The short answer is yes, you should take a scuba course from a local dive shop if you can before you get to Belize for your island vacation. If you don’t have a local dive shop or enough time before your trip, you can always do it when you get there as long as you have enough time on the island. Scuba courses have three components, but two can be done at home.
The first part is the written part of the course. There are lectures covering the material in your textbook, which these days means watching DVDs with an instructor to answer your questions. After watching the DVDs, you have written tests you need to pass.
The second part is a series of shallow water skills you have to complete. In water no more than 6 feet deep they teach you how to deal with possible accidents, like your mask coming off, or using up all of your oxygen in your tank. After learning the steps of recovery, your instructor then has you simulate the accident (take your mask off underwater, for example), and then demonstrate that you know what to do in such an emergency. All of this is done in shallow water.
The final part is the good part: diving at Glover’s Reef! Each different level of certification has a different number of required dives to complete that level. On course dives you do a few skills at depth (40 feet for beginning divers) and then you just go for a dive like any certified diver would, except you are diving with a dive instructor rather than a dive master.
The reason I recommend you take your course before you arrive if you can, is to avoid using your valuable vacation time on a private island taking tests and watching DVDs. But you don’t have to complete the 3rd part of the certification at home. You can instead get what’s called a ‘referral’ course where you complete the first 2 parts at home, bringing proof that you completed them with you, and finish the fun part on the island. Every Belize scuba shop offers this option. So for example, you can take the Open Water Diver course which takes 4 days and 4 dives to finish. Or you can take the Open Water Referral course which takes 2 days and 4 dives to finish.
You can find a complete list of our Belize dive courses on our website.