Last year I got my scuba diving certification. I figured I would enjoy it; I’m completely at home in the water and my mom was an avid diver. But I didn’t realize how much I would love it. After completing my open water certification I quickly made room in my budget to continue on to the advanced. It dug into the travel fund more than I had originally planed but it was the best decision I could have made.
But as easy as it was for me to figure out that I wanted to get certified, and continue that certification, it wasn’t so easy to figure out how to do it. I did a lot of research ahead of time and asked a million questions to try to figure out the ins and outs of getting certified and what I needed to know ahead of time. So if you, like me, are keen on getting certified to explore the underwater world, but need a little help in figuring out where to go and what to look for, here’s some key tips.
Where to Get Certified
You can get certified almost anywhere in the world; you don’t need to be on a tropical island or near the ocean. Many inland places (including my hometown of Ottawa, Canada) offer courses and use a pool and nearby lakes or rivers to learn. Does it do the job? Yes, but personally I figured that if I was paying to get certified I wanted to have more of an experience out of it than the normal ho-hum fish that I can see in the lake by my cottage. Plus, it was also significantly more expensive to get certified at home than it was to get certified in SE Asia.
If you decide that you do want to get certified abroad, you have an endless amount of choices. Ideally you will pick somewhere you have a strong desire to try diving, or somewhere you already have plans to travel to. For many, cost also comes into play and there is a large difference in pricing depending on where you get certified in the world.
South East Asia and Central America tend to have the cheapest options, but even that depends on where you get certified once you are there. In Thailand, Koh Tao is known to be the cheapest place to go. In Central America, Belize holds that title. As such, both have plenty of dive shops offering certifications trying to bring in the tourists which have earned these destinations reputations of ‘dive factories’ within the diving community. That’s not to say that these places aren’t good spots to get certified, it just means you need to do your research ahead of time to find a trustworthy and reliable school.
What to Look For In Your Dive School
More important than where you get certified is the dive school you choose. Your experience with them will be what makes, or breaks, scuba diving for you so you want the best, safest, practice possible. Take the time to research the different schools, read their manifestos; what they offer and provide, and most importantly; ask around and read reviews. There are a few key things to keep an eye out when looking through reviews of scuba schools. I like to use trip advisor and check through the negative reviews with an eye out for the following:
-Equipment: Is it well maintained and in good condition? Or have people commended that it’s pretty rough and they have had problems.
-Oxygen in tanks: Any complaints about tanks not being filled enough?
-Instructors: Is there a language barrier? Are they rushed? Able to answer all the questions?
-The Dives: Are they well planned and organized? If you are taking a boat to the dive site, is it safe? How are the dive sites themselves; interesting? Or lacklustre?
If you see any of the above trigger warnings, look to get certified elsewhere. Scuba diving can be dangerous so you want to make sure you are as prepared and knowledgeable as possible.
PADI or SSI?
Another thing to consider while choosing your dive school is whether you want to choose the PADI or SSI certification.
What’s the difference?
Well essentially they are the same in that they with both teach you what you need to know to become a scuba diver. Both teach the same things with only a few tiny differences as they both have to stick to the standards set by the World Recreational Scuba Training Council. This also means that your certification will be recognized wherever you choose to dive in the world.
PADI is considered to be a little more rigid in their training, more ‘by the book’. SSI on the other hand is thought to allow instructors a little more freedom to add a bit more personalization. PADI is also more expensive as they require you to purchase your own books, where SSI programs allow students to borrow the manuals, therefore incurring less of a cost.
In the end the differences are minor, and it’s more of the quality of the dive school and the instructor that matter than the brand of certification you receive. Just make sure to read the descriptions of the courses before you book as the certifications have different names.
Do The School Work Beforehand? Or Do Everything on Site?
Once you have picked where you want to get certified and which program route you are going to go, you may also have the option of completing all of the coursework ahead of time from the comfort of your home, or doing everything on site at the dive school.
As a visual person, I preferred doing the coursework on site with my instructor on hand. However if you learn better in a quiet environment by yourself, preparing in advance may be the better choice for you. Either way, there is no avoiding the extra homework!
When to Get Certified
Timing plays a pretty big role when getting your certification, and not just in terms of making sure you are in-season at the destination you choose to travel to. Although, that is definitely important so make sure you check in advance!
Scuba diving is exhausting, so if you have time changes to adjust to and lengthy flight times, you probably don’t want to start your training right away when you are already tired. Sometimes people also catch colds or flu’s while flying; both of which are no-go’s for diving as you will be unable to equalize properly.
While you probably don’t want to book your diving first thing, you also don’t want to leave it till last either. After scuba diving you have a ‘no-fly time’. Depending on the length of your dives and how deep you went, you need to allow your body a certain amount of time to rest before flights, or else you might suffer from decompression sickness. The average recommended rest time is somewhere between 12 and 24 hours, so make sure to talk to your instructor and factor that in.
Learning to dive was honestly one of the best decisions I’ve made and I can’t wait to see what the underwater world has to offer in the places I travel. But if you’re still on the fence and not sure if you will like it enough to validate spending that type of money, don’t worry. Many dive schools offer try a dive options to see if it’s the sport for you.