I would consider myself and my wife to be experienced scuba divers. Whenever we are anywhere in the world on vacation where the water is warm and the fish or shipwrecks (or both) are plentiful, we will typically arrange to dive. I have always had very positive experiences with the dive shops, even when diving in otherwise third world countries such as St. Lucia and Grenada in the Caribbean. In fact, if anything, these third world countries go out of their way to get new, well cared for equipment. They also set up the equipment for you, size it for you, and help you get in and out of the water in addition to being very safety conscious the entire time.
I have had exactly two negative experiences while diving, both of which involved European run dive shops in basically ‘first world’ countries. The first time was in Tahiti many years ago, and the second was just recently when I went to Bonaire in the Caribbean. I had originally chalked the first one up to a random bad dive shop, but when it happened again, I started to notice a pattern. And that pattern was, the shops were run by Europeans, who seemed to take a very “do it yourself” approach to everything and acted like you were really inconveniencing them by giving them your business. Is this common, or did I just have two bad experiences with European dive shops?
The bad service and lack of safety at both locations included the following:
- Refusal to pick up/drop off divers at the cruise ship terminal 5 minutes from their shop. Take a cab was their attitude.
- Giving the divers the equipment at the shop and to a lesser degree, expect them to figure out what they needed and what size they need.
- Giving divers their weight distributed between their weight belt and shoved in the pockets of the BCD (i.e. not allowing you to effectively ditch your weight in an emergency if you need to surface quickly)
- Having widely differing amounts of air in the ‘filled’ tanks ranging from 1800 psi to 3000 psi.
- Having you set up your own equipment, then not checking it to make sure you did it right. Have your buddy do it for you.
- Take your equipment into the water from the beach and test it. If something doesn’t work, let them know and they’ll give you a replacement. My wife’s depth/pressure gauge was leaking a lot of air, so we got a replacement, but should the customer really ever have to do that?
- Load your own equipment on the boat. If you forget something, too bad because they don’t bring extras.
- When you get to the dive site, the divemaster doesn’t tell you anything about the dive unless you ask. That is, we had to ask what depth we were going to, currents, etc. They also did not appear to do a count of the people on the boat.
- When the dive is over, haul your own equipment from the boat back to the shop. If you let gauges, regulators, etc. dangle and hit against the dock, no one seems to notice or care. Presumably damage will be discovered by the next diver in their beach check.
The dive folks in Bonaire also took the added insult of handing people’s equipment out at random in a hurried fashion at the, which resulted in my rig getting mixed up with someone else’s since they all look alike. Why they suddenly wanted to provide this ‘service’ at the last minute is a mystery, but because they did, I ended up with a BCD that had no weight in the pockets (and presumably someone else had too much). And no, they didn’t have extra weight they could give me per #7 above. I should have refused to dive, but I went anyway even though it was a struggle to stay down with half the weight I needed, and the dive itself was otherwise fine.
Afterwords, however, my wife and I were really surprised at the assholish attitude of all of the staff who were otherwise sitting there smoking while the customers did all the work. So I have to ask, is this the way all Europeans run their dive shops, or did I just have two bad experienced mirrored in both circumstances?
I’m also wondering if anyone has ever done a review of dive accidents to see if European shops were more accident prone than others in the world. I understand that diving has assumed risks and it’s not the dive shop’s fault that I don’t dive on a regular basis, but ignoring basic safety and customer service seems like a good way to go out of business fast. I would think even European divers who might otherwise expect to be treated this way would shun these businesses if they experienced how the rest of the world does it. And really, they were no cheaper than anywhere else. It seems the world over, you pay about $100-$150 for a two tank boat dive whether it is full service or this extreme ‘self service’ model. Have any of the scuba dopers out there experienced this phenomena, or am I just making a conclusion based on a sample size of two?