In the last few years, I’ve travelled a bit through the South East Asia for diving. Although I’ve come to realise it was not uncommon to be faced with some dodgy dive operations, I have been able to keep a solid track record of safe diving. In this post, I’ll share my opinion on the how to choose a dive centre when you’re travelling that hopefully will help you on your next trip.
Tip 1 – Plan in advance
Most of the time I know well in advance where I will be diving so I usually google the destination and get a list of dive operations. The process I use to go about selecting has three steps.
Step 1 – Evaluate the website
Solid operations usually recognise the importance of a strong web presence and even if the design is not the most fancy you’ll appreciate the effort on putting up good information. I try to read beyond all the marketing babble and focus on the content regarding the infrastructure (centre, offices, boats, rentals and so on), the dive sites, how to get there and what to do after the dive. Unfortunately, it is not so common to get info on the safety procedures and the defined emergency plan, but that would be a huge plus.
This is usually enough to get a short list of 1 to 3 dive centres
Step 2 – Contact the dive centres
Once I get a short list I then send them an email with a few questions:
- What is a normal dive day like?
- What compressor do they have and if diving Nitrox what method do they use?
- Where is the nearest decompression chamber and how do you reach it?
This allows me to get a grasp on how the operations are organised and how are they face safety. I’m not an expert in the compressors out there, but I do know that if a dive centre invests in a robust and safe filling station, then this will be a topic they will gloat about.
As for decompression chambers, they are not so common or easily accessible in most places of South East Asia, so I’m not expecting one to be available. But if the safety of the divers is a concern then the answer will focus on the lengths the centre will take to ensure there are no incidents.
These three questions will give you a feel on the professionalism of the dive centre. Any attempt to avoid a direct answer should raise a flag. And of course centres that don’t even reply should be immediately forgotten – the one time I broke the rule I was diving the Togian Islands and was very unimpressed with the result…
Step 3 – Listen to the community
I usually leave forums to the end as a confirmation of the choice. Forums are filled with well-intentioned though biassed opinions, but if you see too many negative posts about a centre that should raise a flag with you.
Tip 2 – Visit the dive centre before the dive
Dive centre selection does not end once you’ve decided for one. Visit the dive centre before diving and check the premises. I usually ask to see the compressor room to ensure they are up to standards. Of course, this is just a visual inspection and does not guarantee the quality of the air, but it allows you to at least ensure there are no contamination sources close by.
Tip 3 – Handling unplanned diving
Sauntering without a destination is one of my favourite ways to travel. When this happens, it may happen that I come across the need to choose a dive centre on site. When this happens, and I don’t have enough time to such a detailed investigation, I simplify my process to two steps:
Step 1 – Listening to the community
I know, I mentioned above that I prefer forming my own opinion first. But if that is not possible then going to forums like scubaboard.com will help you get a better idea of the dive market in your location. It can even help you bump into some operation that you’ll end up choosing like it happened to me when dived in Padangbai.
Step 2 – Visit the dive centres in the area
I can’t stress this enough: nothing replaces your inspection of an operation. And don’t be afraid to walk out if something leaves you uncomfortable. Compare as much as you can and don’t let you be carried over by the enthusiasm on an operation. Check some more centres before you chose.
Choosing the right dive centre will help you make the best of your time diving, but safety does not end with the choice of the dive centre. It is as much your responsibility as it is the centre’s. Make sure you carry your safety equipment with you at all times and keep to your diving limits/experience. Be self-reliant while diving with a group and you’ll find you’ll have a much better experience.
There are many tides and many dives out there. Don’t make it easy for accidents to find you.
What about you? I would love to know how you choose your dive operations, so please leave your tips in the comment area below