Advertised prices are not always your entire cost to get certified!
"Quality is remembered long after the price is forgotten." --Gucci
When it's time to get certified, you have a lot of choices. For some, price is the most important factor. After all, if you can't afford the lessons, certification can seem out of reach. Well, I've got good news and bad news. The price that is advertised is often just what you pay the instructor or dive shop to learn! If you've wanted to know what it costs to learn to dive, this may help you figure it all out. Scuba is an equipment intensive sport and with all activities that have a steep learning curve, if you aren't aware of all the costs you might not get what you're paying for.
Here is the "Top 10" of what it may or may not included and an explanation:
- The educational materials
- Learning in the pool
- Transportation costs
- Required purchases
- Dive shop overhead
- Referral fees
- Equipment rental
- Certification dives
- Lodging and meals
- Certification cards
- BONUS: Fun!
Educational materials: Do you have to buy educational materials? Today, educational materials aren't just books. A lot of learning is done with "e-Learning" (online internet-based education). If you think about it, it's a great tool for the modern society. However, it also has it's drawbacks. What are you really learning? As with a lot of self-study programs, without a live person to direct the student, all but only the very motivated take the extra time to commit themselves to learning on their own. In that regard, should scuba diving be something that you do learn on your own? One certifying agency only teaches with e-Learning methods with begs several questions. Is the student completing the material to just get through it so they can go diving? We all want to go diving but is the education a means to an end or is it part of the entire educational process that is used to lower the risk associated with diving already. Another agency charges $185 for theirs. If everyone's online educational program is the same, why does each member of a family have to buy their own module? If you or your children went to college, we know very well that educational materials are incredibly expensive. To that point, at the end of the semester, everyone is in line hoping to sell it back before it becomes obsolete and they are left holding the bag. What are you going to do with the educational materials once you are done with it?
In order to remedy this, I don't charge for access to online educational courses! That's right. I've paid for it already and provide it to the student in a "loaner library" format. And if you want a hard copy book and DVD because you don't have access to the internet, no problem. I'll bring you the printed material. The reason I've decided to do this is that I remember my college days and very often had no idea why I was buying the books I did. Not only that, but sometimes it turned out that the instructor didn't even use it. I use educational material as a stepping stone along the path... Not everyone learns the same way, and because of this, I let them learn what they can without a worry that if they don't understand something that they will fall behind, put themselves at risk, or even not complete the course. Once the student completes their "self-study" we meet for a six hour review and cover the concepts, theories, and applications of what the student learned on their own so that by the time we're through, the student has truly achieved complete comprehension.
Learning in the pool: I once heard an instructor say that the pool is "an open water simulator." I couldn't disagree more. Not only is the pool nothing like the ocean, it is warm, safe, clear, and clean! The ocean is a living, diverse, multi-faceted environment that requires training to dive in it. Hence, why certification dives are required. When you watched your parents driving, wasn't it different once you got behind the wheel? Of course. Additionally, I've heard that the pool is a place that the student is required to "master" the skills needed to dive prior to open water certification dives. Really? If you master the skills in the pool, wouldn't that dictate that certification dives are not needed? Believe it or not, I've had students that did great in the pool but didn't do so well in the ocean. The pool is not a simulator of anything but diving in the pool! If you just want to try scuba and see if you like it, the pool is a great place. If you want to be a scuba diver, you have to do it in the ocean (or open water body of water that is available to you; lakes, reservoirs, etc.). Some shops insist that their students spend a lot of time in the pool and upon the completion of their certification dives, that skills is just not there. What happened?
In my honest opinion, the pool is only a place to introduce skills to the student. The pool is comfortable. It can also be a crutch. You can stand up in the shallow end of the pool. Because of this, it is an easy place to introduce all of the equipment, skills, and expectations that are necessary for one to eventually become a scuba diver. One doesn't have to be a great swimmer, however confidence is crucial in order to be a diver -- at any level. One's confidence in a pool is often incredibly different than in open water. I introduce the skills to the degree that the student has demonstrated that they are ready for the open water -- then we go to the open water! I look at it this way. Certification dives are going to tell me if the student will receive their certification card, not the pool. To that effect, what happens if the student needs more pool time? Who pays for that? What if there are others in the class and in the pool? Who gets the full attention of the instructor? Since all of my classes are private and taught to the individual or group that starts together, everyone is on the same schedule and a support system for each other. The stranger in the class that is doing fantastically deserves the same attention to detail as the student that really does need that extra attention. So in the end, the pool is just a means to an end. You don't learn to scuba dive in the pool. It shouldn't determine the amount of training you are going to receive.
Transportation costs: If you are taking a traditional program at a traditional dive shop, that means 3 or 4 weekends of class, sometimes class and pool. How are you going to get there isn't that big of a deal. Americans love their cars and just about everyone drives. But think about that cost for a minute. Each trip cost more money. Gasoline isn't free. In some parts of the country, it's quite expensive. Not only that, but traffic! For those that live in some of the larger metropolitan areas, traffic is horrific. I don't know about you, but the amount of traffic, the drive, and how long it will take to get there is a big consideration for me. Once class and pool are completed, many often have to drive to their dive destinations. Those that are not staying there will have to return each night. Many live by the water, however, many do not. How many trips will you make just to get your certification done?
After your self-study, I prefer to meet only one time to do my educational review. In fact, most never thought they could make it through one six hour session, but I have a secret -- classrooms are the worst place in the world to learn. Some are fun, but just like office meetings, most want to be somewhere else. I do one six hour session at Starbucks! Not only can one take a break at any time, no one feels like they are interrupting to get up and go to the bathroom. One can get up and stretch at any time, not to mention get a cup of coffee or something to eat. Add that to the fact that my educational program is fun and that nobody falls asleep at Starbucks, programs that stretch out the education for a month are missing the big picture. People are busy. Let's get the educational portion done and go diving!
Required purchases: Are you required to buy anything? Some shops say no, others make it mandatory. Masks, snorkels, boots, and fins are the foundation of one's person snorkeling system, however, I'm not a big fan of snorkeling. Yep! You heard it right.... After all, I love scuba diving. Snorkels don't know much underwater and for all intents and purposes, I hate surface swims. I rather start and finish my dive in the same place. Swimming on the surface with 75 pounds of gear is not only uncomfortable, but it's not efficient. Scuba equipment works best underwater. With that said, I do own my own masks, snorkel, boots, and fins but should the student be required to buy it? In my opinion, as far as scuba diving education goes, no. But here's why. Very often, the sale of this equipment is to increase the margin one makes on already under-priced scuba education. Of all things that one shouldn't reduce the cost of is the education that is going to teach you the skills necessary to dive safely, stay alive, and have lots of fun! Yes, diving is fun, but you don't have to own equipment to have fun.
I believe that if shops spent more time focusing on building relationships and promoting scuba diving, equipment sales would happen on their own. On this note, an unsettling trend is happening that I feel necessary to mention. Some will go into a dive shop to get information about the particulars of certain equipment and then go buy it on the internet. Not only is this wrong, I feel that it's pretty close to stealing. If one is just browsing and they have no intention of buying, then no harm no foul. But if someone is going to take time away from the employee or store owner and then reward another business owner that is selling the product for a few dollars less, that shop is now at a loss. Being an independent business owner is a lot of work. Some do it because they love while others because they don't want to work for others. Whatever the reason, if someone else is going to spend their time, energy, effort, and resources to learn about a product and provide that information to you, it is not free! Beside, how do you know that the shop won't give you a discount, match their price, or even beat it? My prices are not set in stone because I realize that there are other ways to get compensated for the hard work I do. I need cash to keep my lights on and a roof over my head, but if I offer a discount to someone that refers two others, we both win.
Dive shop overhead: As I just mentioned, running a dive shop is lots of work and lest not forget, it is a business! There is nothing wrong with a business making a profit, either. In fact, I'm not sure why one would not want to do most work and not get paid for it. Scuba is no different. With this said, it's important to remember that in order to keep the door open, a dive shop must sell a product that has enough margin to make it worth while for the one engaged in that enterprise. Scuba diving equipment has this kind of margin while education within the dive shop does not. Lights, rent, inventory, employees, insurance, taxes, and instructor salaries have to be paid. When I first did my cross-over from another agency to NAUI, the Course Director helped me to understand that I shouldn't teach for free if not pay others to learn to scuba dive. As the years have gone by as an independent and private scuba diving instructor, I've learned how to run an efficient business by not having the overhead that a dive shop does. In fact, I do it on purpose. I don't want to sell scuba diving equipment to make a living. That doesn't mean that I won't be given equipment to sell for a diver that can't dive anymore, but in this case it's not to make a profit, but to help out two parties.
There's an old joke in scuba diving... "If you want to make a million dollars in scuba, start with two!" This says a lot. Because I have less overhead, two things happen. I get to offer private and thorough scuba diving lessons without having to cut corners. I love teaching, but the great thing about what I do is that I get to scuba dive! I love to dive, too. So, when I reinvest some of what I get into the cost of going diving, even in the cold waters of the Puget Sound, it's not a price of doing business for me, it's the benefit of doing business. I live to dive and when I see how much my students love it and how well they do, they love it as well. I can't put a price on this kind of experience.
Referral fees: Believe it or not, I actually know of a dive shop that made their customers pay a fee to write a referral to their dive destination to complete their certification dives. I can understand if there was a cost to the dive shop, however the universal referral program is pretty straightforward. Someone wants to complete their certification dives at their dive destination (usually in a warmer climate). The referring instructor acknowledges that the student has completed all the educational requirements, demonstrated skills in the pool, and that the student is ready for open water dives. While there is some disagreement as to who taught the person to scuba dive, that's usually based on ego and not actual precedence. Nonetheless, the only concern I really have is the quality of instructor that will be receiving the students. I wish I had a steady stream of students being handed to me with to know effort involved.
One way that I help to remedy the process is to promote completing the certification dives here, in the Puget Sound. While I charge $100 additional to complete the dives here with my students, after the cost to drive to and from the dive site, meals, additional air fills, wear and tear on my equipment, lodging, and the certification card coming off the top, I've actually spent more than the $100. In some regards I understand that those things have an expense associated to them. The dive shop has the potential to charge for the equipment rental as well as supplementary sales opportunities. Since I don't have a rental fleet and don't sell equipment, that opportunity is lost. There have been times for which students have purchased their own gear and in that instant the shop just made a greater profit than what I did in the 40 hours it took to complete the certification process. The one thing I can't put a price on if they complete the dives elsewhere is being able to see my students accomplish their goal and become a diver.
Equipment rental: I regularly hear people say that they just want to try it and see if they like it. Sorry, but scuba diving is not a new flavor of Girl Scout Cookie. If you don't like the cookies, you throw away the box and try another. You don't need to keep eating cookies and force yourself to like them. While scuba diving is not for everyone, in a sport that takes years to master, giving up on it after the first weekend is like saying you know all you need to know about parenting by the time of your child's first birthday. One doesn't have to be phenomenal to experience the magic of scuba diving, but you need time to make that decision. I promote diving at least 24 times a year -- twice of what NAUI promotes and I encourage new divers to not decide to hang their fins up until they have at least 100 dives under their belt. 24 dives a year is only one day a month where you do a couple of dives in that day. Compared to the 150 dives a year I average, it would take a similar person like myself a lifetime to have accumulated the same experience.
The logistics alone of going to the dive shop, trying on equipment, renting it, heading out to your dive site, doing the dives, and returning the gear to the shop with cleaned gear is a workout on its own. When you own your own gear, you will dive more often. That doesn't necessarily mean you have to own new gear, but the investment in gear is an investment in oneself. Because of the high cost of entry to the sport, it's logical that some might not even own their own used gear. There is a lot of gear out there and most of it will last a lifetime with proper care. Some rental gear is better than others but one has to ultimately decide on the value of the experience. Owning or renting won't change one's abilities nor ones confidence, but the value of owning ones gear only comes from seeing how scuba will benefit the diver. I don't rent gear but as far as the costs involved, the rates I see seem to be high. I want students to return and continue their education because I believe that ongoing education builds skill competence. It's in that competence that confidence emerges and with confidence one minimizes risk. If one can rent an automobile for 1/1000th of the cost of ownership, why do dive shops rent the equipment at 1/20th of its cost? I believe that when the focus is education is where the focus should lie.
Certification dives: Sometimes it seems like you're only jumping through hoops in order to scuba dive, but safety is never something that ever be taken for granted. Diving with an instructor should mean that you can count on that person to do everything in their power to make sure you come home safely to your friends, family, children, and loved ones. There is risk in just about anything that has fun attached to it but the difference between breathing underwater and playing a round of golf is obvious. I'm sure that there has been injuries on the golf course, but no one would think that you might not come back after a quick nine. It's because good instructors manage risk that the student puts their trust in instructors all around the world. The majority of them do exactly what they are suppose to do, however, how would the student know if they aren't following standards and policies?
Part of your certification must include an overview of what your certification entitles you to do. The instructor has a limited amount of time with you and if you're not going to take them with you to supervise everything you do, the diver must be capable of fixing any obstacle that presents itself while underwater. The goal of the instructor isn't to issue certification cards (the certification agency does that), it's to give the newly certified diver everything they need to get into the water, but more importantly, get out of the water. Most modern education spends just enough time covering risks, poor choices, and skills as they hope that you will continue your education with additional courses. While I wholeheartedly want you to take more courses with me, I don't want you to wait until "advanced training" to learn how to make good choices. Learning how to dive is the first step, lots of diving is the second step, and the next step is learning when not to dive. There will always be time to dive, but when divers choose to follow an instructor blindly because they are told, "I've been doing this for 30 years!" that instructor is not the best choice for you.
Lodging and meals: There's definitely an appeal to go diving in Fiji, Bora Bora, Mexico, and Hawaii. Going to those places without diving is amazing, too! If you're going to travel to a dive destination, spending money on getting there is a reality. However, there's always a new destination, a place you've never been, and another check mark on your bucket list. Wherever you go, the thing that always stands out is the food and the people. Food and people are the foundation of community and for me, relationships are the most important part of what I do. Yes, I want you to dive and have a good time, but more importantly, I want the adventure to change your life and give you something that lasts a lifetime. If you are going to learn to dive with me, I'm not just going to teach you how to dive, but how to live! Scuba has transformed my life in ways too numerous to mention here, but the greatest gift that came from it are the people that continue to be a part of my life. I realize that some just want to learn and be left alone, but the trust that forms during the education, pool sessions, and diving really is life changing. There are few activities in life where you have to give your complete trust over to someone in an environment foreign to the human body.
What do I recommend? Spend money on the adventure and not how many stars your motel or hotel has. I only take my students to one motel for diving in the Pacific Northwest. The destination is less expensive than the rest in town, but the thing that stands out is how welcome I am when I get there. I feel like I've come to visit friends I haven't seen in a while and it's always exciting to see them once again. It's not about customer loyalty or what that business will do for me, but how they treat me and how they will treat you. This is something that you cannot put a price on! I know for a fact that I am the only instructor or dive shop that only has one destination and it shows. You'll know how special you are when you return and the owner welcomes you back by name!
Certification cards: It seems interesting that after all that work one has to pay an additional cost to receive proof of certification. While that's part of the world we live in (to keep your driver's license valid, to receive a diploma, to maintain professional credentials), I'm not going to do that. Not only do I think of that certification as an award, it's an honor when I order it and have the opportunity to present it in person. I've never met another that doesn't appreciate something as much than a gift that is given to another and in person. It's an opportunity to reflect upon the accomplishment that certification brings as well as the adventure that the graduate is about to embark upon.
At times, it's even felt like the end of the vacation -- the end of summer camp, if you can remember that far back. Some of the greatest moments of my life have come from seeing the culmination of the effort that I have put into something and I want you to have that same feeling. Please insist that the last part of the process that comes with your certification is not a credit card receipt. You deserve a hand shake or hug! You've earned it!
BONUS: Fun, safety (getting in and out of the water), and the overall experiences are an important part of the learning how to scuba dive! There are so many cheap things available in the world today and the fact is that you don't always get what you pay for! As an independent and private scuba diving instructor, diving is my goal! Sadly, the industry reports that upwards of 80% of those that receive an introductory certification never dive again. I don't want my students to become a dropout statistic so when you want to dive, call me! Not only will I make the time to go with you to dive, I don't charge for it. If dive shop and dive clubs need your money to be a part of your continuing enjoyment of the activity, please walk away. You family doesn't ask for a "visitation fee" and neither should the scuba industry. As a mentor in the dive community, it's my gift to you!
When I ask kids why we do a second dive, they always answer: BECAUSE IT'S FUN...!!!