NSS-CDS Training Program

Instructor Development


Many dive instructors tell us it was harder to get their NSS-CDS Cave Diver rating than it was to get their Open Water Instructor card. This should give you an idea of what it is like to get your NSS-CDS Cave Instructor rating. However, if you want it badly enough, it is an achievable goal.

The process of becoming a fully-certified NSS-CDS Cave Instructor involves three steps. These are:

  • Cave Divemaster
  • Apprentice Cave Instructor
  • Cave Instructor

Depending on the level, each step may involve training, internship and evaluation.

Cave Divemaster

This is to cave diving what a normal Divemaster rating is to open-water diving. And, as is true of equivalent open-water certification, some of the divers who get this rating want nothing more than to be able to conduct guided dives and assist with classes.

But, as is also true of Divemaster certification, NSS-CDS Cave Divemaster is also a prerequisite for becoming an instructor intern and beginning the process of working toward Apprentice Cave Instructor certification.

As part of the course, candidates will assist with at least one Apprentice or Cave Diver course. During this, they will be responsible for guiding students under instructor supervision.

Apprentice Cave Instructor

Registration as a Cave Divemaster also qualifies candidates with Open Water Instructor certification as instructor intern. This is someone who is working with at least one Instructor Trainer toward becoming an Apprentice Cave Instructor.

  • The key element in this process is observing, assisting with or co-teaching several Apprentice Cave Diver courses.
  • We also encourage candidates to work with more than one single instructor. Candidates who do so seem to perform markedly better at their instructor evaluation.
  • Periodically, the Section will hold a two-day Instructor Development Course (IDC). This is analogous to an IDC or ITC in the open-water world. It counts as one of the required internships. Candidates who attend these programs also tend to perform better at their evaluations.

Once candidates meets the internship requirements and gain the approval of their sponsor, they are ready for their final evaluation. Our preferred method for doing this is to have them teach an entire Apprentice Cave Diver course under the direct supervision of two qualified evaluators.

Cave Instructor

To achieve this level, candidates must:

  • Teach a total of at least three Apprentice Cave Diver courses.
  • Intern with a total of at least three full NSS-CDS Cave Diver courses.

Once you complete these requirements, there are at least two possibilities.

  • One possibility is to attend another two-day Instructor Evaluation Institute. We like to avoid these, as they don’t provide a realistic picture of a candidate’s actual teaching abilities.
  • What we prefer is to have two of our instructor evaluators watch candidates teach a complete full NSS-CDS Cave Diver course with real students. This provides us with the best picture of their actual abilities.

Prerequisites for all leadership levels

  • Be at least 21
  • Current membership in the CDS
  • Be certified to the full Cave Diver level or equivalent by a widely recognized training organization
  • Have at least 100 non-training-related cave dives past initial Cave Diver certification to begin the process; 200 is required for Instructor levels
  • Be a current Open Water Instructor or equivalent in Active status by a widely recognized training organization (Divemaster or higher for Cave Divemaster certification)
  • For Apprentice Cave Diver Instructor, have been teaching scuba for at least one year and have certified a minimum of 40 divers to the Open Water Diver level or higher


There is no specified minimum number of days, dives or minutes of bottom time. However, completing the entire process leading to full Cave Diver certification generally spreads across several months.

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Course Standards

Form These are the standards instructors must follow when teaching leadership-level courses. It includes information on student and instructor prerequisites, course content, skill requirements and limits of training.