Become a Professional Diver
Turn a Hobby Into a Profitable International Career
Just another day on the job for a scuba instructor.
In October 2003 I became a PADI Divemaster and in June 2004 a PADI Instructor. These two certifications became my ticket to an exciting and glamorous international career taking me to three countries on three continents and allowing me to dive with people from around the world. Best of all, earning my first professional certification took very little time.
If you’re looking to start a diving career, the first thing you need is an entry-level diving certification. This prerequisite for further training will let you get a feel for the sport. The most recognized training organization is the Professional Association of Diving Instructors, more commonly known as PADI. Their website describes their course offerings and can help you locate a dive center near you.
Becoming a Professional
PADI Divemaster and PADI Instructor are both professional-level certification, but each carries different duties and responsibilities. Divemasters lead diving trips and assist qualified divers both above and under the water; instructors are qualified to teach PADI courses from the introductory level up to Divemaster.
Divemasters probably have the easier job. However, instructors generally have an easier time finding positions; many centers prefer to hire them over divemasters, even for non-teaching posts. For many people the challenges and rewards of teaching are more fulfilling than working as a dive guide.
Advancing from your initial certification to PADI Divemaster level generally takes about three months, but the courses can be spread out to suit your schedule. To become a PADI Instructor you must have been a certified diver for at least six months and have completed the PADI Divemaster or an equivalent program. PADI’s website offers more details on each course.
To go from novice diver to instructor you’ll probably spend about $3,000 on training and materials and another thousand on your personal equipment. However, these outlays can pay for themselves in just a few months of work.
Additional Sought-After Skills
Divemaster and instructor qualifications are potent job-finding tools, but to find the position of your dreams you might need that extra edge. Several skills are highly sought after by dive centers, and possessing one or more of them will make you stand out from the employment-hunting crowd:
Being able to speak a foreign language can give you the biggest leg up of all. A divemaster friend of mine landed her best job thanks to bilingualism: “At first they told me they didn’t hire divemasters. Then they called back two days later and offered me a job— they realized how badly they needed Italian speakers in their primarily Italian resort.”
Sales experience is useful too, so highlight it, even if it consists just of a summer job at the Gap. Most dive centers ask their instructors to staff their gear shops. Commission from equipment sales can substantially increase your pay.
Other skills that will make you stand out include boat-handling qualifications, computer abilities, and technical experience like equipment maintenance or compressor repair.
Your first job will probably be the hardest to get, as you are mostly unproven. When I finished my divemaster training in Vietnam, I knew that because of my relative lack of experience I wouldn’t attract much attention in the job market. Because of this I decided to stay on with the center that trained me and work as a guide for six months before completing my instructor course at the same school. Most dive shops are eager to hire a former student because they know he or she was trained to their standards.
To search farther afield, the most popular tool is the Internet. Once you have a PADI number you’ll have access to their members-only website and job board. Here, you can browse dive shops’ available positions or post your resume on the “seeking employment” board. Other websites, such as Divewise, offer job listings.
When you find a job you’re interested in, contact the center directly. Most will expect a cover letter telling a little about your self, a resume, and a picture. Make sure your resume includes your dive training, other relevant skills, and also non-diving work experience. Spend a little time on it: a friend who spent many years managing a successful Egyptian dive center told me that badly-written resumes go right in the trash can, no matter what qualifications they list.
Another method is to choose an area you’d like to work in and simply email the shops in that area. Many dive shops receive so many queries that they rarely post their available positions. Include a cover letter and resume. Not all centers will reply, but in general this technique has a high success rate. I used it when I decided I wanted to work in Egypt and landed a position at my first-choice dive center.
If you’re already in an area where you’d like to work, or wish to change jobs within a location, you can always go door to door handing out your resume. An American instructor says, “I just showed up here on St Croix with my brand-new Instructor ticket. I was lucky, one shop’s instructor had quit the day before. They took me out on the boat. I made everyone laugh, took care of everyone, and worked real hard. And I got the job.” Openings appear frequently, and most shops are eager to take on someone who they’ve already met personally and who can start right away.
Before Accepting a Job
Once you begin to receive job offers, think carefully before accepting. There are several criteria you should use to compare your prospective employers.
Salary is of course important. First of all, make sure you get one. Many centers try to convince divemasters to work for free “to gain experience.” Besides the base salary, find out if you receive a commission for sales or certifications, bonuses after certain periods of employment, and if you can expect to receive tips.
Hand in hand with salary come benefits. The perks are one of the main reasons people stay in the low-paying dive industry: free diving, nice accommodations, discounts at local restaurants and bars, and free meals all are common. Work in remote locations with few spending opportunities can make it easy to save large parts of your salary. Some stores even offer employees free or deeply discounted equipment to promote it to their customers.
Finally, research each dive center’s reputation. You want to be proud to represent your employer, not in a constant battle with them over standards, safety, or pay. Luckily, most dive centers are quite upright, but ask people who have dived with your prospective employers or at least know something about them. Diving-related message boards, such as the one sponsored by Rodale’s Scuba Diving magazine, are a good place to start. A little effort here will help ensure you’re soon having the time of your life.
There are many fantastic jobs out there, but few offer the opportunities for sun, fun, and exploration like diving. Whether you’re drawn to the tropical beaches of Vietnam, the clear turquoise waters of the Mediterranean, or the sun and soul of the Caribbean, there’s a diving job for you. So stop reading and start searching. Make your underwater dream come true.