European run dive shops and safety

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:

  1. Refusal to pick up/drop off divers at the cruise ship terminal 5 minutes from their shop. Take a cab was their attitude.
  2. 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.
  3. 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)
  4. Having widely differing amounts of air in the ‘filled’ tanks ranging from 1800 psi to 3000 psi.
  5. 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.
  6. 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?
  7. Load your own equipment on the boat. If you forget something, too bad because they don’t bring extras.
  8. 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.
  9. 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?

Shouldn’t you be complaining to your tour company?

I can’t say if it has anything to do with dive shops, but everywhere I went in Germany I encountered terrible service. If it wasn’t for the architecture and history, it would have made for some unpleasant times. And I hear things are much the same elsewhere in western Europe. (The exceptions are very important, and people there can be extremely friendly when they want to be. But they usually don’t, and find you a pest for daring to enter their restaurant/dive shop/museum/whatever).

Shouldn’t you be complaining to your tour company?

You Europeans are all the same.

For the record, I can’t complain to my tour company because I was the one who booked it. We were on a cruise ship that was only docked in Bonaire for half a day and since the diving is incredible, we had to take advantage of it. My wife researched the places via Tripadvisor.com, found this one that had a late dive boat going out at 3:00pm so we could make it, and picked it based on that and some cursory reviews on the site that were probably written by the owner and his friends.

The cruise ships themselves generally don’t offer diving as excursions because of the added liability, and when we have seen it offered, it is always substantially more than what you would pay if you booked it yourself. In this case, we definitely made a bad call. In fact, I registered on Tripadvisor just so I could trash this place and prevent them from eventually killing someone.

Hot diggety dang!

Do you have anything useful to contribute to this thread?

I don’t know about dive shops, but what constitutes “good service” seems to be a culturally, and therefore subjective, not objective, topic. Americans often complain about lack of service in instances where Europeans find the service quite sufficient* - and the obsequious service in the US often strikes Europeans as odd or worse.

So if your general expectation is to get the fawning, servile treatment and “customer is always right” bullshight you know from the US in Europe, then you are setting yourself up for disappointment. If you just expect to get your goods or your tour or whatever, and if you treat the employees like professionals (which they usually are) instead of lowly-paid drones, then you will get good experiences.

  • example: No normal German supermarket has baggers. Because the cost would be added to the prices, so people prefer to save that money and bag themselves. Also, plastic bags cost extra. (In a department store, where you spend more money, the bags are included in the general cost, but you should still try to not waste resources). For some people, this is normal and preferable, but if you expect your groceries to be bagged, then this would be bad service.

First, I’m surprised that you count Tahiti and Caribbean as “first-world”. I thought you meant dive-shops in European countries.

As I said in my above post, what constitutes bad service is subjective, so I can’t comment on it. As for safety, which is a much more serious issue, my WAG (having no own diving experience) is that while inside Europe, the regulations are very strict and can also be controlled by the European authorities, outside the continent, rules are both more lax and less enforced. So a disgruntled European who couldn’t get a shop running on the continent because he didn’t want to follow procedures can easily go to the more laid-back Caribbean and run a negligent operation there.

Actually I would expect European shops to have less accidents because of the stricter regulations - with the caveat of expecting the tested divers to know how to behave. So first you must show that you have a diving certifictate; but once you do, you are expected to know yourself what not do. (That doesn’t apply, obviously, to bad handling of equipment.).

I also don’t know how many Europeans book their tours inside their country of residence together with the travel there - I often see ads for diving tours in the Red sea - or cooperating with one tried and tested local partner vs. flying somewhere and booking a tour on the spot without the possiblity of feedback, background check etc.

See for example here about diving certificates: although not offical documents, any standard shop will only rent equpiment or let you dive if you show a recognized license (plus log book plus doctors certificate of health).

Naturally, any service that differs from what one would expect in America is by definition bad service.

Strike out German and make it European. The cashier may assist you with bagging to help things move faster, but not always and there definitely won’t be a bagger.

In my store, not only do the cashiers bag the purchases (or have a bagger do it for them) but they are expected to load the groceries into the cart for the customer.

Where? And you have separate baggers? As in, people who do nothing but bag groceries? I mean, if it’s ORegon, then yea that’s normal… for America. Which was exactly our point.

Yes. I was pointing out the absurdity of having baggers by pointing out that employees are not only expected to bag groceries, but load them in the customers cart for them (also load them into their friggin’ car, if they so choose).

Oh, ok, thanks. I was confused there for a moment (I get confused easily).

Very strange that you should mention Germany particularly in this context. I travel widely in Europe, very often in Germany and equally often in the USA.
My experience in Germany is uniformally excellent. People happy to see you , happy to help (and go out of their way to be warm, welcoming and helpful). It is at least the equal of the US (and for me, probably better as they tend to leave you alone more)

Don’t equate “different” with “worse”. That only works on an individual basis.

Some things do cross over: whilst in Britain I have never seen a bagger, I had assumed that having uniformed guards in banks was purely an American TV thing. I was amazed to find out they have them in Bulgaria.
Bearing in mind that bank raids with tommy guns are history and that the general public is generally practically sedated with boredom whilst in banks, I couldn’t see the point of having guards; but it was explained to me that having people in useless jobs — and having dementedly futile working practices, such as separate queues for each transaction in a post office — maintained employment in poorer countries.

I’ve done a decent amount of travel diving, though never in Tahiti or Bonaire. I know that Bonaire is widely known as a shore diving destination - most people rent gear for the week and just drive to the various dive sites - most of them are close enough to shore to make tthis feasible. It sounds like the shop you went to decided to put an afternoon boat trip on in order to get the cruise ship traffic, and either hasn’t gotten things right yet, or doesn’t really care to, since they’ll never see those customers again. I do know that many Carribean dive shops are somewhat dismissive or even contemptuous of cruise ship divers, sometimes with good reason - the people who stay on an island and book a week of dives are probably more serious, and more experienced, divers than those who just do it as an add-on to a cruise (no negative reflection meant towards the OP.

I’ve never heard of taking your own cab and loading your own gear - every shop I’ve used will transport you to & from your hotel or cruise ship, and will at least carry your bags from the van to the boat (I always tip this guy BTW). I’d guess these guys know they’re the only ones with a trip that suits the cruise ship though, so they don’t feel a need to work for your business.

The “test your own gear on the beach” is utterly inexcusable though. I’d have handed the stuff back, demanded a refund, and gone snorkeling instead. And no spare regs, no extra weights, no dive briefing on the boat? That’s ridiculous as well. That’s not US vs. European service - that’s just omitting dive boat necessities. Did you check if they had PFDs, first aid kits & oxygen? Did they do roll call before & after each dive?

ETA: I’ve diven in Curacao, another one of the Netherlands Antilles, and the dive shop I used was excellent, and fully up to “US” standards of service.