Certification Costs

There area some individuals who get a taste of scuba, immediately know it’s something they absolutely need, and are willing to spend what it takes. For the rest of us, there is a step where we stop and consider how this is going to affect our bottom line. As I write this in early 2009, personal finances are front and center for most of us.

So let’s see whether we can get a sense of the total cost to get trained and certified. In another article we’ll talk about the costs of owning scuba gear, but for now we can assume you’re going to rent gear, whether you’re diving locally or traveling to some lovely warm-water island setting. This can be a good decision until you’ve dived enough to have a sense of how important diving will be in your life and what type of diving you want to do.

Obviously, there is a charge for the Open Water Diver class. This will vary depending on location, duration, and agency. There are different certification agencies. While they all agree on what basic skills to teach in the course, some of them offer more hours of class and pool time, and some include more skills and more repetition.

In the USA you might find a shop with its own very warm, clean, and saline pool charging $300 for the course. You might find as low as half that for a short (2-day) course that uses a local public pool after hours. If you’re a student, the local university or community college might offer the Open Water Diver course as a physical education elective at an attractive price.

On the other hand, if your personal schedule is complex or you’re in a hurry to learn (your trip to Belize leaves in three weeks!) you might want to pay extra for a private class. Figure to add at least one-third of the group course cost for a private course.

Again, remember that courses vary widely in schedule. Ask how many hours of classroom and pool you will get. Ask how many separate pool sessions there are. If you get just two or three long pool sessions you may find yourself getting cold or tired and not learning well. More sessions, and shorter sessions, is good. It also gives you more opportunities to try assembling and disassembling gear and practicing entries and exits. While you can conquer the academic material at home, the pool is where we start to make you a diver, where you not only learn skills but start to integrate them.

And don’t forger that in the current environment (2009) many businesses are seeing lower traffic. It’s possible to make a deal with your local shop, maybe enlist one or two others to take the course with you and work with them on a special group price.

Next, find out what gear you will have to provide for the course. Many courses require you to bring your own “snorkel gear.” This includes mask, snorkel, and fins. In cold-water locations, fins are open-heeled and require neoprene booties. Your own neoprene gloves may also be required in cold-water locations. And some shops ask that you buy your own mouthpieces for the regulators. This is primarily a hygienic issue, and allows you to choose a mouthpiece that works for you.

So what does this snorkel gear cost? Well, it varies, no surprise there. Local scuba shops and online retailers both offer a range of gear, which can be described as “beginner” through “pro.” You might find a low-end package deal for $100, or you might pay four times that at a local shop for absolutely top-of-the-line gear. You might even be tempted to pay much less for the “snorkel kit” on sale at a local big-box store, but please don’t. Scuba gear, especially the mask, has to perform well and the kid’s sets at Joe’s won’t measure up.

So how to decide? First, make sure you’re getting fins suited for scuba diving. A lot of package deals include short fins specifically made for snorkeling, not for diving. You need open-heel fins that fit in your neo booties if you’re going to dive in cold water. And your mask must have a skirt that fits your face well, so you’re not taking on water while you dive.

The best place to try on fins and masks is of course a local dive shop. They can give you advice on mask selection, which can be daunting. There are scores of choices.

Before we leave the snorkel gear issue, be sure to understand clearly what your course provider’s policy is. Some shops just want you to have the gear, but others require you buy the gear from them as a prerequisite. Before you sign up for a course, be sure you know whether any other purchases are expected.

Now, what other costs might be involved? Well, you should expect to get tanks and weights for all your pool sessions and your checkout dives. If you’re doing checkouts in cold water, you will need a wetsuit (and hood). Find out whether the shop will provide that free as well.

Of course, a lot of people choose to do their class and pool locally and then travel somewhere warm for their checkout dives. This is a “referral” checkout. Plan to spend at least $100 on the local operator at your destination. They will evaluate your skills in the water and give you the signoffs you need to complete your certification.

If you’ve been keeping track, my ballpark estimates are adding up to somewhere between $300 and $800. Visit your local shops, ask questions, make sure you understand what’s included and what’s not and what other purchases (if any) you’re expected to make.

Finally, don’t forget that if you’re doing checkout dives locally there could be some expense for gas, food, and even lodging. In the Summer, some of our local checkouts are in a national redwood park, and we like to make a campout weekend out of it.

And remember that your Open Water Diver certification card (“c-card”) is all you need to show around the world to rent gear or board a dive boat. Welcome to the sport!