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How do I choose where to learn to scuba dive?

This is actually a pretty important topic! Just like any new activity, If you want to learn to scuba dive, the first foundational steps are the most crucial to your success.

As a beginner, you’ll research online and check out all the local options to learn to scuba dive. It’s pretty easy to conclude that all the dive centers look quite similar. But then you notice that there are huge variations in price for the entry level courses. 

Well, there’s a reason for that… 

You need to understand what you’re actually getting for your money. 

Why do you want to learn to scuba dive?

Everyone has different reasons for wanting to learn to scuba dive.

Some people have a bucket list of things they’d like to experience once. They will take the course, tick the box and move to the next activity, sky diving, dune bashing or one of the other cool local things to try. They prefer to save money as they may never dive again.

Lots of ex-pats new to the UAE realize they have a lovely warm ocean to dive in right on their doorstep and decide to give diving a try. Some of them fall in love with it and make it a core part of their leisure time.

Maybe you have dreamed about learning to scuba dive for a long while and are fully committed to becoming proficient and confident in the water so that you can get the most out of your underwater exploration. 

Whichever group you fall into, you will be adventuring into the underwater environment and humans are not physically designed to stay underwater without training and specialized equipment.

If you are in good health, with high quality environment, training and equipment your experience should be amazing.

Oh, and we need to warn you that you will probably get addicted! 

The importance of quality teaching

If your environment, training and equipment is poor quality, your experience can range from very unimpressive to downright scary and dangerous.  

We believe it’s important to have ALL the information, up front, which is what we aim to expose in this article.

Without the correct training, learning to scuba dive can be dangerous or even life threatening, so choose your diving center wisely. 

So, to start with, let’s look at the first question everyone asks: How much does it cost? A quality Open Water course at a good dive centre in the UAE will cost you somewhere around 2,000 Dhs. You will probably find courses that vary 10% up or down from this figure. Anyone who is offering courses cheaper than this are quite simply cutting corners. 

What is a good dive centre?

So what is a good dive centre to learn to scuba dive? Well, it’s a dive centre with all the following:

  • a great customer service attitude from booking through to checkout;
  • full third-party diving insurance for their guests in case of problems;
  • fully insured and equipped commercial diving boats (not rented fishing boats) to take you to real dive sites;
  • full safety and medical equipment in case of accidents, as well as trained staff and an emergency plan to deal with any situation;
  • a suitable pool to teach diving skills (not a small puddle that looks like a foot bath);
  • modern equipment in good condition that is all formally inspected and maintained every 3 months;
  • all gas tanks inspected and maintained once a year;
  • an air compressor(s) that is/are checked every week for air quality; and
  • fully qualified and experienced instructors on staff who pursue continuous training on the latest skills and teaching methods.
What is a good open water course?

We would define it as a course where you learn to scuba dive independently in controlled neutral buoyancy, who is able to safely dive to 18m without instructor supervision after finishing their course. 

It’s the course that gives you the perfect balance between confidence and skill, so that you understand your own limits, you understand the difference between safe and unsafe diving and the only question you have at the end is “when are we going diving again?”.

What is this neutral buoyancy thing?

If you’re wondering what neutral buoyancy is, it’s the superpower that allows you to effortlessly hover in the water and enjoy what’s going on around you.

It is the foundation of good diving and don’t believe anyone who tells you ‘it just comes from practice and doing more dives’. It comes from good training by knowledgable instructors. To achieve it, you will need to learn three things. The right way to breathe underwater (many instructors miss this out); the best way to calculate the amount of weight you need to wear so that you can sink in the water; and the right way to configure your equipment so that you have a great position in the water.. 

The right way to learn diving skills

To become a competent diver, you will need to fully master the relevant personal diving skills. You should learn to dive in neutral buoyancy in a pool, so that you don’t touch the bottom. The best instructors encourage lots of repetition and coaching in this safe environment until you get it right.

Other instructors will try to teach you these skills while you are on your knees at the bottom of the pool. Or even worse, on your knees in shallow seawater just off the beach. In Dubai, the sea bottom has lots of dust sediment on it. Once you touch it, it creates such dense clouds of silt that you can’t see your instructor or buddies any more.

If you can imagine learning to drive in a dense fog – that’s exactly what it feels like.

Just remember, once you go on real dives you will be swimming around and enjoying the environment and you will never be on your knees – so why learn to do skills in this position?

How to become a confident and independent diver

To become an independent diver, you will need to experience the real environment that you will be diving in after you qualify. To do that, you will need to:

  • be able to dive from boats;
  • know that you are comfortable diving to the depth you are certified for (18m); and
  • have experienced different sea conditions (for example: current, poor visibility and waves).

If you have not received training on any of these things during your Open Water course, you will be taking risks that you may regret when you start diving independently in the ocean,

Most of all, the course should be fun!

For us, that means seeing lots of fish and corals, maybe a turtle or two, as well as an instructor who can look after your individual needs. To do that, the class mustn’t be overcrowded with too many students.

Why is there such a big difference in prices for Open Water courses?

When you see Open Water courses priced at 900 Dhs (or less), you should be aware of what you are signing up for.

Most likely, they will be run from a beach, usually with poor visibility underwater (I have participated in sessions on the Dubai beaches when the students cannot even see their instructor). There are no boats and the depth is shallow. We have seen students who passed their Open Water course without ever diving deeper than 5 metres.

That is less than a third of the depth you will be certified to dive to, having never dived from a boat and often without mastering basic skills like removing water from your mask.

It’s the equivalent of learning to play golf in your back garden. All good, until you get on a real course and need to play your first ever long drive, or chip out of the sand from a bunker. The difference is that the worst injury in golf will be a little hurt pride. A diving accident can mean serious injury or even a fatality if you have not been trained properly.

So, when you’re choosing the dive centre that will teach you your diving skills, ask yourself some serious questions.  Do you really want to learn how to dive safely as an independent diver?  Or are you happy with a certification card confirming you survived your first course? Since this sport can indeed kill you, I know which option I would prefer.

The dangers of cutting corners

For a diving centre, it is financially impossible to do all the above properly and offer courses at 900 Dhs or less. 

If you’re taking half price courses, just ask yourself the following questions:

  • I’m paying half price. Which half of the essential course ingredients is missing?
  • Do I want to take a potentially big risk to save 1,000 Dhs? 
  • If I do want to take that risk, is this the right sport for me?

If you do it properly, scuba diving is an amazing and safe sport. Just like sky diving, it is not a sport where cutting corners is a good idea.

Do your research and choose wisely!

If you are a newcomer and would like to learn to dive safely, click below to request your free copy of our checklist for selecting your first dive center. You will get safer training as it will help you make the right choices.

The key points to take away from this article are:

If you are going to make the investment to learn to dive, choose wisely.

You should choose a dive center that builds quality and safety into the courses.

To experience the true beauty of our local waters, you should pick a place where you will enjoy the course. Dive in Fujairah!

Your safety and enjoyment are more important than saving a few bucks and you should not be tempted to cut corners to save a few dirhams.

If you’d like to ask more questions about this or any other aspect of the diving world, contact us now!. 

Happy bubbles and safe diving!

The Freestyle Divers team

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