Dive Deals column: Dive course pricing

Here’s the final installment of my three-part series on the cost of learning to dive, originally published on the DiveDeals.co.za website. Part one can be found here, and part two is here.

Dive course pricing

For the past two weeks we’ve been looking at the topic of how much it costs to learn to dive. We’ve seen that there are multiple “invisible” costs that even the largest, most established dive centre must bear in order to deliver an Open Water course. But how does everything tie in with what you’ll actually get charged for an entry-level dive course?

Let’s say Dive Centre #1 wants to charge you R5,000. The equipment is top class, they have every size of gear you require, and a nice environment for training with a great pool. Everything is just perfect, the class is small – perhaps two of you – your instructor is going to earn R1,000 for his three or four days’ work at R250 a day and let’s assume he/she is happy with that.

At the end of the course, in the shop, you will most likely be shown all the types of gear you were using during the course and in a no pressure environment you will choose and buy the gear they suggest. You go home qualified as a diver, have your own gear and hopefully at least 5-6 hours of bottom time to your name.  Everyone is happy.

But then there is the other option… You saw that “special offer” at Dive Centre #2 for the same dive course, but for  R1,000.

How can they do it for this price, you may ask? More likely, you will ask yourself, why not take this offer instead of paying R5,000?

Before jumping in head first, you should ask yourself these questions.

  • Will I get a training manual of my own, or just a copied one? You may not know this, but many dive certification agencies require in their standards that each student has their own, original copy of the training material.
  • Will the gear be good? How will you know what good or bad is before you have ever tried it? (Why is my wetsuit torn and ragged? The boots are a bit tight, the fins don’t match, the air tastes funny, my mask leaks a lot, the BCD leaks but my instructor says it’s normal…) How would you know if you’ve never dived before? You struggle with mediocre gear of dubious origins and your instructor will say that’s why it’s good to have your own gear.
  • There are probably eight or more students in your class and the Instructor spends very little time with each student. How long will you have to wait to start the course? Can you start immediately, or do you have to wait for seven other people to sign up first?
  • At that price it’s doubtful the Instructor is being paid more than R50 a day for working with you. How much of your current day’s work would you do if you were being paid R50? You will be lucky if any of your dives are longer than 20 minutes.
  • You can bet that the businesses goal of making a profit will be realised by selling you as much equipment as possible as quickly as possible for the highest price possible. You can be sure that if your pool sessions are a disaster because your mask leaks like a sieve, selling you a brand new one will be easy. If you struggle with buoyancy all through the sea dives, selling you ‘’this fantastic top of the range BCD’’ does not take much effort.

There is no such thing as a bad dive course. The formula for a course is cast in stone by the certifying agency.  There are bad instructors, and bad dive operations. A bad instructor working for a ‘’budget ‘’ dive school will take you diving in mediocre gear and less than perfect conditions. A good instructor won’t be comfortable with either of those things.

The ‘’dive hyperstore’’ you visit can not guarantee you any better deal than the tiny corner dive resort without a committed and structured program, the right equipment and the right staff. None of these things come cheap, as we’ve seen, so if your dive course is suspiciously inexpensive there are either a few shortcuts in the program or the money will be made up on gear sales or hidden costs (you may have to pay extra for the sea dives, or to rent gear, or to be certified, or all of the above).

There is nothing wrong with gear sales: all divers should own their own kit, but how qualified are you to choose from the huge range available when you have hardly even been in the water? And how can a salesperson really be sure what they are trying to sell you is right for you when they have known you for less than five minutes? Even discount dive courses have invisible costs… in the form of hastily-purchased, unsuitable dive gear that you end up being pressured into purchasing at the end of your training. Don’t be fooled – if it seems too cheap, you’re missing something!


Dive Deals column: The invisble cost of learning to dive

This is the second column in a three part series I wrote for the DiveDeals.co.za website, as part of my regular weekly contribution. Part the first can be found here.

The “invisible” costs of learning to dive

Last week we broke down some of the non-negotiable costs that are included in a course fee for an entry level scuba diving course. Some of them may seem far-fetched. This week I’ll explain why they aren’t.

You may think it costs a dive centre nothing to fill a cylinder. You may be close, but purchasing a compressor and maintaining it costs money. The compressor operator has to be qualified to fill cylinders, by doing a Department of Manpower-approved compressor course. This also costs money. A dive operator who doesn’t own a compressor will need to find a dive centre who does, and pay between R25 and R50 to fill cylinders. None of these are optional costs to a dive instructor.

You may also say, once you have a cylinder it costs nothing to use it. Wrong again: a cylinder needs an annual inspection that costs up to R100, pillar valves need regular services, tank nets wear out, and handles break. These costs aren’t optional.

You may think a dive centre gets equipment really cheap. Some do, but how good is it? And if they get it so cheap why do they want so much money for it when you buy it from them? Dive centres and schools need their gear to be rugged, robust and trouble free so not all choose budget equipment. A half decent dive school will have all the sizes, from XXS to XXL and a few of each of these sizes, this includes booties, wetsuits and fins. A decent wetsuit can cost you R2,000 – R3,000. What do you think it costs for 20 or 30 decent wetsuits?

Nothing you subject to human bodily fluids, regular immersion in salt water, and exposure to sun and sand lasts forever and dive gear is no exception. There is costly maintenance on all dive gear regardless of its quality, so this also is not a variable in course pricing.

A vehicle is required to transport the instructor and the gear to the beach, as is some form of building to house the classroom and training aids, store the gear and park the car.

Lest we forget, you expect to have the undivided (or at least, not too divided!) attention of an Instructor for at least three to four days. For anyone to stand in front of you as a qualified and paid-up in teaching status instructor, he/she has most likely spent around  R70,000 and used at least 6 -12 months getting the required training and qualifications. You may not be surprised to learn that they would like to recoup that money.

This is all without a boat. Let’s leave the boats out of this, as it is possible to qualify as a competent diver by doing shore entries.

So we’ve established that learning to dive costs money, and we’ve identified some of the areas where expenses can build up. Next week we’ll try and tie it all together, looking at what it actually costs to dive – what will a dive centre or scuba instructor charge you for a course, and what that implies.

Dive Deals column: The cost of learning to dive

Here’s the third article I wrote for the Dive Deals website. The first two are here and here.

The cost of learning to dive

Anyone starting out on the rewarding and life-changing path of becoming a regular diver will at some point ask ‘’what does it cost?’’.

Like any sport that is equipment-intense, there will be expenses related to getting started. These expenses can be managed and spread out depending on your own situation and the sales skills of your local dive centre.

As a starting point I want to focus on what many will say is the most popular of dive courses and that is Open Water diver.

Most dive training agencies stipulate the required standards and set the basic guidelines as to how their course must be structured and what the requirements for course content, learning materials and minimum standards are. This is not a variable part of the program.

There are variables, however: what brand and configuration of gear, time schedules and training periods are all variables provided they meet the minimum standard. These factors can all be interpreted quite widely – you could end up diving without a hoodie or gloves in a 3mm wetsuit in less than 20 degree water or perhaps you will have a 7mm wetsuit, with a shortie over it, a hoodie, 5mm gloves and so on.

Where no scope for interpretation exists, naturally will follow more expense.

Let’s break it down even more.

Any business irrespective of what it does, exists with the goal of making a profit. Huge turnover don’t always equate with huge profits and many smaller, efficiently run businesses make a tidy profit. So let’s imagine a dive centre with one employee, its main focus being on diver training.

Let’s take the non-variable items first.

You walk in the door and want to become a qualified diver. You don’t want to be conned into doing a seemingly cheap course that will only qualify you to dive to 12 metres while accompanied by an instructor – you want to be able to dive independently, to a reasonable depth. The PADI Open Water course and the NAUI Open Water 1 course, for example, fit the bill nicely. So this is what you will cost the dive operator:

  • A training pack with at least the minimum required manual, logbook and dive planner: R450
  •  Two sets of gear for three days, capitalised and depreciated over a year: R300
  • 10 air fills (1 student and 1 Instructor, pool and four dives): R400
  • Getting to and from the dive sites: R400
  • Wages for the owner/instructor: R850
  • Odds and ends such as electricity, pens and pencils, rent, telephone calls, lunch maybe? : R100

(These figures aren’t meant to be prescriptive or even highly accurate, but just give an idea of where expenses occur in running a dive course.)

So it’s not implausible that R2,500 of your course fee is eaten up before you even hit the water. You may look at some of the costs I’ve listed above and say to yourself, “He’s smoking socks – it doesn’t cost a dive centre anything to fill a cylinder! And what’s this about the gear costing R300 over the course days? Dive centres hardly pay anything for gear, and then they have it to use as they please!”

We’ll see next week how some of the “invisible” costs of learning to dive add up.

Dive Deals column: Don’t become a lost diver

Here’s the second in my series of articles for the DiveDeals.co.za website.

Don’t become a lost diver

Last week we looked at some of the situations and reasons that could cause a freshly qualified scuba diver to give up on the sport. This week I’d like to examine some of the simple things that can be done by the qualifying diver – before, during and after doing one’s first dive course – to reduce the attrition rate of new divers and avoid becoming a statistic.

Learning to dive

Firstly, learn to dive in a place you feel comfortable, with an instructor you feel good about. Choose an instructor whom you trust, and find approachable. Ask a lot of questions before you sign up. During the course, never hesitate to tell your instructor you are not sure of something you have just learnt. Don’t be afraid to speak your mind. If you’re not comfortable performing a skill, ask if you can do it again. That skill might one day make the difference between a disastrous dive and a dive that ended well for all concerned.

Buying gear

Don’t buy the first piece of gear you are shown based on the sales pitch. There is very little junk available in the dive industry, but it just might not be what suits your budget, your body shape or diving needs. You WILL ultimately be better off buying your own equipment, but don’t rush into it without some research. Try on different styles of wetsuits, dive with different style BCDs, various volume masks, and so on. Then you will be qualified to make a good decision about what kit to buy for yourself.

On the boat

Do not hesitate to tell the skipper you are nervous, and never hesitate to tell the divemaster it’s your first dive and you are apprehensive. Don’t be shy to tell the group on the beach during the briefing you have never dived in the sea, or never been deeper than 12 metres, or whatever the case.

The divemaster faced with 10 new faces every dive cannot be expected to read everyone’s state of mind. Equally, a skipper that takes 30-40 different people out on his boat each day can’t be expected to know everyone’s gear, mental state, or qualification.

As a divemaster, skipper, and instructor, I can assure you the vast majority of people in the dive industry are helpful, keen to see you dive with them again and again and will go to great lengths to assist you whilst you find your feet. All you have to do is tell them that you’re just starting out. Don’t be afraid to ask the diver nearby for help as they will most likely be happy to share their knowledge. If they aren’t, don’t take it personally – unfortunately you will meet ungracious people in all areas of life – and just ask someone else.

Bad experiences

In the unlikely event you have a bad experience on a dive or with a dive operator, don’t give up move on as there are many, many, options and the vast majority of dive operators are good at what they do, keeping you a happy diver. After all, a dive centre filled with enthusiastic divers is a fun place to be and to these individuals diving will soon become a way of life. Diving has more to offer than any other sport in the world. (My opinion, yes, but shared by millions.)

Dive Deals column: Where have all the divers gone?

I recently (at the end of August) started writing a weekly column for the revamped DiveDeals.co.za website. Here’s the first of the series:

Where have all the divers gone?

Diving is a sport that draws people from all walks of life. Armed with a qualification to dive the world, several choices present themselves to the new diver. Does one keep diving, enrol for further training courses, travel to tropical dive destinations, or sell all that expensive gear and give it up?

Let’s be honest: the ocean is beautiful, full of weird and wonderful creatures, and incredible underwater topography. I doubt there are many people that give up diving because they felt it was boring.

So why DO people stop diving? Why do so many advertisements for second hand dive gear state that it’s been “used only once”?

Some people will try anything, and some new divers take up the sport just to try it out, to be able to say they’ve done it, and then move on to the next adventure.

Some people just don’t enjoy it, but the majority of people that give up diving will cite a bad experience or some negative event related to diving that was the catalyst to their decision.

Let’s look a little bit deeper. The majority of dive centres are pleasant environments, with shiny displays of the latest dive gear, exceptional salespeople and smiling instructors, mostly enthusiastic about what they do and keen to share it. These are easy places to be and easy places to spend money.

And spend money we do. Some people will purchase a full set of dive gear before they ever enter the water. This is not a bad thing as you then become familiar with your own gear. From a hygiene point of view it’s nice to know only you have worn that wetsuit and booties. However some people have body shapes that differ from average, so a custom wetsuit is the way to go. Some people hate a side inflation BCD but don’t know there is an alternative.

Some people will arrive on your boat, newly qualified and on their first ocean dive with a mask the size of their heads, a BCD one size too big (it was on special) and cheap nasty fins because they blew their budget on the regulator… You know the one: the salesperson recommended it as it’s rated to 100 metres and you can take it diving under the ice. Their weight belt doesn’t fit because they were told to add a few kilos for salt water.

Imagine that you’re this newbie diver. Having qualified inland or by doing shore entries off the beach, the boat is all new. The diver next to you looks really hard core and is kitted and ready to roll into the water 10 seconds after the boat stops. They get annoyed with your hesitant attempts to kit up on a cramped boat whilst seasickness threatens to overwhelm you. You roll into the water, descend into the beauty of the sea, but on the way down you are overcome with fear, stress and near panic as this is all new to you.

Your divemaster and dive buddy did a negative entry and are way below you, and you can hear the boat leaving overhead. Your weight belt is loose, your mask is leaking and you want to gag because the mouthpiece on your new regulator feels strange, so you panic. Perhaps the divemaster comes over, solves all these problems and holds your hand for the entire dive. Perhaps not, and back to the boat you go. And at that point you decide diving is NOT for you.

Sometimes you will be on a dive boat, and the sea looks a little rough. But you have spent a lot of money getting here, and prepaid for a whole bunch of dives. The skipper tells you it’s fine, and that he has launched in far worse. He assures you that it’ll be fine on the bottom. It probably will, but getting there is scaring you half to death. At the last minute you decide to stay on the boat, spend 50 minutes feeling terribly seasick and decide diving is NOT for you.

In each of the situations I’ve described, there isn’t one single cause that led our new diver to the decision that this isn’t the sport for him. A combination of circumstances and factors have led to the decision to quit diving, and we’ll analyse how to avoid those next week.