One of the best ways to research Roatan's Dive operators is at scubaboard, this forum is one of the most heavily used in the industry. It always contains many up to date trip reports detailing customers experiences and is very up to date. When reading this site it is important to understand it is read by many divers, but posts are more often than not made by poeple who are fanatical about diving! A visit to Roatan in their eyes is about one thing, DIVE DIVE DIVE. There is a significant bias toward operators that allow you to get as much bottom time in as possible during a vacation. Little consideration is given to things that less fanatical divers may care about such as proximity of quality restaurants, bars and non diving activities. This is in fact the main reason i created this site.
The AI vs Independent Shop debate
One of the hardest decisions to make is all inclusive dive resort vs booking your hotel and diving separately. This is discussed ad infinitum on scubaboard and boils down to how much diving you want to do.
Many divers are happy with 2-3 dives a day on their diving vacation, if you are one of these, the better option is probably to book a hotel and pay for your dives on a dive by dive basis with one of the many independent operators near the hotel. For example West End is small enough for anywhere to be considered walking distance.
3 dives a day for 6 days total 18 dives - will cost around $550pp
Food and drink $40/day
Total cost $1000/week upward single person, $1750 upward for a couple.
This compares with about $1400pp for a weeks accommodation and unlimited diving at Cocoview, or $1800pp at Anthony's Key Resort. Cheaper deals can often be found. Watch for single occupancy surcharges though.
So to make it worth the extra cost of staying at an AI you really need to plan to do at least 5 dives a day. If that's your thing Cocoview gets consistently solid trip reviews.
Some shops tend to attract the seasoned pros more than others. Have a look at the staff bio pages on the website. If it doesn't say how long each instructor has been teaching on the island, that is a good indication that they haven't been there long! At the time of writing Coconut Tree, Sundivers, Splash Inn, Reef Gliders, West End Divers and Native sons seem to have the most long term instructors in West End. In West Bay good dive shops include West Bay Divers, Blue Planet Divers, Las Rocas and Bananarama.
Experience in your dive instructor counts for A LOT. When shopping around find out how long YOUR instructor has been TEACHING not just DIVING. Also find out how much of that time they have been in Roatan, local knowledge of the reef also helps them help you.
When it comes to taking courses experience isn't always the be all and end all. New PADI instructors have had the training, they have passed the exam, they can be trusted to teach a quality good course. Sometimes thet fact they are new makes them even more passionate and enthusiastic.
Safe diving practices should be of major concern to any visiting diver. By asking the following questions and showing these things are important to you, you can help ensure diving on Roatan remains safe for many years to come.
Do they carry oxygen on the boat?
Do they carry a VHF radio - and no a cell phone is NOT nearly as good.
Does the boat remain at the dive site after dropping off divers. Shuttle services are not only dangerous in the event of an emergency, but lead to divers getting cold while they wait on the surface for a boat to come and collect them.
Do you have the boat manned by a captain at ALL times (DMs or instructors can't do both jobs at the same time!)
Do you have your air analysed (The analysis certificate should be dated within the last three months)
Are your tanks all in hydro?
How long has my instructor been an instructor?
How long has the Divemaster/Instructor been on the island (local knowledge makes all the difference to your dive experience)
The Dive Boat
The boat the dive operator uses is also an important consideration. Personally i hate being banged around all the way to and back from the divesite. That is why i always look closely at the boat a dive shop uses before choosing to dive with them. If it is an open panga with large outboards forget it!
I don't mind it taking a little longer to get there, if the boat is big and spacious, i can walk around and chat to the other divers and the dive crew.
Sun shade is also very important, a small fabric bimini top just doesn't cut it. I want a solid roof that will protect me from elements rain or shine.
Big heavy boats tend to be more stable, meaning that in rough weather i won't been thrown around as mucch as i don and remove my gear and enter/exit the water.
Bigger boats also tend to have fixed stable ladders that make exit much easier.
My kind of dive boat
The type of dive boat i avoid!