Do I Get Certified Before I Go on Vacation or While I’m There?

By Cris Merz

In short, the answer Is a bit of both and here is how.

Yesterday we got reports that our friends in Maine would be getting 20-22” of snow.  This would be the third heavy snow storm in 12 days.  Having lived in Upstate NY myself (as well as Maine) it is no wonder people want to get the heck out of dodge.  The idea of swapping snow boots for flip flops is appealing, isn’t it?  The idea of walking down a teke-wood patio to tip your toe in the warm water of the infinity pool by the beach is a much better scenario to me than putting on 5 layers of heavy foul weather gear-type clothes to go out and shovel snow.

Vacationers often look at going someplace warm this time of the year – it is most common.  It can be someplace extravagant like St Thomas or Cancun or just a trip south to Florida.  The warmth of the sun calls us.  As it is a likely time to go away, people seek the adventures and activities they can do while they are visiting their resort.  Scuba diving is usually an activity that is made available by most resorts that have access to the ocean.

Scuba Discovery or Open Water Scuba Class

Let’s make sure we know your end goal first.  Many people go on vacation for the “bucket list” experience, and that is fine.  I have heard people say they want to go to Rome so they can say they’ve been there.  While others want to go to witness historical ruins like the Colosseum and wonderful art in the plaza like the Trevi Fountain – some people just want to buy the, “Been There, Done That” T-shirt.  If that is the case for you, then a “Try Scuba” experience might just be for you.  The experience is just that, an experience and it would be hard to say it even comes close to the full sophistication and satisfaction that you can get out of scuba diving beyond the various “Scuba Discover” type offers that exist.  The skills and knowledge learned can be more than just the adaptation of a new hobby.  If you and your partner are looking for better communication and understanding while doing activities that are fun and thrilling at the same time, then your objective should be to take to full SDI Open Water Course.  Though some people do a “Try before you buy” with resort courses, it is usually not the same experience one might get as they would with a full-on scuba course and instead they find the rushed “experience” program itself was not satisfying, to begin with – and there are logical reasons for that.

Resort Course vs Local Dive Center Courses

Now that you’ve decided that you want more than just a participation trophy, you actually want to get certified as a Scuba Diver, you need to determine the how and where.  The question we ask is, “Do I get certified before I go on vacation or while I’m there?”  The answer is a little bit of both.  Did you know that you can break up the modules of your scuba training journey?  My first suggestion would be to find your local dive center.  Rather than leave everything up to a store hundreds (thousands) of miles away, find your local dive center and make that your hub, your home base, your go-to for anything scuba related in your own backyard.  Yes, it is great to go on vacation and do everything one-stop while you are there but I’m a fan of research, research, research and I like to have my local resources if needed, especially if I am planning on doing this more than just a few times.  Your local dive center can provide you with customer experience like additional travel programs to unique destinations as well as a community once you’ve returned from vacation.

The Benefit of the Local Dive Center when it comes to Training

With today’s technology, you can start off taking your open water classes at home on your own time.  How does this work?  eLearning.  The academic portion of the scuba class allows you to do home studies and streamline the time spent in the classroom a bit.  Though your instructor will still ask you to come in, your learning experience with online academics will be a lot more than lectures and note taking and you may find the time spent with your instructor to be more valuable.  During this time, you will also be getting in the pool to start your skills and drills.  This is also a good time to sample gear and configurations that suit you best based on comfort levels in the pool.  If you need additional pool time to fine-tune your skills, you have that at home taking the pressure off – while this benefit may not be available to you at a resort due to your limited days there.  This is an advantage you really do not have if you decide to do it all from start to finish at the resort.

Let me explain why this is a huge benefit.  When I got certified, it was with my father.  We went to Turks and Caicos and spent 2 full days of our vacation doing classroom (before eLearning) and pool sessions.  It was torture.  The ocean was right there, calling us, but we weren’t ready.  We just wanted to get in the water, blow bubbles and see the fish and coral reefs, turtles and yet, we had to complete our training instead.  Understandably so.  The wait was worth it but at the end of the day, it would have been great if we could have done this prior to our arrival.  Now, you can…

Finishing Open Water Dives 1 through 4 at Home or Away

There are divers that will finish the whole program at home for many reasons.  By now, they know their instructors and they trust their local dive center.  As an instructor that worked at destinations myself, I have heard students say that sometimes feel like they must build that relationship again once they meet the instructor at the resort that will finalize their training, and there is nothing uncommon about that – it just happens that way.  In some cases, it may be easy, I know I tried my best to make it so, in others, you will need to be aware of language barriers as well as different styles and techniques.

However, some divers get their training at home because they feel that they want to become “year-round” divers too.  This means they want to be able to dive in most local conditions too, not just in the warmth of the Caribbean, and not just during their summers so if weather permits, they will get their training at home.  Because it may be a bit more challenging to learn how to dive in the Northeast, for example, it may make the experience of warm-water diving for the first time ever a bit easier.

One more thing to consider, if you finish your open water course at home, you can look into taking a specialty course at the resort that may really enhance your underwater experience while you are there.  Do you want to show off your awesome time?  Take an underwater photography course and post professional looking images to social media.  Love history?  Try taking a wreck diver course and witness authentic wrecks from WWII resting 60ft below.  Or take a Nitrox course and stay a little longer and add a little bit of a greater safety margin to your no decompression dive.  There is so much more to do but first, let’s get your certified.

Finishing away from home

If you have decided to finish the course at that nice warm resort, no one can blame you.  Your first open water experience will be something to look forward to.  First, we must make sure of a few things on this checklist have covered;

1.    An instructor has signed off on academics

2.    An instructor has signed off on pool session

3.    You have selected a resort/destination and your instructor has contacted them

Once academics and pool have been completed, your instructor will give you your referral form.  This form will allow the future instructor that will conclude your education with the four open water training dives to sign you off and issue you a certification with SDI.  It is important that your instructor and yourself contact the referral center to communicate your level of training and what you need them to do to finalize your training because there are several training organizations that exist we want to ensure that they can indeed accommodate your needs.  In most cases, they will, but it is better to find out before you fly down to Bonaire.

SDI Open Water Referral

SDI Open Water referral is accepted by the Global and the Universal Referral System and should be accepted by all training agencies that are affiliated with the WRSTC (World Recreational Scuba Training Council).  SDI is a high-end training organization (not found just anywhere) with exceptional materials and customer service, so you may need assistance to help you locate a referral center.  No worries, that is what we are here for.  Have your instructor or call us yourself and let us know where you are going, and we can assist you in finding that dream location to get you started on your new adventure. Once your instructor signs you off on your 4 open water training dives, you can immediately get registered and you’ll have your complimentary Digital Certification Card available on your phone, so you can go from island to island and dive as a certified scuba diver.  Your c-card will be waiting for you in the mailbox or at your local dive shop once you get back home.

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