So you’ve decided to get your diving certification? That’s a great decision! After this and after deciding the destination of where you’ll be doing your course, it’s time to decide the best diving school for you and the purposes with your diving. To choose the best diving school might feel close to impossible, especially in places like Koh Tao where there are more than 70 schools to choose from. If you’re new to diving, it might feel as if they’re all the same and like you’re lost in a huge jungle. We know. There are however some important criteria to look for, that might improve your experience. We put together this list with important things to look for when choosing the best diving school for you.
Remember, these are general guidelines. What’s most important is what’s important for you. This guide is written from our perspective and what we find important. You might think differently.
It goes without saying, you should choose a diving school where every instructor are fully trained and licensed. If you’re instructor is PADI certified, you can check his/hers qualifications here. If you want to, you can always ask your instructor how many years of experience he/she has. They are used to people asking all kinds of questions.
Good Quality Gear
Being new to diving, this might be a tricky (but very, very important) one. How can you know if the gear a school use are in good shape and quality? Well, for starters, no matter where you go, all equipment will show some signs of wear and tear. This won’t be an issue. However, even though you might not be a professional, it will be rather easy to see if the equipment is faulty. If you’re suspecting there might be something that’s not right, don’t be afraid to ask. The diving school should be able to show you certificates for when it was last inspected and serviced.
A tip is to check out the rest of their facilities. If they cannot maintain their classroom or toilet, there might be other things they’re not very good at maintaining.
Good Dive Schedule
What a “good” diving schedule is all depends on what you want. Do you prefer early mornings and get to the dive site before everyone else does? Or do you prefer to sleep in and be fit for fight when it’s time to go diving? Decide what you want and go with a school that offers a schedule that fits with what you prefer.
Private Dive Boat
Make sure that the school you choose has its own boat. Some dive schools rent boat space from other schools and are hence dependent on that other school. They can’t decide dive sites and dive schedules on their own since they need to adapt to the other school. Going with a school that doesn’t have their own boat also means that you’ll be sharing the boat with lots of other people. These boats can get very crowded. The same issues can arise if you choose a diving school that rent out space on their own boat. If you choose a dive school with their own, private boat your experienced will be more relaxed and enjoyable.
The oceans cover 71% of the total area of the earth. That is a lot. It’s obvious that the water and the aquatic life is crucial for the survival of the earth. Therefore, it needs to be treated with respect and it needs to be taken care of when entered. Diving can have a huge impact on the environment if not done properly or with care. To keep you conscious clear, make sure to choose a diving school that treats the ocean and all its inhabitants with great respect and care.
A “Personal” Diving School
To choose a diving school with a personal touch is a good choice. You should feel welcome and seen, and not as one in the crowd. For you to be able to speak to the instructor about your requirements, your worries and your wishes is crucial. In big diving destinations such as Koh Tao, many diving schools has turned into “diving factories”. By this we mean that they’re certifying as many as possible in a short time. The consequence is that they pump out new divers without knowing their names and with no thought of personal needs. Follow your gut and go somewhere where you feel welcome from start!
Different diving schools tend to have different group sizes, that is a different number of divers per instructor. For us it was clear from start that small groups was the best choice (for us at least). Dive instructors are human beings, they can’t focus on too many people at once. Our instructor at Scuba Shack Koh Tao told us that he once was part of a big dive group and the instructor had no chance of keeping track of them all. If you’re new to diving, you’ll want as much help and attention as needed. This won’t be possible in a big group of divers. Prioritize you’re safety and comfort above what might feel as the most fun.
A Medium Sized Diving School
Diving schools come in different sizes. They vary from very big to small, and there are be pros and cons with the different options. As mentioned before, the big diving schools sometimes acts as “diving factories”, maximizing the number of divers per instructor, filling their boats with as many people as possible (sometimes even people from other diving schools) and certifying a huge number of divers. This may not be the optimal diving circumstances, especially not if you’re new to diving.
Small schools on the other hand will most likely offer small groups and lesser people on their boat (if they have their own boat). However, if you choose a very small diving school, their might be very few people participating in the courses. This might not be what you want if one of the reasons to why you’re traveling is to meet new people. Small diving schools also doesn’t always have their own boat and accommodation.
We recommend to find a medium sized diving school where you can both feel seen and meet new people. This way you’ll get the best of two worlds.
While traveling everything can happen. You might miss your train, oversleep or get sick. When an unplanned event occurs, you’ll want the diving school of your choice to be flexible and make it work even though it didn’t turn out as planned. For example, we got sick the day before we were supposed to start our diving course. All we had to do was to talk with the owner of Scuba Shack Koh Tao (the diving school of our choice) and they postponed it without any issues. They told us that we should rest and take our time and that we were welcome whenever we felt better.
It’s important to remember that the pricing doesn’t have to say anything about quality. The most expensive choice does not have to be the best one. Also, going with the cheapest option just to save some money is not something we recommend either. Make sure to do your research and choose what seems to be the best fit for you, based on some of the criteria mentioned in this article. Your personal safety is more important than a couple of hundred bucks.
SSI vs Padi
There are lots of Scuba certifying agencies out there. SSI and PADI are the biggest two. The two differ slightly, but in general it’s same same but different. Both agencies follow the general framework from WRSDC (World Recreational Scuba Diving Council) and thus follow the same general rules, use the same equipment, teach the same skills, and divers are get the same certification at the end of each course. Both are recognized worldwide and no matter which one you choose, you will walk away with more or less the same knowledge and diving skills after your course. It’s not possible to say that one is better than the other, it all depends on what you’re looking for. By choosing whether you want to go with SSI or PADI you can easily narrow down the schools to choose from.
First Dive in Open Waters
To be honest, this is not super important (if it isn’t one of your own requirements that is). This is totally up to you; would you prefer to try out the gear and to be able to breath under water in a pool or in the ocean? At first we thought it would be great to start in a pool and get comfortable with the gear in a calm and very safe environment. We quickly changed our minds though. Future dives will be done in the ocean. If we ever meet an obstacle while diving it will be in the ocean, not in a swimming pool. For these reasons we preferred to start right away in the ocean and practice all the skills there instead of in a swimming pool.
Get your Open Water Diving Certification with Scuba Shack Koh Tao
After we’d done our research and laid out options, we decided to go with Scuba Shack Koh Tao. The reasons were clear:
- They have an average review score of 5 out of 5 on TripAdvisor.
- They’re a PADI Five Star certified diving school.
- They only employ experienced and qualified instructors.
- Each group consists of maximum 4 divers per instructor.
- They’re a medium sized diving school.
- Their location is great, merely 50 meters from Sairee Beach.
- They have great facilities, offering cozy bungalows right by Sairee Beach.
- The dive schedule is perfect (according to us), including one very early morning (05:30). During this dive, they’re the first boat on the dive site.
- They have their own boat and don’t rent out space to other schools.
- The owner Stefan seemed very friendly and informative when exchanged several emails before we arrived on Koh Tao. He kindly answered all our questions.
- We felt welcome at once when we arrived.