by David Miner
Dive charters are a big part of the diving industry. Without dive charters, many of the dive sites would be inaccessible unless you had your own boat or new someone who had a boat. Having your own boat or knowing someone who does is great for diving your local area, but when traveling to other diving locations, it’s not practical. Thus, signing up for a local dive charter is the best way, and many times the only way, to get wet and have some great dives.
The dive charter and boat captains typically are very knowledgeable of the area, know where the best dive sites are, and have a boat that is specifically designed to accommodate divers. Many charter services have dive masters that accompany you on the dives, have boat crew that help you on and off the boat, switch over your gear for the next dive, explain each dive site thoroughly, and help you with almost anything you need. They want to make your trip enjoyable, safe, and want you to come back again. They also want a tip at the end of the day. Using a dive charter is a must in many locations around the world and is typically the best way to dive the best dive sites available. However, there are things you should be aware of and things that you can do to make your next dive charter experience the best it can be.
Before booking your dive charter
Research the available dive charters in the area you are traveling to or live. Don’t just sign up for the first dive charter you find or hear about. If you know other divers in the area, ask them about the local charters. Once you find a couple to choose from, call them and read the information on their websites. Getting as much information up front and knowing what to expect can be the difference between having a great dive charter experience and having a bad one.
Find out what type of diving they offer and the different dive sites they go to. Do they focus more on technical diving or recreational diving? If you’re looking for technical diving, don’t sign up for a dive charter doing 30-foot reef dives. Where do they dive: reef dives, wreck dives, ledge dives, or a combination? Are
the dives drift dives or does the boat anchor to the bottom? What are the depths of the dives? What is the water temperature going to be when you get there? Do they offer 2-tank or 3-tank dive days? How much do they charge? Do they offer discounts if you book more than one trip?
Ask questions about the dive boat. Find out how big the boat is and how many divers it accommodates. If you’re looking for a smaller group of divers, you don’t want to sign up for a boat that takes 20+ divers. If you’re a photographer, does the boat have a camera table? Do they have fresh water rinse buckets?
Do they provide weights? If you’re traveling, you don’t want to carry a weight belt with you. Do they have snacks and drinks on board or do you need to bring your own? If you bring your own snacks and drinks, is there a cooler with ice to keep it cold? Is there a head (bathroom) onboard? Is there a place for dry storage of personal items? If you were interested in getting a suntan, is there a sundeck or area for you to relax and soak up the rays. Find out how many boat crew are on board. If you’re someone who likes special attention or help, don’t sign up for a dive charter that only has one crew member helping everyone.
Find out what time the boat leaves and returns to the dock. If you’re looking for a 3-4 hour, half-day trip, don’t sign up for the three-tank charter that lasts six hours.
- Ask questions about how the dive charter operates. Does a dive master accompany you on every dive or do you get to make your own dive with your buddy? Some dive charters require you to dive with a dive master, which may or may not be what you like to do, so make sure you understand the operation before signing up and spending money on something you won’t enjoy. Are you limited to a certain depth (some limit you to a certain depth, so if you were interested in something deeper, you may need to look for another charter)?
- Ask questions about tanks and gear rental. If you’re nitrox certified and want to dive nitrox, make sure it is available and how much they are charge per tank. If you need to rent dive equipment, make sure it is available. Some dive charters are only dive charters, not dive shops where you can rent gear. Typically, many charters are associated with a local dive shop, so find out which one and contact them about the gear you need to rent.
While you’re on the dive charter
There are a number of things you can do while you’re on your dive charter to make it a better experience and it starts the minute you arrive at the dock to board.
· Arrive early and get the best spot. Don’t wait until the last minute to show up at the dock and jump onboard as they’re casting off. By arriving early, you get the better parking spot at the dock, which makes it easier to unload and load your gear. You also get to pick the exact spot you want on the boat to set up your gear. Some boats have a covered area and an exposed area at the back of the boat where you can set up your gear. Both have their advantages and disadvantages. Being in the back of the boat means you get off the boat first and don’t have far to go when you climb back onboard after a dive. You’ll probably get a better suntan at the back of the boat, but you’ll be closer to the exhaust of the boat engines, which can be pretty bad on some boats. Setting up towards the front of the boat may offer you covered protection from sun or rain, but it’s a further walk to the back of the boat with gear on. Sometimes it’s a better spot to avoid engine exhaust, but sometimes it isn’t, as the exhaust gets trapped under the covered area. Locate a good spot for your personal items that you want to keep dry. Ask the boat captain where to stow it and pick a convenient spot so that you can access it during the trip.
· Listen and learn. Once you’re underway, the boat captain and/or dive master will brief you on the boat, the safety equipment onboard, the dives you are getting ready to do, and the protocol for the dives. Don’t be off somewhere playing with your gear or listening to your iPOD and miss this briefing. Lots of valuable information is presented during these briefings.
· Ask questions. If you don’t understand something you are hearing or seeing, ask the boat captain or dive master. Don’t assume anything. Don’t think you know everything and don’t be shy about asking a question. This can be the difference between having a great dive and a really bad dive.
· Dive within your ability. When you’re planning your dive and once you’re in the water, dive within your ability. Don’t try and dive beyond your experience level. By pushing your limits, you jeopardize your own diving as well as the other divers on the boat. Don’t be the last one on the boat with everyone waiting for you, the dive master looking for you, and only having a couple hundred PSI left in your tanks. Depending on their rules, you may be sitting out the next dive.
· Keep track of your dive times, surface interval, and equipment. Monitor your own dive times. Don’t rely on a dive master to monitor your dive time. Keep track of your own surface interval time. You may be the first in the water and last out, which means you had the longest dive and need the longest surface interval time. Don’t just follow the dive master’s lead. He/she may be calculating surface interval time on an average of the dive
group. Speak out that you’d like extra time before making the next dive so that you have the opportunity to have a decent bottom time. Typically, dive masters will give you the extra time. Also, keep track of your own dive equipment. Fins get piled up at the back of the boat, masks get dropped in the mask bucket, and cameras get dropped in the rinse bucket. Pick up your gear and keep it together in your spot on the boat. This way, when it’s time to dive, you know where everything is and can get geared up easily.
When the dive charter is over
On your way back to the dock and after the boat docks, there are things you can do to make the ride home and off loading of your gear easy and smooth.
· On the way back to the dock. Depending on where you’re diving, you may have a very short ride or a longer ride back to the dock. Take advantage of this time, no matter how long or short it is. Get your gear together and get it packed and stowed. You don’t want your loose gear bouncing around on the boat during the ride back. Find the tip jar and tip the crew as you see fit, and then stow your dry gear so that it doesn’t get wet
on the way back. Find a comfortable location and relax. Go for the sundeck or bow and get some sun.
· Once back at the dock. Once you’re back at the dock, collect all of your belongings and begin to unload everything. Check and double check that you have everything. If you’re diving with the same charter the next day, find out what time you need to be at the dock. Some charters allow you to keep your gear on the boat if you’re diving with them again the next day. If they allow this, pack it all in one bag if possible so that your stuff doesn’t get separated.
Using dive charters that know the local areas, have everything set up for diving, and can accommodate your desired type diving are many times your only choice for diving a particular area. They can take you to the best dive sites and show you the best diving in the area. With everything, there are always ways to make experiences better so that you have more fun, aren’t surprised or shocked, and get the most for your money. By following the tips and asking the questions we outlined here, your dive charter experience will be better and a lot more fun!