Advice for First-Time Scuba Divers (AKA How to Become a Scuba Diver Without Pissing Off Your Instructor)

Word to the wise: When you are embarking on a new venture, understand that you know nothing.

Alright, folks, here’s the deal. I manage a dive shop in Roatan. I know things. You want to become a diver. That is awesome! But you don’t yet know anything about diving. So pay attention to the following…very…very…very carefully.

Proof I know what I'm doing: here I am diving with my Irish-Colombian Instructor Roomie/Manfriend

Proof I know what I’m talking about: here I am diving with my Irish-Colombian Instructor Roomie/Manfriend

Let’s start at the very beginning…

When you decide you want to dive, you will probably do some research online to find out where to learn, how to learn, when to learn, what to learn, who to learn from, and why the hell you should really be breathing underwater. Please continue to do this research. However, once you decide where you want to do your course to learn to dive and you start contacting dive shops for more information, there are a few basic rules you need to keep in mind.

  1. When you send an email to a dive shop on an island in the middle of nowhere, understand that you might not receive an immediate response. Be patient. We are not in your world of cubicles and meetings and non-stop connections. We are underwater and therefore unable to answer right away. OR we are – gasp – busy with other guests for a while and need to devote time to them, too. We will respond to your questions as soon as we can with as much information as possible, so be patient.
  2. When you receive a response from a dive shop with information about the next steps you need to take, total costs, and other bonus information about your potential trip, please actually read it. I know this sounds basic, but seriously. Read the email. We don’t sit on our computers all day so when we take the time to reply to your initial inquiry, make sure you take the time and give us the courtesy of reading our responses. If you still have questions after that, please ask them nicely. This is a customer service industry, but it’s one in which we control your air. So be nice.
  3. Make an actual reservation. The shop will tell you what their requirements are to make a reservation. If they don’t, at least make a reservation by simply stating what days, times, and courses/dives you want to do. Ask for a confirmation. Just like you are worried about your time while on vacation, shops are worried about their availability and staff. If you just show up one day after one email and assume your spot has been reserved, you may be in for a rude awakening as you are sent back out the door.
New divers = new friends!

New divers = new friends!

So now you have your reservation and you’re ready to get edumacated…

After you’ve made your reservation at the dive shop where you’ll do your course, please understand how the course actually works.

  1. An Open Water course with PADI takes a minimum of three days. That’s 3. And that’s a minimum. If you show up and expect to get certified within 3 days and don’t account for your travel time or for any potential difficulties you might have getting through the course which could delay you beyond 3 days, well, that’s on you. If you arrive in the afternoon, don’t expect to immediately get into the water. Yes, you might be able to. But no, that does not count as a full day of work. And if you haven’t done any classroom training ahead of time, forget about it entirely. You will need to spend hours – HOURS – reading the book and watching the accompanying videos. HOURS. It might even take  you days, depending on how quickly you read and how well you can focus while your family or friends are out galavanting on the beach and you’re sitting in the hotel room sulking behind a book.
  2. Never act like you know more than your instructor. I mean, really, people. These instructors have an enormous amount of experience versus the few chapters you’ve read in a book. Do not ever presume to know more about diving than your instructor. Just know that you know nothing and act like a sponge. You’ll learn more about sponges when you actually get in the water. Which you haven’t done yet. So you know nothing.
  3. Pay attention. Scuba diving is not some silly little game you play as a child. You can die. You can kill someone else by not paying attention. You can get seriously injured. Pay attention. When an instructor tells you to do or not to do something, pay attention. I understand it’s a lot of information all at once – that’s why the course should never be rushed and should absolutely never be done in less than three days. Trust me, I’ve seen certified divers who did their courses in sketchy shops in a day or two and they still know nothing. The whole point of this is to say that until you finish the course, you know nothing. Once you’re certified you should know a whoooole lot more, otherwise your instructor messed up.
Diving selfie from Amber (Violet Key Photography)

Diving selfie from Amber (Violet Key Photography)

And now you’re getting into the water and seeing amazing things and loving every minute of it!

This is the best part – as soon as a student does the first dive, that reaction is most instructors’ favorite moment. The awe, the amazement, the appreciation and recognition of another world previously unknown. So here’s the key…

  1. Remember this feeling, this incredible respect you have for the divers who know so much more than you (because by now you’ve realized how small you truly are as a newbie diver) and show your respect. Show your respect by still listening to your instructor as you continue your course. Show your respect to your boat captain who helps you with your gear and offers you pointers along the way. Show your respect to the person who so kindly emailed with you back and forth, patiently answering your questions from far away. Show your respect for the reef and all the living creatures that will continue to amaze you on every dive. Show your respect and appreciation for being shown an entirely new world and way of life.
  2. Don’t forget to pay attention. It’s so easy to get distracted by all the colorful fish and the pretty coral. Pay attention to what you’re doing, to what your instructor is doing, and to what other divers are doing. This is not recess.
  3. Once you’ve completed your course, you are certified for life. Don’t make your instructor regret putting his/her name on your certification card. Be a responsible diver.
So many fun things to see!

So many fun things to see!

Learning to scuba dive is an absolutely incredible and often life-changing experience. Take in every moment of your course and don’t try to rush through it. Learn as much as you can because once you’re certified, you’re expected to be responsible for yourself without anyone holding your hand anymore. Diving is a wonderful activity (or lazy sport) that could take you all over the world to discover new places and cultures. It will introduce you to people from all walks of life and create a common ground with complete strangers.

Continue to treat diving, divers, and the underwater world with the same awe and respect you experienced during your course and you will in turn receive respect and admiration from the rest of the diving community.

The triumph of a new Open Water diver!

Alex, the triumphant new Open Water diver!

Oh, and one last thing. Never, EVER forget that this is a service industry. Tip your Divemasters, Instructors, and Boat Captains accordingly. They make your vacation fun, they show you new places and teach you, they smile and listen to whatever complaint you might have and then fix it for you, and – at the end of the day – they keep you alive. Tip them appropriately. If you need further guidelines for tipping, ask. Do some research. Just don’t stiff the crew. And certainly don’t insult them with a few bucks after a week of diving. Don’t be that guy.

9 thoughts on “Advice for First-Time Scuba Divers (AKA How to Become a Scuba Diver Without Pissing Off Your Instructor)

  1. Amen to all your excellent advice. I have been diving since 1993 and have been to some really great places. When I dive, I listen to those around me who may have more experience, local knowledge, good ideas, etc. Be respectful and helpful and yes always tip! Even if the water was rough, murky, cold or without that promised wildlife. It is not your crew’s fault.

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    • Such a great point, Jeff. Conditions shouldn’t determine the tip since they’re not determined by the crew. If only we could control the weather and the visibility all the time! Oh if only 🙂

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  2. Amanda, you and everyone at Oceans Connections was fabulous! Especially since I really didn’t want to learn to scuba dive and was very frightened of the whole adventure (my daughter made me do it). Now, based on the patience of my instructor (and some hand holding) I am in awe of the ocean and am looking forward to getting my Advanced certification when I return to Roatan this fall. I just wanted to say “I’m sorry” if I was a wimp and how much I appreciate the patience of you and your staff. Ya’ll made it so much fun, I can’t wait to do it again. But it can be a very dangerous sport if you don’t know (or care) what you are doing. So I suggest that everyone getting into scuba to study! study! and learn! learn!

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    • You were never a wimp, Lisa! You were a champ the whole time! It’s people like you we love to have come through the shop – you were scared and a little hesitant but trusted us. Your reaction to diving was one of the best 🙂 And you’re right – the more studying and learning you do, the easier it is for everyone and the more responsible you are underwater. Speaking of which, how’s that AOW studying going? 😉

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  3. Wonderful blog, lot’s of great info but I do have question regarding tipping. You said it is a service industry but why owners of the company don’t pay your salaries? If I book diving trip for from the price list why I should tip? Same thing for restaurants and bars in USA, owners should pay salaries not the guests on top of what they pay for food or drinks. I am European and I am sure you know tip is very uncommon since everybody in service industry is on fixed monthly salaries……..paid by employers. They make money – they pay salaries. There is no common sense behind service industry in USA and now is spreading south. Please correct me if I am wrong and if you please answer why employers who make profit don’t provide salaries, health and other benefits to employees. Thank you and love your blog.

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    • Hi Daniel! First of all, thanks for reading and commenting!! I really appreciate the feedback. The idea behind the tipping system is to encourage quality service by forcing the employee to earn money from each customer. A salaried employee can count on a certain pay regardless of each individual interaction with customers. Meanwhile an employee working for tips should be rewarded by each customer for quality service. If the service provided is not up to par, the employee does not receive a tip. To Americans, it makes perfect sense. Earn your money and be rewarded for hard work. However, I also understand that each country is different. That’s why I encourage everyone to do research when traveling. Being a responsible traveler means understanding local customs – tipping being an enormous difference in various industries around the world. A European traveling in America needs to understand local tipping customs just like an American traveling in the Caribbean needs to understand local customs. For example, in Roatan it is not customary to tip a cab driver but in the States it is expected. In both Roatan and the U.S., tipping at restaurants and bars is expected and it’s considered incredibly rude to walk away without leaving a tip. In other places tipping someone at all is offensive. If you’re not sure, better to ask than to piss someone off. I hope that explains it a bit 🙂 Thank you for reading!

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  4. Pingback: I constantly make new friends online | AWalk on the Run

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