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How to choose a Cave Instructor - My opinion

Discussion in 'Cave Diving' started by Capt Jim Wyatt, Dec 8, 2005.

  1. Capt Jim Wyatt

    Capt Jim Wyatt Hanging at the 10 Foot Stop Staff Member

    # of Dives: 5,000 - ∞
    Location: Key Largo
    I have been reading a few posts regarding cave instructors and decided to try and point out some qualities that you may want to look for when shopping for a cave instructor.

    First off I want to clarify that I think that a proper cave diver training program is the most rigorous non-military/non-commercial dive training you will ever go through. That is because the cave environment is the most demanding environment that non-military/non-commercial divers will dive in. I can state this with certainty because I have been a military diving officer and a commercial diver, and have dived many places in my 30 years as a scuba instructor.

    Because the environment is so demanding, you should choose a cave instructor who also demands that you meet, or exceed the standards set down by the agency s/he teaches for.

    It is important for you to “interview” the instructors you are considering for your cave training. Have yourself a list of questions that are important to you, write down the answers and compare notes of the instructors after you have completed your interviews.

    At the same time the instructor is getting a better idea of who you are, your motivations, mindset and whether or not s/he wants to accept you as a cave student.

    Some of the questions I suggest you ask are.

    1.How long has the instructor been an instructor?
    2.Ask about the experience of the instructor: is the instructor qualified to teach other advanced dive programs such as, deco procedures, advanced nitrox, trimix? Does the instructor have a wide variety of experience in varying dive environments?
    3.Does the instructor teach “On the Side” part-time or is s/he a full time instructor. Ask him/her why do they teach cave diving.
    4.Ask the instructor to explain the gear configurations s/he will require, and ask if there is any flexibility in the acceptable configuration. (In many cave instructors’ opinions, mine included there is more than one configuration that works. I call this DWsquared—Doing What Works.)
    5.Ask the instructor to explain the scope of the cave diver training s/he plans to provide for you. They should be able to explain the overall program goals as well as the details and day-by-day, dive-by-dive schedule of goals, and milestones in the training process.
    6.Ask the instructor about fees; make sure you understand ALL the fees. This includes books, certification materials, gas fills (Nitrox or air), park entrance fees, and gear rental fees such as tanks.
    7.Ask the instructor to give you suggestions on lodging.
    8.Ask the instructor which dive site(s) you will most likely dive in.

    I think once you ask these, and other questions you may come up with you can be in a better position to choose your cave instructor.

    What about after the class begins?
    After the class begins do not be afraid to ask the cave instructor to justify why s/he has suggested a certain gear configuration. The instructor should be able to provide you with a logical reason for each and every gear configuration they have asked you to make.

    I do not mean you should challenge them per se, but you must understand the reasoning for all the nuances of the way your gear is now configured. Do not just follow blindly the gear configuration your instructor asks you to make. Be a thinking diver; do not just follow a set of rules because they are there.

    Ask the instructor what each exercise and/or drill you are doing is designed to help you prepare for.

    Most likely if you have wisely chosen your cave instructor s/he will use time tested and community wide agreed upon gear configurations and training techniques.

    There have been lots of gear changes since I taught my first cave diving class for the NACD in 1975, but one thing that has not changed is the mental attitude required for a diver to become a safe cave diver. I would rather dive with a cave diver who has old gear and a safe attitude than with a cowboy, with a macho attitude who has all the newest gear available on the market
    There is also no need for you to re-create the wheel. The vast majority of the gear configurations, drills and general cave diving training techniques have evolved over a period of 35 years or so.
  2. karstdvr

    karstdvr Solo Diver

    # of Dives:
    Location: South GA
    I don't know if this question is indicative of how good an instructor is. Some of the best cave diving instructors I've met have done it just part time on the weekends. I've heard some say that an instructor that teaches it for a living maybe more prone to give a student a c-card since that is their primary source of income versus someone who teaches "on the side",hence the logic would be a part time instructor may make you work a little harder to earn that card since he has less to lose. I guess the question I'd probably ask is how many certifications have you done in "x" period of time. I always say if was going to have a surgery I'd like the surgeon to be somebody who does 10 of those procedures a month versus 1 a month. Thanks Jim for your advice.
    TechScubaLA and kensuf like this.
  3. Mark Vlahos

    Mark Vlahos Loggerhead Turtle

    # of Dives: 500 - 999
    Location: Florence, KY
    My instructor made it abundantly clear that he fails students when it is appropriate, and if I were to fail I would not be due any refunds. He did go on to explain that if I did fail I would be welcome at no additional charge to continue in any of his future scheduled classes until I passed. The one caveat to this was that those students had priority on space, that is to say that if the class was already full I would not be able to participate. I did not fail, but it was an extremely difficult class to pass. A cave is an exceedingly unforgiving environment, the class needs to be difficult.

    Jim, your comments are well put and potential students DO need to consider their instructors very carefully.

    Mark Vlahos
    Dark Wolf likes this.
  4. GDI

    GDI Artificer of Havoc & Kaos ScubaBoard Supporter

    # of Dives: I'm a Fish!
    Location: Florida & The World
    Jim I made a sticky of your post because I think it is important for those chosing to become cave divers to consider what they are getting into.

    Karsdvr. I have read your post and can see where you are coming from and I take no offense to it. However consider this.

    A question that a student should ask is Does the instructor make dives outside of teaching or do they just teach it?

    Another question to ask of the instructor is what courses or certification are you yourself looking at to improve your skills as a diver and as a instructor?

    As a full time instructor I do not feel that I am there just to hand out c-cards and I do not feel prone to do so because my revenue depends on it, my liability insurance supports this mindset. To me it is not about the card it is about the training. When you take cave training, it is training and not a certification class, you pay for the training if you make it, great you get a card showing you made it. If you don't make it well you took and paid for the training and most likely it will improve your diving. Cave diving is not for everyone and not everyone can do it. I will not say that there are instructors out there who seem to hand cards out more readily then others, there are some of us who will say NO even when it may affect our ability to make a living.
    Just a couple of points to note. My experience has shown that when I do fail someone that they are that much more appreciative of the skills required for cave diving and this has actually helped my business. Second to that there are those who went to other instructors because they felt that I may be a bit to demanding and they did not feel they could get a pass from me. Maybe the latter are the instructors you were reffering to.

    Scuba divers must understand and acknowledge that no amount of preparation and training can fully eliminate the risks inherent to scuba diving. Select your instruction wisely
  5. MikeFerrara

    MikeFerrara Instructor, Scuba

    Good thread. Thanks Jim.

    I'd like to add something. While all of the cave diving instructors that I currently know are active and most are active beyond recreational cave diving (exploration) and are thus experienced in not only teaching but doing, I can invision this changing. Maybe it's already started but as cave diving increases in popularity, more try to make a living from it and maybe even more agencies get into the game, i can see some wanting to go into the business of teaching it with a minimal amount of experience in doing it. We are already seeing this in other areas of technical diving. I have seen instructors doing repetative dives in a quarry to rack up their number of "decompression" dives in order to qualify to teach technical diving.

    The point I'm trying to make is I think one should not only know how long the instructor has been teaching cave diving but how long they've been cave diving, what they've done and what they are doing. I think a very new instructor could be one of the most experienced cave divers around while an experienced instructor may or may not be an experienced cave diver.

    Now, without going on and on about my own former cave diving instructor I will say that a student doesn't need to ask the important things. He starts by stating his own background in diving and cave diving and it's extensive. I don't think he goes out of his way to scare students but I think he does a good job of conveying the seriousness of the risks given the fact that some of his own friends have died doing it.

    One more thing, to date, all the cave instructors I've seen in the water are very skilled. I can't say that about recreational instructors so I can see this changing too. One of the things I recommend to students of even recreational classes is to assess the instructors skill in the water. When I went through cave training I was already a recreational diving instructor, an advanced Nnitrox instructor and had a fair amount of technical training. I was still completely amazed at the skill that my cave instructor demonstrated. At the time he was, hands down, the best I had ever seen in the water. Since then of course I've seen many more with a comparable level of skill but I think it should be expected of ALL diving instructors but especialy technical or cave instructors. If they don't look like fish in the water with control to the hundreth of an inch then they just aren't the real deal! I added this because many of the recreational divers who are going to get the urge to go cave diving have not ever seen any one who can really dive.

    Oh well, enough out of me.
    BigEyes and Compressor like this.
  6. Tony "D"

    Tony "D" Instructor, Scuba

    Greetings to all. So far what I have read in this post makes sence in many ways. I've seen truth in all of it. I've been cave diving since 1997, and now am a cave diving instructor trainer. It was a long hard road, and one hell of alot of work. From the first moment you get into a full cave class, you should already have a real good idea of whats going on. Coming up from cavern, cave intro. My suggestion is to find an instructor you feel comfortable with, ask any questions you may have. If your happy, then go for it. However, if you are happy and everything is working out right. Stay with that instructor. Instructors teach many different ways to accomplish the same end result. Each cave instructor I evaluate has their own approach to the same end goal. As long as all training material has been gone over and done right, and all the dives were completed right. However, I will say. I do this as a part time profession because I do work a full time profession during the day. I have and will fail students quite often. If you can't do the dives to the minimum standards and to my minimum standards, you will fail. If my name goes on your card, you can bet your going to know what you are doing when it comes to cave diving. Or any kind of diving for that matter. If I were looking for a cave instructor. I would ask all the questions you have stated. However, more then anything I would look to see what kind of attitude the instructor him/her self had, and go with your gut instinct. Most of the time it won't let you down. There are right reasons and wrong reasons to cave dive. You have to ask yourself, why do I want to cave dive? and why is my instructor teaching cave diving.
    Let me know what your results are.

    Tony "D"
    TkdDiver likes this.
  7. karstdvr

    karstdvr Solo Diver

    # of Dives:
    Location: South GA

    Very good comment. I see a lot of people doing it because others are doing it,and I won't be able to dive with them anymore unless I do it too. That is a wrong reason,which leads to panic because somebody is really not ready. Cave diving is probably 20% physical and 80% mental. I tell people to list the reasons why they want to do it,and put that list against the perceived dangers and risks-then evaluate is it really worth doing.
    Compressor likes this.
  8. Tony "D"

    Tony "D" Instructor, Scuba

    Thanks karstdvr,
    There are some students I won't take into a cave course because of attitude. As I said in my post. It has to be for the right reasons. Cave diving and teaching for me is a calling, if that makes any sense at all. I do have a good career, so I don't do it for the money. Cave instruction, or any kind of technical instruction couldn't support the way I like to live. There isn't that many taking classes. I do it for the love of doing it. Anyway, thanks again for the reply.

    Tony "D"
    Compressor likes this.
  9. Lead_carrier

    Lead_carrier Instructor, Scuba

    Like so many have said interview the instructor, cause they should be interviewing you at the same time. If everyone isn't on the same page it definitley won't work. Then if you get the chance, just hang discreetly around when everyone is outside doing line drills, water work, predive and post dive briefings. You may see a style you may not like. I actually found out, one instructor, that came very highly recommended talked a good game, taught an excellent class, according to his students, but in overhearing some comments he made, he didn't like anyone over 45 or ladies taking his class, and they "PLAYED HELL PASSING GETTING PAST ME". I definitely will have to find someone else.
    shoredivr likes this.
  10. Slick6

    Slick6 Nassau Grouper

    Also, any aspiring cave diver would be doing himself a favor by looking up the original poster of this thread for cave diving instruction. You will walk away from one of Jim's classes confident that you have learned the skills you need for the certification you've received.

    Jim is an outstanding instructor.

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