How can I tell if a dive operator has MY safety as their priority?





You are responsible for deciding who you pay to take you scuba diving. It takes quite a bit of work and the exercise of good judgement to make the right choices.

You can’t just rely on blind trust.

All dive operators claim to offer safe diving.

Some lie.





Do as much research as you can into the dive sites and the dive operators in the area. Investigate each operator’s safety record. Ask for feedback in scuba diver online forums.


Check the previous history of the location too. Many places, even well known and popular destinations like South Bali, Komodo and Malpelo, are notorious accident black spots. An Internet search will flag up a host of instances where divers have gone missing there. If you plan to dive somewhere like this, you should be even more wary than usual.


A culture of safety


What you are looking for in an operator is substantial, tangible evidence of a culture of safety.


Every dive operation’s website will proclaim that they offer safe diving. These are merely words strung together. You can’t take this statement at face value. All dive operators know what safe diving really involves and the ones who genuinely apply the correct procedures will highlight these, not only in their online publicity, but also when you turn up to dive with them and in their boat and dive briefings.


On their website, look out for references to maximum diver to guide ratios (ideally 4 to 1 or 3 to 1), professional certifications, staff biographies and testimonials from previous customers. Compare the testimonials to their Tripadvisor or Scubaboard reviews.


Does their website mention the availability of oxygen and personnel qualified to deliver it? Does it talk about dive boat options and capacity? Do the photos on the website seem to tally with the claims the operator makes about the quality of their dive gear, the condition of the boats they use, the number of staff deployed and the safety equipment they provide.


Yes, a website can always be doctored, but that takes some effort and a really convincing fiction is hard to maintain. It is usually easy to spot the disconnects if you look closely enough.


On-site inspection


Once you have chosen, when you visit for the first time, look for wall certificates advertising staff qualifications. See if you can spot an up-to-date air quality analysis report. Specialist laboratories issue these after testing an air compressor’s output for things like oil, moisture, carbon monoxide and other contaminants. You are unlikely to be given a tour of the compressor room and probably would not know what to look for even if you were, but, if a dive operation has their air analysis report on prominent display, you can rest assured that you are in good hands.


Are you treated professionally and with courtesy by the dive centre staff? Are you asked to present your dive card and logbook? Does the operation have a checkout dive policy for first-time customers and those who have not been diving for a while? These are all good signs that you have come to the right place.


One thing I always look at in a dive centre is the waste bin. If it is overflowing, I am immediately less confident that the folk who work there are as attentive as they should be to other, more important, routine tasks, such as changing the filters on their compressor system or maintaining their boat engines.


Check out


A checkout dive policy is not always popular among divers, some of whom view it as insulting, but it is a good sign that an operator has diver safety uppermost in their minds. Every professional that ever dived has bitter experience of customers who can “talk the talk but not walk the walk”.


Not only is a checkout dive a good way for a diver to test their gear out in relatively benign conditions and get back into the swim of things, it offers the dive operation a perfect opportunity to judge what sites to offer the diver, so that they get the most out of their trip.


It doesn’t have to be a waste of time. Every diving destination has entertaining sites that are also ideal for checkout dives.


Briefings


The boat and dive briefings are often where the true nature of a dive operation is revealed. They should meet your expectations, tell you what you need to know and anticipate the questions you have in mind.


If you are drift diving, particularly in an area where divers have gone missing in the past, the briefings should address what steps the boat is taking to counter the risk of this happening to you. To put it bluntly, the briefings should not just tell you to make sure you have a safety sausage and a whistle, they should also tell you what the crew members and dive staff will be doing to make sure your sausage will be seen and your whistle will be heard.


They need to cover the plan for the dive, provide an up-to-date report on what the current is doing, assess the likelihood of bad weather and describe what emergency procedures will be implemented if bad weather does set in. You should be told who is watching in case divers come up early and how the boat crew and in-water team will communicate. Do they have locator beacons, VHF radios or noisemakers?


The briefing should end with a call for questions and, if there is something that concerns you and has not been covered, this is your moment to speak up. Never worry what people will think of you. Don’t assume, just because the more experienced divers in your group are not asking questions, that everything is therefore OK.


For instance, if you have noticed that the boat you are diving from has only one engine, ask what the diver pick-up plan is, if the engine fails. Or, if you are on a large day boat with many divers and nobody has mentioned a diver identification system, ask what post-dive system is in place to make sure that all divers are back on board before the boat moves off to the next site.


If you don’t like the answers to your questions, if there is something about the briefing that doesn’t sound right or if you think your operator is improperly prepared or equipped, just skip the dive. You do not have to explain why. It may just be a passing thought that puts you off. Perhaps, weather conditions are poor and you are looking out to sea while the briefing is going on. You imagine how difficult it will be for someone to spot a diver on the surface in the murk of rain and sea spume and you think, “I really don’t fancy this”.


Act on your feelings. If you go ahead with the dive with doubts in your mind, they may distract you during the dive and cause you to make a mistake. Nobody ever came to harm by just sitting out a dive they were not comfortable with.