Top 9 Things to Look For in a Dive Center
Try as I might, I couldn't think of ten!
Utila is an amazing place for scuba diving, not only for it's amazing macro photography, but for whale sharks, dolphins, and learning to scuba dive.
So you've decided on Utila to Learn to Scuba Dive. Good call! What better place to learn for it's calm waters, lack of deadly creatures underwater, beautiful marine life and up to 100 ft/30m visibility! Seriously! Not to mention the Holy Grail of the sea, the Whale Shark. Oh, and dolphins. My favorite. Some other treats that can be seen are orcas, pilot whales, and sperm whales.
So now selecting a dive center is the next step.
Some of these tips may be difficult from across the world, but here's the list anyhow, and I'll keep in mind that you may not be here on the island to check out the places personally. But that's what the internet and social media are for.
After 14 years of having my own dive center here in Utila, here's my list of things to look for when learning to scuba dive. The list is different than for divers who are already certified, but then again, those divers will probably have a better idea of what to look for anyhow.
My Top Nine
1. What do you want?
Sounds silly, but dive centers here each have their own personality and learning to dive requires a good fit, just like a wetsuit.
You may be:
a) scared (about one person a week would experience anxiety)
b) a star (you'll breeze through it like you were born to be underwater)
c) cheap (come to Utila)
d) aged (as in 'gets better with')
e) under 14 years old (then you could do a PADI Junior Open Water course)
f) attractive (ha! this might have something to do with the place you choose! read on!)
g) a party animal (see point f)
h) serious about your education (which you should be)
i) safety-conscious (ditto above)
j) spanish or other language speaker (some dive centers cater to certain languages/countries)
l) 8 years old (and you could do the PADI Bubblemaker course like my daughter in the picture)
I could go on and on, but you get my drift.
So, finding the right dive center for you depends on the 'right fit'. So suss out the 'type' of dive center based on what is important to you. Just like the instructors, dive centers also have their own vibe, focus, demographic.
Over 14 years ago when I came to Utila (I was already certified in Bonaire 6 years prior), but I just followed the good looking Israeli guy to what was Gunter's Dive Shop at the time. But I still shopped around using the iformation from the guidebook I was traveling with through Central America.
2. How's Their Reputation?
In the past, this was not so easy to investigate as we relied mostly on Travel Guide Books to determine where to stay and what to do based on the very biased opinions of the writers. Some guide books were better researched than others, however, nowadays that's almost a moot point.
This is the joy of internet and social media, as the masses can quickly disseminate information, good and bad, about a dive center, restaurant or hotel. Gone are the days of cheating people, poor service, and unprofessional staff. Social media has allowed the good to prevail by letting past customers dictate the future of a business based on their experiences.
So do your research. Look up TripAdvisor, Scubaboard (that's more from people who know diving, so lend a bit more credence to them), check their Facebook Page to see responses and reviews. In all respects, discard the gushing and the complainers and look at the bulk of the reviews for the truth. Facebook is in full control of the dive center page, but TripAdvisor and Scubaboard are in the hands of the customers.
3. How Is Your Instructor?
It may be impossible to do so before you book a dive course, but just like Point#1, a fit with your instructor is important too. Things you would like to know are:
How many people has the instructor taught?
You may think that the more students taught, the better. However this is not necessarily true. I've come across long term instructors who still love what they do! And unfortunately, on the contrary, I have seen instructors who have taught for too long and lost their joy of diving and teaching.
On the flipside, you wouldn't want a brand new instructor either, as there is a great deal of responsibility from making the step up from a Divemaster to an Instructor. It takes practice. I would say you'll probably want an instructor who has at least 30 beginner certifications under his/her weight belt.
Does the instructor seem patient?
This is extremely important especially if you are anxious. About once a week, we would have a terrified student. This would often result in a pow-wow in the office with the student, and another one with the instructor. I believe the only question to ask the student in this situation is "Do you really want to learn to scuba dive?" Often, pressure from a partner or friend can make a student try diving, but deep down, it's not for him or her. If the answer is 'yes', than I think it is the responsibility of the instructor to get the student through the course.
How long has he/she been scuba diving?
One can become a scuba instructor in as short a period of time as six months. While teaching on Utila is easy, with fairly calm seas and no navigational hazards, I personally think that 6 months and 100 dives is too few. Time spent as a divemaster, or dive guide first, allows the teacher to be comfortable with the sea and find interesting things in the sea. It's not just about learning to dive, you want to see the incredible creatures underwater too!
4. Is the equipment in good shape?
It is impossible to have new equipment ALL the time with so many divers going through Utila. What can you look for as someone who knows nothing about diving?
Brand doesn't matter much. If it's being used here in Utila, it must have passed the test.
Just look. Take a peek for yourself, and look for well-maintained, not ratty equipment.
How is the equipment stored? If it's on the floor, or thrown over a bench, chances are the proper respect isn't given in maintenance either.
Clean. If you get a chance look at one of the mouthpieces of a regulator. This is going in your mouth. Do you want it to go in your mouth? Where is the equipment rinsed? Is the water relatively clean too? Check the masks too. Some dive centers also have prescription masks
Abundance. Although the water is a balmy 27 or 28 degrees throughout most of the year, you're going to want a 3mm wetsuit. During the months of October to January, it can get chillier and a long wetsuit is nice.
If there is an abundance of scuba equipment, you can assure that you will find something that fits properly. A wetsuit is useless if it's not the proper size. A buoyancy control device (or BCD, or jacket) will not provide the proper buoyancy if it's too big, and you slip through it on the surface. One too small may be uncomfortable.
5. How's the dive boat?
Diving in Utila is great because the reef surrounds the island, so you're never very far away from shore, except for one of the best dive sites on Utila called Black Hills (a must see).
All diving courses are completed with boat dives. So here are things to look for in the dive center boat:
Safety. Check out the boat and see if it looks clean and well-maintained. This usually indicates how they take care of the engine, which is the important part in a safety situation.
Size. Yes, size does matter. A large dive boat will make you more comfortable than squeezing onto a teeny boat. With diving and all your equipment, it's nice to have space to move and sit comfortably and enjoy the ride and the view.
Speed. A nice fast boat will get you to see the whale sharks when they are around, but in generally, there is no rush, right? Savor the experience!
Covered boat. A covered boat will shelter you from the elements. However, most of the year you don't need it. Personally, I love to warm up on the boat after a dive in the wonderfully hot sun. If it's rainy season, this would be a deal breaker for me. A skiff in this situation is not nearly as comfortable as a proper dive boat.
Here in Utila, we normally complete two dives each trip. Therefore you're sitting on the boat for the surface interval between dives for about an hour. On a skiff, you're sitting in the sun. Not so good for the fair of skin.
6. Is there Oxygen on-board?
Utila has a great safety record when you consider the tens of thousands of divers that have gone through here.
Needless to say, decompression sickness can occur, most often in dive staff as they do repeated dives daily over several days. Regardless of who it can happen to, or the chances of it happening, oxygen on-board is imperative. There is a decompression chamber on the island right next to the BICD (Bay Islands College of Diving) where treatment can be made. This is also a great reason to choose Utila to do your dive course.
Usually the oxygen kit will be a green suitcase to shield the 02 tanks from salt water and will most like be a DAN (Divers Alert Network) Oxygen Kit. The leader in emergency oxygen equipment.
When diving around the world, you should check to see where the closest decompression chamber is, and you will be sadly shocked!
7. Are the tanks tested?
This is often overlooked by dive centers and unknown to new divers. Scuba tanks are high pressure cylinders that squeeze all the air (not oxygen) you need underwater, into a bottle. Anything under high pressure requires care. And you're breathing this air under water and under pressure, which means that every breath you take has a concentrated version of the elements in the tank (but that's more advanced scuba dive theory).
Every 5 years, scuba tanks are required to be hydrostatically pressure tested. herefore, there is a date stamped on the tank that should be less than five years from the day you start your scuba diving course.
More info for the scuba geeks is here:
8. How Big is the Class Size?
There are ratios and class sizes. Some dive centers talk about ratios (how many students to one instructor), and some talk about class size.
So you could be in a class with twelve students, but have three instructors and the ratio would be 4:1, or you could have a class size of 4 and one instructor, and it would be pretty much the same thing.
With the easy scuba diving environment here, this is a direct factor in your enjoyment of the course. If there are too many students for one instructor, you will be waiting underwater for the other students to finish their skills, before moving on. A good class size is 6 students or less. Obviously, the smaller the class size the more attention to be paid to you!
9. What dive organization do they belong to?
There's a myriad of dive organizations worldwide. The majority of certifications I encountered in the dive center were from PADI, SSI, NAUI, CMAS, BSAC, and TDI.
By far the largest and most prevalent is #PADI (Professional Assocation of Dive Instructors), in the regions that I have dived. Here on Utila, everyone will educate you with PADI, so really, here, it's a moot point.
Having a world-renowned dive certification means that if you show your card, the dive center will recognize it and allow you to dive. I have never refused someone to dive with us if they were certified with a different organization, as the minimum requirements to learn to dive are all very similar.
Now there are different levels of PADI dive centers on the island.
PADI Dive Center or Resort
PADI 5 Star Dive Center or Resort
PADI 5 Star Instructor Development Center
PADI 5 Star Career Development Center
The higher the designation, the more experience that dive center has, and more requirements need to be met. Each dive center will proudly display their designation on the storefront.
If you want to see the gadzillion other dive organizations, check out Wikipedia here:
Currently there are thirteen dive centers and resorts here on and around Utila. Each dive center has its own personality, so finding the right fit is important. Hence Tip#1 above. What do you want? And one extra tip, if it feels right, it probably is!
Here's a list going from east to west on Utila:
Alton's Dive Center: www.diveinutila.com
Deep Blue Divers: www.deepbluediversutila.com
Deep Blue Resort: www.deepblueutila.com
Utila Dive Center: www.utiladivecenter.com
Underwater Vision: www.utilascubadiving.com
Captain Morgan's: www.divingutila.com
Paradise Divers: www.paradisediversutila.com
Parrots Dive Center: www.parrotdivecenter.com
Bay Islands College of Diving: www.dive-utila.com
Utila Lodge: www.utilalodge.com
Ecomarine - Gunter's Dive Shop: www.ecomarineutila.com
Coral View Dive Center: www.coralviewutila.com
Laguna Beach Resort: www.lagunabeachresort.info
Utopia Village: www.utopiautila.com (just sold)
Utila Cays Diving: www.utilacaysdiving.com (new)
So I hope that helps! Feel free to email me if you have any questions, and I'd be happy to help!
#ScubaDive #PADI #Utila #DiveCenter #LearnToDive #LearnToScuba #ScubaDiving
To better serve retirees & those seeking a slower pace of life in the Caribbean, I became the First and Only Accredited Buyer's Representative in the country of Honduras. This means you can be assured of the best representation of your real estate needs, like no one else can.