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How hard is it to say NO

Written by farkasdo


Did you really earn your certification?

We hear this a lot. Working for 14 years in the diving industry, first in recreational then in technical diving I have met many great, and unfortunately, not so great divers. Having high-quality diving courses available is our responsibility, the instructors and students as well.

teaching technical diving course

How was your course?

Asking fellow dive instructors, and be honest:

Have you ever certified someone, who was not quite there yet? Who was kind of OK, but if you would have more time, less pressure to finish the course, you would definitely have suggested extra dives?

And You, students, have you ever felt that your certification was given, but you weren’t quite confident with your skills and knowledge?

student not ready for certification

How many students have you failed at the end of the course? How many times has your certification been refused? Many instructors claim that the certification must be earned, not paid for, however it is not easy to tell the student, “Sorry, but I can not give you your card.” Especially in holiday destinations, where people come for a limited time, and maybe can not come back in a short period of time for retraining or continue.

To tell the truth, I always respected those instructors who were honest, and aren’t shy to say “not this time”.

It inspired me, made me work harder. I knew I will get my card only if I am really “there”. If you ask me the same questions I asked you: yes, I did certify people who I would not do now and I did refuse certification at both recreational and technical diver level. I was never refused a cert myself, however, I twice asked my instructor for more time and training before getting my card. Thank you Alain Pocobelli and Mark Powell for supporting me with my decision.

Did I lose money? Yes, I did. Did I feel good with my skills and knowledge after the second try? Absolutely.

quality courses gozo wrecks karwela staircase


We have talked about this between instructors. It seems some feel that would lose them some students if they deny certifications at the end of a course. But the trend is showing differently!

Those students are the representation of your work. Even if you don’t think someone will recognise it, many do. When your students are showing good skills and knowledge wherever they dive, it is a good advertisement for you.

And if they aren’t – bad advertisement spreads faster and harder to get rid of it, than good.

This is not only business. We are talking about people’s life. They need to be humble, understand and accept their limitations, and have solid skills to be safe divers.

GOZO wrecks karwela outside

It is a really hard topic. The more experienced I became as an instructor, the less I felt the urge that I must certify a student at the end of a course. Also, the more experience I have, the more tools and ideas I have to help the student overcome difficulties. Can the instructor recognise the root of the problem? Why can’t the student perform certain skills? Does he/she have the right attitude and the willingness to learn?

I love teaching. If you are already good, I want to make you even better. If you struggle with something, I take it as a challenge, not an obstacle that I have to overcome.

How can an instructor talk about an Open Water student, saying “He is so good, I have nothing more to teach”.

I have heard it so many times. Really? That person just started to dive, and you have nothing more to teach?

In some organisations, it is not trendy to say no. And some teaching organisations facilitate to overcome issues by giving the instructor free hand to organise the course around student’s needs. I like to teach in a way when I can look at my students and see what they need to improve and what they are good at, instead of squeezing them all in the same mould. The quality of the diving courses still doesn’t entirely depend on the organisation but the instructor who delivers it.

In this video

you can see an instructor candidate assisting a PADI Tec 45 student. One has 6 dive on a twinset, the other one will finish in 6 days and start teaching Tec students. Guess who is who.

Read more

My intention is not to name and shame

It is just sad, that the instructor candidate, who is a very nice person, felt like it is fine to show up on this course with this skill level. He was just tagging along on my course to get the assisting credit for the Tec Instructor.

What level will he teach after this? Will he be strict with skills and buoyancy control, or saying well, I can’t do it better myself, so I accept as it is?

I don’t know. Hope not. I hope after seeing himself on video, he will practice and polish up those shutdowns… (the other skills were fine, this was the main struggle)

I gave some tips for him. A little quiz: Add in the comment, what would you change to help him? What do you see, why is he struggling so much? In the end, it is fully theoretical, because he didn’t want to try with other configuration and I didn’t force it.

So what can we do about this?

TDI Advanced wreck course with Dora Farkas

We don’t have to look at what the others are doing. Instructors, keep your standards high. Don’t come up with excuses. You can’t just say oh this student is just bad… If it would be so easy to dive, we won’t have a job. We can not do miracles but keep your skills fresh, sometimes take a course yourself to remind you how it is to be a student. Plus you can always learn new tips and tricks from another instructor.

Students, do your research when picking an instructor. Find someone who teaches in a style you like. Don’t just take it. If you are not happy with the course or have any doubts don’t be afraid to speak up! Keep refreshing your skills and knowledge.

Researches show that the retention rate drops massively with time unless you keep practising.

And if at the end of the course your instructor says you need more practice, believe it. This is one of the hardest things to do. We are not telling it to get more money out of you but to keep you safe and to ensure you are ready for the dives you getting certified for.


This article reflects simply my opinion. All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

  1. Dora Farkas

    I really hope I won’t need to fail anyone 😄

    • Xavier Sardeny

      Agree. Completly true Dora. As a beginner diver (only 3 months of experience in 2020) I enjoyed a lot having different instructors, different people, different techniques, behaviours and pro skills. Now, working over a decade on teaching in another area years of experience gave me the opportunity to facilitate eveything to the students with a good smile, always improving my level of knowledge to share it with them.

Unfortunately due to the high number of spam, I had to change and now you have to log in to comment. 🙁 Sorry for the inconvenience

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