The worst of winter is behind us and divers are thinking about getting back into the water soon. Now is also the time to plan any coursework you would like to do this summer. One crucial part of insuring a good course experience is often overlooked by prospective students: choosing the right instructor.
“Right” is a relative term. The right instructor for you may be a horrible choice for me. That’s why it’s important for prospective students to do some homework, talk to several instructors, and find the one that’s the best fit for you. Let’s look at a few criteria you may want to consider when choosing an instructor.
Set your Goals
The first thing you need to do is to figure out where you want to go with your diving. Do you want to dive wrecks no deeper than 150′? Do you want the ability to eventually dive to 200′ or beyond? Maybe you don’t even know where you want to go yet. That’s fine. Don’t worry about which specific courses you need. Figure out what you want to do and your instructor can help you determine the course progression to get you there.
Finding the Right Instructor for You
But how do you find the “right” instructor? You have to be an active, rather than passive consumer. You have to do your homework and actively search out training options. Talk to several instructors about the course you’re interested in taking and treat these conversations as job interviews. You are interviewing this instructor to see if you want to hire him/her to train you.
Choose Someone Who Does the Dives you Want to Do
Ask your prospective instructor about his/her experience in the particular area that the course covers. If you’re interested in wreck diving in the Great Lakes, ask the instructor about his/her experience in Great Lakes wreck diving. If he/she isn’t actively engaged in the type of diving you want to do, keep looking.
Agency Alphabet Soup
Don’t get too hung up on agency affiliation. All agencies have some good instructors. All agencies have some bad instructors. The reason you’re doing all this research is to find an instructor who will be good for you. Agency affiliation is secondary.
There are only a couple things about agencies I find relevant. When I’m considering enrolling in a course, I ask the instructor why he/she decided to teach with that agency. I’m not impressed with answers like, “I did all my training with that agency, so naturally I became an instructor with them.” However, if he/she answers “I looked at several agencies when I was looking for instructor training and I like the way this agency [fill in the blank].”
The other thing to consider about agencies is the training philosophy. How are the courses sequenced? When is the use of helium introduced? What percentages of oxygen are permitted in deco gasses? Look for a sequence of training that makes sense and will get you where you want to go.
Teaching vs. Personal Diving
Ask about the balance between teaching and personal diving. It’s best to find an instructor that not only teaches, but devotes time to his/her own personal diving to challenge themselves and continue his/her personal growth. I would be wary of an instructor that boasts about logging hundreds of dives a year when all of those dives are course dives at the local quarry.
See if there’s a rapport between you and the instructor. It’s no surprise that not everyone gets along. There may be lots of competent instructors, but that won’t give you much solace if you take a class from a competent instructor that you really, really don’t get along with. You don’t have to be BFF’s, but you need some sort of amicable relationship, especially at the more complex levels of diver training.
That gives you an idea of what I’m talking about. I’m sure you can think of additional questions to ask. The bottom line here is to be proactive. By investing some time and doing research, you will avoid a disappointing course experience and have the diving experience of your life.