Fort Lauderdale, Florida
Dive Operator: Underseas Sports / South Florida Diving Headquarters Rating: 3 Stars
In Fort Lauderdale we stayed at the Fort Lauderdale Beach Resort. The hotel is about a block from the beach but there was no diving operation located at the hotel. In fact none of the diving operations that I am aware of are associated with an actual hotel. Instead they are all independent operations. We chose to dive with Underseas Sports as they were the closest one located to our hotel. Underseas Sports had a nice dive store. They were well stocked with snorkels, masks, wetsuits, fins, and more. The single person working at the time was friendly and helpful in scheduling us for diving. A sizeable classroom was present for training purposes. Although we signed up for 4 days of diving, it appears that Underseas Sports does not have dive boats. Instead, the dive boats are owned and operated by South Florida Diving Headquarters. Apparently South Florida Diving Headquarters supplies the diving charter service for about a half of dozen different dive operations in the Fort Lauderdale / Pompano Beach area.
South Florida Diving Headquarters (SFDH) was located in Pompano Beach a short distance north of Fort Lauderdale. They did not have an actual dive shop except for a small office which contained a few items such as snokel keepers, mask defog, and T-shirts. Outside of the shop they had a dive compressor near the docks. At the docks they had 3 dive boats - one smaller boat capable of handling about 10 divers, and two larger boats capable of carrying 35 divers or snorkelers each. We dove 4 four days and had the opportunity to dive on both the large and small boats. The boats are easy to board since each of them were stored at the docks.
The first boat we dove with was the small boat. There was a boat captain, a divemaster, and 6 divers. The divemaster was along for the ride but SFDH does not provide a divemaster in the water as a guide as an included service. However, for an extra charge they will provide a guide for you. It turned out that two of the divers were actually a husband and wife, or boyfriend and girlfriend, who worked for SFDH and were simply out enjoying a day of diving outside of work. Both of them were spearfishing and did spear 3 fish. The divemaster did dive on her own and caught a lobster. The boat was adequate in size for the number of divers on board. However, it would probably have felt crowded if the boat was full to capacity. The biggest problem I had with the boat was the tank holders. The boat had rails on both sides at the seating benches. However, the tanks were only secured using a bungee-type cord at the tank valve. A few spots had circulur tank holders at the bottom rail but they were present only in a few locations. Therefore, most of the tanks kept slipping from side to side as they were only secured at the top. By slipping I mean essentially nearly falling over. This was bad. It would be very inexpensive to add tank holders for all of the tanks. Since there is no divemaster guiding the divers, SFDH simply puts the boat over the reef and has each buddy team enter the water individually. They give each group a dive flag float and reel so that the boat can keep track of the divers. Once in the water each group had no visual contact with another. That was a nice change as so often you are forced to dive with a group and follow where the group or group leader guides you. Divers were allowed to stay in the water as long as they wished. There was no preset time for surfacing. On days two and four we dove with the larger boats which were twin-hulled boats. This made them smooth on the water. Since they were capable of carrying up to 35 divers there was plenty of room on board as we had 10 or less divers each day. The larger boats did have lower tank holders for each tank so tank sliding was not a problem on those boats. On day four one couple on board paid for a dive master as a guide. The dive master caught two lobsters.
Overall South Florida Diving Headquarters is an ok outfit to dive with provided you are an experienced diver. I rate them 3 stars. However, for divers with limited experience they are probably not the best choice. The staff is certainly friendly and the boats are more than adequete and are each equipped with a toilet. They are conveniently stored at the docks allowing for easy access. For an experienced diver, especially one who is familiar with the local dive sites, SFDH will suit them just fine. But for inexperienced divers, and/or divers who have experience but are unfamiliar with the local sites, SFDH probably lacks the service they are accustomed to or require. Over 4 days we did 8 dives. On the third day the captain took great care in positioning us directly over where we needed to drop onto. However, the other days that was not the case. Each of the other days the captain positioned us over the top of the reef but not necessarity where he should have. For each site there was a mild current. They considered these dive drift dives. Their thought was to drop us on the reef and then have us swim a particular direction to the reef's shallow wall. Several divers got completely lost as the current drifted them away from where they should have been, or they simply did not know how to navigate. It happened to us too. I would navigate exactly where they said to but three times we never found our target. In my opinion that was unnacceptable. Generally the current was in the north and or east direction. With that known, it would have been prudent to drop us slightly to the west of the reef's wall so that we could drift into it. Had a divemaster been present as a guide it would not have been an issue, but SFDH does not provide one. If we were experienced with the reefs then it would not have been problem either. But neither of those was the case. On the second day, we completely missed the Pompano Trench even through they dropped us 200 feet south of it and told us to head north, which we did. The current pushed us off to the east. The second dive that day we located the reef's west wall only after a hard swim against the current. Not acceptable at all. We still had fun and enjoyed our dives, but if SFDH positioned the boat properly, we would have found our targets and had more enjoyable diving.
As for assistance on the boat, personally I do not want it. I prefer to set my gear up myself and will get myself into the water. However, I have made thousands of dives. Many divers only dive once a year on vacation and are always a little rusty and prefer the help. SFDH will assist people but for the most part the divers are on their own. There is nothing wrong with that. A certified diver is expected to know how to do everyting themselves. However, for inexperienced divers who are used to vacationing in Mexico or the Caribbean where they generally are provided a great deal of assisitance, they might find themselves at a loss with SFDH.
One thing that I really felt odd was that SFDH crew members were taking fish or lobsters out of the water. Yes the reefs in that locality are not protected preserves, so spear fishing and lobstering is legal. But when one's livelihood is dependent upon the quality of the diving on the reefs, it seems counter productive to be removing larger fish and lobsters from those reefs. Divers come to see those things. When one helps decimate the population of some of the quality things to view on the reefs, one may one day find themselves out of work when divers decide to go elsewhere to dive where the sea life is allow to flourish. My guess is that all of the diving operations are doing it, which is why SFDH is likely doing it as well. But it my opinion the dive operators are being irresponsible and detrimental to their own survival.