Selecting a good dive shop is an important part of any recreational dive trip you might be planning, and for any local diving you might be planning. A lot of people are willing to quickly pick a shop based on location or convenience, or go with a shop the hotel recommended. Sometimes this works out, other times… well, most divers have had a dodgy experience or two and lived to warn others off! This article is on helping you pick a winner for your ease of diving!
Things to look for before you use a dive shop :
- check out if they have an online presence, and how often it’s maintained, and check out the reviews they’ve gotten
- check their rating (if available) with the training agency they’re associated with, check it against the reviews (if available), they may be five star for training but only two star for facilities
- go to chat sites and talk to divers who’ve been out with them and people who’ve interacted with them
The online world makes getting initial impressions a lot easier than it once was. It can also be deceiving. Watch out for gushingly positive reviews without context or seemingly outstanding ovations, they may be plants. On the other hand, don’t instantly believe the negative reviews either, sometimes a single bad day is enough to tarnish some peoples review. If you see a steady stream of the same complaints though, be aware the place might have some issues.
After you’ve done your homework, give them a call or swing by the shop and observe for the following:
- shop organization and focus: is the store or training the main focus of the shop? Are they recreational or technical in direction?
- floor staff and instructor behaviour and demeanour: are they friendly and open to new divers or inexperienced divers? Are they pushy about sales or training?
- the general “atmosphere”: is it positive and healthy? If the staff is disinterested in their work, what else are they uninterested in?
- if you’re renting gear, ask to see the gear room and compressor. Well maintained gear is a good sign, leeriness or evasiveness on their part, especially about the compressor, is a sign you might want to move on!
These are important things to observe, because they’re going to let you know if the shop is for you. Shops that are sales focused often have amazing shop floors, with racks and displays that make you feel like you’ve come into a diving gear mecca. While they may have good instructors, shops like these have a primary focus on your wallet rather than your skill level. I’ve found shops with less organized sales floors or even a separate shop space for gear are typically heavily focused on quality training. Where the sales floor is in somewhat of a disarray, the working shop is often where the organizational focus is. Talk to the floor staff and the instructors if any are in are they interested in diving and eager about it or are they going through the motions of a 9-5 job?
The big thing for me is comfort. Are you comfortable diving with the people at the dive shop? If you’re not comfortable, ask questions, ask to see things, build up a rapport with the staff. If you’re still not comfortable, go somewhere else, because you don’t need the extra stress in the water. My own experience has taught me that looks can be deceiving. A well kept and maintained shop turned out to be a pain to work with at times and I’ve had troubles with gear from them; where another was operating out of a near hole in the wall with their gear in a cargo van out front, and they proved to be highly motivated, highly professional divers with impeccable gear!