HOW DO YOU CHOOSE A DIVE CENTRE FOR YOUR SCUBA DIVING COURSES

So you want to join the millions of scuba divers who are already certified and wish to see the 70+% of Planet Earth. Looking for a scuba diving course for your first basic scuba diving experience can be quite a challenge. A quick search of Google will show that there are actually quite a lot of scuba diving centres and school right here in Singapore. How do you know which scuba dive centre to go down? Should you really take the recommendations of your peers who are already scuba divers? How should you know which is a better scuba dive shop to go to? After operating one of the oldest PADI Five (5) Star Instructor Development Centre in Singapore for more than 20 years, we have decided to compile a checklist.

RULE 1: ALWAYS PROTECT YOURSELF

Singapore Scuba Dive Centre and Travel License

It is required by Singapore’s Law that every dive centre must own their own travel licenses approved by Singapore Tourism Board. Many local dive centres have evaded this law by using another license from another company. You DO need to protect yourself completely during dives, especially in the unlikely event should the company goes bust. In 2010, a local dive centre collected more than SGD$ 30,000 for a trip to Pulau Sipadan for more than 10 people but failed to deliver the service. Of course, the consumers were not protected and were made to pay the resort directly again. Dive Centres or independent scuba diving Instructors have always said: “Oh, do not worry, I am not required by law to have the license, do not worry about it.” This is actually showing the irresponsible part of any scuba diving professionals.

INDEPENDENT SCUBA DIVING INSTRUCTORS & HOME-BASED DIVE CENTRE

I cannot stress enough the importance of dealing with legitimate scuba diving companies. Would you really want to entrust your lives, your spendings with anyone that is not a properly registered entity here in Singapore? Scuba Diving has inherent risks and anyone who organizes scuba diving activities must be mature enough to understand this and run scuba diving activities in a legit manner. If an organizer can take the shortcut of organizing scuba diving activities without registering themselves, what other shortcuts can they be taking as well?

Earlier this year, we moved again. This time, we moved from a house (a concept which we have always been operating from) to a small office by the pool. The aim is to make it a one-stop solution to serve our customers better.

– Quoted by a local company

This is an example of how a local dive company commented about their move from a house-based dive centre to a small store no bigger than an HDB standard study room and still commenting that they are downsizing because they want to offer a one-stop solution to serve customers better.

RULE 2: What agency or dive company

PADI, SDI, SSI, RAID, NAUI, YMCA

I have heard instructors passing this remark. It is not the agency but the instructor. How knowledgeable is the instructor, his patience, his experience etc… …

Well, there is a certain degree of truth in that statement but I ought to clarify this. Instructors that were trained in the 90’s and early 2000, these instructors were trained beyond the required standards of their respective agency. Back then, when we had to do our Rescue Diver course, most of us were made to swim almost 3km. Now, instructors are trained for 100m. Instructors who were brought up as scuba diving professionals in the 90’s had very little support. They had to grow up quickly in order to serve the industry. So if any scuba instructor from the 90’s were to pass this comment, then it holds a truth in it. But newer instructors are not trained the same way, resulting in poor quality instructors.

Are all agencies the same then? The answer is No. Let’s take a look at the different popular agency and let’s discuss how a diver becomes a scuba diving instructor with each agency.

In order to become a PADI Instructor, a scuba diver who has gone through a PADI Instructor Development Course conducted by any independent PADI Course Directors. The candidates would have to sit through a 2 days PADI Instructor Examinations, evaluated by examiners from PADI.

SDI and SSI are quite similar. They have independent instructor trainers and instructor certifier. After going through their respective instructor development course, the instructor certifier will evaluate their performance. However, it is possible that both instructor certified and trainer comes from the same company, hence putting this system of evaluation as less effective then what PADI has in place.

Personally, I do not feel comfortable with this system. It can be easily abused and less than desireable instructors can be easily “created” in this process.

CREDIBILITY OF THE DIVE CENTRE

We always have a rule when social media is of concern. No staff nor anyone related to our company should encourage scuba divers to post a positive comment on our social media platform. While we understand that reviews are an important aspect of any businesses, we also acknowledge that true opinion is what matters. What we want is to encourage and train scuba divers to be good, safe, self-reliant and when they have enjoyed the training, they will naturally post their positive experience on your social media platform.

The Case of a Forced Reviewer:- I went on an advanced open water course in Tioman together with a group of friends who did the open water. I would not book with big bubble again due to three things bothered me. Firstly, a lack of flexibility e.g. Pool sessions and departure times could not be adjusted even by 30 min. Delays were treated like major issues even if in hindsight they did not have any impact. Secondly, the tone of teaching and business was very authoritative, assertive and at times aggressive. From my (European) customer perspective this is neither helpful nor acceptable. Thirdly and most importantly, before collection of our certificates my friends and me received messages from big bubble that we should write reviews in tripadvisor before we could collect our certificates. We ended up collecting them without writing the review. Still I believe this is utterly unacceptable behaviour!!

Nytyn1, Hannover, Germany

There are ways to heck the integrity besides reviewing their business on the social platform. Over the years as I have seen scuba diving companies growing and closing down, it has made me understand few very important factors of any scuba diving business. Use them to evaluate the maturity of the company if you wish.

  1. Operating Hours : Any companies should maintain regular working hours as a business. There are quite a few scuba dive companies right here in Singapore that operates only in the evening because scuba diving is their part-time business and not their full-time occupation. Scuba dive businesses of such are generally doing this out of “passion” (as they will gently like to call it). I am harsh on this point. Such attitude goes to show their commitment to the business and the industry itself.
  2. Full-Time Paid Instructor : Being in the industry for more than 2 decades, I have seen scuba dive business operating under OMS (One Man Show) Scheme. They can barely be sustainable as a business and this brings me to the next very important point.
  3. Quality of Rental Equipment : New scuba divers need to have scuba diving equipment for their courses. And the scuba diving equipment requires annual servicing, which is both time and money. If a scuba dive shop can barely employ any full-time staff, they will neither have the time nor money to ensure their inventory of rental equipment is maintained. Which simply translating to divers using inferior diving equipment for their course, which can be dangerous. We do know of a dive centre here in Singapore, that does not have proper operating hours, hold full-time jobs but not in diving, have a “shop”, all instructors are volunteers only and they DO NOT OWN any rental gear at all.

RULE 3: where you go diving

WHY IS EVERYONE OFFERING THE SAME PACKAGES IN PULAU TIOMAN

I have been caught in the same rat-race with everyone else, offering the same old package in Pulau Tioman. When we finally understood the importance of providing options, we broke free from Tioman. There are few things you probably want to know about diving before signing up for any packages.

Most dive centres here in Singapore are operating in Tioman because of the proximity (or not). But as a new diver, you should know the truth behind this.

TYPE OF TIOMAN PACKAGES

We are gonna break down exactly what lies behind each of the common packages for Tioman. Regardless, compare with your dive centre and ask them to reassure you. Use the below table as a guide only.

STEP 1: TRAVELING TO MERSING

Most scuba diving companies will organize different methods of heading up to Mersing. Mersing is the common port that serves between Pulau Tioman and the mainland.

Transportation: For bigger operations, it is not uncommon for them to squeeze forty divers into a bus. For smaller operations, 11 or 12 passenger vans are commonly used. There are a few companies that actually uses an 18 seater bus as well. For some companies, they might even consider using MPV for a mode of transfer. For those on buses and vans, you will need to disembark at both Singapore and Malaysia immigration, carrying all your dive equipment and personal bags. For those who are traveling with MPV, you do not need to disembark. You will need approximately 6 hours on land to reach Mersing. Departure time varies from scuba dive companies. Some of them have chosen to depart on Saturday morning and most, Friday evenings.

What Do You Do Once You Have Arrived in Mersing: This depends on how much you have paid for your package. For those who have chosen to pay less than SGD$ 600.00 for your scuba diving courses, chances are you will be taking a slow dive boat across to at 12 midnight of Friday to Tioman. It will take approximately four to five hours before arriving in Tioman. For those who have paid between SGD$ 600 – SGD$ 700, you will either stay in Mersing overnight (The place is known as Timotel) and take a fast ferry at 6 am on Saturday morning to Tioman or if the ferry is operating a midnight ferry, you will travel across to Tioman immediately. The ferry to Tioman generally will take about 2.5 hours.

STEP 2: WHAT TO EXPECT IN TIOMAN

When you mentioned Tioman Genting Island Reef Resort, I was thinking that I could order a club sandwich when I arrived. I did not expect it to be a quad sharing room with only 2 queen size bed in a creaking wooden resort. This place is not a resort and it is worst than the HDUC chalet at East Coast.

Suresh Mulchand

Well, I am glad that is something of the past which Orpheus Dive no longer has to handle. But when you are shopping for a scuba diving course for the first time, you have to know this. For a budget of SGD$ 500 to SGD$ 600, do not even expect a Hotel 81 Standard. I personally think that my army barracks are in a better condition than most of the “resorts” in Tioman.

Then for the next budget level of SGD$ 600 – SGD$ 700, your resort would be slightly better. But still, most of them are still quad sharing. Always check with them the real images of the rooms that you are staying in. Better still, Google them or check travelers images on Trip Advisor.

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Lester Kwok
PADI Master Instructor at Orpheus Dive
Lester Kwok enjoys teaching scuba diving and seeking for new ways to improve the diving industry. He does this when he is not busy attending to his animals as a canine physiotherapist.
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