how to pick an instructor

With thanks and acknowledgement to Rich Walker at Wreck and Cave (www.wreckandcave.co.uk) for the original article, paraphrased here….

Technical Training is not like recreational dive training. Instructors who teach recreationally are excellent at the role and often teach and dive daily. Technical dives are very different, they have greater consequences with errors or kit failures. They are more team focused, they demand higher skill levels and equipment mastery. Any technical dive instructors experience should be in the several 100’s of technical dives before they even think of teaching and they should teach at least one level down from their own top qualification.


Rich Walker suggests a six step guide….

  1. Do they dive?

Well, yes, of course, but do they dive outside of teaching? Have they real world experience and passion for tech diving they can pass on. As Rich says…

“This experience should form part of the learning process for you as they explain the reasons for conducting skills and practicing procedures using examples from their own real world experience. Ask them what diving community involvement they have. Are they involved in projects, exploration or conservation efforts? What sort of diving excites them? If they are interested in similar things to you, then there’s a good chance that they will have useful stories and anecdotes for you in your class.

If they get evasive about their personal diving, or keep telling you about how busy they are, run. Run a mile. They’re not diving, and are simply churning out classes. No passion, no current experience, little value to you.”

  1. How much teaching do they do?

Too much and they are not doing enough diving, too little and they will be rusty teaching your class.

Thanks to Rich again, he says

“I find that teaching 3-4 specific classes a year gives a familiarity and capacity as an instructor to allow a great class to be delivered.

The total number of classes they teach a year is also worth asking. If they are part-time or “hobby” instructors, then beware. Even a decent part-time instructor should be able to deliver 8-10 classes per year, depending on the duration of the course.

If your prospective instructor teaches infrequently, then run. Run a mile. Rusty, unfamiliar and inefficient instruction is not what you need or deserve.”

  1. What’s their failure rate?

This is an unusual concept in diving, that you can fail a class, but it can and should happen. Rich puts it very well.

“Nobody wants to fail a class, and I can assure you that no instructor likes failing a student.

However, think about it like this. If it’s impossible to fail a class, then how do you know you’ve really met the required standard. How will you really know if you’re competent to dive in the range you’ve now been certified?

If your instructor has a 100% pass rate, then they are passing everyone.

They are not magical super-talented instructors. They are at best devaluing the class, and at worst placing a weaker diver at risk of harm. If you can’t fail the class, then it has no value.

I have a failure rate of between 5-10%, depending on the class. If your prospective instructor does not fail a percentage of their students, run. Run a mile. No failure rate means you’re just ticking boxes with no attention to quality of your skills, and the knowledge that you need.”

My personal failure rate at the moment is about 8%. It’s not over for all these students and I will work with them to get them over the line. But, if I feel attitude or approach to tech diving is not appropriate, then you could have the dive skills of a Great White and you won’t pass.


  1. How long have they been diving (not teaching) at this level?

Can’t beat the way Rich puts this

“Here you should be trying to detect the zero-to-hero instructor. It’s all too easy get certified as an instructor in some quarters. It seems like it’s simply an extension of the diver training pathway.

Try to find an instructor that has been diving (see the first point about the difference between diving and teaching) for 2-3 years at that level before they became an instructor. Again, this will mean that they have taken the time to develop their diving skills and knowledge “in the field” rather than simply jumping on the next certification level.

Make sure they can back up the class material with heaps of practical experience.

If they only passed the class you want to take six months ago, and got their instructor certification last week, then run. Run a mile. You deserve better than the zero-to-hero.”

  1. Are they too cheap?

Straight to Rich again here, can’t find fault with this

“All of my other points above, you’re probably nodding your head and saying, “Yeah, I like the sound of that. Let’s filter the really good instructors and make sure I get a great course!”. Here’s the kicker, and you will undoubtedly not like it so much. Avoid cheap instructors.

You won’t find out why they’re cheap until it’s too late.

Most decent instructors love what they do, it’s a dream job, no doubt about it. But they will still have rent and mortgage to pay, mouths to feed and diving to do (see point 1). This all costs money, and guess where it comes from if they are a full time instructor? Yes, it comes from you, the student. That’s the harsh reality I’m afraid. A rough guide is that you should be paying a minimum of £100 (£150 is more realistic) per day of the course, and this assumes that there are 2-3 students on the course with you. If there’s helium involved, boats, or travel, then expect a higher figure. Also expect that the more in-demand instructors will charge more than this as well.

The price you pay for the class is an important thing to check. If your prospective instructor offers you a knock-down price for the class, then they don’t value their own time. They will also be looking for ways to keep their costs down, and this will mean things like academic sessions done in pubs, quarries when the sea is dive-able, short trimix dives just to hit the standards, and maybe hidden costs too.

If it sounds too cheap to be true – run. Run a mile. You deserve quality training, not bargain basement corner cutting”.

  1. Try before you buy

I love Rich’s idea here. For a number of reasons. I suggest booking a 1 to 1 coaching day to find out. Have some goals in mind for that day so that you get value, for example better buoyancy, trim, or being able to back-fin or turn. However the key findings from the day are..

  1. See if you are going to get on personally and

  2. See if you are going to enjoy the teaching style, not everyone likes the same things so check

  3. It will allow you, if the day is properly structured to see if the instructor has something to offer your diving

  4. It allows the instructor to see exactly where you are in your diving and structure future training accordingly.

  5. See if the instructor corrects you in the water.

  6. Were briefs clear and simple, pre brief and debrief

  7. Did they try and trick you into mistakes, or use pseudo military / macho approaches. This is a poor trait and not found in good instructors, it boosts their self esteem, not your skills.

As Rich says often, if you aren’t happy with all the answers to those questions then…

Run, run a mile and find an instructor you deserve.

Here at South West Tech we believe in a great course, for great value, delivered to meet your needs. Our student feedback supports that this is what we are doing. If we fall short ever, you can tell us and we will fix it.

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