Friday 8 August 2008

The scuba agency debate

Rummaging through some old papers, I came across a certificate issued to me by my first dive instructor. A ‘One Star’ sport diver certificate issued by the South African Underwater Union enabling me to dive up to a maximum depth of 15 meters – this was way back in 1983.
The certificate got me thinking about what probably is one of the most commonly asked questions by those considering diving. That is, "what is the best SCUBA certification agency?"
So which one is best? And, "will a certification with one agency limit me in any way?"

Most people seem to feel and believe that it's not so much the agency that's important - it's the instructor that makes the difference. The general consensus is that all of the major organizations are qualified to provide the materials and certifications. But keep in mind that the organization does not teach you to dive - the instructor does. Thus, it's important to find an instructor that is truly qualified, that presents the material thoroughly, and that makes you feel safe in the water.
Potential students seldom ask any questions beyond price. As the old saying goes, "You get what you pay for." Excellent instructors will usually have a higher priced class for a number of reasons. The instructor is dedicated toward providing you all the time you need to master necessary knowledge and skills. Extra time can be expensive. Keep in mind; the instructor is trying to make a living. His time is valuable.

When selecting a service provider (instructor) question the following:

How long has the instructor been teaching?
Most instructors improve over time. They learn new techniques and get ideas from other instructors and through experience improve their classes.

Do they certify all their students?
Only instructors who are in a hurry and care nothing about your safety will answer yes. You want an instructor who will require you to be safe and knowledgeable before issuing a certification card. An excellent instructor might tell you that he is willing to keep working with a student until the student either qualifies or gives up.

Do their students swim with their hands?
This will let you know if the instructor pays attention to details. Good divers do not use their hands for swimming. Divers should be horizontal in the water. Good instructors will see that students are striving towards good trim. Poor instructors often neglect it.

What method do they use to correctly weight their students?
Any answer that does not involve actually getting in the water means you want to avoid that instructor. Many instructors overweight students which is not a good practice.

How many students in the class?
Small classes are better. You'll have more individual attention. Unless the instructor is using assistants, more than four students are difficult to watch.

Finally ask yourself the following:

Is the instructor patient?
While talking with your potential instructor, you should be getting a feel for his personality. Patience is an important quality for an instructor. You want to avoid instructors with a drill sergeant demeanor.

Would I be happier learning from a man or a woman?
Only you can answer that question, but in general it is not usually a serious consideration. There are excellent instructors and there are poor instructors. Men and women fall into both groups.