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.
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.
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 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.