It would be ideal if everyone read this before booking a course. Remember you only learn to dive once and the cheapest is definitely not always the best …..
1. How much is the course and what do the costs cover?
When I speak to prospective students, this is almost always the first question asked. It can be quite confusing as many schools charge on a different basis. Some schools charge a very low price for a course but then charge for lots of “extras” – even if the extra is not optional. For example some make a separate charge for air fills – yes really!
It is important that you know exactly what the costs are before you sign up. Items that are often not included are: pool entrance fees, lake entrance fees, cost of manual or the “crewpack” – bundle of learning materials (also check what is in this as there may be extras here), kit hire, and the charge for processing your qualification with PADI.
Talking of qualification, you do need to be certain which qualification and course you are actually doing. Yes I know that sounds a bit obvious but be very careful here. There are three basic courses available:
- PADI Scuba Diver
- Open Water Referral
- Open Water
I’ll post a follow-up blog that explains what each of these courses contains, but for now it is important if you’re thinking of booking a course that you are comparing “like with like”.
2. What equipment is needed/provided
Don’t assume the school will provide everything and make sure there are no hidden costs. For example it is not uncommon for a school to provide everything required for the pool dives but before completing the lake dives you need to buy your own boots and fins. This is actually quite sensible really since the boots are made of neoprene it can be quite a sanitary issue when several people use the same boot. Secondly if you want to learn to dive it is always best to have basic equipment such as a mask so that you know it fits and that the mask won’t leak.
3. How many other students will be in the pool or lake with me.
Class size is a very important criterion when assessing a dive school. However it should not be taken in isolation as you also need to know how many staff will be in the pool as well. It is also helpful to know the pool size as a small pool will quickly fill up with students and staff.
An instructor is allowed to take up to 8 students without the need for any additional staff. In a pool this can work OK but it will mean large periods of time kneeling down on the bottom with nothing to do whilst you wait for another student to practise and demonstrate to the instructor. This can be very frustrating and boring. In itself it is not an issue as long as there is adequate time to allow each student to perform and practise a skill. In addition when it is time to go for a swim it is very difficult for one instructor to look after 8 people with different problems.
4. Is the pool used only by the school or is it also open to the public at the same time?
Many schools use council run pools which are usually very good with a shallow and deeper end. However schools often only rent one or two lanes which makes it very difficult for a group of students to swim around practising the all important skill of buoyancy and hovering.
5. How big is the pool?
This is important as each student needs a surprising amount of room to swim and turn around underwater. Small pools are OK when just kneeling on the bottom practising simple skills but that doesn’t make good divers. Good divers need to move around and be able to control themselves in the water. Ideally a class of 4/5 students with two members of staff (with no other courses in the pool ) would need a minimum of 15m by 10m. With two classes the pool should be at least 25m by 15m. The bigger the better.
6. What will be the staff to student ratio?
Once again this should be considered with the other points I’ve already mentioned. Ideally there should be one instructor per group of 4/5 with one or more Divemasters to assist. (Divemasters are effectively assistants to Instructors). Remember the rules allow them to have more students – in fact with two assistants an instructor is allowed a group of up to 16 people in the pool.
7. How long will it take?
This is important as it will allow you to plan your time but also it is a measure of how much instructional time you will get while learning to dive.
8. Once I have qualified what else can I do? Is there a dive club?
Assuming you learn in the UK you need to find out what is available after you qualify. Many people come into the dive centre and want to learn to dive so that they can dive on holiday, with no intentions of ever diving in the UK – and that is fine. However once qualified some people change their mind and want to do some UK diving. It is worth finding out what is on offer before you register with a school. Even If you don’t do any UK diving after you qualify it is still a great idea to have access to a dive club so you can do a bit more practice over the winter months.
9. Do the school offer other courses?
Most schools run several courses, but be aware that some schools only offer a few advanced dives or specialties and even then they are only scheduled when they have enough students.
10. So what should I pick?
That’s got to be up to you, but many people stay with the same school throughout their diving education so it’s important that you’re informed about the options that are available to you. I hope that this post has helped you to know what to look out for when you’re booking your first course.