It is the best time in history to be a scuba diver. Between the fact that equipment is as safe and effective as it has ever been, traveling around the world to exotic and exciting places is easier than ever, and a surge of interest in scuba has meant a wave of new companies, packages, and certifications, it is a wonderful time to be alive–even for a novice diver.
With that in mind, sometimes too many options can be a bad thing, and it can become difficult to choose who you want to dive with. With countless dive shops of varying degrees of price, professionalism, and value, it can be difficult to choose which dive shop is right for you.
First of all, it can be tempting to look for the cheapest option, especially when considering getting certifications. This generally means larger companies, which tend to work in larger groups and be more professional. The flip-side of this is that standards tend to be much more lax–a disturbing amount of freshly-certified divers that come out of these companies tend to be woefully under-qualified, which proves a danger to themselves and others.
Smaller companies, on the other hand, tend to rely more on reputation, and as such, have to be more thorough with their training and customer service if they want to stay relevant. The prices can often be more expensive, but what you trade in cost you get back in terms of service and experience. However, smaller companies (by nature of having smaller turnover) are often more hit-and-miss. Some may be incredible, some may be terrible–and it’s up to you to figure out which company is the best for you.
Likewise, big companies may have more options available for excursions and dive sites. The bigger the company, the larger the fleet of boats and dive instructors, the more choices you have available to you. Smaller companies, while not having as many options, tend to be more flexible when working with you, and will bend itineraries more than larger companies.
All-in-all, a bigger company is going to be more white-bread, professional, and money-oriented, as well as having more options available to divers. This may mean a better experience, especially for experienced divers, or anyone on a budget looking to get a cheap certification. Big companies can charge less per diver because of the high volume of customers that pass through their shop. On the other hand, divers getting certifications from big dive companies may be getting shorted in terms of experience, skills, and preparation.
Small dive companies offer a much more personal experience, but you may have to pay more for it. Smaller dive companies are going to go well out of there way to make sure you have an enjoyable experience–after all, their reputations (and therefore, their business) depends on it. However, because of the nature of small business, it is more dependent on the customer to decide what is a good fit for them.