Bali is universally recognized as a top destination for divers, due to wonderful marine life and spectacular dive sites. If you are planning to start exploring the underwater world, there are some things you should know to avoid bad experiences.
It can be difficult to choose the right dive school that can guarantee safety as well as a fair price. What are some of the most common doubts a potential scuba diver will encounter before deciding where to take the course?
1. How long will a beginner course take?
The minimum length for a diving course for beginners (normally called Open Water Diver Course), including theory, pool sessions and open ocean sessions is four days. Every international diving training agency has set this standard to guarantee the student safety and satisfactory learning. There are many important reasons to take the first course properly. Firstly, a surcharge of information in few hours is totally ineffective for correct learning. Many dive centres on the island guarantee that you can get certified in three full days or even less, even if this is against the formal standards. Beware of shortcuts if you care for your safety. My advice is to plan to have enough time to learn and assimilate all the new concepts. If you don’t have enough time, you can split the course, or simply postpone it.
2. Which agency do I choose?
There are many diving agencies in the world and PADI, SSI and NAUI are probably the most recognized dive associations. They have very slight differences in the training programs of a beginner course. In general, your instructor will teach you how to assemble the diving equipment, how to move and be neutrally buoyant underwater, the safety checks and correct procedures, and how to deal with some emergencies (like running short of air underwater).
IMPORTANT: If your instructor cares about your safety and not just interested in getting his teaching commission, he will check if you are able to swim. If you are not able to swim, he or she will not allow you to take a diver’s license. It’s not necessary to be a swimming champion, but you need to be comfortable in the water. It may seem more than reasonable, but I have met a number of “advanced” divers that cannot swim, becoming a danger to themselves as well as others.
There is not one agency better than the other. What makes the difference is the instructor of the course. He or she is the key to your learning process and has to guarantee your safety, since you are a beginner. Talk with your instructor before enrolling on a course. Ask him about his experience, where he was working before, and how many students he has certified. Is he/she a professional teacher or just a college student taking a break in a tropical paradise before coming back to the real world?
And check the instructor’s license! I know for sure that some dive centres have uncertified instructors working for them, allowing the dive instructors to teach without being certified to do so. And remember that your instructor is in charge of your safety during the course — if you spot him the night before the course drinking too many Bintangs, consider changing places.
3. How much will I have to pay?
You can find a variety of prices in Bali. If it is very low (below USD 200), try to find what the trick is. Try to avoid very low prices and even very high prices. A common excuse to charge you more money is because of “the attention to safety”. It may be true, but after some years of experience here, I have to admit that almost every major dive centre is quite attentive to this aspect. A normal price should be between USD 300 and 350. You should receive all the material (manual and dive slates, or other material depending on the agency) and include rental of diving equipment. At the end of the course you must receive proof of your certification (at least a temporary license).
Have a look around, talk with the instructor or the dive centre manager and try to understand how they are organized. Some dive centres even offer accommodation included in the course fee, which may be a good way to save some money.
“HERE IS NOT ONE AGENCY BETTER THAN THE OTHER. WHAT MAKES THE DIFFERENCE IS THE INSTRUCTOR OF THE COURSE.”
4. Where should I go to learn to dive?
Diving activities in Bali are concentrated in three areas: the Northeast (TulambenAmed), the Northwest (Pemuteran and Menjangan), and the South (Nusa Lembongan and Nusa Penida).
The Tulamben–Amed area is probably the easiest one and offers many very interesting dives, suitable for every level. The USS Liberty Shipwreck, together with many other interesting dive sites, is easily accessible from the shore. Water is warm (around 28–29 degrees centigrade all year round), currents can be present but are not dangerous, and there are plenty of diving centres.
Pemuteran is an interesting village in the North, quite far from everything, but offers interesting dives, especially around Menjangan Island. Due to the “highlevel” of tourism in the area, be prepared to be pay more for your diving license. You will need to take a boat to go to Menjangan.
Nusa Lembongan and Nusa Penida have the most interesting and colourful coral reefs of the area, but generally the dives there can be more challenging. Water is normally colder (during July and August it can drop below 20°C) and current may be very strong and dangerous if you are not properly trained. You will have to take a boat for every single lesson.
5. Other things I need to know?
Being a diving instructor is a job, and depending on the place where a dive instructor works, he can receive different treatment by the management. An unhappy dive instructor or divemaster is an ineffective worker and he/she will try to finish the course as soon as possible, giving you the minimum standard required. So try to feel the general atmosphere of the diving centre — is it relaxed or do you feel the tension? Are people helping each other or is everyone only doing their job? Do people hang around after normal working hours or does everyone run home immediately? Maybe you can investigate if the turnover in the centre is high and if the employees are really engaged.
Another thing you may think about is the environmental impact of the dive centre. Are they using plastic bottles or water gallons? Is food wrapped in plastic bags or some other more ecofriendly way? Some dive sites organize their own beach cleanups, which shows excellent care for the environment and community.
You have the choice. Diving can really change your life, and change it for the better. So have fun, but most importantly, be safe!