DIVING: Choosing a DIVE Operator

A comprehensive guide to choosing the best scuba dive operator for your vacation

Following the divemaster

There are a limited number of dive services on Tobago. Selecting the right dive shop is important, for your own safety and that of others. By choosing a professional dive centre, the risks are minimised to perfectly acceptable levels. This is one area where cutting corners to save a few dollars has life-threatening potential.

Please bear the following points in mind:

  • Never choose a service on price alone.
  • Check the equipment. Does it appear clean and in good condition? Sand and salt crystals on the equipment could indicate shoddy care.
  • Check that the air is clean. Ask them how often the compressor filter is changed and if they know how many working hours it has done since the last filter change.
  • Ask to see the DAN 02 Emergency Kit and other first aid kits.
  • Check the credentials of the staff you will be diving with. Don’t automatically assume that you will be diving with the senior divemaster or instructor. For your own safety, we strongly urge you not to dive with any guide who is less than a certified Divemaster.
  • Make sure that the operator uses trained boat handlers. Centres without boats sometimes hire local fishing boats who are often less than expert at working with people in the water.
  • Check to make sure the operator carries full insurance.
  • Has the dive shop asked about your own abilities and experience? A dive shop that does not check your certification card is telling you a lot about their professionalism.
  • What do the business premises look like? Do they appear organised and professional?

After reading this article, our Tobago Dive Services article (Services tab) should be your next port of call. Study the information we provide, visit the websites of the services listed and contact them for up-to-date prices and other information. Our ranking system is provided in good faith, based on the information at our disposal, but it is still only our personal opinion of each operation. You should make full enquiries to ensure the suitability of any dive service you are considering.

TurlteSome visiting divers prefer to book in advance, others to wait until they are on the island. Booking in advance has obvious advantages, particularly at busy times of the year. If you have decided to go with any of the ‘top’ dive services, then this would be the best course of action, especially because some of the operators offer discounts for pre-booking online or by email.

Many of the Tobago dive services are very small operations. Some have only one divemaster and if he’s out with a dive group, then the dive shop might be closed or left in the hands of an assistant who might not be able to help you much. The best times to visit are probably before the morning dive (before 9am) or over the lunchtime period (around 1-2pm).

If the dive shop is less than forthcoming about your questions, or if you do not feel completely confident, consider changing to another dive centre. If the dive centre does not fulfil their agreements with you, or you are unhappy with any aspect of the service you receive, do likewise.

Virtually all of the dive centres offer instruction, some in several languages. The teaching and training facilities offered vary enormously and it might pay to drop them a line and get full details before making a final decision.

Most of the big hotels offer dive packages. It is important, however, to establish which dive operation your booking will be placed with. Many of the major hotels have a franchised on-site dive operation (of immensely varying quality), but every service is included in our listings and are open to the general public as well. Some smaller accommodation properties have a nasty habit of advertising dive packages but then ‘shop around’ before placing the booking, so great caution is advised with any package or establishment that does not clearly name the dive operator concerned.

Following the divemasterA word of caution… Some dive centres employ Rescue Divers as dive guides. myTobago strongly recommends that visitors ONLY dive under the supervision of a qualified Divemaster or Instructor (a requirement for those certified as PADI SCUBA divers). If in doubt, ask to see the guide’s certification card – they shouldn’t be offended by this. Apart from anything else, diving under the supervision of anything less than a qualified Divemaster could lead to real problems if you have to make a claim on your holiday insurance. If you are doing ANY diving course, it is important to check that you are training with a certified Instructor and that the Instructor's certification is currently active for teaching.

Although overall standards in diving operations have risen appreciably in recent years, there are still one or two dive operations on Tobago that would be banned in many other parts of the world. A local dive association has been formed with good intention, but sadly lacks the resources to monitor and control local standards.

Tobago will not become the truly world-class dive destination that it deserves to be until standards are strictly controlled and operate to the very highest word-class standards. When an accident or worse occurs (and yes, they do occur) it is Tobago that gets the bad publicity, not just XYZ Diving.

Visiting ‘holiday divers’ with little or no experience are apt to see things through rose-tinted sunglasses. Always establish the credentials of those giving advise. Successful completion of an Open Water Diver course does not make someone an expert and recommendations based on a happy and carefree holiday are less than definitive. We often read visitor praise of operations that we know to be less than deserving. This is understandable, but it is myTobago’s stated mission to steer visitors in the right direction, so may we start by recommending that readers take more heed of warnings than of praise, except when such praise is offered by divers of obvious extensive experience and expertise.

Banded coral shrimpOne final word of warning. Check quoted dive and package prices very carefully. What does the price include? Or, more accurately, what does it NOT include? I hear regular complaints about one or two dive services claiming that the final bill were considerably higher than the quoted figure due to ‘extras’. Also, when comparing packages, ensure that you are being quoted VAT-inclusive figures. That 15% VAT can make a big different to the apparent price and come as a nasty shock when you settle up. Stick to the higher-ranked dive operations and you can be assured that you will not fall victim to these dubious practices.

I make no apology if the comments above slightly dampen your enthusiasm for diving on Tobago. I stress again; this is not an activity where one can afford to cut corners. Scuba diving can be a wonderfully exciting activity. Let’s keep it safe! Dive with the right people and you’ll be well and safely looked after. "No problem", as they say locally!

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Page Updated: 18 Aug 17