Becoming an Open Water Instructor

By Nic Faulks


I learned to dive back in 1996 at university. My instructors back then tended to be post graduates who owned their own kit. Kind patient people who would not only teach us, but would lend us their kit too. When I was one dive short of qualifying as a Sports Diver, I took a 10-year break from diving, to participate in land-based adventures. In 2006, I met Simon and took up diving again. 🙂 

Nic in 1996,

When I started to dive for a second time, I decided that I wouldn’t become an instructor. That I wanted a sport to participate in that I didn’t teach. By 2012 I had qualified as a Seasearch tutor and was teaching marine identification skills to divers. My fall back when asked if I wanted to become a BSAC instructor always was:

“I teach marine identification skills, I don’t want to teach diving as well.”

So, what changed? A number of things really. Tyneside 114 has always been a club with many instructors, so generally no one individual was ever too overburdened with teaching. Clubs change, as we entered 2016, we found that our “active” instructor numbers had dropped. Also, I became the club Diving Officer at the end of 2015. As an Advance Diver, I was qualified for the post, but really it was better suited to someone who could teach and therefore sign off qualifications too.

During 2016 I started to participate in club training, watching instructors teach, helping where I could, especially with try divers in the pool, or being a buddy on the (sheltered) open water skills dives. Observing enabled me to observe the pleasure that students derive from learning new skills, but also  the warm fuzzy feeling the instructor gets from helping a student overcome their fears and learn a new skill. I decided that learning to teach and becoming an OWI would definitely be beneficial for me and the club; therefore, I had to take the next step – booking the Instructor Foundation Course (IFC).

The Instructor Foundation Course

The IFC which I booked (March 2017), was out of region, so I had to drive down to Sheffield to attend. It was held at a leisure centre there, with a classroom and a big pool. We were sent a load of information to read before attending. I also found Simon’s copy of the “The Diving Instructor’s Manual” in the house. I was so worried about what the course would be like, I actually read the hand book cover to cover before attending. In reality, this wasn’t necessary. The course is targeted at towards getting students to simply turn up and participate. The lectures covered the “what makes a good instructor” elements. There were lots of demonstrations on good and bad teaching when giving lectures (some quite amusing). We then headed to the pool and received some instructional demonstrations and had a go ourselves. That night we were assigned a theory topic, so instead of going out and drinking, we had a quick supper, followed by preparation of the presentation for the following day.

Day two of the IFC was similar to day one, but with more doing rather than watching. This included giving our pre-prepared lecture. We also taught skills in the pool, each being given our own topic. At the end of the day, the wrap-up session provided us with information on how to take the qualification further. It was a very enjoyable weekend, hard work, made some good friends and decided teaching was for me.

The Open Water Instructor Course

Next step – book the Open Water Instructors Course (OWIC). This I attended in May 2017, the idea being that if I did it soon after the IFC then I would remember and be able to practice the skills I had learned. The day was really good, quite tiring, but fun. We covered a range of topics but weren’t expected to already be capable instructors. I was just good to watch, learn then practice and receive feedback on instructional techniques. I also learned quite rapidly that nothing happens as fast as you think. A planned 20-minute lesson always ends up taking 30 minutes!! By the end of the day I had SEEDS, STEP and REAP well and truly stuck in my head. If you want to know why, do the course. It was a good day and I learned a lot about teaching in open water, on a very busy day at Capernwray.


Ocean Divers at Ellerton

For the next 12 months I helped as much as I could with Tyneside 114 to practice my skills. Most Monday nights I had dry divers, when I could I would shadow the Ocean Divers and the Sports Divers. Better still, I acted as the second person on most of the students open water dives at Ellerton and Capernwray, watching a range of instructors teach, but also how the students reacted to the different teaching styles. Once qualified, I took at least two divers on their first sea dive, which was quite an experience – generally short, but rewarding!

Practical Instructor and Theory Instructor Exam

In May 2018 I booked the Practical Instructor Exam (PIE) and Theory Instructor Exam (TIE). Worried, yes, I was so worried about this. I don’t know why, but I was convinced that I would fail and embarrass myself. Once you register you receive the subject for your TIE talk. Mine was the first stage. I actually think that writing the PowerPoint for this talk was what started to put me at ease. I wrote the slides to lead me (and ultimately) my students, through the topic. Why stress, why not have lots of images, and a tank with regulators to demonstrate? Then there was the theory test; I tackled that one by reading the Diving Instructor’s Manual cover to cover (again), then downloading and doing every test paper from Ocean Diver to Dive Leader. Wow, how much had I forgotten, remind me again, tables? Who uses tables? So, I really did have to re-learn everything we had been taught since learning to dive. With some added interest for me, as I did my Novice Diver 1 and 2, and Sports Diver back in 1996, when things were a little bit different. But it was good, a learning experience, spread over a few weeks. The grey matter started to function, and I felt happier. For the PIE, I wasn’t so worried, teaching and watching so often in the club environment meant I was quite relaxed about the practical aspects.  

The day of the exam dawned. I was so nervous. I turned up faring the worst, but everyone was so friendly. Before starting the exam, we all had coffee and biscuits, students and examiners. It really helped calm the nerves. First off was the TIE talk. This went well, I had practiced enough, and the slides lead me through, ticking the boxes: Progressive – Accurate – Visual – Effective. To be honest, I ended up really enjoying giving the talk and having a responsive audience. Next was the exam. Only two of us to take it this time, sat at a desk each either end of the hall… bit like being back at school. The questions were mostly similar to those I had been doing, so instantly felt more relaxed. Using tables and working out tissue codes now being second nature! We both finished the test well be for allotted end time, so handed in our papers early and had another a coffee.

Sports Diver skills at Capernwray

For the afternoon session, we headed down to Ellerton Lake to do the PIE. My session was CBL, my fellow student had DSMB. So off we went to prepare our sessions before the examiners turned up. I had a set of pre-printed lesson cards which various instructors had advised me to do. I selected my specific lesson card, read through it, and rehearsed the lesson in my mind a few times.  When I started my lesson, it was obvious we were under exam conditions, but friendly ones, which helped. I got the distinct impression that safety was paramount, so a good SEEDS brief was in order (cue card in hand). The other challenge is fitting everything in to your 45-minute slot – Brief to de-brief and all in between. All in all, the practical session was quite enjoyable, the cue card really helped, just taking that second or two to make sure to check everything was on target. It was a bit strange having three instructors bobbing around watching, but you tend to just get on with the teaching and ignore them, after all you are there to teach your student(s). By the time I had completed the debrief, we were on 42 minutes. Three minutes early, but not the end of the world and still safe.

After we had finished the PIE, the instructors left us (the students) to get ready and go home. They aren’t allowed to tell us how we have done, or what they think, they return to their base to write the reports, so there is no on the spot debrief. But as us students chatted, we felt quite happy that we had done our best. The test results come a couple of weeks later, by phone, then by post. What you receive in the post is the Candidate Assessment Report, which had examiners comments (feedback) on it and a mark – pass, merit or fail. I was very happy with my results – now a fully qualified OWI.

Final Note

If anyone reading this is interested in moving through the instructor process, we are more than happy to support you at any stage. Just drop Simon Smith (training officer) an email, WhatsApp, text, or chat to him in the pub.  It isn’t a scary process, it is fun and informative. Becoming an instructor has improved my personal diving skills, plus I now get to introduce new divers to the sport I love so much!    

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