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Becoming Dive Instructor in Costa Rica, Central America

A big smile on my face this past June: I finished my exam to become a dive instructor!

Koen Blanquart happy after becoming a dive instructor
Yes! I Made it. I’m a dive Instructor.

I made it: Dive Instructor!

This June, I completed my IDC and IE in Costa Rica. What are an IDC and an IE, you ask? Well, allow me to explain later in this article. For now, note that it’s part of the process to be a Dive Instructor. And that I became one!

When I started diving, I had no clue I would end up instructing others to start diving as well. But now that I do, it feels like a fantastic experience. Besides, meeting motivated people who are dedicated to learning a new skill, such as Scuba diving, is a pretty cool thing. And from every training and every student, I learn something new myself as well.

Dive Instructor is the next accomplishment in my career as a diver. Last year, I became a rescue diver and divemaster in Costa Rica.

The steps to become a Dive Instructor

First breaths underwater

In the PADI system (see below) you can start by doing a Discover Scuba Diving (you’ll hear that referred to as a DSD). That’s a dive without being certified. After brief training in the pool, a dive instructor takes you diving. If you like that (or if you’re sure you’ll want to certify), you move on to the first certification levels. The choice is to become a Scuba Diver or a Certified Open Water Diver. The latter can dive without a dive professional accompanying the diver. An open-water diver can dive with a dive buddy anywhere in the world.

Improving the skills

Koen Blanquart doing underwater photography
Underwater Photography

Once certified, you discover pretty fast that you need to improve. Getting better at buoyancy, or working on air consumption to have longer dives. Some divers find out that they like to learn some special type of diving, such as diving to wrecks, or that they prefer diving with special equipment. But before attempting to do that, they need training. And lots of practice. Some training is part of an advanced course or a specialty course. An advanced course gives you an initiation in five specialties. Deep diving and underwater navigation (no, the GPS fails down there) are always part of the advanced course. The diver chooses the other three specialties, with advice from the instructor depending on what’s available where the diving happens (we don’t have much ice diving in Costa Rica), the equipment available, and most importantly, what type of diving the diver prefers.

Dive instructor Course - sidemount training
Koen during a side-mount training. Sidemount diving allows carrying multiple tanks. It’s often used as the step-up to Tech Diving.

Each diver can get better in some disciplines. One likes underwater photography or dry suit diving, others want to become an expert in shark conservation. Specialized dive instructors teach these specialties in the dive clubs.

The taste of the pro’s: rescue diver

Dive Instructor demonstrating PCR during the first aid part of the course
Not only teaching Scuba Diving but learning how to teach and certify students as “Emergency First Responder” is part of the training.

Becoming a rescue diver was the most rewarding course I took before entering the professional track. It’s a multiple-day training, teaching how to act as a diver in emergencies. The rescue course includes several simulations and scenarios to prepare a diver for what can go wrong. And nothing is as exciting as doing a rescue exercise on a beach in Central America, where the tourists are wondering what goes on.

Becoming a professional diver

While this type of diving is still considered recreational diving, the divemaster track is the first one that leads to a professional level. When I trained to be a divemaster in Central America last year, was the first step to becoming a dive instructor. Becoming a divemaster is about building confidence as a dive guide, a dive leader. I believe a divemaster internship, over multiple months, is the best way to gain these skills and the routine. The divemaster certification is the last requirement you must complete before going to the IDC.

So, What is an IDC?

An IDC, or Instructor Development Course, is a training to transform a Divemaster in a (PADI) Open Water Instructor. The program, mostly given in class, is followed by the IE, the Instructor Exam.

The IDC is short for Instructor Development Course. When you are a Divemaster, you can start your IDC with a course director. A Course Director is the highest level of certification that PADI (the Professional Association of Dive Instructors) Delivers.

Theoretical assessment during the course
We presented diving issues and topics to the other students and the course director during the IDC. He was assisted by staff instructors.
Dive Instructor briefing
Listening to a colleague who’s giving a briefing

Where divemaster training is hands-on and includes tons of diving (both for the training dives, as to build the confidence), the IDC happens mostly in the classroom. Advanced physics of diving till you dream about balloons in salt water lifting heavy anchors… And there’s a lot on the business of diving, as well as the administration that comes with managing a course.

Teaching someone how to dive happens within stringent limits. These standards are part of the training. They make sure that a new student will be safe and that the student will learn all the requirements set by all dive organizations. For all the disciplines, there’s an exam.

And fortunately, there is some diving. Teaching a class in the pool, demonstrating skills to students, and conducting classes in the ocean are the moments the theoretical training that is performed in the water.

OK, got that, and what’s that IE?

Briefing divers
Briefing during the pool-exam of the Instructor Exam – Confined Water

The exam that follows the IDC, is the IE, this is where a PADI employee evaluates your knowledge. They confirm the knowledge acquired in the IDC program. That includes explaining a dive topic in a presentation to the class, (again) an exam on the different domains of the dive theory, a class to teach in the pool, and a class to teach in the ocean.

The evaluation goes as much about the personal knowledge and skills, as it does about how the course director conducted the IDC. It’s at the same time an exam for the student as for the teacher.

The biggest enemy is stress. I know we were well prepared, ad we had taken enough time to go through all the stuff in class, pool, and ocean. But once I arrived in the IE, the nerves were there. It turned out, however, that the IDC is the hard part. The IE is a subset of what you learned. Some would say that “IE” stands for “It’s Easy” but that would not do justice to the process of IDC+IE.

Why becoming a dive instructor?

Koen Blanquart having a cup of coffee
A break in the IDC, checking phone!

At the moment I started to evolve into a more nomadic lifestyle, I was seeking different ways to make a living while traveling. And since I love to dive, I thought at that time that becoming a divemaster was a way to add a bit of income when I travel. Have to say that for this purpose, it’s not a complete success. Dive instructors don’t make an income that allows them to buy plane tickets when they want. I’ll elaborate on the financial perspective of dive professionals and nomads in a future article.

The reason I would tomorrow take the step again into the course for dive instructor, is for the incredible fun of diving more often, combined with the reward of teaching a skill to someone. If you seek great people to hang out with, divers are a good group to look into. And dive professionals spend their time with these people.

Last but not least: I’m working on a conservation project that will involve a lot of diving. So, being able to train the people I’ll surround me with to save the planet, not a bad start!

Why an IDC in Central America?

Dive INstructor Workshop on diving gear
A workshop on low inflator hoses during the IDC

There are IDC centers all over the world. But I wanted to do my IDC close to the USA and to Canada. So doing my IDC in Central America sounded like the right option.

I completed my divemaster over a year ago and was now ready to head to the next level. I searched the internet and enrolled with Rich Coast Diving in Costa Rica at that time. Brenda and Martin, the course directors, showed me the ropes. Martin is known to be pretty direct in his teaching and expects dedication in the courses. As diving remains a complex topic, and since there’s no room for errors, I decided to continue my education with them.

Divers sailing out in Costa Rica
After the IE, we went out… to dive!

An IDC in Central America combines the advantage of being more or less in the same time zone as the USA. As I’m working as a digital nomad with clients in all continents, it’s important to figure out how to combine a study schedule with the meetings and calls.

But it’s nice and warm, and the diving is fantastic. Costa Rica is in Central America by far the safest country with the best facilities. A working internet is pretty essential for me as a digital nomad. Costa Rica has good internet service(8MB downstream over cable is not bad for Central America)

So, can I come and dive with you?

Yes, absolutely! We have students from all over the world joining in diving with us. As beginning divers, do some training or have great fun on fantastic dive sites.

Suppose you are already certified as an Open Water Diver, happy to teach you along the rest of your path to Open Water Advanced Diver or Rescue Diver or help you improve some diving skills in specialty courses. Or just if you like to have tons of fun!

White Tip Reef Shark in Costa RIca
Whitetip reef sharks spotted while diving in Costa Rica

Dive With Koen

Do you want to start diving? Do you want to upgrade your diving skills? Does the idea of diving and sailing appeal to you? Then let us know in the form below: We'll let you know when we sail out on the next diving adventure.

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Divers love to speak their own language. Here are some of the acronyms:

  • PADI is the Professional Association of Dive Instructors
  • IDC stands for Instructor Development Course
  • IE stands for Instructor Exam
  • DMT in many shops refers to a Divemaster in Training
  • BCD is a Buoyancy Control Device, the jacket that divers wear to make them buoyant while diving

The cover image of this article shows me standing next to Martin Van Gestel, my course director here in Central America.
Many images, including the cover image, are courtesy of Brenda Van Gestel at Rich Coast Diving.

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