Preparing for a warmwater shore-dive
You will have realised by now that when it comes to training, there is no shortage of options. So how do you choose which is the right one for you
Lets turn this round and ask you a few questions about what you want to get out of your diving.
Few of these questions have cut-and-dried answers, but take the time to think about them honestly, and award yourself marks that reflect what you think is your approach to diving:

Are you looking for a holiday activity, or a regular social activity
Holiday [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] Social

Just how confident and experienced a swimmer are you
Less [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] More

Are you more interested in marine life or shipwrecks
Marine life [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] Wrecks

How fit are you
Couch potato [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] Serious athlete

Are you in a hurry
Hurry [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] Take it easy

Do you think of yourself as a tourist or as an explorer
Tourist [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] Explorer

How committed are you
Just want to try it [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] Fanatic

Do you participate in other UK-based activity or adventure sports
None [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] All the time

Would you prefer to hire equipment, or do you want to own it
Hire [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] Buy it all

Cash flow: when do you want to spend money
Less now, more later [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] More now, less later

Add it all up, bearing in mind that this is one of those quizzes where its not about getting high scores, but about getting one that accurately reflects your abilities and ambitions.
If you have a low score, youre best suited to going on an overseas holiday somewhere with warm, clear water and learning with a resort dive school, though you could complete the theory and even the confined-water training with a UK school.
If you have a high score, you will ultimately want to dive with a club in the UK, so perhaps you should join a club now and learn with it. Otherwise, learn with a UK-based dive school while on a UK holiday, or with a local dive school that has close ties with a club or a very active UK diving programme.
With a middling score, consider a local dive school. You can do the course in the UK, then, with the training out of the way, just enjoy the diving on holiday overseas, but you are still prepared for the occasional UK dive. And who knows, you may yet grow into a crusty old UK diver!
Whichever route you choose, it doesnt preclude getting into a different aspect of diving later. There are plenty of regular UK divers who learned at a school in the tropics. Though if you do learn overseas, make sure to do a UK diving orientation with an instructor before doing your own thing in our home waters.

The easiest place to start is with a specialist diving tour operator. Buy a copy of Diver Magazine and look through all the tantalising advertisements for diving holidays. The operator can advise you on which locations are suited to basic training and you can be confident that schools are vetted to meet its standards of customer service.
It may even have arrangements with UK dive schools so that its customers can complete part of the training locally before going on their learn-to-dive holiday.
Starting from the other direction, you can also ask at your local dive school. It may have arrangements with an overseas school or even organise learn-to-dive holiday groups to somewhere hot and sunny.
The more general tour operators may not highlight diving in their brochures, but its still worth asking. Even if their booking staff know nothing about diving, you may be able to track down a conveniently located dive school from the ads in DIVER, or by searching the web. Another good idea is to contact the training agencies and ask about schools they recommend in the area.
Failing all that, go on holiday and ask the reps when you get there, or walk along the beach until you see a diver and ask.

You may have noticed a dive shop or school near where you live, so you could pop in and say hello. For a wider choice, consult the directory at the back of this book or ask the training agencies. They will be able to provide a complete list of affiliated schools in your area or wherever you are considering for a UK diving holiday.
You could ask local swimming pools if any diving clubs or schools train there, and arrange to turn up on a training evening.
Quite a few UK schools and clubs also advertise in DIVER, and many have their own websites.

The theory part of your training course offers you many options. It doesnt have to be classroom and book-learning nowadays; you can learn most of the theory from CD-Rom, video, DVD or dedicated websites if you prefer.
You may want to self-study all the theory from CD-Rom and get it out of the way before going on holiday to do the practical side of your training. Or you may prefer a tutorial-style classroom approach, where there is more scope to discuss issues and diverge from the core material. The choice will affect your choice of training agency, as they have different approaches.
At this stage the important thing is to be aware of the options available. Then, when you talk to dive schools and instructors, you will know the questions to ask.

You will have gathered that you dont have to do all your basic training with one school. You could do the theory and confined water with a local school and the open water component on holiday. You could do the theory by self-study or in a classroom. You could even do the first couple of open water dives with one school and the following dives with another.
The same sort of options are available between clubs, and even between clubs and schools, though the process is much less formalised.
This general process is called Referral. You begin training with one school and it gives you a form, letter or logbook with a summary of your training so far. This may be referred to a specific school, or left open.
It is usually easiest to remain within one training agency until you have completed your Open Water course, but there are reciprocal arrangements between some of them which allow you to cross over within the referral process.
Referral may be a convenient option, but always check that it is available. Some schools may accept referrals only from specific schools, or not accept them at all.
When accepting a referral, all schools should conduct short review sessions of theory, confined water and open water skills previously learned before moving on to new lessons. They need to check how far along you are in your diving training, and if there has been a gap you may benefit from some refresher work.
Referrals provide a means of crediting you for an incomplete course. So if you go on holiday and are unable to get qualified, perhaps because you were ill for a day, or because you need a little extra training in some areas, you dont need to give up or have to start again. Your school can give you a referral note which you can show to a dive school at home or take with you on your next holiday.

What really makes a training course both fun and effective is the instructor.
If you are looking at clubs and schools close to home, you can drop by, chat to the instructors and perhaps even watch them teaching. You can talk to their current students or previous students and find out how they got along.
Some instructors work to a tight schedule to meet the basic requirements for your open water qualification.
Some like to take time and do that bit extra to get you as proficient as possible. And while some have a military approach to training, others adopt a more sympathetic approach.
You might prefer to be taught in a same-sex group by a same-sex instructor. Some dive schools can organise this if requested.
Every instructor has his or her own style and attitude. Just as some people get on better together than others, the same applies to instructors and their students.
Of course, the best can adapt their style to suit what works best with you, though getting a sex change may be a step too far!
Above all, remember that your instructor wants you to succeed. If you have any problems with what you are being taught or the way it is being taught, you should discuss it with your instructor. In the rare instances where it simply doesnt work out, the school or club may be able to switch you to someone more compatible.
The vast majority of diving instructors are honest, hard-working and conscientious but, as in any industry, there are occasional rogues. The trouble with a successful rogue is that he or she can be very convincing until it is all too late.
Such people may be crooked, or simply sloppy or incompetent, but its not too
difficult to check them out.
Instructors should have proof of their instructor status. This will be in the form of an instructor qualification card or certificate and an annual receipt, or sometimes a sticker on the card. If in doubt, contact the training agencys head office for verification.
Instructors should be insured for liability to their students, either directly or through the school or club in which they teach.
You should always get a copy of the training manual or notes to keep as part of your course. Some rogues simply lend the notes out to keep costs down, leaving the students without essential reference material to take away.
The diving equipment you use should be in good working order. If it doesnt appear to be, ask to see the service records.
Instructors should precede every confined or open water dive with a clear briefing covering the conduct of the dive, the exercises involved, and all safety aspects of the dive.
In the UK, any dive conducted by a dive school as part of an open water course needs an instructing team of three: an instructor, a safety diver who could be a divemaster or assistant instructor, and a supervisor who will monitor things from the boat or beach. This is a legal requirement of the Health & Safety Executive (HSE), the government agency which is responsible for safety standards in a working environment.
This requirement does not apply overseas or to instructors with amateur clubs, but you can still expect your training to have adequate supervision.
In the rare instances in which you are not happy with an instructor or schools performance, dont hesitate: contact the quality assurance department of the training agency straight away.

Basic training in the pool means that if youre unhappy, you can always stand up!
Mask-clearing exercises in open water
Practising emergency drills
Divers ascend together, dumping excess air
Trainees go through the process of removing and replacing their regulator mouthpieces
Making sure that masks are fog-free before an open-water dive