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How long does it take to become a GREAT Dive Instructor?

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By: Jon Kieren

As an Instructor Trainer, I am often asked about the process and timeline to become an SDI Open Water Scuba Diving Instructor.  The easy way to answer is to quote the minimum standards as listed in the SDI Standards and Procedures (also found on the SDI course description page HERE), and begin the discussion about getting a course scheduled.  With so much buzz in the industry lately about degradation of training at all levels, I felt it would be beneficial to write about what the MINIMUM standards set by most training agencies (as well as the WRSTC) really mean and what it REALLY takes to become a GREAT dive instructor.

The “zero to hero” Open Water diver to instructor flow path

Personally, I am a product of the “zero to hero” Open Water diver to instructor flow path.  I was an inexperienced open water diver with less than 20 dives spread out over about six years when I decided I wanted to become a dive instructor.  I walked into my local dive shop in Wisconsin, and informed them that I was moving to the Virgin Islands in 4 months, and I wanted to work there as a dive instructor.  3 and half months later, I was an Open Water Instructor and ready to get on the plane.  Fast forward 9 years and I am a rebreather and cave instructor, advanced trimix instructor trainer, and instructor trainer evaluator.  Those 15 years of diving and teaching have included a lot of mediocre courses taught, hard lessons learned and, frankly dangerous situations that I am lucky to have escaped without incident.  Many of those situations presented themselves because I simply did not know what I didn’t know due to inexperience.  I met all the minimum requirements set by the training agencies as I progressed, but I never really understood what that minimum requirement meant and who it was for.

To set these minimum standards, a group of people (not always active instructors or even active divers) sit in a room and decide what the minimum requirement should be for any standard based on the best-case scenario to create a competent diver or instructor at a given level.  This means perfect conditions (warm, calm, and clear water), perfect students (comfortable in the water, excited to be there, actively engaged in the training, etc.), no equipment issues, and no distractions.  It’s not entirely realistic, but it’s a minimum standard, a starting point.  From there, it is intended that instructors and trainers add time, skills, assistants, and reduce ratios, etc. based on the not so optimal situations they are presented with.

So, if the industry’s minimum standards aren’t universally enough, how long should it take?  I don’t think that can really be answered in years, number of dives or certification cards.  My experiences have shown that what is far more valuable is time in the water in varied conditions and a professional’s drive to improve themselves.

If you’re just taking courses to check off boxes you never have time to apply your knowledge

Those who take courses to check off boxes and just move on to the next level never really have an opportunity apply the knowledge and skill set, and it never really sinks in.  I’ve heard a lot of people advise that an aspiring instructor jump straight from their divemaster course into the instructor development course because the DM info and skills are “fresh” so the candidate will have an easier time regurgitating the information.  I can understand that theory, but it’s a scary thought that a DM with little to no practical experience working with students and guiding divers would have an easier time in an IDC than a seasoned professional.  That would make me question the quality of the DM program and whether that information has truly been mastered by the candidate.

My personal advice to aspiring dive instructors?  Knock out a couple hundred or so dives in varied conditions (not just your local quarry or even just warm water vacation diving), and go through your DM course.  Spend a year or so working actively as a DM, crewing dive boats and assisting classes and continue to develop your own personal diving skills by taking diver level courses.  Even if you aren’t interested in technical diving, take an intro to tech class, for example.  Growing your personal knowledge base and experience in different facets of diving will give you a better perspective of how and why to teach many of the basics.  On top of that, you will have the opportunity to learn from more experienced instructors who will be valuable mentors in your growth as a professional.

As a newly minted educator, start slowly

Once you have built a well-rounded foundation of true diving experience, select an instructor trainer that you know personally and respect as an educator.  Your IDC should not be a “read the bullet points out of the instructor guide” process, but one that takes the knowledge, skills and experience you have as a dive professional and uses it to mold you into an educator.  As a newly minted educator, start slowly.  Work with small groups of students (1 or 2) at the entry level, and take time after each class to reflect on how things went and where you can adjust to improve the next time around.

Continue to develop your instructional skills by taking specialty instructor courses

Many agencies allow “experience based” upgrades, which is fine for average instructors.  But if you truly want to be a great educator, learn from an IT that has experience teaching at that level.  Trust me, you’ll pick up some valuable tips on how to teach more effectively at that level.

So, to answer the original question, “how long does it take to become a great dive instructor”?  The answer is “forever”.  Becoming a great instructor is something we should always strive for, but also know that there will always be something more for us to learn no matter how experienced we are.  Take your time and enjoy the ride; the journey is the best part and as dive instructor, you can make that journey last a lifetime.


To find out more about International Training, visit www.tdisdi.com.

From its humble beginning in 1994 to today, the group of training agencies Scuba Diving International (SDI), Technical Diving International (TDI), and Emergency Response Diving International (ERDI) form one of the largest diving certification agencies in the World – International Training. With 24 Regional Offices servicing more than 100 countries, the company today far exceeds the original vision the founders had when they conceived the idea on a napkin, sitting at a kitchen table in the early 1990’s.

Dive Training Blogs

Deptherapy returns to its Roots – Part 1

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Over the next seven days, join Richard Cullen from Deptherapy as we publish a Blog about the charity’s recent expedition to Roots Red Sea, El Quseir, Egypt.

Deptherapy made the very brave decision to book an expedition to our home in Egypt as soon as Roots Red Sea received their certificate from the Egyptian Authorities that the camp and dive centre was COVID secure. Roots is one of very few resorts to receive a certificate from the Egyptian Government.

We arrived in Roots the day after they re-opened.

Getting together an expedition was a major task. Very few Approved Medical Examiners’ of Divers or Dive Referees are conducting consultations at the moment. Availability of beneficiaries and the requirement to quarantine on return from Egypt affected the number of beneficiaries available.

There was also a requirement to pass a COVID PCR virus test within 72 hours of travelling.

We had decided on a small expedition and on the day of travel we had six flying to Egypt.  Unfortunately, Chris Middleton had to drop out the day before we travelled after emergency wisdom tooth surgery.

Our group comprised of Richard Cullen, Michael Hawley, Tom Oates, Tom Swarbrick, Keiron Bradbury and Corey Goodson.  Keiron was undertaking his RAID Master Rescue Course and, as it turned out, Corey was undertaking the RAID Open Water 20 course.

A deserted Gatwick Airport at 0900 on 10 October

Our outbound flight was before midday on Saturday 10 October and I must admit we were all shocked at how deserted was.  Checking in with easyJet took minutes and when we boarded the plane, we found it less than half full.

Corey is a paraplegic since a car accident two years ago while he was training prior to joining the Royal Anglian Regiment.  Corey has no sensation below the waist and is unable to use his legs.  The cabin crew on our flight were quite amazed to see the two Toms and Michael lift him from his wheelchair and place him in his seat for the flight.

Mask protocols were strictly observed by the team, the flight was uneventful, and the easyJet Cabin Crew superb. We also took a digital thermometer to check temperatures prior to flying.

Corey having a pre-flight temperature check

Hurghada Airport was very quiet and we moved through Immigration and collected our baggage in very quick time.

Two things to note:  If you are travelling to Hurghada you need to complete a COVID declaration for the Egyptian Authorities. If not, you have to fill out the rather lengthy form when you arrive.  You can undertake a COVID test on arrival at Hurghada Airport but the queues are long.  It costs much less than the tests we had done in the UK – BUT – you are required to be quarantined at your hotel until the test result comes through.  This means two days with no access to resort facilities.  If the test comes back as positive you have at least two weeks being confined to your room.

COVID guidelines

Transport to Roots was, as ever, on hand and we were soon at the camp and being briefed about the COVID arrangements.  A lot of work has been put in place to make Roots COVID compliant – and all at considerable expense.

None of the usual hugs with the Roots team and you have your temperature checked every morning and every time you return from the dive centre.  Your dive kit is sterilised every night ready for the next day’s diving.

Sterilised Dive Kit

We all felt very COVID secure.

Check back for tomorrow’s Blog and our first day diving…


Find out more about the work of Deptherapy and Deptherapy Education at www.deptherapy.co.uk

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Dive Training Blogs

Dive Instructor! Is Your Paycheck rubbish? Here’s 4 passive income ideas for Scuba Pros (Watch Video)

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How much money does a Dive Instructor make? The easy answer is not much. Here’s 4 ways a Scuba Diving Professional can diversify their income streams.

You hear it all the time: Being a Scuba Diving Instructor is a labor of love. Why is it that Scuba Instructors, when compared to almost any other professional in a sports training or educational role, make less money? Well, we’re not going to dive into that topic, because nobody here has the time for that!

What we are going to do is give you 4 ideas for generating passive income using your expertise as a Dive Instructor. Each of the ideas requires a little effort and investment on your part, but with a long term strategy, you can absolutely add money to your monthly income.

If you’ve just finished your Instructor Development Course, I strongly encourage you to diversify your income streams by trying your hand at some or all of the ideas we explain in this video.

We want to thank all of our subscribers for supporting this channel and being such an active and engaged audience! We appreciate you all! And thanks for making our most recent video our most watched video yet!


Subscribe here: http://bit.ly/DiversReady

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