The following guest post was written by professional scuba diving instructor Elliot Leimer. The featured pictures are by Mekan Photography.
After 2 years as a Real Estate Financial analyst in New York City, I had pushed myself, both physically and mentally, to the edge of exhaustion. I knew it was time to start planning an escape.
I’ve always had a passion for travelling and the underwater world, reading blogs about people living on the road was part of my routine, but I never thought it could become reality for me. Until it did!
This guide is aimed to give inspiration and information to anyone who is in similar situation. Those of you thinking about leaving their current day to day life to become part of the professional diving industry, whether for a few months or as a complete career overhaul.
Planning is THE most important step to achieving your dreams of living on the road, regardless of the path you choose.
Other than learning how to become a scuba diving instructor, your first step should be to clearly state what you’re looking to get out of this adventure. Is it a shift of career or a sabbatical between jobs? This will help you narrow your options and plan better.
I knew I wanted to be in for the long run, and realized that unless you’re an instructor you will have a hard time finding paid, consistent work. This is when I started to put together my roadmap to becoming a scuba diving instructor.
I started 6 months before quitting my job, saving up every bit of cash I could, selling my furniture and countless other things I managed to accumulate over the past two years. I also did research about costs of living in the various parts of the world I wanted to go.
Having a background in finance, I’m a big fan of budgets. I cannot recommend one enough prior to your departure. This will allow you to save enough before quitting your job and will make your entire experience more enjoyable. When preparing your budget, be generous: give yourself some room for that extra beer or the splurge on a nice western meal. I like to be extra conservative by adding a 10% extra to my entire budget.
Do your research
Another important step in the planning process is the gathering of information. You should talk to as many people as possible regarding your travels, whether it be dive professionals, friends who have already been travelling for extended periods of time or the internet community. This will allow you to have a good understanding of what you’re signing up for.
As far as information goes, I will do my best throughout this guide to use my own experience to provide you with as many tricks and tips as possible.
Understanding the Professional Diving Industry
Please note that this article uses terminology and a career development path based on PADI, the largest organization in the diving world. However, most of the tips included in this guide are relevant regardless of the organization which you decide to go with. If you are certified with another organization (SSI, TDI, CMAS etc…) you can simply continue your education with PADI (see equivalence on each company’s website) or complete your professional training with the same organization.
It’s important to understand the diving terminology you will hear or see online. You will see a lot of people using divemaster, instructor or divemaster trainee interchangeably, but they are not the same. There are big differences as far as what you’re allowed to teach and get paid for at these various levels of training.
Learning the lingo
A divemaster trainee (DMT for short) refers to a divemaster in training, prior to certification and is the first step in becoming a dive professional. As a DMT you can assist on all courses and help guide other divers but ALWAYS under the supervision of a certified Divemaster or Instructor.
Becoming a divemaster (DM) is the entry-level job of the professional diving world. As a certified divemaster, you will be allowed to guide certified divers and conduct refresher courses. Generally speaking, most places only employ local divemasters due to immigration laws and will only use foreigners for instructor positions. You should be able to find work in popular dive destinations but as a freelancer, meaning the pay will be considerably less.
In order to begin your a divemaster training you will need to have completed an Open Water Course, Advanced Open Water, Emergency First Responder and Rescue courses. At this point, you’ve got two options to consider regarding your divemaster training: an internship-style training over the course of 3 to 4 months or a more relaxed, course style program over a month.
As far as performance requirements, they are both the same. However, the internship means hands-on, unpaid and often tiring work. It also comes with a much lower price tag. The course style divemaster training is far more relaxed. You will get to experience the professional diving world and dive a lot but you will not be expected to perform as many duties around the dive center.
I recommend the internship to anyone looking to pursue a career in diving, as you will get more time with a dive center and understand how it works. The course style divemaster training is the perfect opportunity to take time off in between jobs and truly improve your dive skills! Regardless of which one you choose, you will have responsibilities over other people and be expected to do more than just fun dives, so keep this in mind.
One of the best parts of a career in diving is that it will take you to some of the most idyllic places in the world. However, the multitude of options can make it difficult to pick a place to do your divemaster training. The answer to this question will be truly personal, depending on the type of person you are and what you are looking to get out of the experience.
With a limited budget and after thorough research, I decided to do an internship with Tofo Scuba in Tofo, Mozambique, where I completed both my Rescue course and my divemaster training. Tofo is a small village with a wonderful community of locals and expats, revolving around diving. There, the work was demanding but so rewarding! This is the place where I became a great diver and encountered some of the most incredible underwater life and people to date.
When picking where to do your training you can find anything that suits you, from the party lifestyle and warm waters of Utila to the lesser known, more secluded beaches of the Philippines. You will need to ask questions (through emails, on forums or with people who have already been in these places) and be ready to compromise. Here is a list of a few things you want to consider when picking the right place to do your divemaster:
Taking into account the underwater world is one of the most important part of your decision. Maybe your dream is to see a manta ray, or the ever elusive Thresher sharks, whatever it may be, this can already help narrow your choices. However, it is also important to consider other factors such as the underwater conditions. Picking a place with strong currents or poor visibility will surely be tougher, but you will gain invaluable experience, which will then help you find better work later on.
This is the counterpart to the point above, the life above water. Most diving destinations fall into two general categories: the more outgoing, nightlife oriented places and the more secluded, paradisiac places. You can always lead a quiet lifestyle in a party destination and you will always find fellow divers to share a beer with on a small remote island but you should take the lifestyle into consideration before heading off.
This obviously includes the cost of your training, but keep in mind the cost of living. You will also need to purchase some gear, most dive centers will lend you a regulator and a BCD but will ask that you have your own soft gear (wetsuit, mask, fins, surface marker buoy and dive computer).
The dive center
The dive center plays a huge part in your experience, both during and after the training. A well run shop will be able to help you in all aspects of your experience, from finding a place to live to creating a proper budget for yourself. Make sure you email them and ask tons of questions. In my experience, the more thorough their replies, the more likely they are to be on top of their game.
A busy dive center is a great opportunity to learn how to teach. As a DMT you are required to assist on a few courses, but I recommend assisting on as many as possible. This will be your only opportunity to learn how to teach, as you will see later when we discuss the Instructor Development Course. Last but not least, a dive center’s reputation and network can be of great help when you start looking for work.
Once you are a certified divemaster, you will need to make a decision about the next step. You may want to go back to a more “normal” life, or simply have your new job starting already. However, if you feel like I did after my divemaster training, you can’t wait to further your career in diving. This is not a decision to take lightly, as the instructor training is costly and challenging.
The Instructor Development Course (IDC), is a preparation course that lasts anywhere from 2 to 6 weeks prior to passing a PADI administered Instructor Examination (IE). Other organizations have a similar process, for more details, please check the relevant organization’s website.
The IDC takes place within a dive center and includes a mix of theory, pool and open water presentations where you learn how to work within the framework and standards set by PADI. Keep in mind that no one actually teaches you the logistics of instructing a specific course. As previously mentioned, your best opportunity to learn how to teach is during your divemaster training.
Additionally, do not hesitate to ask your future colleagues how they go about teaching a course. Becoming a good instructor is a constant learning process and there is no one perfect way to teach a diving course.
You will see a wide range of prices when it comes to IDC, so be careful of hidden costs! You will need to become a EFR Instructor before you can start your training, pay examination and registration fees to PADI in addition to paying the dive center for the IDC. These additional costs are generally how dive centers keep their costs competitive. Don’t forget to check if other things like accommodation, food and other living expenses are included in the cost of your IDC.
Take the long route
Do not to cut corners on the IDC. Passing the Instructor Examination (IE) is easy, becoming a good instructor that works within standards is not. This is why you need to do your IDC with a Course Director that has a good reputation. Ask your instructors during your Divemaster where they did their training and if they recommend it. Send emails with questions about the IDC but also get an idea of the experience of the person who will be your Course Director.
Oceans 5 Instructor Course
After speaking with many dive professionals and inquiring about the IDC with many dive centers, a name kept popping up: Oceans 5, on Gili Air. Their three course directors run a well oiled dive center known and respected for the quality instructors to come out of their training. They are also responsible for a running a large part of the IDCs in Indonesia and even as far as Mozambique. Although the course was very demanding I cannot recommend it enough.
Congratulations, you now know how to become a scuba diving instructor! You can now teach courses and also, get paid for it. By this time in my adventure, my budget was being stretched and I was eager to get to work. However, it’s not as easy as it sounds. In the ideal situation, you’re able to either start working with a dive center with which you were trained, or you can use their network to get in touch with other shops who are in need of instructors.
If you’re not able to find a job through networking, I would start by using the PADI pro website, which has a wonderful classifieds sections, as well as Facebook groups such as Diving Jobs Worldwide. However, these ads often require a lot of language skills or experience.
What I did was to head to Khao Lak, near the Similan Island National park at the end of the season there and immediately found work as a freelance instructor. Like many diving destinations, work there is seasonal and at the beginning and end of season, dive centers can be severely understaffed.
Regardless of what you decide to do: DO NOT work for free! I cannot stress this enough. This greatly undermines all the training that you went through, the value that you now provide to dive centers as well as all the hard work that other instructors in the industry do. Beware of “internship-style” work as an instructor, you deserve to get paid for the services you provide.
One of the most important things you can do in order to find work is to have the right attitude. Present a professional CV to all dive centers, include a picture and highlight your language skills as well as your eagerness to work. Once you get your first course, don’t miss it because you got too drunk the night before. Don’t turn down an opportunity to work, even if it’s not ideal. This is your foot in the door with a dive center and will certainly lead to more work.
Wherever you end up when you start you career as a dive instructor, do not despair if it doesn’t meet your expectations. This is the reason diving is such a beautiful way to travel the world; it offers endless opportunities for all types of personalities, allowing you to meet wonderful people as you share your passion for the underwater world.
As Jacques Cousteau once said: “When one man has the opportunity to lead an extraordinary life, he has no right to keep it to himself.”
The journey to becoming a dive instructor sounds like an extremely rewarding one! The tips you have listed are incredibly practical, and in particular I could not agree more with the advice not to work for free. I completed my yoga teacher training as well as tens of hours of additional training, and it’s amazing how many places expect people to work for free, or in return for a bed and MAYBE 3 meals a day.