Sep 2017

Choosing a Dive School

By Mike Waddington

Traveling around the world is becoming more and more common, and quite often learning how to SCUBA dive is top of the list of things to do on the road. Many of the destinations on any travelers’ itinerary are around some of the world’s premier diving destinations and it would be a shame to not be certified when you get there. Some divers tell you it is better to get certified at home before you set off so you can jump straight into the water when you get away. However I think learning away is an amazing experience, you will make many good friends on your course if you are in a group, and may end up spending the rest of your travels with them.

Before just signing up to the first dive school you come across, there are a few things you should take into consideration.

Dive Agencies

There are many diving agencies out there, the most recognised are PADI (Professional Association of Dive Instructors) and SSI (SCUBA Schools International). Although there are many more equally notable organisations such as NAUI, BSAC, CMAS, SDI, GUE and many more. Before you sign up to one because it may be cheaper have a look on their online presence. I have had people walking into the shop I was working at with only a log book and a stamp saying they were certified by an agency I had never heard of, after looking online at the agencies website I couldn’t say if they were certified or not as there was so little information about them. In the end the diver signed up for the open water course with us so they could get proper recognition. Check out our article on changing dive agencies.

Student to Instructor Ratios

Most diving agencies allow for a maximum ration of 8 students to 1 instructor, however most instructors will say this is far too many. Not only is it more difficult for even the most experienced instructors to look after that many learner divers, it makes it more difficult for you and you would not learn as much as you would in a smaller group. This is because there are skills on each of the dives that you need to perform to meet the standards set out by the agency, of course it takes more time for the instructor to assess 8 students than it takes for them to assess 4. This time spend kneeling on the bottom will eat into the time you should be spending on swimming around and practising buoyancy control. Also with SCUBA diving there are sometimes learning difficulties, or equalisation problems, the higher the ratio the more likely your course with have more difficulties meaning the instructor has to spend more time dealing with the problems to get those students up to standard. Personally I believe the 4 (6 is fine if there is an assistant) is the perfect group size, 2 buddy teams makes it easy for the instructor to see and control everyone, it is a nice size to meet people and make friends and doesn’t take too long to go through the skills.

Dive Staff

When you went into the shop how were the staff? Were they friendly? Did they ask about what you wanted or more interested in what suits them. SCUBA diving is one of those things where everyone learns at different paces. If you feel you need one on one instruction tell them and see how they react. They should be able to accommodate your needs, not the other way around. Also see their appearance, do they look clean and tidy? Some dive hot spots also have a good party scene, which is great but you don’t want the person looking after you to be hung over when going on your first dives!

Languages Spoken

The world is a melting pot of different cultures, and when travelling you meet people from all over the world, however not everybody speaks the same language. Many dive businesses have multi lingual instructors so if you feel you don’t understand the first language so well they may be able to accommodate you. Many agencies produce their materials in many different languages so you should be able to access whatever you need.

Scuba Equipment

Would you want to go skydiving if the parachute had holes in it? Not even small ones? Probably not I guess. The same thing applies when SCUBA diving. Although as a sport it has excellent safety records it is still best to ensure you have decent quality well maintained equipment. If the gear looks old and beaten up maybe try somewhere else. If it looks like superficial damage then try not the penalise the shop, remember this gear gets used every day, but what you don’t want is to see regulators held together will duct tape and bubbles coming out everywhere! The same goes for tanks, boats and especially compressors. This is what puts your air into the tank so it should be well maintained!

Dive Standards

All the different training agencies have different standards set out, and it is up to them what they believe you should cover during your entry level course. But all agencies have to have their courses checked out by the World Recreational Scuba Council (WRSTC) so all of the proper training agencies will have covered whatever is necessary for you to become a competent diver. Although the agencies set the standards it is up to the school and the instructor to keep within the standards. There is a reason why you have to do all the skills even though as a newbie it might seem pointless. If the instructor is rushed or just lazy then it is very easy for them to simply miss a skill, you should sign a form at the end of the course confirming you completed everything and you should challenge the staff if you feel you missed something, after all you paid for it! You can also check online all the standards for each agency so you know in advance what is expected of you and what you expect from the dive school.

Dive School Facilities

Something else you should look at is what facilities the school has to offer. It is always nice for the school to have a boat of their own so you can head out to a variety of different dive sites instead of just doing a few dives off the same shore. Another nice feature is a pool. Every agency has a confined session to complete before heading out into open water, if they have their own pool or are directly on the beach front then the instructors will be able to spend more time practicing skills with you instead of being rushed because of rental fees or boat schedules. A decent classroom will help with the academics too, being clean and tidy, with a decent selection on materials.

On a final note of choosing a dive school, at the end of the day you are there to have fun while learning one of the greatest adventures out there, if a business seems perfect but the staff are not enthusiastic about the sport then chances are you won’t end up as enthusiastic as you could be. Diving is a highly contagious activity and if you find the right instructor for you then there is a good possibility that one day you could be in their role trying to pass on your love of the sport to someone else looking at taking their first underwater breaths, these are just a few things you want to look at before making your decision so your first experience of diving won’t be your last. If you have a great experience please let us know so that others know where’s good and where’s not so good. Good Luck!

‘Choosing a Dive School’ was written by Mike

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Mike Waddington

I first discovered diving in 2008 after going snorkeling on the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. After trying diving at a flooded quarry in England I decided to head out to warmer more interesting waters in Thailand where I ended on the Island of Koh Tao completing my Open Water course. Instantly addicted with money to spend and plenty of time on my hands I decided to continue until I became a Divemaster so I could live what seemed as the perfect life.

After that I headed to the Caribbean to an island called Utila to complete my instructor course, I spent several months out there completing the MSDT internship, teaching students and leading dives. This is also where I discovered my interest in the technical side of diving, taking part in equipment repair courses and learning about blending gasses and running compressors.

With all my new qualifications it was time to head back to where it had all started, Back to Koh Tao where I intended on living the dream. Once I arrived I quickly found a job and started teaching straight away. During my time on Koh Tao I took part in all many technical diving courses, learning how to dive with re-breathers, in caves and even going down to 90m/300ft!


PADI Master Scuba Diver Trainer
PADI/DSAT Tech Deep Instructor
PADI/DSAT Gas Trimix Gas Blender
PADI/DSAT Trimix Diver
TDI Intro to Cave Diver
TDI Advanced Wreck Diver
TDI Inspiration rebreather Decompression Procedures
PADI Professional Videographer
BSAC Compressor Operator
TDI Equipment Service Technician

Dream Dive Locations:

Silfra, Iceland
Cenotes, Mexico
Chuuk Lagoon, Micronesia
Ice Diving in Russia