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How to find the best dive school

This guide will show you exactly how to find the best dive school to learn to scuba dive.

By 8 Min Read
Divers in pool

Choosing the best dive school to learn to dive is very important.

A good dive school needs to offer both quality training and an environment that facilitates the enjoyment of diving.

This article will give you tips and suggestions on how to find the best dive school, whether you are starting out with your Open Water Diver course or seeking advanced technical dive training.

How to choose the best dive school for learning scuba diving?

Scuba diving instructor in the water with student.
Finding the best dive school always means finding the best instructor, as well.

Talk to them personally

The best way to find out if you feel comfortable with a dive school is to talk to them personally. You can give them a call, but if they have a shop or a place they receive customers at, go there in person.

Ask them detailed questions about how they conduct training and why. Take a look at their rental equipment, inquire about course scheduling and student group sizes.

If there are several instructors, make sure to talk to the one who will be conducting your own course!

Meeting the guy or girl at the reception is nice but it’s the instructor(s) you will spend your time underwater with.

Finding the best dive school for you always includes finding the best instructor, as well.

Things to look out for: First off, do you feel comfortable with them? Do they seem patient, honest, and friendly? Nothing is worse than an impatient teacher.

Make sure they take the time to answer all your questions and are not trying to get you to sign up for a course right away.

It is okay to go home and consider your options. After all, a dive course might be a considerable investment, and learning from the wrong people will make you lose the fun in diving.

RSTC Membership

This one is important to ensure you receive a valid certification that conforms to internationally accepted practices and standards.

The World Recreational Scuba Training Council was founded in 1999 and develops minimum training standards for recreational dive training for its member councils.

In the United States that would be the United States RSTC, while the RSTC Europe is responsible for the European sector and the agencies active there.

There is no single world training agency for scuba diving but the RSTC comes pretty close to that.

The council releases training guidelines for its members and decide, for example, which basic skills must be taught in diving courses and decides on the equivalency of each training agency’s certifications.

For example, an SSI Open Water Diver is equivalent to an i.a.c. Open Water Diver and to a PADI one.

While you will never be in contact with the RSTC directly, make sure that a dive school belongs to a training agency that is part of it.

Far too often, I have encountered divers with certification cards from dubious agencies that nobody has ever heard of or who were founded by the certifying instructor without adhering to any standards.

This does not mean that the course you participated in was necessarily a bad one, however, and in many cases, nobody might ever complain about it either.

But experience shows that such certifications are not on par with those from RSTC member agencies.

If you want to check whether your dive school offers courses from an RSTC member agency, go to their official website for your region. The certification card below shows the conformity with RSTC and EUF for this course and training agency.

Open Water Diver certification card
The iac Open Water Diver is RSTC and EUF compliant.

Course Structure

Not all dive courses are created equal. If you ensured the certifying agency is a member of its regional RSTC that is only half of what makes up a good dive course and school. Poor ones only offer the bare minimum required to certify you.

The best dive schools, on the other hand, will go above and beyond to ensure you receive quality training.

How it should not be

  • No time to ask the instructor questions because of a “tight schedule”.
  • Overly short training dives “5-minute dives”.
  • Crowded boats and courses.
  • No flexibility in course dates.
  • More than two students in the water per teaching staff.
  • Extra charges for rental equipment/ examination fees in OWD courses.
Large group of divers at shore
Your course should not look like this.

How (I think) it should be

A diving course exposes people to an element most are not familiar with. As such, a dive school should be able to teach you without compromising quality for getting more students certified.

A dive school should be able to teach you without compromising quality for getting more students certified.

Think about the type of customer support they offer such as, do they answer emails quickly, or do they have a chat function on their website or social media platforms.

A dive school that can adjust to your schedule rather than demanding you to fit into theirs will offer you more flexibility when doing your course and ensure that you don’t feel stressed or pressured.

Group sizes are extremely important. An instructor only has two hands and that should tell you right away that an instructor-student ratio of more than 1:2 must be avoided to prevent accidents.

If they take a Dive Leader or other staff member to supervise students it is still ill-advised to have groups of more than four students in the water at the same time.

Diving group at shore
An instructor-student ratio of greater than 1:3 should be avoided during Open Water Diver courses.

A no-go for me is always when somebody charges Open Water Diver students equipment rental fees. If you’re just starting out with diving, nobody can honestly expect you to have a complete set of equipment ready.

If a dive school has this policy in place it usually means they want to be able to advertise with low course costs and make their money with these “hidden fees“.

The same is true for examination fees etc. when it is obvious that you will have to pay them regardless.

If you do your course at a vacation dive center they might offer a combi-package for the equipment for the duration of the course and any additional dives you might do afterward.

That is completely reasonable and gives you the chance to keep diving with the equipment you learned to dive with.

Scuba diving trip packing list

Research and compare

Maybe you walked into a local dive shop and instantly felt welcome and at home. Perhaps the dive instructor at your hotel or resort was super nice and you spontaneously decided to give scuba diving a try.

If that’s the case you were lucky and made the right choice.

If you are still looking for a suitable dive center or school, don’t choose the next best. Talk to different ones and weigh up your options.

Don’t be fooled by pricing only if somebody else offers a better bang for your buck.

Check online reviews and ask the local community in person, on forums, and on social media groups.

Google reviews for Social Diving Munich
Our Munich location has received great feedback from our guests. 🤩

In the end, however, trust yourself, and don’t forget to take all online reviews and opinions (just like this one) with a grain of salt.

People mostly express their opinions when they were either very happy or very unhappy with a service.

As such, you will often only read very biased opinions. Refer to tip #1 above and talk to them personally, whether you call them, email them or walk into a shop.

Fair cancellation policy

This one separates the good ones from the great ones. We all have had to cancel something in our lives due to illness, unforeseen events, or because we changed our minds.

While you should not abuse this, asking about a dive center’s cancellation policy is always a good idea.

If you booked several courses at once but notice after the first one that it isn’t working out between you and the instructor, a good dive school will either try to find someone else or give you at least a partial refund.

Granted, if you booked logistically difficult courses which require larger preparations and costs on the side of the dive center, this might not always be possible.

However, this should be clear from the start.

Look into the future

This one is important if you plan to dive more than just on a vacation or two every year.

You cannot dive on your own so finding a dive school or center that offers regular dive excursions and fun diving is one way to keep practicing and enjoy diving at home.

Many good dive centers have a community or club attached where you will meet other like-minded divers and potentially new dive buddies and friends.

Check out our very own Social Diving Club of international scuba divers if you are still looking for one!

After you received your Open Water Diver certification and have done a few more dives you will most likely want to continue your training with advanced courses like the Advanced Open Water Diver, Nitrox, or Deep Diving.

Underwater photographer inside structure
The best dive schools offer advanced training like this example of our Underwater Photographer course.

If you are an experienced diver looking for a new dive center you might wish to pursue technical dive training so consider a dive school that offers a lot of opportunities to pursue these plans.

Conclusion

Safety and quality in training are the most important aspects to look out for when choosing the best dive school to get certified at any level. Make sure to ask many questions and check them out personally before committing to anything.

If you have any doubts that your safety and that of all other divers is their highest priority, stay away!

Consider spending more money on better quality and better customer service. Dive centers have to pay their staff somehow and if they offer something unique in return, your money will most likely be well spent.

Check out my answer to the question “is scuba diving expensive” to see my take on the pricing structure in the diving industry.

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Always dive with friends and happy bubbles. 😃

Cheers

Julius

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