11 Mar Travel the World by becoming a Scuba Diving Instructor: Advice from a Diver
Want to travel the world by as scuba diving instructor? Look no further. This week I asked Talon, who is the man behind 1dad1kid, a blog where Talon chronicles his travels around the world with his son Tigger, to show you what it takes to live the dream of diving for a living. If you ever wanted to eliminate any excuse you have for not going after what you want in life – Talon does this while raising and educating his son and started with only $900 in the bank. I wanted to give you a real perspective on what being a dive instructor is really like, since my ADD would surely lead whoever I was guiding to a shark den or something, I will not be doing this job. Ergo, here’s what it is like being a dive instructor by someone who has got love for the game.
Who you are and why are you traveling the world as a Scuba Diving instructor?
I had traveled a lot before I adopted a son and did some after. I wanted to raise my child in different countries and to get more living into my life. After looking at things, I decided I could work online, and we could lead a life as indefinite nomads. We started our journey with only $900 USD in the bank. I figured I could maybe teach English, and do some online language instruction to supplement our income as well. In preparation for our journey, I became scuba certified and realized that being a scuba instructor could also help us fund our travels.
Why did you become a scuba diving instructor and where have you traveled and worked as Scuba Instructor?
I have wanted to do scuba since I was a little kid. I finally got certified as an open water diver right before we left for our nomadic lifestyle. I loved it so much I knew I wanted to be an instructor, so when we were in Mexico I worked out a good discount to get my advanced open water and rescue diver certifications. After checking out locations, we decided to head to Utila, Honduras, where the divemaster and scuba diving instructor programs were much more financially reasonable, so we headed there. We ended up staying on the island for 8 months. I’ve done some teaching in Mexico and Malaysia but not a big level yet; mostly in Honduras.
How did become a Scuba Diving instructor and what are the requirements?
Utila, Honduras, is one of the cheapest places to become an instructor, and since I was familiar with diving there (because of doing my divemaster training), it seemed like a good idea to stay put. Utila is the #2 certifying location in the world for PADI, and they offer the instructor evaluation monthly, whereas other places may have it every few months. Having such a strong regular presence from PADI also means that the instructor preparation courses are high quality.
To become a scuba instructor, you have to be certified as an open water diver (for at least 6 months), advanced open water diver, rescue diver, divemaster, and Emergency First Response instructor (CPR and first), have logged 100 open water dives, and successfully complete the instructor development course (IDC), which is usually a minimum of a 10-day course.
After you have all the requirements, you can sit for the instructor evaluation (IE), which is a 2-day affair including presentations, mock instruction situations, multiple written exams, etc. PADI is a bit unique among diving organizations in that an instructor evaluator comes from headquarters to actually assess and certify instructors.
How much money do Scuba Diving Instructors make?
Scuba instructors typically don’t make a lot of money on average, but it depends on the situation. Working at resorts and on live-aboards tends to pay better, especially since you can earn a lot in tips, and often they also provide lodging for staff (and occasionally some board as well). There are some travelers that work in a high-end dive operations for a few months during the high season and are able to save up enough money to be able to travel without working for the rest of the year.
Divemasters get much less than instructors on average, but they can sometimes supplement their income by doing underwater photography and/or videography during dives. Many people really enjoy having photos or video from their dives, and it can be a good money maker. [Turner sidenote – This is very true. I worked at a dive shop in Hawaii whilst in college and instructors were making $30-$50 per set they sold. However, it is more true for resort destinations vs Utila, Koh Tao etc which are full of cheapass backpackers. Likewise, if you are scuba diving in Cozumel you can also find great jobs].
In Utila, an instructor makes around $50 USD per student for a course (specialty courses are less). Depending on the skill level and comfort of your group, it can break down to about $5 or less per hour per student. When leading certified divers, you generally will earn around $3 per tank (most trips are 2-tank dives). If you lead a group of 6 divers on 2 dives, that means you will earn $36 for about 4 hours of work.
It is extremely rare to have any benefits such as vacation time, insurance, etc. Some of the high-end resorts in places like the Maldives do include one-way airfare after you finish your contract.
If you work in the office, you will generally get around $2.50 an hour in Utila. Some places that sell equipment will also give you a commission for items and classes you sell.
What is the social/life balance and lifestyle of Scuba Diving for a living really like?
The typical dive center lifestyle for instructors seems to involve a lot of partying. It is likely a bit less on live-aboards and at resorts, but it is a common sight. Since I’m a single parent, I didn’t really participate in that side of the typical diving instructor lifestyle. Working in diving means you get to dive for free (as long as there is room on the boat), which is definitely an extra bonus. I worked at family-friendly places which were kind enough to allow my son to dive with me (he was certified after his 10th birthday) when I wasn’t diving as a staff member.
The work hours can be LONG. An 8-hour day is practically unheard of during the busy season. Your day starts at around 6 AM to get the boat loaded and gear ready. Then you have to travel to the dive sites. Most locations end up doing a surface interval at a dive site and a 2nd dive before returning to the dive center. An instructor will usually teach more than 1 group at a time, so you dive with one group in the morning, come back, take a brief break for a meal, get with students to go over knowledge reviews, tests, etc., and then you go out with your 2nd group. Often, after you get back you have to unload the boat, get gear put away, etc., and meet with another group of students to go over instruction. It isn’t uncommon to not leave the dive center until around 7 PM or later. If the dive center has a bar or an activity going on for clients, you may be expecting to hang around and socialize with the clients, help staff the event, etc., on top of the diving.
Some dive centers also require you to spend some time working in the office on top of your instructor responsibilities, or you may be asked to lead a group of certified divers.
In addition to working long hours, you often work 7 days a week during high seaon. Some dive centers will work in one day off into your schedule. If you aren’t on the schedule for a day, though, you could miss out on getting a larger group of students which means you missed out on a good chunk of money.
What kind of advice would you offer someone who wants to get a job as scuba instructor?
Some people consider becoming an instructor because they think it will earn them a lot of money. You don’t become a scuba instructor to make lots of money. It is unlikely you’re going to make 6 figures a year from scuba instruction. It’s one of those jobs you do because you love diving and because it accommodates your lifestyle. It really is quite good for traveling, and if you’re single you’ll have a better chance of getting jobs that provide lodging and other money-saving benefits.
The least expensive places to get your instructor certification are Honduras and Ko Tao, Thailand (which is the #1 certifying area for PADI). You can find some comparably priced areas, but keep in mind that if you want to be able to get a job teaching right away, you may do better doing the IDC in an area like Utila or Ko Tao where the sheer volume of students gives you better opportunities to get certifications. In order to improve your chances of getting a job elsewhere, you’re going to need at least 25 certifications under your belt. [Turner sidenote – Dahab Egypt is also one of the cheaper places in the world that also has a cool, social atmosphere like Utila and Ko Tao].
There are different levels of instructor certification. Open water scuba instructor (OWSI) is the entry level. Many dive centers are going to want you to be able to teach specialities and to have the master scuba diver trainer (MSDT) level of certification. In order to do that, you need to be certified to teach at least 5 specialties and have at least 25 student certifications. If the career development center where you do your IDC offers an MSDT program, I really encourage you to do it. It will enable you to be able to teach specialties faster and to get the MSDT rating sooner, which enhances your abilities to get a job.
Looking for more information on jobs and activities in Utila? Check out these other water sports reviews.