Full disclosure: I did not know much about dive instructor jobs until I first became a PADI Divemaster. Lured by the life in the tropics, soaking in sunshine and living in my bikini, I thought this was the life!
And whenever I share my “occupation” as a PADI scuba instructor, people are in awe of my lifestyle, my office views and where I get to call “home.” Many people have said to me “I can’t believe you call this your work!”
Sometimes I can’t believe it either.
I live in a tropical paradise 365 days of the year.
I get paid to be in the ocean and see with some incredible marine animals.
I have a bronze tan year-round.
I practically live in my bathing-suit and flip flops.
Drinking and socializing with guests is my “job.”
Now, you may be thinking, “that is just about the best job in the world!”
It may be, but there are certainly drawbacks of working as a scuba diving instructor that you may not see or hear about.
While being a PADI scuba instructor has been a PHENOMENAL opportunity, there have been some eye-opening aspects of dive instructor jobs that I hadn’t expected.
In this post I want to shed light into the diving industry for those wannabe mermaids who are considering becoming a professional scuba diving instructor.
My intention of this post is not to discourage anyone from pursuing a career in scuba diving, but to give you a glimpse into a reality of dive instructor jobs so that you can make an informed decision for your future.
Here are my top 6 insights of working as a dive instructor:
#1: Long days and longer work week
Working as a dive guide or a diving instructor is physically labor intensive.
How much physical work is required depends on each dive center or resort. But it is quite common for a dive guide or instructor to be expected to prepare the boat by carrying tanks (each tank weights about 30-32lbs), guests’ dive equipment crates, and sensitive camera equipment.
When the dive trip is over, you will be expected to offload the boat, then wash the guests’ equipment so that the salt does not crystallize and damage them.
Depending on where you work, some dive centers or resorts may have helpers to do some or all of these tasks. Regardless, you should expect to work 12 hours/day on average, 6 days a week.
I remember when I met my first dive instructor many many years ago, he had mentioned that he worked 6 days a week. Having worked only 5 days/week my whole life (which was already a lot if you asked me), I thought it was ludicrous! For sure I thought he was an exception!
But as it turns out, he was not an exception – once I became a dive instructor myself, I quickly learned that a 6-day work week was an industry standard. To this day, I have not met any full-time scuba instructors who work less than 6 days/week (assuming they are contracted employees and not freelancers).
Another important thing to note is that if you are a full-time employee, you will almost always work on major holidays. Winter break (Christmas), spring break and summer break in particular are busy times for most dive operators, because it’s obviously when the guests take their vacations.
You can pretty much forget about going home for the holidays.
#2: You must love people
Being a PADI instructor is a customer service job. You must love and enjoy making people happy – your entire world revolves around that. Throughout your day you are interacting with guests, serving them coffee/tea before and after the dives, setting up their meals during a lunch break, showing critters underwater, and going above and beyond to provide excellent customer service.
Whether you are guiding certified scuba divers or training students, your ultimate job is to show them a great time and put a smile on their faces while they are spending time with you (which is commonly 10-12 hrs/day)!
Your interaction with guests is not limited to underwater. Depending on where you work, you may spend a significant amount of time above water with your guests as well.
#3: You are responsible for a LIFE
I learned this lesson the hard way.
Early in my career as a dive instructor, I was involved in an accident while teaching a PADI Open Water Diver course.
I was swept underwater by a strong surge and as I crashed against a large boulder, my mask flew off of my face and my regulator flew out of my mouth. The powerful surge dragged me underwater and smashed me against the rocks and I couldn’t breathe. A moment flashed before my eyes, where I thought “this is it…this is how I’m going to go.”
After what seemed like eternity, the surge brought me back up to the surface and I was able to gasp for air. I released myself out of my dive equipment, and swam toward my student who was pinned against a rock by the surge as well. When my student and I eventually climbed out of the water onto the rocks, we were covered with bloody cuts and bruises.
This accident taught me a valuable lesson. Dive Instructor jobs are not just about having fun.
Being a dive instructor can be a matter of life or death. I am not only responsible for my own life but for someone else’s as well.
I am grateful that this lesson came early in my scuba diving career, as I never took my job for granted after this incident.
I am now probably overly cautious compared to other instructors, but I’d rather be safe than sorry.
Over the next several years working in the diving industry, I witnessed drowning, missing divers and even deaths in the ocean. While mother nature can bring you joy and awe with its magnificent beauty, it can also expose you to unexpected tragedies and harsh realities.
If I can give advice to future scuba instructors, it would be this: pay close attention to your Emergency First Response course (you never know when your skills will be required), and make sure are insured as a dive professional!
#4: Competition is Fierce for Dive Instructor Jobs
Dive instructor jobs don’t come easy. In this industry, you are competing for a position against people who are willing to work for next to nothing. As a result, many (not all) dive shops will see you as dispensable.
You must be willing to go above and beyond what is expected of you because there is always a next person in line willing to do it in your place. You must make yourself desirable to the market by having additional skills or qualifications.
Here are some skills that are beneficial to have in tandem with your instructor certification:
- Additional language
- Boat mechanics
- Underwater photography
- Team management
For me, it helped that I was bilingual in Japanese/English, and I had a background in management from my previous employment.
Being fluent in Japanese allowed me to get my first scuba instructor position in Bali, and my management background allowed me to get my subsequent role as a dive center manager.
You may also consider advancing your rank beyond PADI OWSI (Open Water Scuba Instructor). By becoming a PADI MSDT (Master Scuba Diver Trainer) or PADI Staff Instructor, you may broaden your career opportunities.
#5: “You work for the lifestyle, not for the money”
One of the most frequently asked question about the industry is, “how much do scuba instructors make?”
While a scuba instructor salary can range significantly depending on your location, your job description and your experience, I think it’s fair to say that overall, scuba diving jobs will not make you rich. For most, the salary may not even be enough to support a lifestyle in a western world.
But depending on your contract with your employer, your accommodation and food may be covered which means your expense is significantly reduced and you pocket more money.
My lowest pay as a freelance instructor was $25/day (not as a contracted, full-time instructor) which, even in a developing country, was barely enough to pay for rent and food.
On the other hand, I also worked on a remote island where my employment contract included full room & board – and when you live on a remote island with no shopping mall, restaurant or internet, there is no way to spend your money!
I would not say life was easy or comfortable on such a remote location, but it allowed me to save enough money to take several trips around the world to see families and explore new destinations. Even though my annual salary was much less than what I made working 9-5 in NYC, I actually ended up with more money in the bank because I was able to save all my income.
In the end, it all comes down to timing, your worth to your employer, company’s salary structure, and a bit of luck 😉
#6: The bottom line – IT IS a job.
You get paid to deliver services and it requires hard work, whether that is to meet a sales quota, take guests diving who are complete jerks, dive when you are sick, write blogs for the company website, or get disparaged by unhappy customers.
While you may enjoy your new life in paradise, being a scuba instructor does not preclude you from being exposed to sometimes unpleasant, irritating or stressful situations like any other job. It is not always fun and games. It is a job, after all.
For the most part, I had great employers who treated me well. I was also fortunate to have met some great guests who became great friends. But I also had an encounter with guests who abused me verbally and brought me to tears. Or the time I had to get out of bed in the middle of the night to address a guest complaint – neither of which I had to deal with when I had an office job. So, as they say – you win some and lose some.
Ready to Become a Scuba Instructor?
For me, working as a scuba instructor was a dream come true.
If you told me 10 years ago that I would be getting paid to live on a beach, dive some of the best dive sites in the world and meet other travelers, I would have NEVER believed you. Life has been good.
So would I recommend others to pursue a life of a scuba instructor?
Sure! I would just say to have clear expectations (which you do now!), understand what this life entails, and stay ahead of the crowd.
If you are interested in becoming a dive professional, make sure to check out these posts on how to become a PADI Divemaster first and what you need to know about instructor training during your PADI Instructor Development Course.