(Originally posted on CCRJosh.com)

The most important part of your tech diving learning experience is making sure you have a great instructor. Why is this? Because you want to complete these “technical” dives as safely and as efficiently as you can. You want to enjoy it and live to dive another day. At least that is what I assume MY students want. If you want to just shell out the cash to get a card, there are instructors around that will do that too. Technical diving involves large investments of time, money, commitment and discipline – be willing to do your research. I am suggesting 3 steps to choosing a great instructor for you. Although steps 1 and 2 can swap places, step 3 should always take place after steps 1 and 2. ..........

1. Talk to your potential instructor(s)-

The best way to gauge how effectively an instructor teaches, is to talk with them. Get a feel for the type of personality they have and how clearly they provide answers to questions. Ask them questions like- why they teach? What types of diving they do? How often they dive outside of teaching? Do they regularly dive in the conditions (and with the equipment, i.e. CCR, side-mount etc.) in which you are interested in learning to dive? One of my favorite questions to ask a potential instructor is why they choose to teach for a particular agency? This will commonly start a discussion in which the student can begin to understand some of the instructors teaching philosophies. The instructor will make MUCH more of a difference than the agency, nonetheless this question is a valuable one. Inquire about the instructor’s experience. Hours on a CCR unit, number of dives in a cave, number of courses taught at a particular level etc. can all have a large effect on the abilities, teaching methods and the effectiveness of the instructor. That being said, don’t assume because someone is a “newer” instructor that they are not top notch. I have seen, several times, where an instructor right out of their course and evaluation is actually teaching to a higher level and stricter standards than the more well known instructor who has had the last 35 years of teaching to pick up bad habits and get lazy. There are typically advantages and disadvantages to both new and well-seasoned instructors. The best instructors are continually learning from their experience, improving their teaching methods and staying up to date with new technology and practices.

2. Talk to previous students-

Personal references are also a great way to learn about a particular instructor. You can read course reports and student testimonials. You can ask around the local (where the instructor typically teaches) dive scene. But, one of the most valuable tools will be to actually have a discussion with a prior student of the instructor. Talk to them about how they felt the course went. Ask about their strengths and weaknesses going into the course and how the instructor dealt with them. If you get a chance to talk to a prior student not in the presence of the instructor, this is when you can ask all the questions you were embarrassed to ask on the online forums. As with any opinion, people’s opinion about instructors will vary. I find it is most useful to find prior students who dive and think similar to how I do, or want to, and get their opinions.

3. Take the course-

After all that has been said about researching your instructor, you will never really know exactly how effective of an instructor they are until you take a course from them. Sign up for your first course with you new instructor and see how it goes. If it goes well and you believe they can provide valuable training in the future, sign up for your next course. If not, it’s back to step 1. Share your experience with others, post a course report or let your dive buddies know about your course. There are other divers out there, which just like you, are looking for a great instructor to take their next course from. Try and keep the public comments professional. Just because you didn’t like the instructor personally, doesn’t mean they deserve to be slammed online. Give the instructor feedback as well. I know I highly appreciate honest feedback from my students. ........... [caption id="attachment_309" align="alignright" width="150" caption="It's not only about the cards."][/caption] Because you are investing considerable time, energy and money on a course, don’t just settle on any instructor just because they have a card that says “Instructor Bob can teach any equipment configuration down to depths deeper than you can ever dream of going.” I have taken courses from different instructors from all over the world. I have had great experiences, and I have had what can only be described as dangerous experiences. My hope is that by implementing the above steps, you can increase your likelihood of having a positive and rewarding experience with your next technical diving instructor.   NOTE 1: The above steps begin at the point where the student has already found one, or several instructors who are actually qualified (at least by industry standards) to conduct training at the desired levels. NOTE 2: I do not claim to be the perfect instructor for everyone out there, so whether you are considering taking a course from me or not, hopefully these steps will help you in your decision of which instructor to choose. I personally know several other instructors I would trust to train my loved ones if I were not able to do so.