I started my diving career in Honduras in 2010, working in a resort as a Divemaster. Shortly afterwards in 2011, I moved back to the UK, and have since been teaching at Scuba Leeds, our sister dive centre in Leeds, England. Earlier this year, after 9 enjoyable years teaching in the UK, itchy feet and a search for warmer waters brought me to Divewise in Malta, and we’re now coming to the end of my first season working back in a resort. It’s been a great few months and a steep learning curve - after 9 years, the change of pace took some getting used to!
1. SchedulesThe first major difference I noticed were the schedules. Diving at home, clients have busy work schedules to stick to, which means scheduling courses weeks or even several months in advance. There is a need to be offering initial flexibility to fit courses around the work schedules, and then keeping those schedules rigid. In resorts, schedules can afford to be a lot more fluid (and they have to be) - when a client turns up at the dive centre wanting to try scuba diving, but they fly home in two days, we have the ability to arrange that. One is not necessarily better than the other, it just comes down to personal preference - some people like the little-and-often approach and to have everything planned out, others may prefer the more flexible and relaxed approach of a resort.
Subsequently, courses back home take a lot longer.
Work and family commitments mean that for most people, a side hobby like diving can only take place once per week at best, so most courses end up taking several weeks - an evening pool session here, a day at open water there... In resorts, the courses are more condensed. You still have the same amount of time in the water, but you’re generally getting stuck in and diving back-to-back days. Again, one is not necessarily better than the other - they are just (very) different! At home, diving only at weekends gives a client more time to read up on the background knowledge and absorb it at their own pace, and the longer time between dives gives the skills more time to sink in. On the flip side, being able to immerse yourself completely in a course on holiday without the distractions of work and home life allows much greater concentration and more focused learning, and less time between the dives means less is forgotten!
The second obvious difference is the weather. Ok, I’m going to let you in on a little secret here. Are you ready? The weather in Malta... is... better than in the UK!!
Ok, you didn’t come and read this blog to learn that. But in seriousness... how does that relate to teaching? Interestingly, it’s not actually as black-and-white as you’d think. Yes, the weather in the UK is, as a general rule, pretty unreliable, and this does create problems with scheduling the shore and boat dives. Nothing is more frustrating than booking a skipper for a weekend of diving with the grey seals at the Farne Islands, reserving your accommodation, arranging all the logistics, building up weeks of anticipation... only to get that dreaded phone call the day before, and hearing those three fateful words: “it’s blown out”. Generally everything is refundable, but nothing can be done about that crushing disappointment! However, something that the UK (and many large or land-locked countries) has is a wealth of inland, fresh-water dive sites, which help soften the blow - because while the North Sea is a fickle beast, the inland quarries such as Capernwray remain reliable and steadfast. This option meshes really well with the more fixed style of course scheduling. A day’s diving in the UK is never truly cancelled - sometimes you just have to be willing to change the plan!
Of course, when the weather in Malta is good, it truly is stunning. Blazing sun, flat seas, crystal clear water - everything you could want in a dive location. However, when Mother Nature turns, she really turns - and then there’s nothing to do but batten down the hatches, wait out the storm, and dive another day... which, on the plus side, is generally tomorrow, so it’s all good! And with the flexible nature of resort diving, it’s always something that can be sorted out with a rubber and a pencil!
3. Pool vs Confined Open Water
Another big difference between teaching in the UK and in Malta is to do with the locations used for skills training. In more temperate regions, the dive sites are too cold for wetsuits, so Drysuits are used for additional warmth. These bring additional complications, however, especially for beginners, so are generally only introduced once the basics have been learned. For this reason, plus the fact that it takes a long time to drive to many of the open water dive sites, local swimming pools are used for skills training. Although we use pools due to necessity rather than choice, there are many advantages - the water is clear, warm, still, and has a solid bottom - making it a perfect, safe, relaxed environment for nervous and inexperienced divers. Another advantage arises from the pool sessions generally being on an evening, making them a great, convenient opportunity for divers to pop down and keep their skills fresh after work, either between holidays for the warm-water divers, or for the local divers to warm up during the cold, off-season winter months!
At Divewise, the Mediterranean Sea is already clear and warm, and we have a walled-off, sheltered, shallow section which offers pool-like conditions - this is referred to in the PADI standards as “Confined Open Water”. From a client’s point of view, the “pool” being part of the actual sea offers excitement - even before we’ve ventured out into the open ocean, we have the opportunity to encounter wrasse, bream, crabs, sea cucumbers, and even the occasional moray eel that has ventured in to the shallows! This means that clients are treated to real marine life right from the get-go, and if (for example) a particularly nervous beginner doesn’t feel confident enough to venture into deeper waters, they can still enjoy a shallow, calm dive with plenty to see. The real treat from an instructors’ point of view, however, comes down to the availability - with all-day access, and entry right by the dive centre, clients can be offered a huge amount of flexibility with their schedules, and instructors can cater to an individual’s needs without any time pressure causing additional stress.
So, which do I prefer? Well, suffice to say that there is amazing diving both in the UK and here in Malta. Both countries have an amazing variety of dive sites, and between the marine life encounters, shipwrecks, and caves that both countries offer, there really is something for everyone. I’ve fallen in love with the pace and lifestyle of resort diving, and can’t wait to get stuck back in next season. You really can’t beat the relaxation and convenience of a week of holiday diving. However there’s definitely something to be said for the flexibility of diving locally whenever you like in your home country, and not having to wait for your next holiday (especially in these unpredictable times, when travel plans can be difficult)..
So, my final verdict: why not do both?!
Written by: Ben Breakspear