Once you’ve decided on a technical diving course, picking an instructor can be daunting. Should you stay local or travel? Which agency is best? Will you get better training from a well-known instructor? These are just some of the factors that will determine your choice. Here are a few considerations when it comes to choosing the right technical diving instructor for you.
Are they local?
If you live somewhere isolated you’ll have little choice but to travel. If you live in a tech-diving hotspot like Mexico or Malta, you’ll have lots of options when it comes to choosing a technical diving instructor. The choice often comes down to whether you’d rather spend numerous weekends traveling and training or get it done all at once when on vacation. Expense and the ability to get time off from work are factors as well. If you decide to do the course during a vacation, make sure you can squeeze some extra dives in afterward, dedicated to practicing what you learned.
Finally, will the training environment mirror the diving back home? You may be training in 86 F (30 C) water, in a 3mm wetsuit, and with an aluminum twinset. But when you come home, you may be using a steel twinset and a drysuit with thick gloves. Carry out your training as you intend to dive.
Do they do the kind of diving you are interested in?
It sounds obvious, but if you know what kind of diving you want to do, then complete your training with someone who specializes in it. Many tech instructors cave dive every day, but the caves may be shallow and the instructor may never go into deco. Everything gets rusty without regular practice.
This also applies to foundation courses. Some instructors may be able to teach a sidemount course on paper, but it won’t be anywhere near as thorough as a course taught by someone who dives on sidemount every day. The same applies to diving in a twinset. Sidemount instructors will inevitably get rusty in a twinset if they rarely dive with one.
Do they dive for fun?
If your potential instructor dives on their day off, it usually means they’re passionate about the sport. It’s also likelier that they practice diving skills and procedures to remain competent. There is no endpoint in diving where you suddenly achieve a Zen-like state of total understanding. There is always more to learn. Avoid anyone that only teaches, and especially avoid anyone who claims to know everything.
Will you get along?
You will be spending a few days, a week, or maybe a month with this person. You needn’t become best friends, but you do need to get along and exhibit mutual respect. It makes sense to chat with your potential instructor before committing to the course. This may be a phone call, a Skype chat, emails, or an in-person meeting. It’s also a good way to discuss some of the other considerations outlined here.
How do they teach the course?
Everyone has a different teaching style. They’ll also emphasize different elements of the course. But a few things are crucial to getting the most out of your training. Each dive should be as long as is practicable to leave plenty of time to practice skills like buoyancy or back-finning. Land drills should also be an integral part of the course. The more you’ve practiced something before the dive, the more prepared you’ll be when you try it underwater. Your instructor should actively encourage questions as well. Asking what, why, when, where and how will ensure that you understand the reasons behind the instruction and that you can handle once out of the class.
Finally, run away from anyone who says that they will test you by turning off your gas and ripping off your mask without your knowledge. These practices are outdated, unsafe, and useless as a learning tool.
Does this instructor fail people?
Starting a technical diving course should be no guarantee of passing it. A good instructor will sit you down before the course starts to outline both their and the agency’s expectations. Solid foundational knowledge is vital to your safety as a technical diver, and it would be a grave disservice to give you a certification card if you have not attained the required competency. If your potential instructor says they will fail you if you do not meet these standards, take that as a good sign.
Is this instructor well known?
Many instructors in the tech industry have become well known because they have decades of experience or helped pioneer the sport — or possibly both. They undoubtedly have a wealth of knowledge and experience to share. However, for every well-known instructor, there are a hundred unknowns who quietly teach dedication and passion. Don’t assume that you’ll get some kind of “super-course” with a known face or sub-standard course with a newer instructor. Many newer instructors are brimming with passion and go above and beyond to teach a better course.
Conversely, be wary of an instructor that learned how to dive less than five years ago, but now teaches numerous complicated courses. Watch out for any instructor as well who implies that they’re some kind of diving guru. Remember, everyone always has more to learn. Reputation is everything, and reputations are built from teaching good courses without any fanfare.
Is this instructor the cheapest?
Cheaper is always better, right? Not usually. Instructors need to make a living too. If you want a high-quality, thorough course, then you’ll understand that you need time to learn and practice under supervision. Paying for the instructor’s time is part of the deal. If a course is very cheap, ask yourself what is being left out. Do your research on average course costs in the area you intend to learn.
Which agency should you use?
Numerous technical diving agencies teach an array of courses, each with advantages and disadvantages. Choosing between different agencies is often akin to choosing between two famous brands of soda. It’s a preference, based on what you want.
Each agency has pros and cons depending on the course you want to take and the level you want to achieve. Agencies are transparent about what they do and how they do it, so go to their websites and speak to their instructors. Again, reputation is important, so don’t choose an instructor who badmouths other agencies. Be suspicious of anyone who brags that they and their agency are the best. You will likely choose the instructor first anyway, and if you like what they say, you’ll probably go with their recommendation.
Undertaking a tech course can be humbling, challenging, frustrating and rewarding. And choosing the right technical diving instructor can make all the difference. Ultimately, if the course improves both your diving and your safety, you’ve chosen well.