Dive shops offer essential services to the typical recreational scuba diver; who probably won’t own all their own equipment, a boat and have the certifications and/or training for unaccompanied diving. A dive shop is many things: at once it is a dive gear store, a training center, a service center, a tank filling station, a chartered boating and tour agency and often a social community center.
Finding a dive shop will be your first step toward certification and you will continue to use the services of dive shops ever after for recreational scuba diving. It is rewarding to maintain a connection and good relationship with your local dive shop.
If you are a traveling scuba diver you should find out in advance where the dive shops are in the area you are visiting. In coastal areas you will find dive shops congregating near the shore and many coastal resorts and hotels will boast a “scuba program”. Convenient though they may be you will often find the best deals and nicest service further inland.
Many ocean side and scuba vacation destinations will have more than one dive shop competing for your business. Some major tourism destinations are home to dozens of independent scuba shops. Choosing the right dive shop can mean the difference between a wonderful fun-filled experience and a disastrous disappointment. Here are some tips for choosing a dive shop:
Check out the competition. Before booking your first scuba dive, go around and visit the various shop owners. Compare prices and note the differences.
Don’t go cheap. Sometimes those cheaper prices mean you will be shoveled into a spare wet suit, crammed onto a boat and thrown in the water in groups of 10 or more. Certainly, you should compare prices between operators and don’t get swindled, but try not to let a few dollars sway your decision.
Walk away from the hard-sell. Scuba dive operators should understand you are making a cautious decision and you should not be pressured into anything. Do not accept “special deals” if you sign and pay before leaving the shop. Many dive shops will offer lower prices for multiple dives, but the price should not be part of an “all or nothing package”; instead, the operator should sell one dive at a time and offer lower prices for subsequent dives.
Look for good service. The dive operator should have no problem spending time explaining what they do, letting you try on a rented wet suit or explaining what you might see in the local water. Any scuba dive operator who dismisses your concerns is not a good choice for leading a scuba excursion.
Check the scuba gear – all of it. Take a look at the state of the scuba gear you will be renting. Is it clean? Modern? Operational? Good seals and valves? If you are concerned ask to assemble the scuba unit on shore and test it before you get on the boat. A patch on the knee of your wet suit is no big deal, but a leaky BCD or O-ring can ruin your scuba dive.
Dive in small groups. Diving in a flock is not fun. An ideal diving group is 6 divers (3 pairs of buddies), or less, with one Divemaster. Some scuba excursion operators will take 2 or 3 groups out on a boat large enough for 12 -18 passengers. This is OK as long as the groups go their separate ways.
Use your intuition. Pay attention to your gut feeling. If a dive operator makes you uncomfortable, move on.
Ask other divers. Get recommendations from people you know or go to one of the many online scuba forums and ask for recommendations.