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Getting the Right Dive Training
Date:01/08/03  By Martin W. Howard
Master Scuba Instructor

New divers and old divers alike are exposed to an overwhelming amount of information and are faced with a myriad of decisions about dive training. In this short article, I will attempt to get you on what I consider is the "right track" for making these choices for yourself.

If an instructor talks about diving like you talk about going to the dentist, maybe this isn't the guy for you

martin howard
© 2002, Martin Howard
PADI Master Instructor Martin Howard aboard the Ocean Express in San Diego, California

First and foremost, divers should understand that diving is a business like any other. It's no different than a car dealership or a restaurant. Dive store operators, boats, training agencies (and instructors) can't survive without your money. Some of them will go to great lengths to get it, sacrificing quality in the process. Many similarities can be identified with other types of business. This became clear to me once again during my mission to extend my own diving knowledge and skills into the technical diving realm. Suddenly I was a consumer in the dive industry again, and saw how easy it was to make bad decisions based on worse information. I'm an instructor with significant diving education and experience, with more resources and contacts in the dive industry than the average diver. I was bombarded with vicious statements made against one certification agency or the other one. It seems like everybody talks bad about everybody else these days. Pickins' are slim when it comes to business, and everybody wants yours. So how do you decide where to put your money down when it comes to selecting a certification program? Good question.

It goes without saying that solid training is the key to your survival underwater- it's no small matter. Being underwater is serious business. You can have all the gear you can carry, but if you don't know how to use it, when to use it and what it does, you'd may as well consult the Discovery Channel's program guide and do yourself a favor - stay home and watch it on television.

Many future divers wonder which training agency they should go with. Few divers know that minimum standards for all (legitimate) scuba training agencies in the United States are set down by the Recreational Scuba Training Council (RSTC). The heads of these agencies sit down and decide what the minimum standards should be, based on current medical and scientific data. All training agencies must adhere to these minimum standards, or they're booted out of the RSTC. How they do so greatly depends on the training agency in question, but they're all very similar. How much a training program goes beyond the minimum standards is largely based upon the training agency and the instructor. But we all must adhere to minimum standards. This is, in a very simplified explanation, how the various diving programs have developed.

In my opinion, it's the instructor that makes the program worthwhile. An instructor who takes his job and his diving seriously, is well read when it comes to the subject matter, has the ability to impart that knowledge to his students and likes to teach diving is the one to pick. In short, a professional diving instructor. Selecting an instructor is just as important as selecting a physician- your life may very well depend on how good the guy is. Probably the best advice for finding the right instructor is to ask around: ask your friends that dive, and stop by some local dive stores to talk to the instructors. It's not difficult to tell which ones are on the ball, and which ones aren't if you spend a few minutes talking to them about diving. If an instructor talks about diving like you talk about going to the dentist, maybe this isn't the one for you.

I think the second most important component of a successful training program is the student. The student has to have a personal interest in learning to dive, not just because their buddies or significant other does. The student has to be committed to learning how to dive safely, not just getting through the program as quickly as possible with the least amount of effort. This means doing the homework, reading the book, and participating in class. The student should be motivated, determined, and eager to learn everything they can about this new world. There's a lot out there to learn about diving, far more than can be presented in a 30 - 40 hour or so open water program. You'd be surprised at the number of students that just want to go through the motions to get their certification card. It's a significant investment of your time and money. You may as well get the most out of it.

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