How to find an excellent SCUBA class

Discussion in 'New Divers and Those Considering Diving' started by Walter, Jun 3, 2009.

  1. Walter

    Walter Scuba Instructor

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    To find a good class, you'll need to interview instructors you are considering hiring to teach you to dive. Since you don't know much about diving, you'll probably need a little guidance with the interview. Here's my guide to finding an excellent class:

    How do I find an above average course and how will I know I've found it?

    Interview potential instructors. Most people never ask any questions beyond price. As the old saying goes, "You get what you pay for." Excellent instructors will usually have a higher priced class for a number of reasons. The instructor is dedicated toward providing you all the time you need to master necessary knowledge and skills. Extra pool time can be expensive. Keep in mind; the instructor is trying to make a living. His time is valuable.

    Consider alternatives. While many instructors teach through dive shops, some of the best are independent instructors or affiliated with colleges, universities or YMCA's.

    Questions to ask the instructors:

    How long have you been teaching? Most instructors improve over time. They learn new techniques and get ideas from other instructors and through experience to improve their classes.

    Do you certify all your students? Only instructors who are in a hurry and care nothing about your safety will answer yes. You want an instructor who will require you to be safe and knowledgeable before issuing a c-card. An excellent instructor might tell you that he is willing to keep working with a student until the student either qualifies or gives up.

    What skin diving skills will I learn? While there is some disagreement on this point, many professionals believe a solid foundation in skin diving will not only make you a better SCUBA diver, it will make learning SCUBA easier.

    Will I learn confidence-building skills? There are some skills which have no direct application to a typical dive, but which do build your confidence as well as your abilities. This, combined with an understanding of the panic cycle, will make you much less likely to panic.

    Do you teach the panic cycle? Panic is the most dangerous aspect of diving. Many instructors do not understand panic and believe there is no way to combat it. In actuality, panic is understood. It is though learning the panic cycle and by increasing skill levels that panic is avoided.

    Do your students swim with their hands? This will let you know if the instructor pays attention to details. Good divers do not use their hands for swimming.

    Do you work on trim? Divers should usually be horizontal in the water. Good instructors will see that students are striving towards good trim. Poor instructors often neglect it.

    Do you overweight your students? Many instructors overweight students. It is not a good practice.

    What method do you use to correctly weight your students? Any answer that does not involve actually getting in the water means you want to avoid that instructor.

    How many people will be in my class? Small classes are better. You'll have more individual attention. Unless the instructor is using certified assistants, more than four students are difficult to watch.

    How many certified assistants will you be using? Unless the class is relatively large (more than 4 students) this should not be an issue. An instructor should have a certified Divemaster or Assistant Instructor for every two students over four. There are times when divers working on their Divemaster or Assistant Instructor certifications assist with a class. This is normal and not an issue, but they do not count toward the assistants an instructor should have when working with larger classes.

    Will I be learning skills kneeling on the pool bottom or mid-water? This question is not critical, but will let you know if you've found an instructor who has a great deal on the ball. The over whelming majority of instructors (even good instructors) teach skills kneeling on the bottom. Don't eliminate instructors who do. Some instructors have realized your mask will flood while you are swimming, not when you are sitting on the bottom. You need to learn skills in the manner in which you'll be using them.

    Do you dive for fun or just when you are teaching? Instructors who've stopped diving for fun are burned out.

    Questions to ask yourself:

    Is the instructor patient? While talking with your potential instructor, you should be getting a feel for his personality. Patience is an important quality for an instructor. You want to avoid instructors with a drill sergeant demeanor.

    Would I be happier learning from a man or a woman? Only you can answer that question, but in general it is not usually a serious consideration. There are excellent instructors and there are poor instructors. Men and women fall into both groups.
     
  2. Davidstealey3

    Davidstealey3 Divemaster

    # of Dives: 200 - 499
    Location: Maryland
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    i agree with everythig he has to say except for this statement.

    some shop owners do not have another job so they sole source of income comes from diving ( owner of a store or instructor ) and some shops have higher rent then others to pay for. the best instructors dont allways have the highest price. some of my instructors have been easy on the pocket and an excelent teacher. ask your friends and family that dive who taught them and if they would recomend them as a teacher. also you can join other forums and web groups to get other oppinions

    the only thing i can add to this statement is to ask the instructor what is included in the price of the class. some course prices is just the class and does not include the student packets or quarry fees if aplicable (sorry for the bad grammer ) or gear rental. this could be a deciding factor when it comes to chosing an instructor or shop .

    good luck to all who read this post and happy diving
     
    GI0Ria likes this.
  3. Tom Smedley

    Tom Smedley Tommy ScubaBoard Supporter

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    Just come to our shop.
     
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  4. Walter

    Walter Scuba Instructor

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    True, but then I didn't say "always."
     
  5. Davidstealey3

    Davidstealey3 Divemaster

    # of Dives: 200 - 499
    Location: Maryland
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    i know, just wanted to point out why one might be more costly then another.

    you did do a hell of a job on this post, i would even say one of the best i have ever read on here

    so let me retract my always, and put usually
     
  6. acwest

    acwest Divemaster

    # of Dives: 200 - 499
    Location: Toronto, Ontario, Canada
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    In some places, there is also the option of club-based instruction. In England, they have BSAC, for example, and I know of a few clubs that do training here in Toronto. If you can find a club that does this, it is often a very good thing, as the instructors aren't working for the money (there isn't any) they are doing it for the love of diving. The training tends to be rather more thorough than you will get from a shop, because it isn't about economics.
     
  7. Chris Hipp

    Chris Hipp Nassau Grouper

    # of Dives: 100 - 199
    Location: Mesquite, texas
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    From my experiences, college based courses are a very good way to learn. The class is spread out so you aren't trying to learn everything in 3 days. Your instructor is usually getting paid by the school so they are not under the same pressures that a dive shop instructor would be. Plus, I took my open water class for $60 in school, if you can find a dive shop that can beat that....I won't even finish this sentence, because you can't.
     
    GI0Ria likes this.
  8. azchipka

    azchipka Tech Diver

    # of Dives:
    Location: Durham, North Carolina, United States
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    Other good questions:

    How many people have you certified?
    An instructor who has been teaching for 20 years may have certified less people then an active instructor who has been teaching for 5 years.

    How many specialties do you have (not that they can teach)
    This shows that they see the value in continued education

    Which gear should I buy
    A good instructor will ask you about your future diving plans. A bad instructor will start making suggestions before knowing your plans.
     
  9. D_B

    D_B Biilápache, Dii Shodah? ScubaBoard Sponsor

    # of Dives: 50 - 99
    Location: San Diego, Ca.
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    Interesting point about how many people have you certified, but maybe a better question to ask is how many have you not certified ... ask what happens if you, or another student is having difficulty.
    Just asking for the number of people they have certified each year could mean many things, not necessarily that he's a good one
     
  10. japan-diver

    japan-diver Scuba Instructor

    # of Dives: I'm a Fish!
    Location: Okinawa, Japan
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    Two of these three will not apply much. Some of the worst instructors I have ever seen have the highest student counts as they are chasing numbers and certify everyone that has ever come in contact with them. The guy who has been teaching for 20 years and certified 50 quality divers a year consistently is probably a much better instructor than the guy who has punched out 500 a year at certification mill for 5 years and now is really burnt out.

    The number of specialties an instructor has or has taken again does not show commitment to education, I would be much more interested in their diving history and if they dive on a regular basis - a direct question on what do they do to keep current on new trends in diving and teaching would be better than have you collected a bunch of specialty cert cards. I am much more impressed by the instructor who take a college course in Fish Id or Reef Critters than a Naturalist specialty.
     
    kakakekekoko likes this.
  11. azchipka

    azchipka Tech Diver

    # of Dives:
    Location: Durham, North Carolina, United States
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    Clearly you have never attended a state school college class in the united states before
     
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  12. Doc Harry

    Doc Harry Great White

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    Location: Appalachia
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  13. D_B

    D_B Biilápache, Dii Shodah? ScubaBoard Sponsor

    # of Dives: 50 - 99
    Location: San Diego, Ca.
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    I'm going with Japan-diver's comment about number of specialtiy C cards they have, I think a better question along those lines would be how many specialties they are certified to teach, and at what level can they teach them (only students, or can they teach to instructor level)
     
  14. art.chick

    art.chick Manta Ray

    # of Dives: 100 - 199
    Location: Hollywood, USA
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    This is a very good thread. I safety-dive for a YMCA instructor (have been working on my assistant cert) for years now. One thing that I see over and over is students with a time frame. Not knowing the sport, the enter classes saying, "I have to have my C-card by May 1 because that is when my honeymoon starts." Or "My son and I would like to take a class, but we both have a lot of other sports and activities on our calendar now, so it can't take up much time." My instructor does not promise that he can hit those deadlines or accomodate spotty commitment. So he loses students to instructors who do. That is how least-common-denominator classes enter the race to the bottom. It is not reasonable to expect a new student to realize that "faster" and "More flexible" are not "better" in a sport this potentially dangerous and with so much physical and mental requirements. Some instructors are better salespeople than teachers, and newbies don't usually know what to ask. The above list is terrific, but they also mean that the student must be willing to accept that they may not have a C-card by the time their plane leaves for the Caymans or that their son can take off every other class for baseball and track meets. Thanks for creating this list, Walter. If every prospective student used it, the "industry" would quickly be forced into higher standards of safety.
     
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  15. stedel

    stedel Scuba Instructor

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    Walter makes some accurate and interesting points. As an independent instructor I'm most often faced with those who are shopping on price alone, on the assumption that all shops/instructors/agencies are the same. I think it safe to state that for the beginning open water diver, he/she may not know the difference between the major agencies and in truth as far as basic certification goes they are all virtually universally accepted.
    Small classes (in my opinion) are important. What is included in the price, i.e. books, rental gear, boat trips etc. Whether there is a strict schedule or more time available for those who need it. How is the academic portion taught, i.e. classroom, self-study, online or some combination thereof.
    I personally promote small classes, scheduling flexibility, an academic approach to suit the client and I include rental gear but not boat dives since we have many options for open water dives in Southern California.
     
  16. JTinSD

    JTinSD Nassau Grouper

    # of Dives: 500 - 999
    Location: San Diego
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    From my perspective as a new diver:

    I did OW with a big dive shop training program. There was an instructor and an assistant for 7 students. They were both very personable and engaging, very experienced and knowledgeable. I did feel like I was pressured to buy gear from the shop, and I wish they had spent a little time on my weighting and buoyancy issues.

    I did AOW with the same shop. There was an instructor and DM for 8 students, several of whom were very experienced divers taking the class for the certification pursuant to career objectives. There were no electives. We did nav and night one day, and then deep, wreck and underwater naturalist another day. The nav dive was a confidence builder for me, as I nailed the course. The other dives were just what I would call familiarization dives, kind of drive-bys.

    I bought a regulator from an independent dive instructor and asked him about wreck diving. His prices are a little above the dive shop's, but I really got the sense that I would be learning some new skills and refining what I have picked up so far. He gave me very specific answers to my questions about what is involved. The big dive shop was pretty vague about it all, did not give me a real answer about class size, specific skills, etc. The independent class will be two of us and the instructor and I know exactly what we will be doing.

    So, I have had initial training through a big dive shop's program, but I think I will be going the independent route for specialty courses. The independent's trip programs look good, too.

    My noob $.02.

    Jim T in San D
     
    Last edited: Feb 21, 2010
  17. Wayne at DiveSeekers

    Wayne at DiveSeekers Scuba Instructor

    # of Dives: I'm a Fish!
    Location: New Jersey
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    I feel that too many people shop on price alone and I feel that is the wrong approach. When shopping for a quality class, while price pays a part in it, then main thing is what are you going to get out of it. I feel that there are 3 main aspects of picking a Quality Class.

    1. Take the time and interview your instructor (what type of experience do they have? What are their philosophies. Basically, what are they bringing to the table?).
    2. What's involved in the class(academics, pool, dives, skills)?
    3. Ratios (student to instructor) Open Water we guarantee a 2 to 1 ratio. As far as Con-Ed Classes, depending on the class and skill level of the divers in it, we will adjust the ratio's but will never exceed 4 to 1. Not to boast, but not too many instructors apply this philosophy. I believe that there is safety in numbers and especially here in the North East.

    Here are 2 other things to consider when Training with a shop:
    1. The Dive Shop. When dealing with a shop, do they have a lot of inventory? Do they have a variety when it comes to gear? If the answer to this is NO then that shop is probably not too active and with experience comes a good selection and knowledge of gear choices (choices of Canister lights or BC's or Regulators). Usually with choices comes a more laid back approach to sales. When people come into are shop we give them options for the product they are inquiring about and in the end they choose which route to go. Do they cover the spectrum of classes? If the answer to these questions is NO, then IMO that shows a lack of experience. Instructors who further their education and knowledge often go on to teach it and by not offering the spectrum of classes, shows a lack of continuing their education as the sport has evolved.
    2. Travel. For shops that are by the ocean, do they offer an active "Local" diving schedule. Local diving schedule helps in showing experience. Do they offer regular Travel as well, Bonaire, Cozumel, Truk Lagoon etc.. This also will help add to experience.

    If you take the time and interview a couple of Shops/Instructors you will start to see a variety of responses and in the end you will go with what makes sense to you. Usually, the more well rounded the Shop/Instructor typically the training will be better because of experience. Although the class maybe more money or the distance far, I think that is only a small part in getting a Quality Education. Not to toot our on horn, but our average customer passes 2 to 3 dive centers to come to us.
     
  18. JKurk

    JKurk ScubaBoard Supporter ScubaBoard Supporter

    # of Dives: 200 - 499
    Location: Long Island NY
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    As a DM candidate, I looked long & hard for my instructor - He is an indie but works through a local shop that I never used before & I am extremely pleased so far with both him & the shop.

    My suggestion (& just my $.02) - if you are a new diver & the shop is giving you the equipment hard-sell before you are certified (or at least signed up & doing the classroom work), keep looking.

    Ask to see the equipment you will be training with too - if it is old & ratty, I would also keep looking.
     
  19. frontiernurse

    frontiernurse Nassau Grouper

    # of Dives: 200 - 499
    Location: san francisco
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    How do you find the independent instructors with the smaller class sizes and lesser SELLSELLSELL motives?
     
  20. Walter

    Walter Scuba Instructor

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    Check with local dive clubs, YMCAs, ask on ScubaBoard and write to agencies that encourage independent instructors.
     

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