These are exciting times. For whatever reason, you have decided to change your life and become a scuba instructor. When I was in the same situation, I remember yo-yoing from feelings of elation to outright panic, so many things to think about and so many unknown possibilities. You have pictured what it would be like to get paid to do something you love and now you are going to make the dream a reality. You’re probably aware by now that you are going to need a lot of money, and that’s just one thing that will be affected by where you go to get your training. There is a world full of options but where is best for you? The facility you decide to get your training with will have a big influence on your future as an instructor, and the importance of making the right decision is not to be undermined. This guide will hopefully help you narrow down your options.
To work as a legitimate dive instructor you need to be certified by an agency. There are many out there and as ever there are pros & cons with each. Despite being one of the most expensive, I chose PADI. My rationale was simply that PADI is the biggest agency; more dive centres means more job openings. Here’s a few agencies in no particular order: PADI, BSAC, CMAS, SSI, NAUI, IANTD, ANDI, GUE, PDIC & SDI.
Differences between agencies can include:
- Costs including initial outlay and ongoing membership fees
- Global presence & volume
- Quality of educational materials
- Level of flexibility you are permitted to use in your teaching
- Instructor support
- Brand recognition
Before starting an instructor course you will need to be an experienced diver. Experience is often measured by number of logged dives, level of training and how long you have been certified. These factors make up some of the prerequisites to enrolling on a course. Prerequisites will vary from agency to agency, some requiring more experience than others.
Experience can be built in different ways. For example, one hypothetical candidate may have completed their entry level course and over a period of a few years acquired a number dives and certifications sufficient for them to apply for an instructor course. Another candidate might go through what is sometimes referred to as a “zero to hero” program – in which they sign up with little to no diving experience and quickly move through all the required diver levels.
The latter of the two attracts criticism from people who argue that the time frame and acquired experience is too small. The advantage of the zero to hero program is that if you have made up your mind that this is absolutely something you want to do right now then you can.
To start off with, options can be sliced crudely in half, home or away. By home, I mean somewhere in your home country, possibly near the area you dive. Away would be defined as heading overseas. There is no one right or wrong answer for the general community but certain options will be best suited to certain divers.
Reasons to stay at home:
- If you plan to teach scuba courses in your home country then it is a good idea to get trained to do so in that environment.
- Having contacts will help you to get work and the instructor training process is a good time to meet people.
- There may be someone in your area who is known to be a good instructor, firsthand knowledge of the quality of a facility is far superior to web based research.
- With everything you have to do on your instructor course, you may prefer to keep external influencers like climate, food, accommodation, money etc the same.
Reasons to go overseas:
- Same as above, it makes sense to get your training in the environment you want to work in.
- Overseas training may be cheaper.
- You may find training possibilities overseas which do not even exist in your home country.
- Diving often appeals to the adventurous, if that’s you then an overseas trip will add to the excitement.
- It is typical for resort based courses to offer deals with free boat dives in for non-training days.
If heading overseas to do your training, the next question is where? Try to define what it is you actually want. If you want to go to work overseas then it really does make sense to do your training as close to the area you want to live in as possible. To help you find where you want to go, research things like working conditions, seasons, legalities, nightlife, cost of living, crime rates, languages and travel arrangements.
Common places for people to go in no particular order are: Thailand, Malaysia, Philippines, Indonesia, Red Sea, Mexico, The Caribbean and the United States to name just a few. Consider your timing, it would make sense to complete your training and be ready to go just before the season starts when people are hiring.
Money is always going to affect your decision but finding the cheapest deal should not be the aim of the game. That said, price is not a true indicator of quality – don’t think that just because one course is more expensive than another that it is any better. If your decision making process is based entirely on money then you will likely miss out on better training possibilities.
I have noticed that some dive centres can be quite selective as to what they include when publishing the cost of their instructor courses. When asking for a quote, be sure to get the figure that the whole endeavor will set you back. You need to have your prerequisites in order first then you’ll have to look at the cost of the training course, the exam, membership application fee as well as equipment and materials you will need.
If you are looking at going overseas to do your training then you need to think about external costs like accommodation, food, transport visas etc. Spending a month in a country with a high cost of living will put much more of a strain on your finances. It is no secret that wages for a recreational scuba instructor are low and it may take a while before you get regular work so make sure you get as much money together in advance as you can.
Which Facility, Course Director or Instructor Trainer?
You may find that the area you want to go to get trained in has a few facilities that you can get your instructor ticket with. My biased opinion is that the quality of a course is directly in line with the quality of the person delivering it. No two courses will be exactly the same and even though you could pass an instructor exam having completed training through different dive centres, there is nothing to say the overall preparedness would be equal.
There are plenty of ways you can research instructor trainers online by looking at Trip Advisor, Scubaboard, Scubadviser, company websites and social media like Facebook, Twitter and blog pages. When you get a shortlist, try contacting the potential trainers and evaluate their responses. Read between the lines on what is ego babble and what is actually genuine.
You need to look for more than a program that just teaches you how to pass the exam, it’s a big scary world out there and as a fresh instructor you need as much help as you can get. Look for what is offered beyond the core requirements.
Some instructor training facilities have strong relations with dive centres throughout the region in which they are based, this can make getting your first post-certification gig a lot easier. You could even get lucky and end up working for the company you do your instructor training with.
Some facilities are able to offer work based training in between divemaster and instructor which can be a fantastic opportunity. It is easy enough to find a centre that offers unlimited free diving while you are with them which has to be attractive to some candidates.
I am a scuba instructor that has been working full time for the last eight years, I love it. It is not for everybody, the work is hard and money is always tight at best. If you find the right set up for you then you will have a great time working in the industry, if you get unlucky then you’ll likely burn out in no time. There is never a need to rush in to anything, take your time, do your research and where possible, try to learn from other people’s mistakes.
Good luck & dive safe!