That’s Wrong: Misconceptions on Teaching Scuba Diving

By: John Bentley and Brian Shreve

The interwebs are a great place to pick up some great, and some not so great, information.  Spend a little time on the various scuba related websites, and it’s amazing some of the just plain wrong things you can read!  Here are just a few of them we’ve recently found:

You can’t really teach buoyancy control in the Open Water course

Entry level students can learn buoyancy control from the start. It’s actually super easy. Instructors that have their students kneel to learn skills are doing a disservice to the customer, industry and themselves! Take a step back and think about breathing, equipment balance, and positioning. With that in mind, as an educator, you should be able to convey a buoyancy skill set to a student in the shallow end of the pool, maybe even before they learn any other skill. Take the 5 minutes to teach buoyancy, from the start, and you’ll notice that it makes the rest of the course easier. If you think that buoyancy control is “too much” for the entry level diver you are wrong.  If you think it’s impossible to teach buoyancy control to large classes, you are wrong.

OW isn’t a full certification, you need an advanced card to really dive

Unfortunately, this one is all too common and very sad. Divers will get certified, express the fact that they’re uncomfortable, and are told they need an advanced class to “dial things in.”Advanced classes are to advance the skill set of an open water diver to a new level, not to correct deficiencies of subpar training. An open water diver is certified to go diving. If they aren’t comfortable in the water, then they should not be certified. There isn’t anything wrong with remedial work; everyone learns at a different pace, and there isn’t anything wrong with continuing educations. There is something wrong with con-ed being sold as remediation.

Continuing Education is for card collectors

As a self regulated industry, it’s up to our instructors to conduct courses, issue credentials, and the operators and fill stations to evaluate those credentials. “Boat Diver” and “Master Scuba Diver” are often thrown under the bus as useless courses created just to collect money. Maybe that’s true sometimes, but the intention of those programs, and the way many instructors conduct them, add value and skill to divers. It boosts confidence while expanding knowledge. Our industry desperately needs better informed divers for conservation, safety, and industry longevity. The internet divers like to tout about their extreme Google knowledge but it won’t match up to real training conducted by a professional. Not happy with the name of a program? Sign up for it and see what an experienced professional can offer. If they are protecting their passion the program’s depth and breadth may inspire you and surprise you.

Elearning replaces the classroom

This one is all too common, and instructors that think this are wrong. elearning can and should be used in a blended learning environment, but it shouldn’t be used as a stand-alone. You can read more about this here

Mask skills are hard

Clear Scuba Mask GifThis misconception is an industry-wide issue popularized by poor educators. Some people, especially ones with near-drowning experiences, will have difficulties with mask skills no matter what but that’s the exception, not the norm. When explained simply, demonstrated clearly, and enacted properly, mask skills are as fluid and simple to learn as a cramp removal. If your students continuously suffer from issues with mask clearing, then reevaluate your teaching practices and present things differently. Embracing comfort and real diving practices during your courses will create a class culture of fun which will pay off in their skills.

Take home message for divers and industry professionals alike – trust little of what you read online and believe even less. If you’re an instructor upset with the quality of divers then start teaching more! You have that unique ability to influence your industry. Challenge yourself to master and improve your skill set, regardless of the level of your diving, and leave the internet diving to the posers.

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15 replies
  1. Richard
    Richard says:

    So true….and something all instructors need to remind themselves of from time to time….especially us long in the teeth ones!!
    Thanks guys! Another one to show our instructor candidates and ITs as well!!

  2. Carlos Aguilar
    Carlos Aguilar says:

    Wonderful guys! Yes, buoyancy is TOTALLY doable at open waterl as is drysuit. The funniest part of that is that PADI teaches this thing called “fin pivots.” That exercise is not suppose to stop after they bob up and down for a couple minute… from that point, lift your legs bend your knees and start moving forward! Keep breathing, too. The scariest thing I’ve ever seen are divers standing up while they do their skills. Yes! They are REALLY standing up.

    After buoyancy skills come finning techniques. I only propel myself with the modified frog kick, but will settle for frog kick from my students. I’ll give them a little wiggle room and a little flutter kick here and there in mid-water, but the flutter kick is notorious for destroying the environment. Partnered with finning techniques comes those buoyancy skills. Less kicking, more buoyancy, and everything falls into place — better air consumption, better situational awareness, and longer bottom times.

    There is an instructor in the country somewhere that teaches frog kick from snorkeling and nobody gets into scuba gear until they are using it.

    NO, NO, NO…!!! If the student says they are uncomfortable, they are not ready to be certified! The diver MUST be confident because once I sign off on their training, they must be autonomous. That only means one thing. If they are not going to pay me to join them on their dive trips to all the exotic locales, they are 100% ready to dive without me. Students can’t be freaked out by doing an 85-95ft dive in the Puget Sound in the exact same conditions from which they were trained just because the next set of dives are going to be in warm clear water. SDI, SSI, GUE, NAUI, and BSAC award open water divers 100ft access so if they can’t do a 100ft dive in the Puget Sound after certification, they need more dives. Any instructor awarding cert cards to divers that are freaked out will eventually have their butts served to them in court.

    Regrettably, PADI fails to inform their students that they only get 60ft, and in conditions from which they learned. If they learned in the Puget Sound, 60ft in Mexico and Hawaii is appropriate. If they learned in Fiji or Tahiti, then they should take PNW dives very cautiously. Also, divers with PADI Advanced Certifications can only cautiously approach 100ft without an actual “Deep Diver” certification. Dive operators sometimes fail to hold these new divers to those standards because their c-card says “advanced.”

    I’ll address the e-learning lastly, but my perspective is contrary to the way I know it is often used. I don’t mind students using it, but every student gets a full educational review with me so that I know what they absorbed. I can tell within the first few questions I asked of them if they blew through it. My educational review is designed to take what they learned on their own and give them the tools to take what I give them to the open water — life lessons from an experienced diver and instructor. I approach most of the questions open-ended. In fact, my final exam is fill-in-the-blank. I won’t dive with another that got 10-20% of their final exam wrong. Academics are completed before pool; pool prior to open water; and only then open water.

    In the end, my standards are high because it’s easy to kill oneself diving and I won’t be responsible for that! I encourage other instructors out there to set their standards above and beyond what’s in your standards and procedures manuals. Your students deserve it, the industry need it, and good training should never be the exception.

    “Every dive is a dream come true…”

  3. Christopher Painter
    Christopher Painter says:

    I feel like your reference to “internet divers” is trolling. I started diving in 2000 and did took OW/AOW/Rescuse/Nitrox and simply dove about 1000 times over 15 years before taking my next class. Why? Because I saw the shops pushing (selling) students through the card collecting pipeline all the way up to DM. Eventually, I took a self reliant class to make dive operators happy. I got bit by the tech bug and did drysuit, GUE Fundamentals and IANTD Advanced Nitrox. I know several card collectors and I see the shops pushing it really hard still today. I know of one local MSDT who looks down at me and told me to my face that I took shortcuts in my training. Seems he’s not happy then I didn’t take my 5 specialties and pay the Master Diver stupid tax. Perhaps that has something to do with the fact that he’s an MSDT.

    Now there’s a few tech classes I’d love to take but unfortunately there’s no one left around here I respect enough to take it from.

  4. Carlos Aguilar
    Carlos Aguilar says:

    Christopher, perhaps the reason you feel John and Brian are “trolling” is because they ARE searching and unsuccessfully getting anyone, except you and I, responding to the obvious — there is a problem in the industry and we know what her name is.

    That doesn’t mean that there aren’t good instructors out there, but it does mean that the way they are trained is, and the kind of divers that come out of it, are what we see.

    I’ve never taken a GUE Fundies course and I didn’t know IANTD was still around, but from what I hear, the instructors that teach those courses don’t shortcut the educational process or the students. I am a tech instructor and diver and the ironic part of tech courses that most don’t see is that the education of tech physics and physiology is the same as the intro classes to everything. It may be simplified and not go into the same level of complexity or detail, but fundamental are at the core of all diving. It really is unfair to the student to have to go back and re-learn what they should have in 101 level courses.

    As far as that MSDT looking down at you and saying that you took shortcuts, I call bull$#!+… I totally disagree. Shortcuts are something you bypass in order to get to your destination faster. That would infer skipping something, and in scuba, the most important lesson you have obviously learned is, coming home to your friends and family! You got there by diving and safe diving practices and NOT by collecting c-cards! 1,000 dives in 15 years is a great number of dives. 60+ dives a year is really 15 times what 50% of the industry produces — and they say that’s, “the way world learns to dive.” LOL I consider a bare minimum number of dives one should do is 48 a year. That’s only 2 dives each day on a weekend (or any 2 days) once per month or a day trip, one day a month, and a couple of week-long dive trips or liveaboards. That is totally doable. NAUI emphasizes 24 dives a year, and that’s only 2 dives in one day, one day a month! Still, 6 times the industry standard.

    I would encourage you to “interview” some prospective instructors in your area if you want to continue your education. I know that’s time consuming but the rewards are valuable. Continuing education is important. Particularly so as it keeps divers (AND INSTRUCTORS) from becoming complacent. Complacency kills.

    I hope you find something. Great diving, to you….



  5. Dennis Robertson
    Dennis Robertson says:

    Good to see this kind of discussion! Back in the seventies when people like myself got involved in diving ALL the discourse was face-to-face, which was good, but not complete. Bearing safety in mind first and foremost it makes sense to listen to alternative ideas and see in the actual water how well they work. Protect yourself, but don’t be afraid to see if ideas and concepts that are not exactly what you were taught can make your diving experience better.

  6. Rob
    Rob says:

    There is a big difference between “teaching” (Buoyancy) and the expectation of “mastering” the skill in an open-water class. I would argue that buoyancy has always been “taught in open-water”, because we teach our students to stay off the bottom, respect coral reefs and the like. Yes, we take a knee on the platform, at the quarry, but from the very start we are “teaching” the new diver buoyancy. Like every other skill, they will get better over time and ConEd.
    I may be accused of splitting hairs but this is how I’ve always seen the whole discussion about teaching buoyancy. We have always “taught” it, we just haven’t had a standard requiring “mastery” for certification. For the record, I don’t think that this needs to be elevated to a OW C-Card requirement.

  7. Pat Wolfe
    Pat Wolfe says:

    I start teaching buoyancy to my students on the first night in the pool – first I show them drown proofing on the surface, progress to resting on the surface with a snorkel and then with the fin pivot on their first time with scuba. The fin pivot is used to give them a starting point and then i have them swim off the shallow end and around the deep end. Next I have them hoover in mid water with crossed legs and when they get stable I have them move into swimming position, from there it just takes practice and I give them five minutes at the start of each pool session to do so.

  8. Vanessa Blair
    Vanessa Blair says:

    My brother wanted to try something new with his friends this weekend. It was explained here that entry-level diving students should be taught buoyancy control in controlled waters. Furthermore, it’s advisable to go to professionals for certified dive training.

  9. Buck
    Buck says:

    Buck 11425 all open water students should be so comfortable they can clear a mask 3-5 times on one breath. If you challenge your students the young adventurous will return to the sport.


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