In the last article I wrote for Scuba Diver Life, entitled Scuba Diving and Travel: How Not to Vacation, a recently certified diver asked me, “When I go to dive with a new a dive shop, what questions should I consider asking them?” I thought this was a great question from a novice scuba enthusiast and wanted to write more on the topic.
To guarantee you have the safest possible dives, there is critical information (besides just costs) that you should find out about from a new scuba center.
Here are the 10 questions you should always ask a new dive shop or instructor to ensure your dives go smoothly:
1. I have a medical condition. Can you accommodate me?
If the dive center does not make you fill out a medical history card, be proactive and mention to them that you have a specific medical condition. You don’t want to pay and be disappointed later to find out that the scuba shop cannot accommodate you. If you have a certain health condition and the dive shop is unable to meet your needs, then the remaining 9 questions are unnecessary.
2. Will it be safe for me, in my current state of health, to dive this destination?
Take a careful inventory of your health before embarking on any dive journey. Are you currently in good health and physically strong? Are you mentally prepared for the rigors of diving? You want to be certain that you’re capable of diving safely, without endangering yourself or others. And any new scuba center that you’ll potentially be diving with should not be trying to sell you on diving when you should not be. Visit your doctor or a medical professional if you are unsure about your health and whether you can handle the dives.
3. What type of tanks do you use and WHY?
I put this question high on the top ten list because I think it is a very important one. I don’t mean that the type tank of tank a shop uses is a deal breaker (although I prefer steel). I mean that asking the dive center to EXPLAIN their reasoning behind using a certain type of tank, regulator brand or certifying agency will tell you a lot about the facility’s attitude towards SCUBA. If they tell you, “Well, we just use aluminum tanks because all tanks are the same,” then just nod your head and get out of there. If you can’t have these discussion with a dive shop that will help you ascertain how the center approaches SCUBA, then you’ll want to keep looking.
Also, this is very much a personal preference question. I prefer diving with steel tanks. Yes, they are heavier, but that just gives me better buoyancy control underwater. When my tank is almost out of air on a dive, I don’t have to make as large of adjustments to my BCD and weights because the steel tank will help weigh me down. When I learn that a dive shop utilizes steel tanks, I immediately hold them in higher esteem because steel tanks are more expensive and far more durable than aluminum tanks. If the dive shop tells me these are their reasons for using only steel tanks, instead of aluminum, I know I’ve found a knowledgeable shop.
4. Will there be a Dive Master either leading or in the water on all your dives?
I strongly recommend that you go somewhere else if the answer to this questions is ‘no.’ Even if you are an experienced scuba diver, for safety reasons, the Dive Master should at least be in the water with you for the beginning of the dive. He may surface early if you are in a group with novice divers.
Also, this is really a two-part question. Once you’ve confirmed that ‘yes’ a Dive Master will be present, ask what language(s) the leader speaks? It’s in your best interest to ensure your prospective diving facilitiy has a Dive Master that you can understand.
5. Where is the nearest recompression chamber and in the event of an accident, what emergency procedures do you have in place?
In otherwords, how quickly and by what method of transportation do you plan to actually get me to the recompressoin chamber. Just asking where the nearest decompression chamber is won’t be very helpful if the dive boat doesn’t have any kind of contingency plan for dive accidents requiring the chamber’s use.
In the event of a scuba emergency, you will most often be evacuated by helicopter to the nearest deco chamber. I definitely recommend getting dive insurance through DAN that will cover you for up to $250,000. A day in the hyperbaric chamber and helicopter transportation there will certainly break the bank if you’re not insured!
6. What first-aid supplies & medical equipment do you have onboard? And how much?
The dive boat should have oxygen, life jackets, extra tanks and a first-aid kit available onboard. And I’m not talking about having one extra life jacket onboard. The boat should have a large stash of these essential safety aids. Once you board the dive boat, be sure to find out where these medical items are located and what the plan is in the event that the boat captain and/ or dive leader is injured.
7. Who will be my dive buddy?
Ensure that the dive shop will not be expecting you to dive alone. And if you’ll be doing a group dive, determine in advance whether the facility plans to pair you up with someone or not. Are you comfortable diving without a buddy, just in a group?
If you will be paired with a buddy, on the day of the dive compare hand gestures and dive gear. Underwater signals vary slightly among different countries and certifying organizations. And scuba gear configurations can vary tremendously. Does your buddy have a weight-integrated BCD? If you need to share air, will your partner be giving you his octo or his primary?
8. Where will we be diving and what is it like there?
You want to know as much as you can about where you are diving, so you can plan accordingly and confirm that you are comfortable with the location. What’s the typical visibility like? What’s the water temperature and what wetsuit should you wear? Is this a wreck dive? What’s the dive depth? Is the dive location characterized by particularly rough surf and high waves?
Also, some dive centers will take you only to the sites they want to explore. If you have your heart set on diving a particular destination, ask the facility in advance if they regular that location. And if not, ask frankly whether they could take you there in order to avoid being disappointed.
9. Do you have your own boat or do you share? How many people on the dive boat?
The number of people you will be diving with can vary enormously. Are you comfortable diving in a large group or off of a crowded dive boat? If not, be sure to find out how many people you can expect to be on the dive and boat with you. The ideal Dive Master: Diver ratio, in my opinion, is 1:6 (max).
If a dive center seems like they’re trying to squeeze as many people as possible on a scuba boat, find a different facility.
10. What gear do you rent and can you show me proof of when it was last serviced?
Most dive shops will rent all the scuba equipment you would need to dive and they should be able to quickly produce proof of the gear’s service. As an aside, I personally don’t dive with a facility that wants to charge me for renting weights. A good dive center will include weights (if you need them) when you rent tanks to dive with them.
Other important questions that didn’t make the top 10 list include:
- Do you have a place I can store my dive equipment? The majority of dive centers have storage space for your scuba gear.
- Are transfers included in the dive package price? A lot of dive centers will offer free round-trip transportation to their shop and to the dive boat. If you are staying in a hotel far away from the dive shop and/ or dive locations, be sure to ask whether they will include transfers in the price of your scuba package.
- Can you provide me with some instructor references? Carefully monitor the dive shop owner or instructor’s reaction to this question. If they balk at the idea of being asked to provide references, consider going somewhere else.
Whether you’re a seasoned pro or novice diver, you’ll want to choose a scuba center that meets all of your safety criteria. The last thing you want to worry about when venturing out on your next dive trip is whether there will be any unexpected surprises or not.
Luckily, with the rapid growth of the internet, most dive shops now have a website online. This makes it easier than ever to shoot emails back and forth to prospective dive centers with all your questions. If you keep this list of 10 questions handy before diving with a new center, your dives should be nothing but smooth sailing!