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Tips and Advice for Choosing a Scuba Instructor
John Flanders, Phoenix Scuba Diving Examiner
Most people who walk into a Scuba shop for the first time are thrown into sensory overload as the mountain of equipment in front of them is so daunting and foreign to them. With a glazed look in their eyes, they approach the dive professional behind the counter and tell them they are interested in getting certified. At that point, the glazed look becomes permanently fixed as the dive professional starts discussing schedule, equipment needs, risk and liability, costs, and more. All the while, visions of the underwater world become closer to the soon-to-be-diver as he hurriedly hands over his credit card and schedules his or her class for the upcoming weekend. This is the point to slow down, start asking some questions, and do a little due diligence.
Following is a list of tips and questions to use while conducting your research to choosing a Scuba instructor:
Don’t just interview the closest shop to your home or work. Spend a Saturday and drive around to several shops in the area. Phoenix has over 20 different dive shops that can certify divers. Get to know the shop culture, how they approach training, and what differentiates them from everyone else.
Get to know the agencies that are available in your area. Each dive shop and/or instructor has an affiliation to a Dive Agency. PADI, NAUI, SSI, and SDI are among the largest and oldest. However, there are dozens of agencies that offer extensive programs and extremely professional curriculums. Many of them have become members of the RSTC which is an industry based umbrella that allows the different agencies to network among themselves and effect industry standards. Understand from the candidate instructors and dive shops what is different about their agency and why they chose them to be affiliated. Being the biggest or the “best” is not always the right match for your needs.
Take your time to research and find the best instructor in your area. Ask around to different friends who are certified. Ask them about instructors they like and don’t like. Ask what qualities make up a good instructor. Do a lot of research on the internet within the different online scuba communities. Also, consider alternatives to dive shops. Some of the best instructors are independent or affiliated with colleges, universities, or the YMCA. Most importantly, don’t just jump into a class with any old instructor because that is the next one on the schedule and he or she is the one teaching it.
Interview potential instructors before you take a class. Most beginner divers never ask any questions beyond price. As the old saying goes, “you get what you pay for.” Find a professional instructor that will provide direct answers to your questions and not just give you rhetoric. When they tell you something, ask them why? It’s during this interview that you will learn if this instructor has the mastery necessary to give you the knowledge and skills to meet your needs.
Following is a list of questions to ask your instructor:
How long have you been teaching? Experience is a great educator. Find someone who has been teaching a while and is passionate about their profession.
How many students have you certified? Just because they have been an instructor for ten years doesn’t mean they have been active. The scuba industry breeds a lot of part time instructors.
How many students have you certified at this level? If the instructor has certified very few people at this level, he or she may not be familiar with the curriculum and material being presented. You want someone who knows the material.
Do you certify all of your students? How many have you not certified? Not every student is ready to be certified. An instructor who (overly) confidently states every student has passed his course, may not be doing a thorough job or may have very low standards for mastering skills.
Do you teach skin diving skills? What skin diving skills will I learn? Skin diving is a great way to get familiar with equipment, build up confidence in the water, and have a lot of fun during surface intervals. If your instructor is not teaching you some valuable skin diving skills, you may want to look elsewhere.
What is the maximum ratio (dive professional to students) in the pool and open water? The lower the ratio the more 1 on 1 time you have to develop skills with an instructor. If a class is overloaded with students, the instructor may not be able to spend the personal time you need to master the key Scuba diving skills.
What certifications have you earned and what classes have you taken in the last year? Any instructor who is not actively taking classes is destined to become a stale instructor. Further, by taking classes an instructor can learn different styles and techniques from a student perspective.
Typically, how many hours does it take you to teach a student at this level? This is a difficult question, as it has to make economical sense. A beginner scuba class does not need to take 100 hours. However, the more hours of training, theoretically, the more information that is being conveyed and learned. The real thing to look out for is the minimum number of hours. Some instructors breeze through class without any regard that you are there to immerse yourself in Scuba. One thing to consider is the smaller the class, the fewer hours needed and vice versa.<
How many people will be in my class? Generally, any more than 8 people in a pool session is probably overcrowding a class. Lower numbers are better for you.
How many certified assistants will you be using in my class? Most instructors don’t have eyes in the back of their heads. It is a good idea to always have a second set of eyes in the water.
Where did you last go diving for fun? If an instructor isn’t diving for fun, then he will not be fun to learn from. A Scuba instructor must have passion. The best way to do that is to get on a plane and go some place fun and exciting. I want to learn from an instructor that is still having a lot of fun with what they do.
Now that you have asked the instructor a lot of questions, you need to ask yourself a few questions:
Was the instructor patient? If the instructor wasn’t patient, or talked down to you, while answering these questions, he will probably have the same character trait during class. You want a patient instructor that will allow you to learn at your speed.
Would I be happier learning from a man or woman? Only you can answer that question. Good and bad instructors come in both sexes. However, this is a physical sport and someone with the same physical concerns may be a better teacher for you.
Would I let this instructor take my loved ones underwater? If the answer is no, run fast.
Scuba diving offers a lifetime of adventure. Finding the right mentor and role model is essential to developing your dive path. Do your due diligence, take your time, and have fun.