Selecting an instructor for your diving education isn’t something you should take lightly. At all skill levels, the most important factor isn’t the agency. Rather, it’s the instructor that makes the difference in how much your get from the course.
Since you’re on my website, you’re obviously aware of the World Wide Web and may have even been researching me when you found this site. If so, good for you! You need to keep in mind that you will be placing your life in the hands of your instructor. Google their name and see what comes up, but keep an open mind. There are many people who enjoy posting inaccurate information to the web.
Also, don’t forget to check training agency sites. IANTD has an area where you can double-check your potential instructor’s qualifications, and PADI keeps a list of instructors who have been expelled and suspended.
If you’re satisfied with what you found on the net, set aside some time and give your potential instructor a call. E-mail is easy, but sometimes can be misread or sent to the Junk Mail folder without even being seen! Some of the questions you may want to ask are:
More than likely the instructor will have some questions for you. Answer honestly and don’t be offensive if they ask about your skill level. The best instructor-student relationships start here!
If you feel comfortable with the instructor after talking with him or her, ask them for the names of some previous students. Some of the questions you may want to ask them include:
Once you’re satisfied that you and your instructor are a good match, sign-up for the class! Should any questions arise while you’re in class, always talk to your instructor. If for some reason you won’t be able to attend, make certain you contact your instructor immediately. There should be no surprises (you asked about the cancellation policy earlier, right?).
When shopping for SCUBA instruction, it’s important to not focus solely on price. SCUBA can be a deadly serious sport and quality instruction is imperative. With so many agencies teaching similar courses, the deciding factor becomes the person teaching you to expand you limits.
I’m often asked to explain exactly what is meant by the term “Technical Diving.” One definition of Technical diving is: “a form of SCUBA diving that exceeds Recreational limits and requires extensive training and specialized equipment.” Ok, so what does that mean? Well, the commonly accepted limitations of Recreational diving are:
Does that mean someone diving to 150ft with a single tank is doing a Technical dive? No, not by any stretch of the imagination. The same person doing the same 150ft dive on double tanks doesn’t qualify as a Tec diver either; I’d classify them as being stupid. Recalling the above definition, Technical diving includes 2 other vital elements:
Technical diving takes people well outside the safety margins incorporated into Recreational world. In Technical diving you can do everything correctly and still be injured or killed. One of the ways you help manage the additional risks of Technical diving through extensive training. The first level of your training begins with the basic skills you learned in Open Water. Each of those skills must be automatic. If getting a little water in your mask bothers you, Technical diving isn’t for you. Beyond those skills, you have to be prepared to rapidly respond correctly to any foreseeable emergency that arises during a Technical dive. For example, if one of your regulator starts free-flowing, you can’t always ascend to the surface. You have to instinctively know how to respond. Technical training teaches you the proper responses, and gives you an opportunity to practice until you react without thinking.
The most obvious area where Technical diving departs from Recreational diving is equipment. Unlike Recreational diving, where your buddy is your primary backup, in Technical diving you are your primary backup and your teammates are secondary. Let’s look at an equipment comparison.
Technical divers normally don’t use snorkels, which are very common in Recreational diving. Snorkels create drag, and, when diving in an overhead environment, an entanglement hazard.
While split-fins are very popular in Recreational diving, they don’t normally have enough power to propel a fully-loaded technical diver. Technical divers normally use simple, powerful fins.
Most Recreational dives last only 30-45 minutes. In comparison, it’s not uncommon for a Technical dive to last almost 2 hours. In addition, Recreational divers are trained to end the dive if they become too cold. When conducting a Technical dive, however, this is probably not an option because of a ceiling (either real or due to required decompression).
Recreational divers tend to pick BCDs with several D-rings, pockets, and other bells and whistles. On the other hand, Technical divers tend to apply the principle of simplicity to their BCDs. Often, the Technical diver’s BCD consists of a simple backplate, harness made of 2in webbing, a crotch-strap, and an air-cell (or wing). Most Technical BCDs have 4-6 D-rings (2 in the shoulder area, 2 on the waist strap, and 2 on the crotch-strap). The Technical diver’s D-rings are strategically positioned to maximize mobility and minimize entanglement hazards.
The typical Recreational diver uses a single tank and regulator first stage, with 2 second stages. One of the Recreational diver’s second stages is used as their primary source of gas, while the other serves as an alternate in case their buddy runs out of gas. For Technical diving, a single tank seldom provides enough gas to safely complete the dive. Therefore, Technical divers use 2 tanks joined together by an isolation manifold. The manifold provides the Technical diver full access to his or her gas supply, with the capability to isolate the tanks should that become necessary. Each orifice (or post) of the manifold has its own first stage with a single second stage, one with a 7ft hose, the other with a standard length hose. The 7ft (or long) hose is normally attached to the right post, while the standard (or short) hose is attached to the left. This configuration provides the Technical diver with 2 independent regulator systems. In an out of air situation, the long hose is donated to the teammate in trouble, and provides ample length should the Technical divers need to exit single file.
Many Recreational divers lean towards a console containing each of their instruments. Because consoles tend to be bulky, Technical divers normally wear their instruments on their wrists.
Rambo knives are alive and well in the Recreational arena. These divers normally wear a single cutting tool in the worst possible area….the outside of their calf. Technical divers shy away from large cutting tools that may present an entanglement hazard, opting instead for 2 or more devices positioned so that they are accessible by either hand.
As you can see, Technical diving is not simply exceeding the Recreational limits. In addition to the required training and equipment, Technical diving places more demands on your mind and body, requiring a higher degree of mental and physical fitness. Technical diving is not for everyone and is not necessary to enjoy a lifetime of diving. However, for those who are willing to accept the additional risk and devote the time and money, Technical diving can be a very rewarding experience.