Sunday, March 2, 2014

5 Myths About Life as a Dive Instructor in Paradise

5 Myths about the Life of a Scuba Instructor in Paradise

tough day at the office, on a surface interval

We’ve all seen them on our dive holidays, resort websites and brochures, and movies – tanned and grinning dive instructors living in incredible vacation destinations and getting to dive for a living. What could be better?

As a (sort of) tanned and (usually) grinning dive instructor who really does live in an incredible Caribbean vacation destination and gets to dive for a living, I field all kinds of questions from my divers daily about what it’s really like to do what I do. After a year and a half of hearing the same questions, there seems to be a few myths out there about the life of a scuba instructor in the tropics that I’d like to clear up!

#1. We’re on holiday all the time.

Reality: Most of us work way, way more than we ever did in our home countries. That 9-5 Monday to Friday thing doesn’t really exist in most tropical dive locations. We start early, end late, and most of us work 6 days a week or even 7 during a busy time of year….oh, and Christmas? Easter? New Years? Not a holiday if you’re a scuba instructor. Holidays are the busiest time for most dive shops, and we’re expected to work through them. I work at a beach resort, but you won’t catch me lounging on a beach chair on a work day soaking up rays. We’re busy diving, filling tanks, doing paperwork, answering emails, repairing gear, cleaning the shop, and the list goes on. We have fun and love to teach and interact with our guests, but they’re on holiday – not us. And when I finally have a day off, it’s rare that I spend it laying by the pool with a rum punch since I have laundry, grocery shopping, Skyping with family and cleaning my house to fill the day with! We do manage to find downtime, but it’s not as much as people think.

#2. We are constantly partying.

Reality: Leaving the ‘real world’ behind and heading to the tropics inevitably entices a mostly younger crowd, and yes, some of us do like to party. What’s not to love about cheap rum, reggae on the beach and hanging out with your friends in paradise? So yeah, there is definitely some partying that goes on! That being said, we are responsible about it and do it in our time off. No reputable dive shop is going to keep anyone on staff that shows up drunk or hungover – not only is that physically dangerous for diving, it makes the shop look extremely unprofessional. Most of us are too tired to party all night on a work day anyway. You will quickly learn which night of the week is the busiest at the bar by how many dive instructors have the next day off!

#3. We make tons of money.

Reality: Almost all of my students and divers are absolutely shocked when they find out how little many dive instructors are paid. Most work on commission, so no divers = no dollars. Also, a lot of areas in the tropics with great diving are actually not all that cheap to live – some are even on par or more expensive than many places in North America or Europe. We are definitely not in this profession for the money, although some scuba instructors can make a comfortable living from it. But it’s not a get-rich-quick scheme by any means. However, being able to support yourself while living somewhere amazing and doing what you love every day is worth it.

#4. We know every single creature under the sea and every piece of dive equipment ever manufactured (and how it works, and how to fix it).

Reality: While some dive instructors seem to be veritable encyclopaedias of marine life, lots of us are still enjoying learning about everything aquatic and broadening our knowledge base with every dive. Some of us are equipment whizzes, and some of us just know the basics. Please don’t be mad at us if we check the books to figure out what kind of nudibranch we saw on that dive, or have to call the manufacturer or ask Google how your dive computer works. We can’t know everything! What we do know backward and forward is teaching you how to dive, and we can certainly answer all your questions about that. And we usually know someone who is a critter expert or equipment specialist to ask for help if we’re not one of them!

#5. We only teach scuba diving so that we can dive for free every day.

Reality: Uh, no. We teach scuba diving because we have a passion that we want to share with you. We know how awesome it is underwater and we want everyone else to be able to experience how cool it is too! Teaching scuba diving is such a great way to help someone open up doors to a whole new world, and seeing your students succeed is a huge reward. But we don’t do it just for the free diving. We love diving, but when you do it for a living you have to do it when you’re tired, when you’re cold, when you’re sick, when you’re sunburnt or covered in mysterious bug bites. There are no ‘sick days’ and you’re at the mercy of your student’s vacation schedule. My IDC center offers free diving at that resort for life after completing your IDC with them, so if I just wanted to fun dive for free whenever I wanted, I would do that. I don’t though. I teach diving because I absolutely love what I do (even if I’m doing it tired, cold, sick, sunburnt or full of bug bites) and I want my students to love it too.

Bonus Myth: we want to get tipped in booze, food, weed, clothes, dive gear, etc.

Reality: okay, all of those things are really cool!! But we can't pay our bills with them, and we do have bills. If you're going to give us gifts (and you're super awesome if you are), please also make sure you're leaving an industry-standard monetary tip if you thought we were great. Unfortunately, even in paradise, you can't pay rent with beer (99% of the time, anyway).

Did you believe any of these myths before reading this??

Guys, make sure to follow me on Facebook and Twitter ... there's lots of extras posted there that don't make it onto the blog. (I also have Google+ if anyone even uses that?) Plus it makes me write less controversial articles, or whatever. So there's that.


  1. These are really great! Too bad Padi had to take it down.

  2. This doesn't seem risque at all! I like reading it, i guess I have to stop tipping in weed now though ;)

  3. Thanks for this post. I hope some people will read it and share and stop saying that working/travelling abroad is an easy life, even if you are based in a tropical island. The money you earn is pretty disappointing. I still remember this post you wrote some time ago. Your spending is huge even when you don't travel around. It's a hard job, but you've been doing fantastic!!

  4. Having your article pulled by PADI makes it seem so it. Thanks for reposting it. Doing in my OW here in Houston this week (it was 27 degrees F this morning btw) b/c I was so inspired by your blog. Have a great week!

  5. Well, big corporations with big marketing departments always have their reasons, I guess. It was too bad but at least I can have the information up here. So awesome that you're doing your OW course (especially somewhere so chilly - where are you doing your checkout dives??) You're gonna love it!

  6. You're totally right Agness!! I find people think a lot of the time that I'm on holiday just because I live somewhere hot. Nope, I'm not!! I work, a LOT more than I did in Canada.

  7. Thanks Rachel!! You can totally still tip in weed, just throw a little cash in too :)

  8. Thanks Charlotte! Yeah, it was a shame, but that's big corporations for you, I guess. At least I still have this platform to put it on! (PS. are you home yet? Please eat some Walkers crisps for me, I love those things!!)

  9. Checkout dives will be in town at a small lake, but I'll be adding on the dry suit component. Water temps in the 50s. Air temps are supposed to get back up to 60-70 degrees by this weekend, but I find it funny that I was inspired by your tropical diving and I'm getting trained in cold water.
    I get to see first hand tonight if there will be anyone that has as much trouble clearing their mask as you described the one woman you spend all of those hours in the pool with in one of your posts.

  10. I've never tried diving or surfing or anything that involves getting into water where I can't see my feet, but always figured the instructors of said activities were doing it because they loved it. And if I ever do try diving, I will likely give a huge cash tip to my instructor for ensuring I don't get eaten by sharks or lost at sea! (Yes, I know these fears are irrational.)

  11. Well the nice thing is you can always see your feet here! The water is clear and warm. You won't find me getting into water with zero visibility - no thanks!! And I hope you try diving - I promise your instructor won't let you get eaten by sharks or lost :)