New Scuba Diver Advice

Learning to Scuba Dive: Questions to Ask Before Hiring Any Scuba Instructor

Scuba instructors come in all stripes and sizes. When the lovely and talented Kathy and I were learning to scuba dive, we did the worst thing possible, absolutely no research. As it turned out, we got lucky and got a good – and patient – instructor who taught in a way that we could easily learn.

I do not suggest you rely on the kindness of the Universe to pick your instructor like we did. If the instructor you are considering works in a local dive center, call and talk to them. If you’ve already been assigned to a class, ask who the instructor is and if you can talk to them. Unless you have started class, you should be able to switch if you don’t feel comfortable after talking with the Instructor. I can’t stress enough that you need to do your research before you pay. Once you pay, you may be stuck with whomever they assign you.

If the instructor is independent, again, call them. Talk to them. A 5-minute conversation will give you a good feel for how they communicate and if that style works for you.

Understand this one important fact, the skills you will be taught are specifically selected so that when you master them, you can dive safely and confidently. If you don’t get an instructor that works for you, you most likely won’t master the skills. Even if you do, the experience will be miserable, and you may sour on scuba diving totally. An instructor who is a good fit for you is vital to learning to scuba dive and getting to explore the world beneath the waves.

Having said all of that let’s take a look at a few questions that will help you decide if the instructor you’ve been assigned is right for you.

Ask About Their Experience and Certifications

QUESTION: How long were you a recreational scuba diver before you became an instructor?

WHY ASK IT: The more experience an instructor has as a recreational scuba diver, the more empathetic they will be with new divers because they have experience in the problems you will be facing, not just what they were taught.

I know divers that went from Open Water Certified to Open Water Scuba Instructor in 6-9 months. A couple of them are my friends. The ones I know well, I trust because I’ve worked with them. However, if this is all you know about an Instructor, it’s a yellow flag. You may want to interview another candidate instructor. Look for an instructor who had a few years of progress as a recreational diver before they went into instructing.

I will say that this advice only applies to an instructor who has less than 3 years of experience as an instructor. After three years of continuous instruction, I’d give this question a lot less weight.

Beyond certifications, experience matters. Ask about your instructor’s total teaching experience, especially with beginners. If you have a specific dive location in mind, inquire about their familiarity with that particular environment – local knowledge can be invaluable underwater. If you are already Open Water certified and are going for Advanced Open Water or a specialty, ask them how long they have been teaching that course or specialty.

Ask About Their Teaching Style and Communication

QUESTION: Can you tell me your favorite dive story?

WHY ASK IT: It gives you a chance to assess their communication style and whether it works for you or not.

Everyone learns differently. A good instructor recognizes this and adapts their teaching style to cater to visual, kinesthetic, or auditory learners. Clear and concise communication is also paramount. Your instructor should be able to explain complex concepts simply, both above and below the surface.

By asking them to tell you a dive story, you will get them to loosen up and talk to you. Trust me, every dive has a favorite dive story. Once you finish learning to scuba dive, you will too! Listen to them talk. Do they tell the story in a way that you can understand? Do they explain technical terms to you in plain language? All of these things will help you get a sense of how this instructor communicates. More important though, it will help you get a feel for whether their style of communication works for you.

Also, ask about class size and student-to-instructor ratios. Smaller class sizes often allow for more personalized attention and a more comfortable learning environment. My best classes are small 2-4 person classes. Some instructors like larger classes. Neither is the right way, it’s just a matter of style.

Ask About Their Emergency Procedures

QUESTION: Can you give me an overview of your Emergency Action Plan?

WHY ASK IT: It tells you if they think about safety. You don’t care about the details, you care that they know the details.

Safety is the absolute priority in scuba diving. Choose an instructor who prioritizes safety procedures and adheres to best practices. To help you assess whether this is the instructor for you, ask them about their Emergency Action Plan. Instructors are taught to create them in their classes.

Since most classes take place in a pool and in open water, be prepared for them to have 2 plans.

For me, my EAP for pool day to to talk with the lifeguard before class to make sure they have a complete first-aid kit, Oxygen, and an AED within reach. The pool I work with always does.

I teach the Open Water portion at “The Blue Heron Bridge“. I talk with the lifeguards there as well but they are not always on duty. Therefore, I always have my personal DAN First Aid kit in my Jeep. I coordinate with the other instructors from the dive center I work with to make sure one of us also has a DAN Oxygen Kit handy just in case.

In addition, for each location I know the closest hospital and of course how to contact EMS. My Course Director makes sure that we know to have our cell phones charged and with us for each class session. Not so we can take selfies with our students (we do) but because it’s usually the closest phone in an emergency.

Any responsible instructor will be able to talk with you in as much detail as you want about the Emergency Action Plan. If they can’t, or if it’s just “There’s a lifeguard on duty”, that’s a yellow flag in my book. Not enough to disqualify them, but enough to make me nervous.

Wrap Up

Your scuba instructor will set the tone for your entire diving adventure. These three questions are a great starting point, but don’t be afraid to ask further questions to ensure a good fit.

Many dive centers offer Discover Scuba Diving dives. If you are unsure, book one of these with your potential instructor. This will allow you to get a sense of the instructor’s personality and teaching style and whether they are the right one for you before you start learning to scuba dive with them.

If you get the right instructor, you will learn to master the skills and dive confidently. You will spend countless hours exploring the world beneath the waves and marveling at the wonders. I can’t wait to see you down there!

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