How do I choose where to learn to scuba dive?

This is a serious topic. We believe it is our duty as experienced instructors to give ALL the information, up front, to people who want to learn our fabulous sport. Diving can be dangerous, or even life threatening, without the correct training.

So, to start with, let’s look at the first question everyone asks: How much does it cost? A good Open Water course in a good dive centre in the UAE costs somewhere around 2,000 Dhs (you will probably find courses that vary 10% up or down from this figure).

What is a good dive centre?

It’s a dive centre that has full third-party diving insurance for their guests in case of problems. It has fully insured and equipped commercial diving boats (not rented fishing boats) to take you to real dive sites. It has full safety and medical equipment in case of accidents, as well as trained staff and an emergency plan to deal with any situation. It has a suitable pool to teach diving skills. It has modern equipment in good condition, that is all formally inspected and maintained every 3 months.  It has all gas tanks inspected and maintained once a year. It has a compressor that is checked every week for air quality. It has 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 that teaches you how to be an independent diver in controlled neutral buoyancy, who is able to safely dive to 18m without instructor supervision after finishing their course. 

You’re probably wondering what this neutral buoyancy thing is. Well, 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 about the right way to breathe underwater (many instructors miss this out), the right way to calculate the amount of weight you need to wear and the right way to configure your equipment. 

To become an independent diver, you will need to fully master the relevant personal diving skills. This is best done in a pool, in neutral buoyancy, with lots of repetition until you get it right. Some instructors will try to teach you these skills while you are on your knees at the bottom of the pool. Just remember, once you go on real dives, you will never be on your knees – so why would you learn to do skills in this position?

To become an independent diver, you will need to experience the real environment that you will be diving in after you qualify. You will need to be able to dive from boats; you need to know you can dive to the depth you are certified for (18m); and you need to 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, when you start diving in the ocean as an independent diver, you will be taking risks that you may regret.

Most of all, the course should be fun! For us, that means lots of fish and corals to see, maybe a turtle or two, as well as an instructor that 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, having never dived from a boat and without mastering basic skills like removing water from their 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.

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

So, when you take half price courses, ask yourself the question – which half of the essential ingredients is missing, and how much risk are you prepared to take to save 1,000 Dhs? 

Scuba diving is an amazing and safe sport when it is done properly. Just like sky diving, it is not a sport where cutting corners is a good idea.

We have put together a checklist for new divers who would like to make the right choices about how they are trained safely. Click below to request your free copy!

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

Happy bubbles and dive safe!

The Freestyle Divers team


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