Objective: To investigate the ability of cochlear implant (CI) recipients to physically handle and care for their hearing implant device(s) and to identify factors that may influence skills. To assess device management skills, a clinical survey was developed and validated on a clinical cohort of CI recipients. Design: Survey development and validation. A prospective convenience cohort design study. Setting: Specialist hearing implant clinic. Participants: Forty-nine post-lingually deafened, adult CI recipients, at least 12 months postoperative. Main outcome measures: Survey test-retest reliability, interobserver reliability and responsiveness. Correlations between management skills and participant demographic, audiometric, clinical outcomes and device factors. Results: The Cochlear Implant Management Skills survey was developed, demonstrating high test-retest reliability (0.878), interobserver reliability (0.972) and responsiveness to intervention (skills training) [t(20) = -3.913, P = 0.001]. Cochlear Implant Management Skills survey scores range from 54.69% to 100% (mean: 83.45%, sd: 12.47). No associations were found between handling skills and participant factors. Conclusions: This is the first study to demonstrate a range in cochlear implant device handling skills in CI recipients and offers clinicians and researchers a tool to systematically and objectively identify shortcomings in CI recipients' device handling skills. © 2016 John Wiley & Sons Ltd.