Becoming a PADI Open Water Scuba Instructor

A new phase begins

After working in digital marketing for 15 years, I decided to retire from the corporate world and go on a permanent adventure. I’m not exactly sure what to call this new phase, because I’m purposefully keeping all doors open and seeing where opportunity takes me. I have a starting point, but not an end point.

Exactly 8 years ago, I was in Roatan for the fist time and I was certified as a PADI Open Water scuba diver. Since then, scuba diving has taken an increasingly important role in my life. Vacations have been centred around scuba diving. And for the last 3 years (extended due to COVID-19 shutdowns), I’ve been completing my PADI Divemaster certification and assisting with scuba diving training at the Toronto Scuba Centre.

The adventure starts now

Utila Dive Center, where I trained to become a PADI Open Water Scuba Instructor
Utila Dive Center, where I trained to become a PADI Open Water Scuba Instructor

Becoming a PADI Open Water Scuba Instructor involves taking a course called the PADI Instructor Development Course (IDC) and then passing the Instructor Examination (IE).

I chose to do my IDC at the Utila Dive Center. I know several amazing scuba instructors who trained here, and they are very highly regarded for their IDC program. They train so many instructors that they run the course every month.

So on March 1, 2022, I resigned from my job, giving my employer a month’s notice so that I could attend the IDC in April at Utila Dive Center. I contacted the shop, and they promptly responded with all the details I needed (and more). Within a day or two, I was enrolled and paid my tuition deposit. This was starting to get real.

Next, I started arranging my travel. I purchased a one-way ticket so that I could be flexible with the duration of my stay, depending on what additional training I wanted to do. The dive shop also provided recommendations for affordable apartments with monthly rates, so I could secure accommodation before I arrived.

Preparing for the IDC

The dock at Utila Dive Center
The dock at Utila Dive Center

The PADI Instructor Development Course is an intensive course designed to prepare candidates to pass the Instructor Examination. Like all other PADI courses, it’s performance-based. There’s lots of practice and repetition, so that you quickly find your weaker areas and focus on improving them. The idea is that by the time the IDC is complete, the IE should be mostly a formality rather than a true examination. Everybody (your course director, instructors and the examiner) are rooting for you the entire way; they want you to be successful.

The IDC has three main areas of focus:

  1. dive theory
  2. skills
  3. teaching presentations

The first two can (and should) be prepared in advance, while the latter is really the teaching part that will be workshopped during the IDC.

I highly recommend brushing up on your dive theory knowledge before starting the IDC. Otherwise, you might find yourself cramming before the theory exams, which adds a level of stress that you can avoid. The PADI Encyclopedia of Recreational Diving becomes your best friend for this. If you spend the time to read the entire Encyclopedia and practice using the RDP and eRDPML, you’ll rock the theory exams. Give yourself at least 2 weeks for this… 4 weeks would be even better.

Photos by Nicole Webster

Another area of focus are your dive skills. First, you will be tested on the same 24 skills from the Divemaster skills circuit. Specifically on your ability to demonstrate those skills in a clear, fluid, exaggerated manner as though you were teaching students. Secondly, throughout IDC and IE, you will be acting as students for your fellow instructor candidates, repeating the skills they will be “teaching” you. These skills are above and beyond the 24 in the skills circuit, and include skills from Advanced Open Water, Peak Performance Buoyancy and Rescue. You will be much more comfortable during the IDC if you brush up on any skills that might be rusty. Watching skills circuit videos on YouTube will also help you understand what’s involved in a teaching-quality demonstration.

Photos by Nicole Webster

The final area of focus for the IDC is teaching presentation skills, including knowledge development presentations and skills briefings and demonstrations, using PADI approach. This will be taught during the IDC and you’ll deliver several micro-teaching presentations as the instructor, as well as participating as a student for your fellow candidates. Participating as a student is just as important as the instructor scenarios, because you’re seeing what’s required to teach a broad number of skills from the Open Water course through to Rescue.

I was thrilled with the instruction and support provided by the Utila Dive Center. While intense and (initially) a bit scary, the entire team was extremely welcoming and supportive. The quality of education was top-notch. I quickly saw how the Utila Dive Center developed their solid reputation for their IDC.

Relaxing on the dock at sunset at the Utila Dive Center
Relaxing on the dock at sunset at the Utila Dive Center

Passing the Instructor Examination

After completing the IDC, the final step in becoming a PADI Open Water Scuba Instructor is completing the 2-day Instructor Examination by examiners from PADI. The IE is definitely the most nerve-racking part of the process, even though your course director tells you not to worry… even the examiner tells you to relax; you wouldn’t be at the IE if your instructors didn’t think you were more than ready.

The Instructor Examination includes the following components:

  • Theory exams (multiple choice)
  • PADI standards and procedures exam (multiple choice)
  • One knowledge development (classroom) presentation
  • One confined water teaching presentation
  • One open water teaching presentation with 2 skills
  • Rescue exercise #7 in demonstration-quality
  • Mini skills circuit (with 5 skills) in demonstration-quality

The first day of the IE was definitely quite stressful. Not because anything is new or difficult (you’ve practiced everything several times before). It’s just a natural reaction to the testing process.

But after day one, everybody breathes a sigh of relief. You see the light at the end of the tunnel. You realize you can do it!

As day two starts, you realize that within a few short hours, it will be done, and you’ll be a certified scuba instructor!

Another benefit of doing your IDC in Utila is that you can do your IE in Utila immediately after your IDC. Other places can’t necessarily schedule an IE with such frequency.

What’s next

Sunset over the Caribbean Sea in Utila while becoming a PADI Open Water Scuba Instructor
Sunset over the Caribbean Sea in Utila

I’m staying in Utila for a few more weeks to complete some PADI Specialty Instructor certifications, the first step towards advancing my instructor status to the level of Master Scuba Diver Trainer.

Then I leave the paradise island of Utila, returning to Toronto where I’ll put this training to work at the Toronto Scuba Centre. If you’re near Toronto interested in learning to scuba dive, reach out… I’d love to see you in the water!

If you’re thinking about becoming a PADI Open Water Scuba Instructor or have questions about the IE, ask in the comments below!