Choosing a Technical Diving Instructor

Technical diving is a risky venture. Let’s have no illusions about it, scuba diving, especially technical diving, can kill you. So choosing the person who is going to train you in this risky endeavor should not be taken lightly. When I began the process of becoming a technical diving, I was lucky enough to get some very good advice from others who had gone down this road before me. I’d like to share that advice and also describe my own philosophy towards technical diver training.

Choose an instructor who is doing the kinds of dives you would like to do. If you want to do deep trimix dives on wrecks like the Gunilda, then choose an instructor who is doing dives like that. If your aspiration is to dive deep wrecks in the Great Lakes, then choosing an instructor who primarily dives only in the Caribbean, or on training dives with students in a quarry, probably isn’t going to give you the best results.

Avoid instructors who only dive when teaching. Instructors are divers too. We need time to do our own “fun” dives in order to grow personally and professionally. Instructors who only dive with students on training dives are not challenging themselves, which leads to stagnation.

Train in the environment in which you want to dive. Don’t do your coursework diving in warm, clear tropic waters if your goal is to dive wrecks in the Great Lakes. If you’re going to dive wrecks in the Great Lakes, train in the Great Lakes. If your goal is to only dive wrecks in tropic conditions, then train in tropic conditions.

Don’t confuse price with value. The first question you ask an instructor should not be “How much does it cost?” Get to know the instructor a little bit before getting to price. Find out the instructor’s views about training and diving in general. Find out details about the course like what topics are covered, how many dives are conducted, are the dives conducted only in quarries or are there charter dives too, and how many students will be in the class. When you do get around to price, you’ll have a better idea of whether you’re getting a good deal or not. Sometimes a more expensive course is a better value because it includes things that cheaper courses do not.

Ask lots of questions. Basically this a job interview for the instructor. Ask the instructor about his/her personal diving. What type of diving does he/she like to do when not teaching? What are the equipment requirements? Tell him/her about your diving experience and what you hope to learn in the course. Explain your diving goals. Look for a personal connection. Do you like this instructor? Do you trust him/her? At this level of training, a good rapport is essential. You may find a perfectly competent instructor, but you may decide not to take the course with him/her if you detect a personality mismatch.

I try to incorporate the above points into my own teaching ethic.

  • I actually train only a handful of divers each year. This allows me about half of the dive season for my own personal diving. I’m learning new things about diving all the time. Having an instructor card doesn’t mean I know everything there is to know.
  • I offer courses exclusively in the Great Lakes area. I cater to Great Lakes divers who want to extend their diving capabilities in order to visit deeper, more pristine wrecks.
  • I strive to price my courses fairly and to make them valuable by adding things other instructors may not. My students begin course dives in the quarry and then progress to actual Great Lakes dives. I don’t award a technical diving certification based solely on quarry dives. Class size is kept small and scheduling is flexible. Students know the total cost of the course before we begin. I make clear up front what the course fee covers and what it does not cover. There are no hidden fees.

Technical diving is not for everyone. It is risky and potentially fatal. If you decide to take the technical diving path, choose your instructor carefully. This choice will affect the rest of your technical diving career.