Being a scuba diving instructor is a wonderful line of work. You can genuinely change people’s lives for the better. To be able to scuba dive and explore the world beneath the water is an incredible gift and if you are the one who places that gift in someone’s hands, you earn their gratitude forever. Nobody ever forgets the name of the person who taught them to dive.

It is the sort of job that many people dream of but many pursue that dream without properly researching what they are letting themselves in for. Careful individuals who would normally look at every angle before applying for a job in their field of expertise will instead just drop everything and decide to become a scuba instructor on a whim.

The advertising, after all, is irresistibly seductive, with sales pitches usually running along the following lines: - “If you are a passionate scuba diver with a great, personable attitude looking to live an extraordinary life being in, around and under water – perhaps this is your calling. As an instructor with our training agency you will become one of the most sought after dive professionals in the world and, with the new divers you teach or assist, you will be able daily to relive the same excitement you had on your first dive.“ “So, if you are burnt out from the constant stress of office life, why not trade it in for the opportunity of a diverse, rewarding career in scuba diving? And if you only want to teach scuba diving in the evenings and at weekends as part of an active and healthy lifestyle, while retaining your current job, then you can do that too.”

What right-minded person could possibly say “no” to that? No wonder many do not even give it a second thought!

Vocation not Vacation

Notice that the emphasis in the sales pitch is placed squarely on the diving rather than the teaching. The advertisers also know what sells. “Passionate,” “extraordinary,’” “excitement,” “diverse,” “rewarding,” “active,” “healthy” these are all power words designed to capture the hearts and minds of folk doing jobs that offer few of these adjectives. The scuba diving industry is well aware that the vast majority of its recruits are people who have already had one or more previous careers people who are on a quest for the elusive grail of “job satisfaction.”

If school teaching could advertise itself in this fashion, there would be many more folk signing up for a second career in education! If you have never had the desire to teach, then you should think twice before becoming a dive instructor, because after you qualify and get a job as a dive instructor, teaching is what you will be spending most of your time doing. Yes, you will sometimes be underwater while you are teaching but you will not usually be doing dives that enthral you. Your office may be the ocean but it will mostly be the same patch of ocean day after day. If you are not excited by the prospect of teaching, communicating the joy of this incredible sport to others and deriving immense satisfaction from seeing the look in their eyes when they conquer their fears and “get it,” then you will not be a happy dive instructor. You will probably not stay a dive instructor for long and the considerable amount of time and money it took you to get there will have been wasted.

Ask yourself five questions.

1. Do you like people?

It is important that dive instructors really like people as their whole day is spent interacting with people. Many scuba instructors in the early days were not so much people who liked people they were rather ex-military people who liked ordering other people around. If exercising power and control over others and bending them to your will is your thing then scuba diving in today’s world will not suit you. Sympathy and empathy are the key words if you can develop bonds easily and have the capacity to understand what someone is experiencing from within their frame of reference, you will make a good dive instructor.

2. Can you stay calm in any situation?

No matter what means you use to control or guide them, groups of divers are composed of free-thinking, unpredictable, excitable individuals who can disrupt your carefully laid plans in an instant. This is where your ability to stay calm will be tested. Your ability to be flexible (question 5) will also be put under serious examination as will your claim (question 1) that you really do like people.

3. Are you fair?

It is not your job to pick favourites among your students but to deal with each of them fairly and professionally. This takes us back again to question 1. You need to like all people not just some of them!

4. Are you a confident communicator?

Whether it is mathematics, music or scuba diving, teachers in every field need to know their stuff and be confident in communicating their knowledge. Think about your teachers at school. Who were the ones from whom you learned most? What did they do to be so effective? Could you do the same?

5. Can you manage time?

The ability to use time efficiently is a crucial asset to a dive instructor. Whether you are teaching a course or leading a group of divers, you are always limited by time. You have to exercise time discipline yourself and ensure that your students and customers do likewise, all without spoiling the fun! It is a tough thing to do. Here is an example of a typical three-dive day on a boat in the tropics.

8.00 leave dock:9.00 arrive first site:9.30 dive:10.30 finish dive:11.30 arrive second site:12.00 dive:1.00 finish dive and have lunch:2.00 arrive third site:2.30 dive:3.30 finish dive:4.30 return to dock.

This is an 8.5-hour programme for 3 one-hour dives. The divers have paid for three full dives and, from a safety point of view, by 5.30 pm in the tropics the sun is too low for you to have any divers in the water. So you have very little room for error: even a slight delay in the schedule jeopardizes the whole day. When you work in diving, you learn to appreciate why time limits are set for fun dives and why sometimes the whip has to be cracked (in the nicest possible way, of course!)

It is your decision

The dive centres and instructor trainers who run instructor courses do not talent spot. The fact that you have been accepted as a candidate does not mean that someone has seen that you have the right attitude, aptitude and personality to become a successful dive instructor. You have to decide this. The professionals’ job is simply to bring as many people into the courses as possible and teach them how to pass the instructor exam. They are very good at this. Very few people fail.
So just because you have passed the exam and have a certificate and card saying that you are an instructor, this does not mean automatically that you are going to be successful or that you will enjoy it. There is quite a high dropout rate. Not all the hundreds of people who successfully complete a dive instructor course every year go on to have long-term careers in diving.

To be fair, not everyone who takes an instructor course is motivated by career change. Some people start their diver training and get carried along by the enthusiasm of the moment, the camaraderie of others and, it must be said, the salesmanship of the dive operation. Almost before they know it, they are taking the instructor exam. They may start by teaching a few friends and family but once a new generation of instructor candidates arrives in the dive centre they find themselves side-lined and often drift away from the sport, carrying with them some great memories and a line on their curriculum vitae.

Financially, it is really only worthwhile doing an instructor course if you genuinely intend to work in diving or teach people for real money on a full-time or part-time basis. You will not become a better diver just by doing an Instructor course, no matter which training agency you choose. The instructor course teaches you a training system, it will not improve your diving skills anywhere near as much as, for example, a cave diving course or a proper deep diving course.

This blog post is adapted from a chapter in Scuba Professional - Insights into Sport Diver Training & Operations.