Changes in Cozumel Hurt PADI Dive Training

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Change is sometimes a good thing and sometimes it is not.  We elected our current President on a promise of change.  I’m sure you have an opinion about how that’s worked out, but I have no intention of going there.

I have started writing this on the flight back from a trip to Cozumel.  Talk about change.  When I started diving Cozumel some 36 years ago, it was a sleepy island destination that many of us thought was the best kept secret there was concerning scuba diving.  Aqua Safari was the only real dive shop, run by Dick Tompkins – may he rest in peace — with the help of Donna Mena.  Bill Horn aka “Mr. Cozumel” decided building some condos north of town was a good idea – and it was.

All the boats in Cozumel, at that time, were local wooden fishing boats.  We fondly called tunk-a-tunka boats because that’s the sound their engines made on the 90-minute to 2-hour boat ride to the reefs on the southern end of the island. That ride, by the way, was along a completely deserted tropical beach.  Commercial development stopped at the El Presidente, except for some local development at Chanka Nabb Lagoon.  After your deep dive, the boat “tunk-a-tunkaed” into shore where lunch usually consisting of fried fresh fish, fresh fruit, beans and rice were prepared over an open fire.   After a couple hours of volleyball, beach combing or a siesta, it was time to get back on the boat and head back north and do your second dive.  The boat usually got you back to your hotel around 5:00 pm.

Carlos & Charlie’s hadn’t opened and the premier restaurant was Las Palmeras.  $2.50 would get you anywhere in a cab and you couldn’t eat all that a ten dollar bill would buy.  When you walked around, the only folks that tried to sell you anything were the little kids selling chicklets. And … if you stayed a week you might see a couple of cruise ships at the downtown pier and maybe one at the pier by the La Ceiba.

Well my fellow divers, change has come to Cozumel and like all change some is good and some not so good.  “Sleepy” no longer describes Cozumel.  There are at least 10 properties that have been developed south of El Presindente.  Tunk-a-tunka boats are no more.  Now a fast boat whisks you out to the reef in the morning. Dive 1 is followed by a piece of fruit and a drink, then dive 2 and now it’s time to get you back by lunch, so the boat can take the afternoon group.  Now that you have a half of day free, the water toys (aqua twister, para-sail, jet skis, floating bounce platforms, etc.) have showed up and along with sales people trying to get you signed up to play.

Busy, busy busy, but why wouldn’t it be busy with 10,000+ people dumped out on the island? Say what? That’s right 10,000+ at one time.  Yesterday, there were four cruise ships docked at the La Ceiba pier and one downtown.  2,000 people per ship would be very conservative so 5 X 2,000 = 10,000.

Not all change is manmade.  Acts of God, mainly hurricanes have made changes and most are not of the good kind.  The reef in front of the La Ceiba was a beautiful “house reef”, and a perfect place for check out dives and night dives, but the hurricanes have severely hurt it.  The DC-3 that was once a whole airplane has been reduced to one small wing section.  With time that reef and the others damaged by hurricanes will recover.

I experienced one change that was particularly troubling to me.  Living in Texas, Cozumel is only a couple of hours away.  I have always been able to put together Open Water Certification packages with the open water dives being completed in Cozumel.  This time I was confronted with a “change” that is not good.  When I went to make arrangements to get tanks and weights for the check out dives for a family of four that had completed their class and pool work in Texas a week prior, I was told that I could not rent tanks for them and only one of their instructors could do the check out dives.  I got the same story from several other shops including a PADI 5 Star.  The fact that I have been teaching PADI for 43 years and was certifying PADI divers before their instructors were born didn’t seem to matter.  After getting with some of my Cozumel friends, it seems this is going to become the norm.  In other words, I spend my money on marketing to get a group to teach, they pay me for their material, I teach them all the academics, do all the pool work and get them ready for open water, then I’m supposed to send my students to someone else who is going to charge them again for four shore dives, try to sell them a boat trip or advanced open water course, plus get the credit for the certification?  I don’t think so!

With the help of some long Cozumel friends I was able to get the open water dives completed and everyone certified.  They will be enjoying the beauty of Cozumel underwater the rest of the week,

My suggestion to anyone wanting to do the Open Water check out dives with their students in Cozumel, make sure you have made arrangements before leaving and they fully understand you will be conducting the check outs.

Even with the changes, and we all know everything must change sometime, I consider Cozumel the best value and certainly one of the best dive sites in this hemisphere.  Will I be diving Cozumel again?  You bet I will.  Will I be bringing students there?  Well, that depends on the dive shops….but unless they reverse this recent change, probably not.

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13 comments for “Changes in Cozumel Hurt PADI Dive Training

  1. Ted Recupero
    November 16, 2014 at 3:41 pm

    Hmm, Sounds like most shops I know. If you aren’t affiliated with them, one cert card = one set of gear. I know of one shop that won’t rent anyone more than 2 tanks. They probably like the idea of their instructors having some work. It’s their gear/tanks/shop so it’s their rules. Not much you can do about it. Send them an angry letter and take your people somewhere else.

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  2. LarryL
    November 18, 2014 at 2:47 am

    I just did so a refresher coure for four at a condo south of the Presidente. I rented tanks and weights from Scuba With Mario, right across the street from Casa Del Mar. No problems at all taking their stuff off site.

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  3. November 18, 2014 at 5:06 am

    Check out scuba with alison. She might be able to help you.

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  4. Everette Strahl
    November 18, 2014 at 8:29 pm

    I usually reserve my instruction in locations such as Cozumel to Advanced Open Water, Rescue diver and/or specialties. There just seems to overall be less hassle with the local shops that way.

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  5. Dan
    December 2, 2014 at 2:20 pm

    You likely would be best off just going to Meridian an renting the tanks you need. I have never seen them turn down rentals. Fact is most of the tanks the shops use come from there.

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  6. bobfmdc@yahoo.com
    December 15, 2014 at 5:28 pm

    I didn’t get from your article whether restrictions on your ability to do student checkouts was the result of changes in dive ship policies, or if it is a policy condoned or promoted by PADI. Personally, I have never been a big fan of PADI, but I suspect that your problem in Cozumel is as much the result of attempts by the local “entrepreneurs” to wring as many dollars out of the diving community as possible.

    I have been diving Cozumel since 1998 (probably 17-18 trips) and have seen a steady change for the worse, particularly among the larger dive shops. Aqua Safari, which you mentioned, was our first dive shop. They originally seemed grateful for our repeat business and that of our 10 or 12 fellow divers, giving us a token 10% off. That disappeared several years ago, but we partly stayed with them for their long time guides. If you were an interested, they would a hang back from the gaggle of thrashing cattle boat divers and actually show you things. That disappeared when Aqua Safari sold out a few years ago and most of the old guides left.

    At the same time, prices charged by the dive shops have marched up in lock-step. Some escalation is justified–e.g., for higher fuel costs. But over the last 15 years, the buying power of the dollar versus the peso has gone up 55% and that seems not to have affected the escalation in dive costs a bit. Divers are now paying 60% more than they did 15 years ago.

    We have been increasingly using small operators in recent years (e.g., Chachacha Dive Shop, run by Edmundo Torres a well known Cozumel local). If Edmundo was not available, before I tried to deal with any of the larger PADI-type shops, I would go down to the Caleta Marina and try to find what kind of deal I could strike directly with the operators there.
    ———————
    As a footnote, you didn’t need to start your post with that political comment, but I guess, being from Texas, you can’t help it. At best, it was a non-sequitur. If you would like to send me an email directly, I can give you some real facts on how much things have improved in the entire United States in the last 6 years.

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  7. Bruce Sawyer
    December 16, 2014 at 1:11 am

    Are you authorized to seek employment in Mexico? In other words, do you have a Mexican work permit? I would seriously doubt that. I don’t know Mexican immigration and labor laws, but I am very familiar with the situation in the Cayman Islands. It would be a serious violation there for you to teach students who have paid you for their course instruction if you did not have a work permit for the Cayman Islands. And the fact that the money changed hands in the US has no bearing on the issue.

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  8. Kevin
    January 8, 2015 at 8:31 pm

    Great times back in the day when Dick ran the shop! We actually bought one of their boats back in the 70s for personal diving use. The diving was second to none but now a much different place not only in dive quality but service. Have not been back in 4 years since my last trip was horrifying and not sure if I will ever return as I continue to look for the Cozumel of old

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  9. Larry Klumb
    April 17, 2015 at 3:43 pm

    I suggest checking in with Larry Cleghorn owner/operator of Cozumel Scuba Repair located on the back streets well off the main waterfront. Larry’s been a fixture on CZL for well over 20 years and runs the only “true” repair facility on the island. He sells a limited line of gear and provides long-term gear storage for those of us that frequently visit the island want to avoid hassle of hauling it back/forth and airline baggage fees. Larry also does the hydro & VIP tank testing for all of the operators on the island! If anyone can potentially help overcome or provide a work-around to this problem it’s Larry.

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  10. April 18, 2015 at 10:45 pm

    We just returned from our annual trip to Cozumel, and we have been taking groups there since 1984. Yes, there have been changes, but walking through the gates at Scuba Club Cozumel is still a most welcome transition into a paradise that is increasingly difficult to find… The diving in Cozumel has made an amazing and steady comeback from hurricane destruction and lionfish invasion over the last 10-15 years, and on this last trip (March 2015) we saw more giant lobsters out in the open, huge groupers, nurse sharks, and all the “usual” reef residents than we have in many years.The lionfish seem to be far less abundant, and the reefs are vibrant and healthy. Regarding training, we had one student completing her PADI open water certification dives with one of our instructors on the trip, and five doing their PADI advanced openwater certifications. Probably because we have had such a longstanding relationship with Scuba Club Cozumel, we have never had any issues completing certifications there. It is evident that all the operators are being very conscientious about caring for the underwater environment, and it seems logical that they are less likely to want “outside instructors” who are not as familiar with the terrain and the fragile environment working in their “workplace.” Outside instructors teach and then go home… The local instructors and operators are left to literally pick up the pieces sometimes… And the boat operator and divemaster are still responsible for whatever happens on the boat. They have no way of knowing if you will respect their “rules” if you don’t have a relationship or a reputation with them, regardless of how long you have been teaching… If you haven’t been teaching with them, they don’t really know anything about you… Diving is a very big part of Cozumel’s income and reputation – surely you can understand why they are protective of their beautiful dive sites. It is short sighted to blame it on wanting to extract more dollars out of the divers – from my experience, being more intentional about how the instruction takes place has more to do with protecting the reefs so they continue to thrive and delight divers for many years to come… and I have to applaud their efforts – they are making a difference.

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  11. July 9, 2015 at 3:27 am

    I know a lot of dive shops are super compeditive to get their certification rate up as high as possible, so it makes sense they would try to get the actual certification credit for themselves. Its a shame as having a solid dive instructor throughout my open water and advanced open water classes really helped. I was lucky enough to get trained by a padi course director and it was awesome. after travelling around I am not sure most dive shops are up the the same level of quality however….Glad you were able to get your students certified!

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  12. August 20, 2015 at 6:15 pm

    I have never had an issue taking students for check-out to Cozumel. I have an established relationship with a dive shop there, they have their own lagoon that has been ideal for Open Water certs. Even the first time I brought students, there was no problem what so ever.

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  13. Tanya Berman
    January 12, 2016 at 7:43 pm

    My family and I spent 2 weeks in Cozumel and yes it was hectic at times. Our prime reason to visit was to dive and get our relatives certified. We checked out many shops and were surprised what we were told. Prices varied as well as instructors whom were PADI certified to teach. Its amazing that some businesses claim to be PADI but do not show up on the PADI list? We also asked for instructors credentials to check at several shops, again NO credentials??? If in doubt , ask for credentials and or do a check with PADI to see if your instructor is actually allowed to teach. Lots of funny business going on in Cozumel even from some of the well known locals.

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