I Have A Complaint About My Scuba Diving Instructor – What Do I Do?

It is often said that your dive instructor is the most important factor for the quality of your dive training, perhaps even more so than your choice of training agency (such as PADI, SSI, CMAS, to name a few). So what should you do if you’re not happy with your instructor?

The problem is that new divers might not always know how to spot a bad instructor, or know when they are breaking training standards. Students on continuing education courses typically have more experience and have been exposed to more instructors (or if not, they’re probably doing the training with the same instructor, assuming they’re happy with him/her), so they’ll have a bit more baggage, helping with seperating the good from the bad.

There are different reasons for why you might not like your instructor, ranging from “I just think he’s an asshole” to “She’s trying to kill me!”. We’ll discuss the actions you can take below.

Scenario 1: My dive instructor is a jerk

In this scenario your instructor might not necessarily be a bad  instructor, you just don’t like him very much. Before you take action, think about whether  you actually should. You can’t always get along with everyone, but if your instructor is otherwise acting professional and teaching you everything you need to know, it might not be worth trying to change instructors. Think of him as an annoying coworker: you can have a professional relationship, but you don’t have to hang out together in the bar. Just do your next course with a different instructor.

Look at me!
Look at me!

Scenario 2: My instructor’s teaching style doesn’t suit me

There are as many teaching styles as there are teachers, and this is no different for dive instructors. Some have a hard, no-bullshit approach, some are a bit more soft and fluffy. One style is not better than the other, but a good instructor knows how to adapt their style to their students’ needs, which can be difficult if there’s a larger group of students.

Problems can arise when a nervous or anxious student is paired with a tough hardline instructor: there is a time when “Quit whining and clear your fucking mask already!” is no longer helpful. Other style-related problems can be that your instructor doesn’t give you enough time to repeat skills (achieving skill mastery) or the opposite: repeating things endlessly, making the class boring.

In all cases you talk to your instructor first. Make it clear to them that their particular style is not helpful for you, and ask them if they can change. Instructors are people too – they often stick to what works best for them and none of them can read your mind, so tell them! If they don’t want to change, or they can’t, ask if they can refer you to a different instructor that might be a better fit. Your instructor should give you some paperwork that indicates which parts of the training you have completed already so the other instructor knows what still needs to be done and you can pick up the course where you left it. A personal dispute is no reason to not give this referral.

Don’t be worried about pissing your instructor off by doing so, not even when it is that intimidating big burly former navy guy. Your instructor wants you to succeed as much as you do, and they probably already feel that they’re not the best fit.

Scenario 3: I think my instructor is cutting corners / breaking training standards

Ok, now we’re really getting into the territory of poor instructors. Unfortunately, instructors cutting corners and breaking training standards are more common than you would think. In order to save time (and money), dive centers and instructors sometimes skip skills they don’t deem necessary, snorkel-to-regulator exchange for example.

For a student doing an entry-level course it is sometimes hard to tell whether your instructor is skipping parts of the course.

If you’re doing a PADI Open Water Course, you can get a good idea of the skills required by looking at the (mandatory) video: all the skills that you’ll be learning in the confined water sessions are demonstrated there. In the manual there is a list of skills at the end of each chapter too. Your instructor can also show you her list that she uses to check off the skills. If she doesn’t want to, well, that’d be a reason to be suspicious, right?

If you notice that your instructor is skipping certain skills, just let her know in a friendly way. It’s possible that she just forgot (it shouldn’t happen, but it does!) and it gives her a chance to correct it. Best time to do this is while you’re still in the water. If she answers with “oh, you don’t have to bother with that” ask her why not and insist that you want to learn the skill anyway. By this point they should teach you, otherwise she very well knows that she might get in trouble with her training agency. Choose not to do courses with that instructor in the future. It might also be worth it to let the dive center know about what happened.

If your instructor refuses to do a certain required skill, you can get in touch with their training agency and complain. PADI has a very active Quality Assurance program, as do all other training agencies. This can lead to an instructor being sent for re-training or even expulsion from the agency for very serious violations.

Note: Sometimes instructors are forced into a certain training sequence by the shop they work for, including the shop-mandated omission of skills! This is still the responsibility of the individual instructor, but understandibly instructors would like to keep their jobs too. If this is the case and your instructor is actually cooperating with you, address your issues to the dive center management and report the dive center to the training agency.

A Dive instructor with his student

Scenario 4: My instructor is putting me in danger / trying to kill me!

A serious safety violation due to neglect on the side of the instructor should have serious consequences: stop diving immediately with that instructor and demand a referral to another. If your life has been put in danger there’s no more trust between instructor and student and it would be pointless to continue the course.

Serious safety violations / dangerous situations are for example: your instructor abandons you under water (or even on the surface) without supervision from another professional, your instructor is letting you dive in conditions that are way beyound  your training/experience level (this includes depth!), or if your instructor takes you into overhead environments (except when you’re doing a cavern/cave/wreck course, duh!).

Still, it is worth it to discuss your concerns with your instructor. You should make a big deal out of it, but perhaps there is a reasonable explanation. It does happen sometimes that students (especially new divers) perceive a situation as totally dangerous where in reality it is not. Fear and especially panic will cloud your judgement and narrow your perception.

Sometimes instructors have to deal with difficult situations, calling for quick judgement and quick action. For example, if you panic and shoot to the surface (or even if you just loose control of your buoyancy for a second and it takes a while to deflate your BCD), your instructor still has to take care for the other divers in the group. Theorethically it shouldn’t happen because an instructor should always have control over his students, but it does.

Definitely file a complaint to the training agency. They take safety violations very seriously and start a QA process (see scenario 3).

And, just for the record: the presence of sharks is not a life-threatening situation, even if your irrational fear of them tells you so.

Scenario 5: My instructor / diveshop is scamming me

This hopefully doesn’t happen too often, but there are stories about instructors taking money for a course and then never showing up or shops not giving you what you supposedly paid for. If this is the case, it is important to know a few things:

  • A certification is not included in the course price. We’re not talking about a certification fee, but the fact that you paid for and did the course is no guarantee that you’ll actually get certified. If you don’t meet the requirements for the course, you will not get a certification, even if you’ve gone through all the motions.
  • If you need more than the agreed upon time to meet the course requirements, it is normal for the instructor/dive center to charge you for that time (and pool/equipment rental, boat fees, etc.). This is not a scam. Ask before you start the course what the deal is.
  • Individual instructors do not work for a training agency. That means that a PADI instructor is not employed by PADI. The same goes for dive centers. Training agencies are only involved when it comes to sticking to training standards, not the operating of the business. That means they won’t really be able to help you solve the financial issues between you and your instructor.
  • Handle complaints like this like you would any other business transaction.

Hopefully you’ll never encounter a bad instructor, but now you know what you can do if it happens. Always first try to address your instructor and see if you can solve the issue. If that doesn’t work, let the divecenter know and ask for a referral so you can continue the course with another instructor. In case of standards and/or safety violations, file a complaint with the appropriate training agency.

Have you ever had a bad instructor? How did you know? Did you ever file an official complaint?

About the author.

rosien author photoRosien has been working as a PADI instructor since 2012 in Malaysia and Indonesia, among other places. She started diving on the Perhentian Islands and they will hold a special place in her heart forever.  If she’s not diving, she’s writing and editing the articles for this website or possibly wasting time on twitter.



8 comments on “I Have A Complaint About My Scuba Diving Instructor – What Do I Do?Add yours →

  1. My PADI Dive instructor repeatedly telling my 11 year old daughter to stop drinking her dad’s pee after throwing up pool water when she got hypothermic after 5 hours in the water and drank a bit of pool water. After crying in the shower for an hour to warm herself our instructor then told her she failed because she wouldn’t get back into the water. My story is worse. Short version – used defective equipment ie. broken straps and leaking BCD twice ( knew but didn’t fix or replace). Ran out of air, had kneel behind instructor using auxiliary Nitrox air. Thanks to this awful instructor my daughter doesn’t even like swimming my cost was 1700 dollars for this nightmare when I asked to return some gear I had paid for he refused calling me an Asshole and hanging up on me 3 times. since I had already paid but not picked up the full scuba package yet, he demanded 40 more in cash. My daughter and I have been offered a FREE certification from another PADI Instructor and we cannot accept. We have no interest in Scuba anymore . I am considering legal action. I am wading through a sea of PADI trying to find the right person to avoid court.

  2. Me and my wife are experienced divers. Our last diving trip was in Bintan , Indonesia , via Eko Divers.
    we’d rather describe how the boat was. The boat is not a diving boat and we sincerely recommend you to stop using it in view of safety of the divers. (we won’t report it to any authority though). The boat has no toilet, no cabinet, no storage place to keep equipment or belongings. Leave aside these small things, the boat has no proper place for the diver to go into and come out from the sea. There are two narrow and slippery spaces on the sides of the boat where divers are expected to !! stand on !!, wear the fins and jump into the water. We should warn you that many accidents can happen for your future guests while trying to get in the water from there.
    We have brought our own equipment except the air tanks. Despite our regulators are mostly accepted international “DIN” type, the tanks on the boat are fixed (not removable) fittings inside. The crew could not provide adaptors which is a big disappointment for us after having brought all the equipment from Singapore.
    – Crew was not helping at all to prepare equipment, equipment checking before getting into water and coming out from the water through this narrow gap on the side of the boat.
    – Poor English language of the crew and dive leader (we did not communicate properly.)
    Dive Master ( leader of diving) With one word we can describe it: “Terrible”. He may be a dive master by the number of the dives he made and the courses he has taken but certainly he is certainly not a “dive leader”. There was no planning, no briefing, no route describing, no clarification of dive signs done by him before we dive… The visibility in our first dive was 4-5 meters and a dive master in such water MUST always keep closely monitoring his divers. However, unfortunately he was busy trying to find the way under the water and moving faster without checking his divers who came there to see marine life and checking around under water. Unfortunately he lost my wife who is CMAS2 stars certificated from his sight in the first dive, she got lost and we had to stop the dive and go up surface.
    In the second dive, the point we get into water was very shallow surrounded by corals. We could literally stand on the corals and had a lot of difficulties going down under the water. That place cannot be a dive point and can be very dangerous. Once we went under, we went through sandy bottom and our dive master did not even bother to tell us that we are following a rope. Eventually we understood that we follow the rope once he lost it and he elevated all the sand at the bottom while trying to find it back. The visibility was already 3-4 meters and it became 1-2 meters whenever he moves his fins through the sand. I couldn’t stand it and cancelled the dive.

    After coming out from the second dive, we decided not to continue this torture and come back to Singapore without even staying in the hotel.
    We strongly recommend Ekodivers to STOP leisure diving activities!

  3. I have a complaint about my EFR and Rescue Dive Instructor, Jon Caine, Koh Tao, Thailand. He was paid a large fee by each of us and did complete the EFR training for our group of six divers, and then began the Rescue Dive training. We completed all in pool training, studied the book and took our test, all of us passing, but he did not and has not completed the deep water training – basically, he has not completed the course we paid for and has left us all hanging without the course completion and certification we all worked so hard to achieve. We began this training in March 2016 and it’s now December 2017. He has been contacted by many of our group and has refused to respond to any of our pleas for course completion or refund of fees paid. It seems unethical for a dive instructor who is a personal “friend” of two of the participants and who was highly recommended as the right person to provide this training, to ignore all of us as he has chosen to do. He has proven to be irresponsible, unresponsive, unreliable, and should be barred from all activities related to dive master training responsibilities.

    Furthermore, he has also refused to provide invoices for dive equipment purchased through him so if any of us has a warranty problem with our equipment, we will be forced to pay out of pocket for a repair or replacement that should have been covered by warranty.

    Jon Caine is unfit to remain a dive master instructor.

  4. Dear all,

    I am a PADI Advanced open water Diver just came back from the Maldives after my terrible vacation,
    I just saw things that I must report to PADI to ensure my safety and all the divers there.

    During my stay I was diving daily in OBLU by atmosphere at Helengeli, Maldives.
    The diving centre was called Atmosphere Aqua club.

    I saw during a house reef dive:
    A solo diver going alone diving without any Guide or even BUDDY. This happened many times in front of every instructor there.
    The same guy, I saw him next day on the boat diving with just HARNESS (Back pack ) with many divers on the boat.

    What shocked me that, when I ask who is that guy, I realised that he is the General Manager of the diving centre !!!

    Andrea Timillero (Italian) about 40 years !!! he should be a role model for everyone, his team before the guests.
    What will happen if he had a problem on the surface !!! what if he get lost alone in the ocean!!!
    Will he be able to save him self even or the divers with him in a strong current !!!!!

    This is totally against the rules and regulations in the Maldives

    Diving without BCD is totally against Maldivian Diving Regulation, PADI Standards and common sense.

    Dear PADI team, Please take an action against this childish behaviour ,

    (please see attached – page 9, Section 6, point 3 followed by Section 7, point 1C), the PADI standards and the basic safety rules.
    In case of any problem we will not be covered by insurance first. Then without buoyancy he cannot help any divers in need and he cannot even help himself.

    On top of this, He should be the most representative person, an example for the whole staff able to enhance the safety procedures: how he can pretend that the other staff follow the rules, when his the first to do not follow one of the most basic safety rules.
    On the attachment, a photo of the diving box where is clearly visible the back pack or harness.
    I took this photo from the boat with this crazy guy.

    This diving centre aqua club is a busy diving centre, The safety of divers comes first.
    I would say finally, I didn’t feel safe diving with them.

    Wishing to hear from you soon,


    Kind Regards,

    Thomas Harrison

    1. Solo diving is an accepted activity in the dive community. There are several courses with all the agencies. Further, diving started out without any form of BCD and maybe search the term monkey diving. Do not judge what you clearly do not understand.

    2. the stoey above is totally a LIE!!!
      This email has been sent from a professional instructor that has been fired from his position,and as his personal revenge he tried to throw shit to another guy…
      Thomas Harrison has never been a guest at Helengeli neither this person exist.
      We all know who you are..

  5. I did not during training or during my first dive in my life in the ocean do a decompression stop and my ascents were not slow . I got the worst pain in my life in my eyeballs the first time during training and next i had some symptoms swelling of the face..I am scarred there is inner communication and my dive instructors are trying to kill me..I thought that was a weird feeling to feel but apparent it’s pretty regular feeling from online post and trust has been broken on my first memories of diving..I don’t know what to do? When I call they respond that I should check my own health when everything I read is about how if you go 36 feet you should do a decompression stop and i remember that from studying . They both ascended faster than what we learned. Im mainly a kinestic learner so learning while doing is more important than reading. I remember the slow ascent and decompression but i just followed my leaders because I just felt they knew more than me. It literally was my first time and i doubt they would do the same to a eight year old kid. What do I do to fix this situation ? After calling and complaing to the company one owner avoided me and the next owner or representative on the phone just simply said they aren’t required to do safety stops on less than 40 feet. I didn’t learn that but I realize its the old way from reading but honestly I think those guys may have had their bodies adapted and i don’t know what ailments they suffer now . I just want diving to be pleasurable and safe and feel like i can trust my dive masters. It’s a very serious job. i paid them 40 and 50 tip.. i felt like that was good money but apparently not enough to ensure my safety.

  6. We paid for open water and advanced in Bangkok, the instructor kept putting of the test and later we heard rumours they got banned from SSI for doing the same thing, after asking to see his instructor licence he became hostile and uncooperative making threats of reporting us with unfounded resasons.

    What I learned is don’t go with a single instructor or two, go with a big dive company to ensure some reliability otherwise they might just be using the PADI brand to scam people.

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