How to become a SCUBA diving instructor

On October 28th, 2015

Working from a beach paradise, daiquiri in hand, can make living abroad as a permanent beach bum seem easy. In reality, finding a way to create income from abroad can be tortuous. Travel sites post lists of the top 10 jobs that can make working from abroad a reality. While these jobs exist and are possible to get, sipping a cocktail on the beach everyday is not always part of the equation.

A year ago I fell in love with diving and wanted to spend all day, everyday, in the ocean. Rather than setting out to be a dive instructor, I set out to make my dream of diving everyday come true. If you come at it the other way around you are likely going to be broke, exhausted, and disappointed.

diving Indonesia

Professional ratings

Becoming a dive professional is a lot of work and the process isn’t always clear. If you love diving and want to go pro there is a very clear path you must take. If you’re already a certified diver you must reach the highest level of recreational diver: Rescue Diver. Many people don’t bother to do this course unless they’re planning on going pro. Once you’re a Rescue Diver with 40 dives you can begin the process of becoming a Divemaster. The Divemaster course is probably the longest and most intense program there is. It’s also arguably the most fun. Lasting a couple of months depending on your schedule, it’s a flexible program where you learn the basics of teaching, assisting, guiding, and the ins and outs of working in a dive shop. Many stop here and look for work as a DM however there are only a few countries where making enough money to live off of is possible as a DM. The next step would be to become an instructor.

The instructor course is a shorter but no less intense process. After completing the two-week long Instructor Development Course you spend two days in exams (theory and practical) with professional examiners. The course covers the physics and physiology of diving, practical pool sessions that train you to work with students and solve common problems, and training in open water.

Choosing a diving organization: PADI vs SSI

Depending on your location, there are typically two major diving organizations to choose between. The differences in philosophy are minor but the name and job opportunities vary. Scuba Schools International (SSI) is a popular choice for new divers because their prices are cheaper. PADI is probably the most famous name in diving and has become synonymous with learning to dive. Popular diving spots like Thailand or Honduras will often offer both to choose between. I chose to go with PADI for the flexibility of teaching later on (SSI requires you work out of a dive shop) and for its brand. Many will start with PADI and do a crossover to SSI and have the flexibility of being able to certify under either organization.

Choosing a location

Gili Trawangan

  • Dive shop

You can do your divemaster and instructor course almost anywhere in the world so choosing a location can be as simple as picking a country you’d like to spend some time in. There are however some other considerations to bear in mind. Do your research. Scope out dive shops before making a decision. Go into a few and fun dive with them. Do their instructors and divematsters seem friendly and helpful? Do they look like they love their life? Is there equipment in good condition? Do they have lots of customers? Check out their Trip Advisor rating and reviews. What do they charge? Have people written about doing their courses there and have good things to say? I chose a shop based on all these factors. I felt welcome right away and everyone in the shop had a great attitude. The shop was busy with customers which meant I would be getting lots of real experience working with students and fun divers.

  • Dive sites

You’re going to want to also choose a location that has good diving. You’re going to dive the same dive sites over and over again. Somewhere with decent visibility, a lot of variety in sites (wrecks, reefs, deep), and somewhere with lots of marine life will make diving the same sites repeatedly enjoyable.

  • Cost

Cost can also be a powerful decision maker. The Divemaster course and the Instructor course can be very expensive, even in the cheapest countries. On top of the fees to the shop you’re diving with, each organization will have its own certification fees. You’ll need to be prepared to shell out cash in the thousands. Also consider you cost of living. Will renting a room or house for a few months be in your budget? Can you cook for yourself to save money?

  • Social atmosphere

Dive buddies

Be sure to check out the location as well. Is there a night life? Do you want a quiet deserted island or a raucous party scene? Choose somewhere you’re going to want to spend a few months. If you have a weakness for local spirits it may be hard to get anything done if you’re hungover every morning.

Starting to work

After completing your courses it can be beneficial to have a relationship with a dive shop so you can potentially begin teaching as a freelancer. Dive instructors don’t have a lot of days off and can have long days. This is where your love of diving makes it worth it. You have to enjoy it otherwise you may be sorely disappointed. There won’t be a lot of time to relax on the beach or even dive for fun anymore. You can make decent money but it won’t get you rich. The look on your student’s face when they come up from their first dive with you can be priceless.

Deploying SMB

If you love diving everyday, teaching people an exciting skill, and living abroad then becoming a dive instructor may be for you. Take your time and make a plan and you can end up with the ocean as your home office!

Ready plan a Round The World adventure?

Photo Credit: Rich Carey