Many divers look at their dive instructor or divemaster and think that (s)he’s living the dream. Living in paradise, diving every day and getting paid for it. There are certainly many attractive things about working as a dive pro. But if these are the only reasons why you consider a career in diving you may have to think twice, because there’s a lot more to it.
Spoiler alert: only a love for diving isn’t enough…
You dive (almost) every day
Let’s start with the main reason why people want to become a dive pro: diving every day, and getting paid for it! As an instructor you’ll definitely dive a lot, although not as much as a divemaster because you’ll spend a lot of days in the pool too. But for me, the combination of pool days, diving days and a few dry days in between are actually perfect. Diving all the time is physically exhausting, so the variety gives my body the opportunity to get some rest. But if you still can’t get enough, most (not all) dive centers will let their employees dive for free on their days off!
But you’re chronically tired
As fantastic as it is, diving all the time has a down side, and that is being chronically tired. Everyone and their mother will tell you that working as a dive instructor is physically demanding. That’s because diving as an activity consumes a lot of energy in general, but there are other factors involved too.
Until you become a dive pro, you’ve probably only dived for fun. If you don’t feel well, you skip the dive, as we teach divers early on in the Open Water Course. For a dive instructor, it doesn’t work like that: if you have a headache, hangover, stomach cramps, even if you have a (light) cold: the show must go on. The same goes for one hour surface intervals: as an instructor you don’t always get that luxury. When it gets busy, you’re required to do 4 or even 5 dives a day. As long as you stay within your no decompression limit, you’re expected to jump back in the water.
And the work doesn’t begin or end with the actual dives. Depending on where you work, your other tasks may involve administration, preparing and cleaning gear, carrying tanks, refilling tanks, working in the dive shop, or cleaning the boat after a long day of diving.
You work in paradise
Does sitting in an office the whole day depress you? Are you fed up with always being inside, sometimes barely even seeing any natural daylight? I get it, because that used to be me. As a dive instructor you won’t have to worry about vitamin D deficiency. You’ll spend the majority of your time outside, and the ocean is your office! You get to hang out with turtles, big schools of fish, whale sharks and manta rays while you’re at work. No more being stuck in traffic: your commute to work is now sitting on a boat in the morning sun.
And no matter what your idea of paradise is, I’m pretty sure you’ll be able to find a dive operation there. Whether you like remote tropical islands, luxury resorts, party towns, layers of ice, yachts, or mountain lakes: as long as there’s water there will be work for a dive instructor. The world is literally at your feet!
But you don’t have much time to enjoy it
Yes, you’ll be living in paradise and diving every day, but don’t think that your life will be one big holiday! You’ll probably have much less time off than you do in a ‘regular’ job. The official working days of a dive instructor are usually from 7AM to 5PM. But after that many dive centers will expect you to stay and chat with customers at the bar (meaning: sell courses). And if you have a night dive, you’ll be working at least until 8PM.
In most popular holiday destinations, you will only get one day off a week if you’re working as a dive instructor. This is often not a fixed day, but will be ‘given’ to you when the schedule allows it. That means you could go 2 or 3 weeks without having a day off, so when you finally do get one, all you’ll want to do is sleep. And just like everyone else in tourism/hospitality you’ll be working during all holidays, as this is high season.
You help people get out of their comfort zone
Even though I love diving more than anything, that’s not my favorite part about working as a dive instructor. During my divemaster and instructor training I was surprised to find out that I really enjoy teaching and helping people get over their fears. It still amazes me every Open Water Course that people put their whole lives in my hands. It makes me feel like a proud mom to see people grow in such a short time. From being insecure and awkwardly splashing around in the pool, to being confident divers who can handle themselves in an emergency. Having students who are naturally at ease in the water is nice, but I actually prefer the difficult cases. Those that are afraid of the ocean, or almost crying because they don’t want to remove their mask underwater. It’s these students that will remember you for the rest of their lives for helping them get over their fears. To me, that’s by far the most rewarding thing about working as a dive instructor.
But you’re responsible for their safety
With that proud and rewarding feeling comes something else: responsibility. Without a doubt this was the one thing that I was not prepared for as a brand new instructor. It’s widely discussed during the instructor training, but mostly from a liability point of view (how to avoid being sued). Until you really start teaching, you only practice with other instructor candidates who role play being your student. Even if you mess up or don’t pay attention, nobody is going to die (hopefully).
When you have a real student, you have 3 to 4 days to teach this person everything he needs to know to handle himself in the open ocean. In most cases this is doable, but it’s definitely not a lot of time. The majority of students will listen to your instructions and do well. But there are also people who just don’t get it, or worse – who don’t listen. These people can be a danger to themselves, to their fellow students and to you. It’s your responsibility to make sure that everyone stays safe during the course. In most jobs, if you make a big mistake, you may have to redo some work. Worst case scenario, you lose money. If you fuck up as a dive instructor, people will get seriously injured or worse: they die. And even if it’s completely their own fault, as their instructor you will be liable.
You make friends from all over the world
It’s not unique to dive instructors to meet people from all over the world. But what is unique, is that you spend a lot of time with them in an intimate setting. You help them get out of their comfort zone. That inevitably creates a bond between you and your students. I have most of my students on Facebook. It makes me feel so proud to see them continuing their scuba adventures. I even still talk to my instructor of my own Open Water Course after all these years! All those people from all over the world, with their own cultures and beliefs will pass through your dive centre. And you have the opportunity to actually get to know them and learn from them!
But you don’t make a lot of money
Nobody becomes a dive instructor to get rich. This is a career you choose out of passion, not to save for your retirement. The majority of dive instructors make enough money to pay for rent, groceries and a few beers at night. You will sometimes be able to save a little bit, but that’s probably because you live so remote that there’s nowhere to spend your money. In many countries where you can work as a dive instructor, the currency will be weaker than your own. You may be able to get by in that particular country, but when buying a plane ticket to go home to visit family and friends, you’ll easily spend the equivalent of 2 months salary. There are some exceptions, for example if you work on a super yacht or in a fancy resort in the Maldives where you get to teach movie stars.
So…. why would you?!
I didn’t write this blog to scare aspiring dive instructors or to complain about how tough it is to work as a dive instructor. There are a lot of amazing and beautiful things about this job. For many people these positives outweigh the negatives. But before you invest in an expensive Instructor Development Course, you need to have a clear image of what it will be like. Ask yourself if this is really for you in the long run. If it is, I truly believe it can be one of the best jobs in the world! You may not make a lot of money, but your life will be enriched in many other ways. You’re tired, but you’re living life to the fullest. You get to teach people about your own passion and help them grow at the same time.
Exceptions to the rule
Of course there are many exceptions to what I described here. Your working conditions will depend on where in the world you are, and even within the same area there will be differences between employers. But the scenarios as described in this blog, albeit positive or negative, are not uncommon at all in the dive industry. There may be instructors out there that are better off (lucky bastards), just like there will be many out there who are in a worse situation.
Do you still want to become a dive instructor after reading this? Then you should check out my article on how to become a dive instructor, in which I tell you everything you need to know to make your dream come true. Or go directly to how much does it cost to become a dive instructor, to get a complete overview of all the things you need to include in your budget!
Fellow instructors: what do you love or hate most about working as a dive instructor?