You and a client share a love of the ocean and sea creatures. Now, he’s invited you and your significant other to his condo in the Cayman Islands for a long weekend of island and water activities, including scuba diving. What do you need to know?
Before you go
If you love to dive, you’re already certified through the Professional Association of Diving Instructors), the National Association of Underwater Instructors or another internationally recognized diving association. You’ll need to show proof of your scuba certification (or C-Card) to rent dive gear and equipment.
What if your abilities differ significantly from those of your companions? “Nobody wants to be the guy who goes through all his air too quickly and forces everyone else to come up,” says Drew McArthur, a boat captain and scuba instructor at Divetech, a dive operator on Grand Cayman. If you’re concerned about your abilities, he says, “don’t bluff.” Be honest with the dive master “and ask them to keep an eye on you,” he says. While competent dive masters account for differing skill levels, take a refresher course at your local dive shop before travelling. This is also an opportunity to learn more advanced skills, like Nitrox or deep diving.
Make sure you’re covered
Many standard life, disability, health and travel insurance plans do not cover scuba diving, which they consider an extreme sport. Check your policies before you head out to be sure you and your gear are covered in case of accident or theft. Scuba aficionado Jaclyn Morrison, a diver and advisor with HollisWealth in St. Catharines, Ont., has had dive knives and other equipment disappear from her bags in transit. The Divers Alert Network is a reliable source for complete scuba-related coverage, which costs between US$40 and US$55 per year (for members only).
Think about gifts
Never arrive at a host’s home empty-handed, says Joanne Blake, an Edmonton-based corporate image consultant and business etiquette expert. Bring a gift that reflects your hosts’ tastes, keeping in mind the threshold for duty-free imports is anything worth less than 50 Cayman Island dollars (about $81 Canadian). If you’re leaving a gift worth more than that, Canadian visitors to Cayman must pay duty rates that average about 20%. Check with your compliance officer about gifting and general behaviour; every company is different.
For scuba-themed gifts, Morrison suggests finding out which dive shop your host frequents and prepaying for several tanks of air. Alternatively, she says, ask your client’s significant other if he or she has been eyeing a piece of dive equipment (dive computers, for example, are continuously evolving), and call ahead to the shop to purchase it. A gift certificate to the shop is another great option. Because diving is a gear-intensive sport (“Salt water eventually destroys everything, and you always need back-up gear,” notes Morrison), these gestures are well-received.
Ask your host (or your host’s spouse) about favourite restaurants and suggest taking them out for dinner one evening. Send a handwritten thank you note with flowers after you leave.
Once you’re there
Being an exceptional guest
Whether you’re navigating your hosts’ home or a delicate ocean ecosystem, the same rule applies: leave everything better than you found it. Clean up after yourself, respect your surroundings (don’t touch coral or other marine life), and err on the conservative side of dress, food, sun and booze.
Speaking of alcohol, it doesn’t mix with scuba diving. Sensible divers wait until after the day’s final dive before indulging. Drink moderately, if at all, the night before a dive and stay hydrated, says Morrison. If you’re feeling hung over or unwell, consider postponing your dive. Even a slightly compromised state can threaten everyone’s safety.
Dive boats are small, says McArthur: don’t smoke and keep your gear tidy. Treat dive guides—and anyone else providing you with service—“with the same level of respect that you would use for your clients,” says Blake. “If you don’t, your host will assume it’s your standard operating behaviour and your image will be tarnished.”
Most restaurants and bars in the Caymans add automatic gratuity, though you’re welcome to tip more for excellent service. Dive masters and boat crews aren’t automatically tipped, so set aside around US$20 per person per dive; more if you’re out for an extended period or taking a course.
Your final day is a fun day
Flying in a plane within 24 hours of diving is a no-no. Diving elevates nitrogen levels in your tissues, and combining that with high altitudes is a significant risk for decompression sickness, a.k.a. “the bends.”
Fortunately, the Caribbean offers lots in the way of non-scuba fun. McArthur suggests helicopter rides, chartering a fishing boat, parasailing, stand-up paddle boarding, or a snorkelling excursion. One of Morrison’s favourite activities is riding horses on the beach and stopping for a swim with them.
This can be a great day to go shopping. If you’re heading to more touristy areas, Morrison says, find out from locals what time the cruise ships land, “and then avoid at all costs going during those times.” And make sure those stores are open when the cruise ships don’t dock.
Got your gear?
Most dedicated divers prefer to use their own equipment, but scuba gear is bulky and heavy. If you can’t take it with you, says dive master Drew McArthur, take your fitted snorkel, dive computer, mask and fins, so you can use them for diving or snorkeling excursions. If you’re concerned about being cold, bring your wetsuit. A dive computer ensures you know how long you can safely remain below. Dive shops will rent out just about any gear you need.
On board, remember (ocean-friendly) sunscreen, sun gear and a water bottle. Advisor Jaclyn Morrison’s must-bring? A lined, hooded windbreaker to keep you warm on the boat between dives. “Even if you’re diving in warm water, people don’t realize how cold it can be on board, when you’re wet and there’s even a slight breeze. Staying warm can make all the difference between enjoying your second dive or being miserable and shivering and going through your air much more quickly,” she says. Out of the water, dressy-casual summer sportswear should do. A nice sundress (with a pashmina for cooler weather) for women and a collared shirt and trousers for men will work at most restaurants. If unsure, call ahead to check the dress code.
Travelling and staying with clients is a chance to strengthen bonds, says Blake. It’s also, says Morrison, a good way to see clients’ needs and spending habits, and to plan for them. “If you know that a client regularly takes off on a diving trip for three months, you can ensure that funds are available and ready, and that insurance coverage is up to date,” she says.
As an adventurous activity, scuba diving is a fitting way to build a relationship with a client. “So much of diving is about safety, responsibility, and preparedness,” she says. “People need to trust each other. And if your client sees that you are prepared, that you are responsible and can manage that risk and achieve great results, that’s a huge vote of confidence.”
Susan Goldberg is a financial journalist based in Thunder Bay, Ont.