it together in your own time. If you really get stuck you can always check with your instructor or ask one of the instructors in the SDI Training Department through our online chat feature on the website.
Although you can do most of the theory online with eLearning, your instructor will still review the concepts with you to make sure you really understand all the key points, answer any questions you might still have, and make sure you understand any local considerations or procedures. Be vary wary of any agencies or dive centres that suggest that eLearning can fully replace all face-to-face teaching. Extensive research has shown that blended learning – combining eLearning and face-to-face training – is more effective than either eLearning or classroom training on their own.
One area I have not yet mentioned is the agency. Of course we would love you to do your course with SDI. We have a family ethos and want to encourage families to dive together. However, we also recognise that this may not be feasible. In this case, look for another agency that is a member of the World Recreational Scuba Training Council. That way you know they are working to an agreed set of international standards.
Whoever you decide to learn with, a bit of time and care selecting a good dive centre can make all the difference between a ‘never again’ holiday nightmare and a lifelong passion the whole family can share!