How to choose a Scuba Diving Instructor
The Story of Icarus
Meet a fellow diver, recently certified as an Open Water. Call him Icarus.
Icarus lives in an area where dive tourism is massive. Knows lots of instructors and divemasters.
Gets to dive a lot after his certification, he puts in circa 100 dives in a few months after his initial training.
Icarus eventually gets his Advanced certification with his instructor Daedalus. He likes diving a lot. Wants to go deeper.
He signs up for his Deep Specialty course: a certification that trains him to reach the absolute maximum depth limit of recreational diving, 40 meters.
For Icarus' training dive Daedalus leaves the burden of the leader to a much more experienced Instructor of Instructors: we call him Helios.
Helios has thousands of dives, he's trained hundreds of Daedaluses.
He decides to take Icarus to almost 70 meters of depth. 30 meters more than the limit allows. A depth that requires a completely different set of skills, training, knowledge, equipment.
The sport is even called with a different name, has different instructing requirements and training standards. It has different laws that apply.
Helios knows all of that, has all his knickknacks.
Daedalus is aware of all of that, and yet tags along.
The three come back from the dive, Icarus boasts to his friends about the incredible depth he reached.
People clap and admire.
Delfi, a friend of Icarus, notes to him that he should exercise his judgment better and seek better instructors, or at least use the proper equipment to reach such extreme depths.
Icarus asks: "why?what did I do wrong?"
Daedalus, feeling attacked, brakes in: "but Helios has more experience than anybody else, I trust his judgement and you should too! Plus, Icarus has done many dives by now, don't treat him like a fool".
Two professional instructors responsible for the life of a student just breached all the codes of conduct, diving training standards, common sense rules and even their respective training agencies' membership duties.
A third diver, certified for a certain type of diving and supposedly aware of the consequences of going beyond his training (you get taught that in the Open Water course. It's in the book!), accepted to be put in a situation grossly beyond his capabilities and comprehension.
It doesn't take an oracle to see where this is going for our characters.
Can Helios be trusted? Can Daedalus be excused?
Why does Icarus ignore the rules he's been taught to follow?
Why do the two instructors do the same?
Has Icarus actually been taught those rules?
Is Scuba Diving training flawed?
Scuba Diving is fun. It always has been.
But the training hasn't been always the same.
Ask your parents, or ask yourself if you belong to the first wave of recreational, certified scuba divers from back in the day.
You used to spend weeks training in a pool, with silly hard skills to master and military like instructors almost yelling at you in Full Metal Jacket style.
It was a very serious thing. People failed.
Scuba Diving is fun. It always has been. It should also be a very serious thing. People should fail.
One day, PADI said no more. Scuba Diving should be for everyone. So they devised a training architecture based on modularity, simplicity and accessibility.
And all the other training agencies followed.
Nowadays, you only need to be 10 years old to have access to an Open Water Diver certification.
Much relies on the shoulders of each individual instructor now: how they choose to be and to teach, how they approach their role.
You start with the Open Water, then progress through the Advanced, get some specialties under your belt, Rescue Diver, and so on.
The idea being that you can start enjoying the underwater world right away, without having to know how to do 100 meters dive in 13knots of current at night in a frozen lake down a syphon hole. But you can get to that level if you want to. Adding each specialty course to your arsenal of certifications. Building up experience.
That's how we have millions of certified divers around the globe, with numbers increasing.
What's the problem, then?
The problem is that instructors, divemasters and their trainers receive much less scrutiny from the mother agency than they did before, simply because of the bigger numbers involved.
The problem gets real when dive training, and diving per se, is not taken seriously as it should be.
The reason why this happens is not our focus now, however it should be explored eventually.
How do I choose a good instructor?
Talk to them.
Don't focus on the price of the course.
A good trainer values his, or hers, profession. They spent years and much money to get where they are. They are worth their cost.
Would you sell yourself at 6, if you knew you're valued 10?
Ask them questions. See how they reply.
Do you trust them just because they have a card that says "instructor" on it?
Getting proper instruction is key.
Whether it's us, or anybody else, make sure you make the right choice.
P.S. The myth of Icarus is nice ancient greek mythology, but the facts above have been inspired by many, many stories like this we came across in our years of teaching, sadly all too real.