As a dive store owner, the most common question I was asked is “I want to get certified. How much does that cost?” As with most things in life, the first answer is, “It depends.” Let’s look at why that is, and what sorts of things go into determining the answer.
Dive Training cost
The cost of the actual training course is all that most potential new divers consider when they ask the big question. While it certainly is one of the costs, it’s not the only one. But, what goes into the cost of training?
The Open Water course is typically divided into three components – academics, confined water training (pool dives) and open water training. The academics may be delivered through several channels, with one of the most popular being eLearning. With eLearning, the student divers complete the background academics at home on their own time and at their own pace. The quizzes and a comprehensive exam are also completed online. This leads to a more knowledgeable, better prepared diver at the start of confined water training. Most instructors will go over some of the key concepts presented in the online course, and go over any missed questions from the quizzes and exam to make certain that the new divers have mastered that material sufficiently.
Confined water training is where the new diver learns all the skills that will make them a competent, comfortable diver in the water. Often times, this is done over a weekend or several evenings, and may be combined with classroom sessions to review academics (or for lecture if the online course wasn’t used).
During the open water dives, student divers show to their instructor that they’ve mastered the skills learned in the pool over the course of a minimum of four open water dives conducted over at least two days. The open water dives may be completed locally with the same dive center as the academics and confined water training, on a trip with the local dive center, or by referral with another dive center. Obviously, the route that a new diver takes in completing the course can greatly influence the cost of training. Local quarry or ocean dives will typically be much less than a week-long vacation in the Caribbean and the cost of finishing by referral is often two to three times that of finishing locally.
A quick survey of dive centers in the Midwest US showed training costs to run between $350 and $450 or more depending on what was included and location. We sometimes see dive centers advertising $99 classes – let’s look at those a little later.
Scuba Equipment Cost
Another cost in becoming a certified scuba diver is your personal equipment. This typically consists of a properly fitted mask, a snorkel, a pair of wetsuit boots, and a pair of scuba fins. The fit and comfort of your personal equipment are keys to having an enjoyable diving experience, and you shouldn’t scrimp on these items. As with many things in life, you get what you pay for. Quality equipment will last many years with proper care, and will be a much better investment in the long run. By the same token, you don’t have to get the most expensive kit to have quality equipment. Most divers will typically spend between $200 and $300 on their personal equipment, and may spend quite a bit more if they are also purchasing a wetsuit and a personal dive computer.
A diver who wants to be comfortable and confident in open water will typically invest in a full equipment system. With well maintained, properly fitted equipment, divers minimize equipment issues and quickly become familiar with how everything works. Again, you get what you pay for, and spending just a little more on a full equipment system can typically land a higher performance package that can still be a bargain in the long run.
But what about renting? Isn’t it too expensive to buy that full system? If you look at average rental rates versus purchasing a full system, you can typically pay for that system with as little as 20-30 days of renting. Not only that, but most divers purchase systems that are much nicer and higher performance than the equipment typically found in the rental lockers of most destination resorts. By purchasing your own equipment, even a little at a time, you’ll save money in the long run and likely enjoy your diving even more!
The $99 “learn to dive” class and other expenses
Some dive centers will use training as a loss leader to get people to do business with their stores, hoping to make up the loss with equipment sales or other add-on sales later. This is OK, but keep in mind that such courses may typically be crowded, taught in as short a time as possible, and may not include all the costs discussed previously. Forgetting about price but focusing on value for just one moment, keep in mind that a dive center that charges a fair price for the course realizes that it takes time and practice to make good divers, and good instructors have to be able to make a living teaching these courses. All of that adds to overhead, increasing course prices, but as a consumer, you definitely get what you pay for with dive training.
You may also find the course fees don’t include such things as use of training equipment, course materials, air fills, pool rental fees, and certification fees. You may have to pay for charter fees if diving off of a boat, and travel and motels are rarely included if you are training outside of your local area. These can all add up, and you may end up paying more for that $99 course than you think. Be sure to ask questions and do research and find out exactly what you will get in exchange for a $99 course. In the end, it may be what you are looking for anyway.
Scuba Diving certification prices do vary by region, especially when comparing the continental US with other dive destinations. But when you add up all the expenses, in the high-end, it takes somewhere in the vicinity of $700 (even as high as $1,000 in major cities like London, Tokyo and NYC) to become a certified diver. For that amount, though, you have your own personal equipment, quality instruction, all the course materials and certification fees, and you’ll end up truly becoming a diver (and not just someone who got certified).If you are just looking for a solid course as well as the certification and bare bones minimum in equipment, you may find course for as low as $199.99. It is not unusual for people to start buying additional gear in time as their wallets allow them to – piece by piece.
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