Scuba Professional: Column No. 2


Sabotaging the Industry from Within

Simon Pridmore argues that the poor treatment meted out to new scuba divers could be a significant factor contributing to the industry’s recruitment and retention problems.

At a time when the scuba diving industry is facing recruitment and retention challenges, to such an extent that it is asking divers to make a special effort to introduce their friends and colleagues to the sport, (something most divers do anyway,) perhaps the industry should be looking closely at its own procedures to see if the recruitment and retention problems are partly self-generated.

I say this because a number of folk have recently told me that, despite being fit, healthy and good swimmers, they had tried scuba diving once and decided that it wasn’t for them.

Let’s examine that more closely. In other words, these people were sufficiently attracted by the idea of scuba diving to pay money for a course of lessons or a scuba experience. Then the dive centre and individuals concerned in delivering the product somehow managed to put them off ever doing it again.

Deliberately Providing Poor Service

Pridmore 2This was in my mind the other day when I was chatting with a dive centre manager. Watching some of his customers getting ready to do a pool session, I remarked on the poor condition of the rental gear that his operation issued to beginners. “Of course,” he said, “we do it deliberately. It encourages them to buy their own equipment later.”

I was stunned. His thinking is about as wrong-headed as you can get. If new divers are comfortable and have equipment that works well and facilitates easier learning, they will enjoy the experience more and they will be more likely to want to do it again and again. And, indeed, they will go on to buy their own equipment; probably the very items and brands that they used and became familiar with on their course. If, on the other hand, the equipment they are given is old, uncomfortable and awkward to use they are less likely to have a good time and they may well just decide not to pursue the sport and take up another activity instead. Scuba diving will have lost yet another customer.

The dive centre manager I spoke to is not alone in his thinking. A few years ago, I was consulting for a hotel chain that was looking for a local operator to run their on-site dive centre. One applicant, a very well known company with many branches, invited me and one of the hotel chain’s directors to go diving with their flagship dive centre in order to impress us. The hotel director was a new-ish diver with sixty logged dives but did not own his own gear. “No problem,” the operator said, “you can use ours.” All the equipment was pretty shabby but it was the fins that particularly drew our attention. Where the foot pocket joined the blade there was a wear line and you could easily bend the blades up and down beyond 90 degrees. In the water the fins just flapped around uselessly. Needless to say, the operator did not get the job!

Examples abound. Dive centres frequently give new divers shorty wetsuits to use, even though they will be spending much of their course time kneeling on the pool bottom or seabed. The centres would rather have divers with badly chafed knees than have to replace full-length wetsuits when the kneepads wear out. One lady told me that for her first pool session with a very large and successful dive centre in the Caribbean, she was not offered a wetsuit at all and ended the day with knee and elbow scrapes that almost brought her to tears.

In her case, she was also left with sores on her upper body caused by the straps of her ill-fitting BCD and encountered a host of other equipment issues. The depth gauge on her console did not work and when this was pointed out to the instructor he just said, “it doesn’t matter, we are in a pool; we know how deep it is!” She was not given a dive computer or watch to use and, as she was being taught how to execute a five-point descent, she was amused to be instructed to stare uselessly at her empty wrist when she came to the “check time” point in the procedure.

She terminated the course after day one but, luckily for the industry, she persevered in her quest to learn to dive, found another dive shop and instructor and now does over 100 dives a year all around the world. But she is an exception: we rarely get a second chance at recruiting someone to the sport if we mess it up first time.

This Does Not Compute

The issue of dive computers seems to be a particular problem for many dive centres. We live in technological times: there are a number of very good dive computers on the market that dive centres can buy wholesale for a fraction of what they charge for a beginners’ course and no diver with any experience would ever consider diving without a computer. Nevertheless, many operations refuse to give divers a computer and teach them how to use it in their beginners’ course. Neither do many resorts offer computers for hire, despite the fact that they could easily make back the cost of a rental unit in only a few days. When divers enquire, they are often told that they do not need a computer because their guide or instructor has one.

Try It Yourself!

Pridmore 3Instructors and dive centre owners should perhaps try diving with the equipment that they give beginners. They should experience for themselves how uncomfortable and difficult it is to use and maybe then they might have some sympathy and improve the quality of their service. Those who do not give EVERY one of their divers, no matter how inexperienced, the means to record depth and time on EVERY dive should reflect on how naked they would feel diving without a computer.

I can just imagine the excuses that dive centre managers might come up to explain why they do what they do pleading financial and time constraints or complaining about competitors that force them to cut corners. But there is no escaping the fact that service quality in many areas of the scuba diving industry, in particular the sector that deals primarily with introducing people to the sport, is sadly lacking.

A final point for reflection: successful businesses in every field know how important it is to look after new customers with special treatment and services. What do we do in the dive industry? Make them feel uncomfortable, unappreciated and disrespected. We should be grateful that any of them stick around!

Read more from Simon in his latest release Scuba Professional – Insights into Sport Diver Training & Operations and his bestselling book Scuba Confidential – An Insider’s Guide to Becoming a Better Diver, both available from Amazon in paperback and e-book versions.

Simon Pridmore

Simon Pridmore

Simon Pridmore is the author of scuba diving books, travel books and, as you might expect, scuba diving travel books. Originally from the UK, Simon has lived in Asia for over 30 years. As well as his books and guides, Simon writes regular columns for a number of magazines. He and his wife Sofie currently live in Bali, Indonesia but spend a lot of time exploring other places trying (but failing so far) to find a cure for their itchy feet. Simon's latest book - Scuba Exceptional – Become the Best Diver You Can Be - the follow-up to his best-selling Scuba Confidential, is available now in paperback and e-book versions from Amazon stores worldwide. Find out more about Simon and his books on

3 Replies to “Scuba Professional: Column No. 2”

  1. Poco Loco says:

    Absolutely right, Simon, as usual. What you didn’t mention (but I will) is that these phenomena may not be completely unrelated to the fact that one global firm dominates dive instruction and certification throughout most of the world, and seems happy to allow sub-standard dive operations with dodgy gear (and sometimes dodgier instructors) to plaster its brand on every available surface — and as many “stars” as the operator is willing to pay for.

    1. Steve Warren says:

      I think most agencies tolerate poor instructors – I belonged to three and I’d struggle to defend their quality control standards.

      However, the industry has brought consumers up to expect cheap courses. One of the best instructors I knew later became a personal fitness trainer and was charging £60.00 an hour. For the brief period I tried to run adequate referrals, where we just did classroom and pool work, we only got two takers. I paid my instructor £100.00 per day, which is not much in my view for that role, and we included 12 hours pool time, which cost £360.00. If we needed to run over, we did. We used a 5/6 metre deep pool, included a lot more buoyancy skills (basically our own buoyancy course got integrated into the referral) and , as we were NAUI, and had to teach basic rescue, we bought a Simulaid mannakin at £800.00 for teaching in water resucitation. We used cdmms for teaching complex skills as they let us teach and coach more effectively. We used Aqualung Legend regulators. We included the full NAUI student materials package.

      For a group of four, we reckoned on £900.00 perv person for our five day referral. No one would pay it. They wanted cheap courses and a c card. We wanted to produce an adequate newbie! Irreconcilable. We ran two one to one classes at £1200.00 each and, with over runs, lost money on both.

      My experience, anyway.

      Steve Warren

  2. John Lewis says:

    Simon is correct in much of what he has written. I’ll add one more thing to the mix–dive snobbery of existing divers, and not necessarily those at the professional level.

    Haven’t we all seen newbie divers snubbed by those who have been in the game for a while? How do you suppose this makes the tyro diver feel about being on the boat?

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