Preparing for confined water skills

FAQ: Should I learn to dive with a dive centre or independent Instructor?

Potential students often ask the question, should I learn to dive at a dive centre or with an Independent Instructor? Which training agency is best? PADI, NAUI, CMAS, or SSI? To name but a few.

The goal of all the agencies is to turn you into a competent diver. The Instructor is instrumental in this and it makes no difference where they trained or where they work. They are either good at what they do or they are not.

The important issue is the quality of the training you receive and this is largely dependent on the calibre of the Instructor. Some dive centres have exceptional staff whilst others are worse than dodgy. Some dive centres will take shortcuts in the interest of profit margins and the same can be said for Independents. The Instructor you choose needs to be passionate about diving and if the Instructor sees diving as just another job then the quality of the training will be mediocre. If you do four 20 minutes dives for your Open Water dives you meet the standard for certification with regards to dive time but do you get enough experience from this? If you did four 40 minute dives you would have double the amount of water time. Given the steep learning curve diving has this makes a huge difference.

All certifying agencies have standards, (these being the minimum requirements for certification) and all Instructors are required to follow these standards without deviation. You can add to the number of times you have a student perform a task, or add several dives to the course if you feel the student requires this, but you cannot skip a step or do less than what the standards specify.

Preparing for confined water skills
Preparing for confined water skills

Dive centres will sometimes have Instructors on staff, always available and there when you sign up. Some however will rely on an army of freelance Instructors they can call upon when they need to. This often means you sign up, pay and have yet to meet the person you will be trained by. This also means you are on somewhat of a merry go round as there will need to be several calls and “I will get back to you” conversations before you have a time and date for diving and classroom usage.

It can also often result in you having several different Instructors during your training as the freelance Instructor you start with may not be available on the subsequent days. The downside to having several different instructors during your course is that anything you felt uncomfortable with on day one is not necessarily conveyed to the Instructor for day two or for day three and as such you can often be left feeling unsure of your ability and not as confident as you should be by the end of the course. Having the same Instructor for the duration of the course ensures that any weakness you may feel you have can be addressed and the skills redone until you are confident.

Having said this, it is possible to walk into a dive centre, find an Instructor behind the counter, who will sign you up talk you through the stages of the course and the program you will follow and sort out everything in a flash. You then leave happy in the knowledge that you have met your Instructor and had a chat and know what’s next.

I would encourage you to ask questions about who will be your Instructor(s) when you are shopping for a dive course. This is not a small decision and you can avoid being short-changed by being well informed.

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Scuba diver, teacher, gadget man, racing driver, boat skipper, photographer, and collector of stray animals

2 thoughts on “FAQ: Should I learn to dive with a dive centre or independent Instructor?”

  1. Hi Tony & Clare:

    (NOTE: I don’t expect you to publish this comment – I was looking for some more information on medical matters, and this was the closest article I could find to the topic).

    You guys have created an excellent blog, full of useful information. However would you consider a series of articles about the health requirements, and the basic fitness requirements?

    For myself, I strongly suspect my days of scuba and free diving are over. It’s the ears!. I am a healthy and very fit (for my age) 53 year old. I can pass the medical (except for the ear thing) and the swimming requirements are no problem at all.

    The problem is if I go deeper than 3 or 4 metres these days, my ears hurt, badly. This is no doubt a result of an inability to equalise pressure. Possibly an operation (scary stuff) would solve the problem – The external canals have become hardened, and narrowed in recent years (I forget the medical term a doctor used to describe the condition). An example is the difficulty in clearing water from the ear (swimmers ear) – I have to use a mild acetic acid solution, or the water just stays inside. There may also be some damage as a result of deep water ‘free diving’ in my younger days, or from water related ear infections

    Perhaps you know of similar cases, and can give some advice?

    I would really like to get back into the underwater world. It’s been a long time.

    Regards, Mike

    1. Hi Mike,

      Thanks for the suggestion – we definitely lack diving-medical related stuff on the blog as neither of us feel knowledgeable enough to write about it… But now that you mention it, some guest posts from more medically-oriented folk wouldn’t go amiss!

      I am sorry to hear of your ear troubles and I hope they don’t rule out diving altogether. DAN ( may be able to refer you to a specialist diving doctor (preferably an ENT who dives, so he knows about equalising etc). They are very helpful – call or email their office and see if they can assist.

      Otherwise here in Cape Town you could contact National Hyperbarics ( Ask them if they can recommend a diving ear doctor in your area. There is a Dr Rosenthal here who is based at NH and is a well-respected diving doc but it doesn’t really help you if you’re based up north! But they might have contacts elsewhere.

      It may be a matter of learning new equalisation techniques, protective ear drops, using diving ear plugs, or something equally simple. Please keep us posted as to how you progress… I really hope you can get in the water again!

      Clare & Tony

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