Pick up any diving magazine, or surf the internet for dive related websites, and images of the tropics and exotic destinations, combined with interactions of aquatic life often stimulates the dream of working full time as a scuba diving dive professional. There’s few professions in the world where you can spend a Monday morning commuting to work on a boat, enjoying beautiful weather, and clients who admire and appreciate you for the job you do, but is becoming a scuba diving professional everything that we imagine it to be? For those of us that do decide to ‘GoPro’ and become either a PADI Divemaster or Instructor, and ditch a stable career, or embark on a life changing journey, how do you achieve the goal and what can you expect to encounter working encounter in the dive industry?
In this article, I aim to overview the benefits of working in the scuba diving industry as a PADI professional, and also some of the downsides, and discuss the path to becoming a PADI Divemaster and Instructor, and the career opportunities, both short and long term for PADI professionals. Whilst it would be impossible to cover every possible work scenario and environment, remember PADI dive centres and resorts operate in over 180 countries, this article does provide a generalised overview to help guide you in the decision making process.
For most divers they’ll never forget their first breath underwater, whether in a local swimming pool, or at a tropical beach, as part of their initial confined water training. Even those divers, who have initial anxiety issues breathing underwater, always remember the experience, and whilst for the majority of scuba participants the entry level certification opens a whole new world and environment, for others it creates the dream and goal of becoming a scuba diving professional.
Scuba Diving is a sport that builds self esteem in individuals, improves physical fitness, whilst educating individuals to the physics and physiology of scuba diving, and creates an environmental awareness and respect and shows individuals how to make a positive contribution to both terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems. Unlike many other sports, scuba diving is non-contact, 3 dimensional, and multi sensory, and the competition is with each individual to better themselves as a diver, not over others. Whilst many divers enjoy the silence and serenity of the underwater world, on the topside scuba diving is also a very social activity and fosters camaraderie amongst participants and leads to lifelong friendships.
As a scuba diving professional you get to make a positive difference to other people’s lives and to the environment. Whether an individual seeks scuba instruction to learn about the environment, as a self fulfillment goal, to explore our underwater heritage, or to challenge themselves, you become a facilitator and help them connect the motor skills and intellectual knowledge they’ll need to dive safely and have fun, enjoyable experiences.
The PADI system of diver education has some of the most comprehensive educational products and a system that takes the burden of teaching form the Instructor and allow them to work more on individualised instruction, as most students are free to learn at their own time and pace with the independent study manuals, DVD’s, e-learning and now e-book versions. This allows for you as the Instructor to focus on individual needs, remediation and delivering the course in a fun and effective manner, which is what, makes PADI programs so popular with student divers. These materials can be used anywhere in the world to teach a standardised course though you as the Instructor will need to adapt each course to the local environment and culture, which is an area you will be taught during the PADI Instructor Development Course (PADI IDC).
PADI Instructor’s can choose to work part or full time in tropical resorts, or local dive centers, on a vocational basis when taking sabbaticals from their full time employment, or in conjunction with other seasonal work such as in winter sports, or outdoor Summer work. Many of the candidates we train as Instructors also have their own full time jobs and work on the weekends either as freelance Instructors, or more commonly through a local PADI dive centre. In the resort environment many Instructors enjoy teaching on tropical islands in calm, clear, warm waters, on beautiful coral reefs with an abundance of fish and other aquatic life. It’s this dream lifestyle that motivates many individuals to switch careers and ‘GoPro’.
So that brings us to the question, how exactly do you qualify as a PADI Instructor or a Divemaster?
Well from the date of being certified a diver can progress through the PADI system of diver education, from the Open Water course to the Advanced Open Water course, then to the Rescue course with CPR/1st aid certification (EFR course), before enrolling in the Divemaster program. These courses can be done back to back and upon completing all components of the PADI Divemaster course and reaching a minimum of 60 logged dives; a diver can be certified as a PADI Divemaster. There are different methods of completing the Divemaster course; it can be done through a local dive center, on a part time basis, either interning on classes or via practical simulated training components. Many candidates choose to take time out and intern on a program over several weeks in the tropics, and get real world hands on exposure whilst training. This is the favoured option at our resort destination on Utila in Honduras, and Thailand and the Red sea are also popular choices for internship Divemaster courses due to the great diving and affordable and quality lifestyle they offer.
What can PADI Divemasters do?
* Work at local dive centers, on live-aboard dive boats, yachts and at exotic resort locations.
* Assist PADI Instructors with students, and at Utila Dive Centre we have classes starting on a daily basis with plenty of opportunity for you to gain experience
* Lead PADI Scuba Divers on guided dive tours, and we have several boat trips per day, with full service, taking you to the best dive sites in comfort
* Teach and certify PADI Skin Divers
* Teach PADI Discover Snorkelling programs
* Conduct PADI Scuba Review programs for certified divers
* Lead certified divers on Discover Local Diving experiences
* Teach Emergency First Response programs after successful completion of an Emergency First Response Instructor course.
The next step after the PADI Divemaster course is to enrol in either the PADI Assistant Instructor course, or the complete PADI Instructor Development Course, however a diver needs to have been certified for at least 6 months prior to enrolling in the PADI AI/IDC programs.
To have the best chances of employment within the dive industry, and to make a reasonable pay, then the Instructor rating is a logical progression after the Divemaster course, as most Divemasters work in exchange for experience, dives or a minimal pay to offset expenses.
The PADI Instructor Development course is normally preferred to the Assistant Instructor course for professionals who want to work full time as Instructors in resort areas, on live aboards and enjoy teaching, whereas the Assistant Instructor course is more of a comfortable midway step for Divemasters who will continue to work part time, assist Instructors or aren’t sure about teaching scuba. The Assistant Instructor course is a minimum of 3 days and the full PADI IDC a minimum of 7 days though this can be shortened if the e-learning option is taken prior to the courses. After the PADI IDC has been completed candidates site a 2 day examination to earn their Instructor status.
As a PADI Open Water Scuba Instructor you can conduct introductory programs such as Discover Snorkelling and Discover Scuba Diving, and certification courses from the PADI Open Water Diver, PADI Advanced Open Water Diver, PADI Rescue Diver and the PADI Divemaster course. It is also possible to teach specialty classes such as ‘Enriched Air/Nitrox’, Digital Photography, Deep, Wreck or Fish ID upon taking a specialty Instructor class or with sufficient experience.
PADI Instructors seem to have the dream job, they get to work in exotic locations, they dive for a living, they interact with nature, and their clients and students look up to them almost like Superheroes, plus they get paid for all this! It can’t all be good, otherwise why wouldn’t every diver become an Instructor? Well teaching in itself requires a special set of skills, though these can be developed in individuals, teaching requires patience, adaptability, open mindedness and basic business principles in customer service and marketing.
For some divers who simply to wish advance their own personal development, and improve their dive skills and gain access to more diverse environments and trained in additional equipment use, and who have no desire to work as a dive professional, than the Master Scuba Diver (MSD) rating is the most logical progression. The MSD rating denotes a diver with a high level of experience and dive skill, and holds Rescue certification, has a minimum of 50 dives and 5 PADI specialties, and is often referred to as the ‘black belt’ of scuba diving and a great choice for divers who wish to progress in a non-professional capacity.
The job of a PADI Divemaster or Instructor has long hours, requires the employee to wear and juggle multiple hats in a day’s work, and in resorts being a seasonal based profession; there may be significant periods without days off. Also in many countries there is a lack of employment protection laws for foreign workers, with little recourse should they want to file claims. However if you talk to an Instructor at the end of a bad days work, the majority would not swap it for anything else in the world. Whilst the job may not have the highest pay scales and most Instructors do not work solely for money, the pay can be enough to allow good savings after a season, and to finance a flight to the next exotic destination, purchase new equipment and reinvest in additional training, or simply to bank. However if wealth could be measured in the people met, cultures discovered, places traveled to, aquatic interactions, and in rewards from the job, then PADI Instructors would probably be the wealthiest professionals on the planet, and with a life they could look back on with the biggest of smiles. One of the toughest decisions I always found when I was traveling as an Instructor working seasons, and many of my colleagues would agree with me, would be where next??? Too many choices, too many beautiful places to discover.
From my experience working in the resort environments in the Caribbean, Asia and the Red Sea, most Instructors work for a period of a few years teaching recreational classes then advance into more senior positions. Over the years I have had many friends who I have trained and work with. Who now hold prominent positions in the scuba diving industry, from working as PADI Regional Managers, to Captains of Live Aboard boats or Cruise Directors, to working as Videographers for the Super Rich, working on Super Yachts or Cruise ships, to being Course Directors themselves and working in Instructor Development, others own their own dive centres and resorts, and some specialise in technical diving and exploration.
I personally specialised in training and technical diving, and spend part of my year training dive professionals as PADI Divemasters and Instructors, and part of the year exploring and technical diving. When I think back to the career path I had originally chosen, in commercial insurance, and where I could be now, I never for one day regret my choice, where it has taken me, the people I have met, and the memories I have, from both under and above the water.