The Key to Teaching a Successful Scuba Class

I recently ran into a new scuba diving instructor. We chatted for a bit about the upcoming dive season and how his classes were going at his shop. He talked about things were picking up. I asked him what he was doing to prepare for his upcoming scuba diving classes. I was surprised that he said he didn’t do much prep work. He said that he just follows his instruction manual. Many people, include fresh instructors, really have no idea what kind of work goes into running a thorough scuba diving class.

Teaching is a Superpower

I hate to admit it, but when I was a new instructor, I had no idea how to put together a lesson plan for an entire course. During my PADI IDC, I learned how to put together micro-teaching plans, but failed to be able to put everything together. It wasn’t until I started to get frustrated with the content of the classes I was teaching, that I started to look at my approach to teaching the material.

The key to teaching a successful scuba diving class comes down to preparation. Being able to present the material is only half the battle. Classroom, pool and open water environments are very dynamic and instructors must be able to have a plan going into each class. As each class will be different, instructors cannot create one plan and apply that to every class.

For all of my classes that I teach, I do have a very basic outline. This rough outline consists of lecture content, approximation of in-water time and generalized notes for briefing and debriefings.

Once I get a couple weeks away from the class, I’ll have an idea of how many students I’ll have and will start to construct a battle plan for that specific course session. This battle plan will consist of skills required for the course. I also have developed scenarios to reinforce those skills and start the process for students to be able to think through possible problems and when to apply the skills.

I have developed multiple scenarios which can be applied based on the performance of the student. If a student has difficulty thinking through a moderately difficult scenario, then I have scenarios with a lesser degree of difficulty. Then, hopefully, I can correct the issue and move the student up to the more difficult level of scenarios. The opposite can be said with students who have very little difficulty with my moderately difficult scenarios. I have more intense ones to push the student beyond their comfort zone and force them to rely on their brains and team mates.

The level of preparation an instructor should have will be based upon a couple factors:

  1. Class being taught – There are many classes that are pretty straight forward. Classes such as dry suit, Nitrox, and photography are pretty simple classes to teach. However, classes such as technical diving, wreck, and rescue require significant preparation time as the number of scenarios to be created can be great.
  2. Duration of classes being taught – Classes that are long in duration will require more prep work than shorter classes. The reason being is that there is more of a chance that students won’t perform the same on each day for classes that span multiple days. I call this the luck factor.

In my experience, it takes me about eight hours of prep time for each day of the class being taught. For my technical diving classes, that means I’m spending 40 hours just to get ready to conduct the class. As one gets more experience with teaching a class, the amount of hours can decrease. However, they shouldn’t decrease by much.

Preparation work by the instructor is critical to passing along knowledge to a student. Those instructors who follow their instructor slates word for word and have very little prep time are doing a great disservice to their students.

About Duane Johnson

Duane Johnson is the founder of Precision Diving and runs a scuba diving blog to help scuba divers improve their diving skills and enjoyment. He teaches recreational and technical scuba diving classes in the Chicago area. Learn more about him here and follow him on Twitter at @PrecisionDiving.


  1. Scuba Blogs says:

    The Key to Teaching a Successful Scuba Class…

    I recently ran into a new scuba diving instructor. We chatted for a bit about the upcoming dive season…