by Ayesha Cantrell

So you’ve chosen your dive destination but are having problems deciding who to dive with? In popular easy-to-reach destinations, there can be many operators to choose from making the choice overwhelming. To narrow it down, you need to be clear on what you want from the dive center.

1. Dive Center Reviews and Feedback

Checking out sites like TripAdvisor and ScubaBoards destination forums will give you some pointers both good and bad. Do remember to read between the lines.

Like anyone, a superstar dive centre can have a bad day or be unfortunate enough to host that guest. Look for the trend and overall what people are saying and with forums like ScubaBoard, who is saying it too.

It’s also worth asking your diving friends, your diving instructor and any of the centres you have dived with. Divers travel and it’s possible that they will have a centre they recommend or one to avoid in the place that you are going.

It’s certainly worth a try and a personal recommendation from someone you trust is always best.

2. Where are you staying?

In Egypt, for example, in its popular scuba diving locations like Sharm or Hurghada you’ll particularly want to be careful with this one.

Some resorts have their own dive centre, in which case you’ll have to marry up your choice of hotel or resort with the dive centre you want to choose. Nothing is stopping you staying in one place but diving with a centre in another hotel.

Do consider though that all divers who aren’t staying in the hotel from which the dive centre operates will get picked up and dropped off by the dive centres transport at the beginning and end of each day.

This transfer could add an hour each way onto your diving day. Many operators work independently of hotels I would recommend choosing somewhere to stay close to your preferred dive centre to cut down on travel times.

The same is true for most locations; any service orientated dive centre that is not operating from a resort will have a list of suggested places to stay across a range of budgets, so do ask.

3. What do you want from your diving and your dive center?

  • Are you new to diving and still building your confidence and experience?
  • Are you experienced and confident enough to feel comfortable without a guide?
  • Do you like to take your time and take photographs?

Each centre will have a guiding and diving policy based on divers experience and the local conditions and law. Some may offer private guiding for photographers. Some may guide but in large groups, so if you want to see more than kicked up sand on your dives – be sure to ask!

Do you want nitrox fills? Do you like a larger tank? Do you love night diving? If you answer yes to any of these find out what your options are and any additional cost too.

4. Scuba Gear

If you are not taking your equipment, then you will want to know the state of repair of the dive centres gear. This can be a little difficult to see before you arrive but their reviews should give you some pointers as divers will certainly be quick to point this out. Again, look for a trend.

If you are bringing all your gear, find out if you can store it at the dive centre, wash and hang it and how secure it is. Lugging your dive gear backwards and forwards to your hotel each day gets extremely tiresome.

If you have a camera, is there somewhere to store that safely both in the dive centre and on the boat or on the way to the dive site? Is there a dedicated rinse station and an area to set up your camera gear?

5. How do they dive?

The locations and the general conditions would usually dictate that the whole area is either boat diving, shore diving or a mix of both and it’s likely that all dive centres in your chosen destination will offer a similar kind of thing. However, it’s worth checking their process for getting you to and from the dive site.

If your dive centre is 30 mins away from the pier this transfer will add time to your day. Do they go out for the day? If you are travelling with non-divers this might not be an ideal scenario for you, ½ day trips might suit you better, but this will, of course, depend on the distance to the dive sites.

If there are shore dives on offer or the area is all shore diving then you still want to consider access and the time involved too. Can you walk from the dive centre into the ocean with your gear on easily?

If there is transport to the shore, how far are you travelling and what is the assistance like with moving your gear and getting you into the water once you get there?

The dive centres safety rules will tell you a lot about their standards. For example, if you haven’t dived for a year and the centre don’t require you to make a check out dive or full refresher at the beginning of you scuba vacation then – depending on your experience - I would be wary.

Consider that you could have a rusty diver or two in your group who will require the attention of your guide for safety. This situation could be anything from unenjoyable to dangerous.

6. What is the boat of the dive center like?

scuba dive boat

If it’s a speedboat you will, of course, get to the dive site quicker but consider if you want to be bouncing around on a speedboat for more than 30 minutes. If you don’t like backwards rolling off a rib or taking your gear on and off in the water, then speedboat diving might not be for you.

Larger boats are more comfortable with more space to relax and to set up gear but it will take you longer to get to the dive site. Getting in and out of the water tends to be a little less challenging though and they will almost certainly have more shade.

Regardless of what they use it’s worth checking on the amount of shade so you’re prepared. Also, check if there is emergency oxygen, a first aid kit, toilet, water, tea, coffee, snacks and lunch on board and are there any extra costs?

7. How green are they?

Divers tend to be very environmentally aware, after all, we dive to see the wonders of the underwater world and feel strongly about protecting the ocean.

There are lots of dive centres out there that care and, unfortunately, many that don’t. It’s not just the standard policy of not touching and maintaining good buoyancy, that should be a given, you should be looking beyond that.

Check out the dive centres blog or social media for their activities. 

  • Do they take steps to conserve water?
  • Do they recycle?
  • If they offer you free water, is it given out thoughtlessly in single-use plastic bottles or are you invited to refill your bottles?
  • Do they have a policy on single-use plastic?
  • Do they take steps to get involved in environmental projects?

There’s obviously the sexy but rather more complicated coral nursery and reef regeneration programmes but also look for centres that regularly conduct beach clean ups, conduct and log reef survey data, educate about single use plastic, shark finning and carbon footprint to name but a few topics.

Personally, I would spend my money with those that care even if it costs a little extra.

While this is a lot to consider its worth it so that you don’t end up disappointed because you chose the wrong dive centre to suit your needs.

Many of these questions you want to ask will be answered on the dive centres website but don’t be afraid to enquire about anything you need help with.

A good dive centre will respond promptly and thoroughly which again will tell you a lot about the level of service and attention to detail that you can expect upon arrival.

Ayesha Cantrell

About the author

Ayesha qualified as a scuba diver over 15 years ago. As a dive professional she visited and worked in Thailand, Malaysia, Egypt, Honduras, Mozambique, South Africa and The Maldives and even owned a dive centre for 5 years too. She’s a technical diver, a published underwater photographer and loves to share her diving experiences with others through online magazines and blogs. She has now returned to Europe and recently pulled on a dry suit for the first time to start some cold water exploration.

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