How to choose an instructor — my opinion

There is a very interesting thread on scubaboard titled “Choosing a cave instructor — my opinion.” Jim offers some valid questions you should ask your potential technical instructor. Here’s his list:

    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.
    9.Ask them about their training pipeline to become a cave instructor.

I think these are some good questions, and I would encourage anyone seeking technical and cave training to ask their potential instructor these questions. I would also encourage you to ask the following additional questions:

    1. What type of diving do you engage in for your recreational purposes?
    2. When was the last time you went cave/technical diving when you were not teaching/guiding? What were the details on the dive (site, duration, depth)?
    3. How frequently do you dive? How many non-teaching dives did you make within the previous twelve months?
    4. Have you ever been involved in exploration or research diving, and if so, when was the most recent activity?

Almost every instructor I have ever met got into this business because they were passionate and enthusiastic about the sport. They became instructors because they wanted to share their passion and love of the sport with others. But there is a reality that should be addressed, and that reality is that being an instructor can be hard work, and sadly some instructors have lost their fire. Those instructors rarely dive for fun anymore. When you do not regularly practice it, skills degrade. I firmly believe that if you do not regularly practice a skill, you probably can not teach it. And so in my opinion, anyone teaching cave and technical diving should regularly conduct non-teaching dives at their highest “rating” level.

I also believe that anyone teaching cave and technical diving should have at least some experience with exploration and/or research diving. I have heard some instructors claim they only teach “recreational cave diving,” which I believe is an oxymoron. While I realize many people are involved in cave diving for recreation, anytime you take a jump into a new passage you have never been in before, you are effectively exploring. And so you need to be well prepared for that experience.

I encourage anyone that is interested in taking a class with me to ask me the above questions, plus any additional ones that you may have.