The Politics and Practicalities of Crossing Over 2

CrossoverA recent Facebook group discussion on an entirely different topic eventually devolved into What should a training agency’s Instructor Crossover process consist of? It’s an important question, especially considering that, depending on the agency, the process can vary considerably.

  • At one end of the spectrum, you have organizations that allow instructors to cross over “administratively.” Instructors simply fill out an application, provide proof of insurance and pay a fee. There is an implied understanding that, before teaching any courses for the new agency, the instructor will actually make the effort to read and follow the organization’s standards.
  • At the other end of the spectrum, you have training organizations that seem to go out of their way to discourage other-agency instructors from crossing over. For example, in the 1970s, NAUI and PADI instructors discovered that they could not simply cross over to NASDS without attending the agency’s week-long “Instructional Sales Clinic.” Of course, the catch was, while doing so was time consuming, it was not particularly challenging.


  • At the present time, the most involved instructor crossover process is (believe it or not) PADI’s. To cross over to PADI, an other-agency instructor must first attend the second half of a PADI IDC (OWSI course), then pass the same two-day PADI Instructor Evaluation (IE) as PADI’s own instructor candidates. The process typically takes five or more days. Crossover candidates must also purchase several hundred dollars worth of materials. With materials, travel and course fees, it is not unusual to spend $2,000 or more crossing over.

So, what is the right approach? The answer may depend on who you are as a training agency and what you are trying to accomplish.

  • If yours is an established diver training organization, and there is a high demand for your instructor ratings, you have the luxury of not only making the process more involved, but also charging more money for it.
  • If yours is a relatively new agency, and few people have heard of it, it is unlikely you can make the crossover process too demanding or too expensive.

There is a Catch-22 to being in the latter position.

  • If you make the crossover process too easy, those who take part will not value their new agency affiliation and are not as likely to support you in the long run. (You may also end up with some instructors you don’t really want.)
  • If you make the process too difficult, or too expensive, many of the other-agency instructors you really want to have on your team may simply say, “Why should I jump through all these hoops for an agency no one has ever heard of?”


I’ve seen this situation from both sides.

  • After starting the organization in 1995, SDI founder Bret Gilliam went through a period when he was all but giving away SDI instructor cards to any other-agency instructor who wanted them. Ten years later, while working for SDI, I called on every SDI dive center from Atlanta to Richmond. What I discovered is that only one was actually supporting SDI to any degree, and it was because, according to the owner, “I fuckin’ hate PADI.” Ironically, a decade later, the store is firmly back in the PADI camp.
  • In 1998, I was among the four original GUE instructors. Even though tiny, GUE at least had the advantage of being a name people recognized and enjoyed a reputation for uncompromising quality. As anyone who has ever looked into it can attest, they set the bar pretty high when it comes to being an instructor. Not surprisingly, a decade and a half later, there are only slightly more than 100 active GUE instructors world wide. And, while this might work for GUE, very few other training agencies could survive on such a small instructor base.

Crossover components

Depending on how you configure it, your agency’s crossover process can have either one or two main components.

  • There will be an academic component, designed to ensure crossover candidates not only have a clear understanding of the agency’s standards and procedures, but also its philosophies and values.
  • There may also be a practical component, designed to test crossover candidates’ diving and teaching ability.

The need for the first component is unquestionable. If a diver training organization does not ensure that all of its instructors have a firm grasp of standards, procedures, philosophies and values, all manner of problems can result. But what about the second component?

If you are reading this, there is a good possibility you actually give a rat’s ass about quality. Therefore, your first reaction is most likely, “Hell yes! ‘Too many loser instructors out there already. Don’t let any of them in.” But is it really that simple?


The contention that instructors with well-established, widely recognized diver training organizations such as PADI, NAUI, SSI and SDI still need to prove themselves relies on several assumptions, including:

  • Instructors from other organizations aren’t as good as your instructors; therefore, you should only let in the ones that are.
  • There are a lot of bad instructors out there; therefore, you should do everything in our power to weed them out.
  • By assessing the diving and teaching ability of all of your instructors, you help ensure a consistent level of quality.

Well, that certainly sounds reasonable, doesn’t it? And there is an element of truth to at least two of those assumptions. Nevertheless, there are also some serious problems with each assumption.

Should I care what you “think?”

Before we get into this, I have to do something I don’t normally like to do, which is explain a little bit about my background.

  • I’ve been doing this for a while. Over four decades, in fact. During that time, I’ve made over 8,500 dives, trained several hundred divers, and captained charters in the Caribbean and Pacific (taking out over 10,000 divers in Hawai’i alone).
  • I also seem to have set some sort of industry record for working for the greatest number of diver training organizations, having been at the headquarters of NAUI, PADI, TDI/SDI and NASE. I’ve also developed books, eLearning courses and videos for these agencies, as well as SSI, NOAA and NSS-CDS.
  • More significantly, in this context, I’ve trained or evaluated over 1,800 instructors or instructor trainers for NAUI, PADI, SSI, TDI/SDI, NASE and NSS-CDS.


This doesn’t automatically mean I’m right — just that, whatever opinions I’ve formed over the years are based on some very real experience. More than most instructors and instructor trainers get.

I bring this up because, inevitably, someone will post a comment starting with, “Well, I think…” Opinions are like assholes; everyone has one. The only thing that matters is how much real-world experience you can base your opinion on.

So, before you rush to make a comment below, remember: I don’t care what you “think.” I only care about what you know, based on first-hand experience, conducting crossovers or taking part in them.

Fact 1: Your instructors are not that good

Everyone who belongs to (or runs) a diver training organization wants to believe that their instructors are simply better than anyone else’s. Unfortunately, wishing that something is true doesn’t make it so.

The plain fact is, there is simply no objective criteria by which to assess whether one particular agency’s instructors are inherently better or worse than any other’s. Therefore, including a diving or teaching skills assessment in your instructor crossover process solely to force other diving educators to “prove” they are as good as your instructors is based more on fantasy than fact.

In four decades of training instructors for all of the major agencies, I’ve yet to come across any agency whose instructors were that much better than those of other organizations.

Note to NAUI: ‘Sorry, guys. It’s time to wake up and realize that it’s not 1978 any longer. And while some of your instructors are still outstanding, as a group, they are nowhere near as good as you think they are. In fact, today, it’s actually harder to become a PADI Instructor than it is one of yours. Deal with it.

The bottom line is, if you want to include a diving or teaching skills assessment in your crossover process, you need a better justification than this.

Fact 2: Other instructors are not that bad

“I’ve seen some pretty Gawd-awful instructors out there…” I’m sure you have. But you’ve also seen some pretty damn good ones as well. In fact, in my experience, most instructors are conscientious, hard working and genuinely care about the quality of the students they train.

What I will grant you is that the vast majority of entry-level divers out there are nowhere near as good as they should be. Is that the instructor’s fault? Sometimes it is. But, as often as not, it is due to factors beyond the instructor’s control.

Divers on Coral

For example:

  • Students often enter diver training with unrealistic expectations about the time and effort it takes to become a competent diver. “I’m on a flight to Barbados in three days. I’ve done the online course; I need to knock off my confined water dives before then.”
  • Instructors may be given inadequate times frames in which to develop student abilities. Available evidence suggests that, in much of the USA, the typical entry-level scuba course consists of just a single weekend of academic and confined water training, followed by two days of open-water training. This may entail as little as four hours in the pool…or less. And while some students may be able to develop the necessary skills in such a short amount of time, many cannot, and will need to repeat some or all of their confined-water training. It’s tough to blame the instructor when this is all the time the dive center gives him, or when the dive center creates the expectation that everyone can pass in just this short amount of time.
  • They may simply not know any better. Say, for example, that a training agency or an instructor trainer tells a new instructor that, unless his students spend the majority of their time standing, sitting or kneeling on the bottom, the instructor is exercising poor “control.” Is it the instructor’s fault, then, if students fail to master adequate buoyancy control skills?

Sometimes, all it takes to turn a supposedly “bad” instructor into a good one is the opportunity to teach through an organization with a more up-to-date set of training standards and teaching philosophy. However, if you design your crossover process in a manner that actually keeps these instructors out, they will never get any better, and they will continue to crank out bad divers through their existing agency.

Fact 3: Most instructor evaluations are bullshit

Some diver training organizations include, as part of the crossover process, many (or all) of the same evaluations of diving and teaching ability as their own instructor candidates undergo. The argument for doing so is that this helps ensure a consistent standard of quality, regardless of the instructor’s background.

At first glance, this sounds pretty reasonable, doesn’t it? After all, who wants to cross over an instructor who is not at least as good as the agency’s own instructor candidates? And, indeed, doing so would allow the prospective agency to quickly identify crossover candidates who are truly hopeless.

There is a critical flaw in this approach, however. That is, it can do an egregiously poor job of assessing the crossover instructor’s real-world teaching ability. Or, as Penn and Teller would say, it’s Bullshit!

  • Take watermanship assessments, for example. Given sufficient notice, just about any crossover candidate could hit the gym or the pool and be ready for any timed swim or similar exercise you throw at him. Does that mean the candidate will maintain this level of fitness once the crossover is done? (Do I even have to ask?)
  • “Objective” assessments of academic, confined- or open-water teaching presentations can be equally as misleading. Given that crossover candidates have undergone a similar process with their original agency, most have figured out that passing these assessments only involves saying the right thing at the right time. It can bear very little resemblance to real-world teaching and, thus, be a poor reflection of the candidate’s actual ability to teach.

Up until the 1980s, assessment of instructor candidate teaching presentations, in most training agencies, was largely subjective. If your evaluator “felt” you did a good job, you passed. The evaluator might have his own grading criteria; however, it was unusual to have agency-wide criteria for this.

Of course, this approach could easily lead to problems. I remember attending a large NAUI ITC in 1981 as a guest speaker. The candidates had been split into three groups, each of whom would be evaluated separately by different individuals.

Two candidates, who were roommates, but in different groups, received the same academic teaching assignment. Not being stupid, they pooled their resources and co-developed what were, essentially, identical presentations. I attended both.

The first candidate’s presentation was soundly praised by his evaluator. “This is how all of your presentations should be organized,” he proclaimed, awarding the candidate five out of five points.

The second candidate, however, was just as soundly condemned by his evaluator — and given a score of 1 for the same presentation for which his partner received a 5. This is a worst-case scenario for what can happen when there are no objective criteria for grading candidate presentations.


Things began to change in the 1980s, when training agencies started to come up with what were supposed to be totally objective criteria for grading academic, confined-water and open-water teaching presentations. The idea was that, no matter who did the evaluation, the same presentation would always receive the same score.

Progress…right? Not really. As it turned out, this “objective” approach to grading not only had its own set of issues and may have created more problems than it solved. For example:

  • Candidate teaching presentations stopped bearing any resemblance whatsoever to real-world teaching and, as such, did a spectacularly poor job of preparing instructor candidates for real life diver training.
  • Candidates and ITs alike quickly figured out how to game the system. I’ve seen instructor candidates who were, in fact, poor potential educators but smart enough to figure out how to manipulate the system get a good score.
  • At the same time, I’ve also seen candidates who were exceptionally good teachers flunk out on a technicality. For example, there was one young man who, in 1992, was doing particularly well at his IE, consistently scoring 4 or above. Then, on his open-water teaching presentation, he made a critical error, letting go of an ascent line just three feet from the surface during an emergency ascent exercise. The result was, he flunked the entire IE. Most people in his position would have given up right there. Fortunately, he persisted, coming back 60 days later, passing the next IE and going on to secure a good job in Maui.


  • Some course directors went so far as to sell their candidates a package of pre-written scripts for several hundred dollars over and above the cost of their instructor course. The idea was, if you simply read from the script, you were “guaranteed” to pass your Instructor Evaluation.

These problems are bad enough when you are teaching new instructor candidates. When you use the same approach to evaluate crossover candidates (who may be old hands at this game), they may be even worse. The bottom line is, when you evaluate crossover candidates the same way you do new instructors, you may not find out what it is you really need to know about them.

The only thing you can count on with any certainty is that, after being on their very best behavior for the crossover, experienced instructors will most likely go back to what they’ve been comfortable doing all along…unless you motivate them to do otherwise.

Taking the Hypocritic Oath

This is not to be confused with the Hippocratic Oath, which is what physicians take. The Hypocritic Oath goes something like this:

Because they had the audacity to not join our little club in the first place, I swear on my honor as an opinionated, self-important training agency asshole (who no longer teaches or dives) to hold other-agency instructors to a vastly higher standard than I do our own instructors — who, having gotten their instructor tickets, never have to do anything to prove themselves to us again…other than, of course, sending us money every year.

I have an ex who pretty much stopped teaching and diving back when our daughter was born. I won’t say that was a while back; however, my little baby girl is now a major in the United States Air Force. To the best of my knowledge, my ex has only been diving once in the past three decades.

Nevertheless, had she kept paying her annual member fees, she would still be in Teaching status with the Giant Association of Scuba Professionals (or whatever agency it was I last certified her through). At the same time, a truly active and experienced instructor with current teaching credentials from NAUI, SSI and/or TDI/SDI would have to jump through an incredible number of hoops (and spend a shitload of money) if he wanted to start certifying through GASP.

If there any justification for this? Not that I can see.


Any way you slice it, it’s hypocritical to demand something from other agency instructors that you don’t ask of your own members. Does this mean training agencies should ask their instructors to re-qualify periodically? In an ideal world, yes, they would. But, from a practical standpoint? Well, that’s something else.

Every time a training agency asks its instructors or ITs to re-qualify, they see their membership numbers drop. Some of these are individuals who weren’t really supporting the organization in the first place. Others, however, are valuable members who simply elect to save themselves the time, money and hassle by staying current with agencies that are not so demanding.

The bottom line here is that, if good instructors from other agencies see your crossover process as being hypocritical, they will likely just stay where they are.

“So, other than that Mrs. Lincoln, how did you like the play?”

An article like this raises far more questions than it answers. If you are looking for a definitive statement on what I think the ideal instructor crossover should be, you are likely to be disappointed. All I can do is tell you where my head is at, at the moment.

  • Should crossover candidates undergo the same sort of Instructor Evaluation that new instructors do? If the instructor is a relatively recent graduate of a NAUI, PADI, SSI or TDI/SDI instructor program, I know, from first-hand experience, what assessments they had to pass to get their ticket. Having them repeat this process a second time won’t tell me anything I don’t already know.
  • If is sufficient that crossover candidates are simply in current Teaching status with a recognized agency? It might be; however, when someone is seeking to cross over to my organization, I always ask questions such as, Why do you want to cross over? Do you think we are a genuinely better alternative to your present agency…or is your store owner simply making you do this? And, most importantly, are you doing this because you need to crossover to another organization before your present one boots you out on a quality-assurance or ethics issue?
  • Would you accept a ringing endorsement of a crossover candidate’s teaching abilities from another individual? I might…if that individual was someone I knew and trusted, and they had personally observed the crossover candidate teach and seen the quality of his or her students.

Absent any of these options, my ideal choice would be to say, “Let’s go diving…and bring some of your recently certified Open Water Divers with you.”

All factors being equal, I’m going to know, within minutes of seeing the crossover candidate under water, whether or not he or she can actually dive. What I’m going to be more interested in, however, is how good his or her students are.

Here’s why;

  • It doesn’t matter whether or not someone is a great diver. If their students suck, they suck as an instructor.
  • On the other hand, I’ve seen instructors who may have had a few failings as divers — but whose students are outstanding. (Generally, though, instructors who have great students are great divers themselves.)

When it comes to assessing crossover candidates, being able to evaluate an instructor pales in comparison to being able to evaluate his or her students.


In the past six months, I’ve crossed over eight instructors. All came from a store that I’ve worked with since 2008. Here is how I evaluated them:

  • To start, I’ve known each of these individuals for quite some time. Even before many were instructors, I watched them assisting with open-water training dives. I’ve also watch most of them teach actual students as fully certified instructors.
  • I’ve known their SSI Instructor Trainer for even longer. I know what she teaches and how she evaluates candidates.
  • After doing the “Here’s who we are, what we do and following our standards presentation and assessment,” I did not evaluate their teaching or diving ability in the water. That just would have been a re-hash of what they already did with their SSI IT.
  • Instead, I taught them to sidemount. It is amazing how much more I learned about this group’s abilities by watching them adapt to completely new and unfamiliar equipment — while all the while maintaining perfect buoyancy control and trim.

I’m now much more comfortable and confident with their abilities than I would have been had they gone through a more traditional crossover instructor evaluation.

What do you think? (Make that “What do you actually know?”)

As I said, despite extensive experience training and evaluating ITs and instructors, I’m far from having all the answers to this one. That being the case, I’d love to hear from others.

A word of warning, though: Do not waste my time telling me what you “think.” Tell me what you know, based on real-world experience training and evaluating crossover instructors, or an any other experience that would be genuinely relevant to this (such as your own experience going through a crossover).

Who knows what you might be able to teach me.

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2 thoughts on “The Politics and Practicalities of Crossing Over

  • Alex Brylske

    Harry, even with the high bar you set normally, this article is masterful. As someone who helped create Frankenstein’s monster—and will no doubt spend lots of time in purgatory for it—I couldn’t agree more. The one thing I truly miss about our days at Mecca were our lunch discussions. You’ll one of the few people in recreational diving not to have drunk some flavor of Kool-Aid, and I’m proud to call you a friend.

  • Kenneth Tuttle Wilhelm

    As someone who will probably be more and more involved with crossovers and examinations in the coming years. I found this article valuable exactly for the questions it raises.

    As my option to your teaching them side mount, with the intent of getting a realistic view of their abilities as ‘expert’ divers… I believe that I would give them a plastic backpack with harness, (no wing), one D-ring to place on the waist belt, to hold their finger spool, and then say… ‘Let’s go diving…. you’ve got 8 minutes to be in the water…’ They would have weights and weight belts available… and of course whatever exposure protection they use, and their Mask, Snorkel, Fins, dive timer/computer, and SMB.

    Then observe:

    1. Can they figure it out? Do they know themselves as divers, know their normal gear set up well enough to accurately decide on the weight needed?

    2. Do they have the buoyancy control and body position mastery expected of a professional?

    3. Are then able to demonstrate all the common open water skills, neutrally buoyant at 20m and at 5m (to a professional standard)??