Scuba Instructor: How to become one.

What is a scuba diving instructor?

A diving instructor is a person who trains and usually also assesses competence of underwater divers. This includes freedivers, recreational divers including the subcategory technical divers, and professional divers which includes military, commercial, public safety and scientific divers.

Depending on the jurisdiction, there will generally be specific published codes of practice and guidelines for training, competence and registration of diving instructors, as they have a duty of care to their clients, and operate in an environment with intrinsic hazards which may be unfamiliar to the layperson. Training and assessment will generally follow a diver training standard.

So You Want to Be a Scuba Instructor?

Obviously to be a scuba instructor, the first step in becoming a scuba instructor is becoming a certified diver, and if you’re reading this you probably have taken care of that or at least you are in the process of doing so. But that’s like saying that the first step to becoming a doctor is learning first aid. It’s only the beginning of a long process of training and gaining the requisite experience. Although the requirements for an instructor rating vary among the certifying organizations, on average expect to complete about 200 hours of training in prerequisite courses. That includes not only your entry-level course, but advanced, rescue and some form of supervisory qualification such as a divemaster or dive control specialist. Along the way you must also amass, at the minimum, 50-100 dives in a wide range of environments. And that’s what you need just to qualify for an instructor training course.

Preparation to become a scuba instructor requires mastery of diving theory, which includes a thorough grounding in diving physics, physiology, equipment mechanics and even a little marine science and oceanography. You’ll also need near-perfect diving skills, and an ability to deal calmly with stressful and unexpected situations like entanglements or out-of-air emergencies. In terms of physical prowess, a good measure of your preparedness is whether you can swim at least 800 meters (2,640 feet) using a mask, fins and snorkel in less than 20 minutes. If you can’t, then it’s time to get out and start some exercising.

How Long Will it Take?

Depending on your resources and experience level, obtaining your dive instructor certification could take anywhere from a few weeks to a few years. For some perspective, the fastest you could possibly go from a brand new diver, all the way to OWSA is 6 months. The jury is out regarding whether or not that’s a good decision.

While there’s nothing inherently wrong with cranking through your certifications and getting a jump start on your career, that’s a lot of information to process. Ultimately, only you know the limits of your own abilities. Turn a critical eye toward yourself and be honest about whether or not you feel like you can be responsible for the wellbeing of other people in an emergency situation. If you have prior leadership experience, there’s a good chance you’ll be able to adapt those skills underwater.

The IDC itself can run anywhere between five days to a week and a half, while the Instructor Examination usually runs around two days. There are many routes to becoming an instructor, and the path is going to look different for everyone. That being said, your IDC is a great opportunity to learn from your peers and long term scuba veterans. It’s something to be enjoyed and taken advantage of if that’s the experience you’re seeking.

How hard is it?

As divers attending an IDC are at least Divemasters this changes the whole picture. Divemasters already learned how to demonstrate the skills, they know a lot about the dive theory required as an instructor and already assisted in teaching courses. Thus the instructor course might even seem easier than the Divemaster course.

Yet the responsibility increases significantly as an instructor. Divemasters are leading certified divers while instructors will take care of new divers without any previous experience. So divers safety is an important topic during the course. Becoming an instructor is challenging and you have to be full on during the course.

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The benefits

As a scuba instructor, you’ll spend more time in the water scuba diving in a year than most people will in their lifetimes. But the benefits of the job extend far beyond bottom time. Effectively, you’ll be joining a global league of professionals with more experiences and resources than you’ll ever be able to make use of. Here are adjust a few of the perks:

There’s work anywhere there is diving, and the places where there’s a lot of diving are usually pretty fantastic. Outdoor careers, and diving in particular, make it easy to travel and find a job.

As long as you’re teaching up to standard, certifying agencies will back you up in terms of liability. Which means you’re protected legally in the event of an accident that you couldn’t prevent.

Instructor training goes far beyond just dive skills. You’ll develop as a leader and educator, while gathering a host of other useful skills like basic emergency medical and professional sales training.

Pro deals provide access to heavily discounted gear. You’ll be able to purchase the latest kits and find replacement parts oftentimes at nearly half of the market retail price.

There’s a ton of opportunity to grow as both a diver and a leader. The more time and energy you invest into furthering your education and teaching capabilities, the more personal and fiscal return you will see.

You’re joining a community. That means you’ll be surrounded by a group of like-minded friends and mentors to support you in your journey.

The Drawbacks

Like any other job, there are parts of being a scuba instructor that you’re not going to be thrilled with. That could mean hauling heavy tanks every day, having the limits of your patience tested by students, or just the inherent stress that comes along with being responsible for people who are new to being underwater.

Working in the outdoor recreation industry does not mean a leisurely career. Being an instructor is hard work physically, mentally, and emotionally. You should expect to be challenged on all of these fronts.

There’s a big initial investment in terms of both money and time. In order to even sign up for the instructor course you need to be certified at least up to divemaster standards, and have a fair amount of hours underwater on your own time.

As with many outdoor jobs, finding year-round work can be a challenge depending on where you’re located. New dive instructors oftentimes have to be creative and tenacious about staying employed during the offseason and be willing to do some work on the side to maintain the lifestyle.

It can be scary. Beyond just the inherent risks diving presents to your own person, you must stay vigilant and ready to respond to the needs of your students. If someone freaks out, or conditions aren’t ideal, it’s your responsibility to figure it out.

Where can I complete an Instructor course?

Most larger dive shops offer IDCs at least a couple of times a year. In the areas where loads of dive certifications are issued IDCs can be attended almost all year round. To find a good shop, read reviews online, ask instructors for suggestions. I would recommend choosing a medium size shop in a destination which isn’t too popular. Like this you will have a smaller group of candidates in the IDC and a smaller IE as well. It is good to do it with a shop that has quite some experience to prepare you best possible for the IE. around 6  to 7 people in an IE is ideal.

What to do next?

After finishing the IDC and the IE you are an Open Water Scuba Instructor.

As soon as you get your confirmation from  your professional association of diver training you can start teaching Open Water, Advanced, Rescue and Divemaster Courses. You might wanna become a Speciality Instructor as well. It helps with your chances to find a job when you can teach at least Enriched Air (Nitrox), Deep and Wreck. These are specialities requiring extra training. As soon as you qualify to teach five specialties and certified 25 divers you can become a Master Scuba Diver Trainer (MSDT). Most shops that offer IDCs will allow you to take the courses to become a Speciality Instructor. Sometimes this is done during the IDC or right after.Some shops offer to take a “learn to teach” or “team teaching” program where you assist experienced instructors in courses. After a while you will be teaching yourself and the other instructor will advise on how to improve. This system does make sense if you don’t feel entirely confident to start teaching on your own after finishing the course.

Internships

Becoming a dive instructor is undoubtedly a costly endeavor, not only economically but also in terms of the amount of time needed to get the certifications and experience. Fortunately, some accredited dive centers offer instructor internship programs to help reduce the cost of your IDC. You’ll want to discuss details beforehand, but the way it typically works is you assist as a divemaster with teaching and around the shop, and the cost of your IDC will be covered.

These programs have the added benefit of getting you hands-on experience teaching students, and an introduction to what it’s like to work in a dive shop. Perhaps the only thing more important than getting your accreditation is having the experience you need to back it up in the real world. The IDC pathway is challenging, and while comprehensive in its scope, there’s no substitute for actual guide experience.

Programs like this can cover about half of your total cost, and give the possibility of getting on boarded to the shop as a full-time instructor.

The Drawbacks

Like any other job, there are parts of being a scuba diving instructor that you’re not going to be thrilled with. That could mean hauling heavy tanks every day, having the limits of your patience tested by students, or just the inherent stress that comes along with being responsible for people who are new to being underwater.

Working in the outdoor recreation industry does not mean a leisurely career. Being an instructor is hard work physically, mentally, and emotionally. You should expect to be challenged on all of these fronts.

There’s a big initial investment in terms of both money and time. In order to even sign up for the instructor course you need to be certified at least up to divemaster standards, and have a fair amount of hours underwater on your own time.

As with many outdoor jobs, finding year-round work can be a challenge depending on where you’re located. New dive instructors oftentimes have to be creative and tenacious about staying employed during the offseason and be willing to do some work on the side to maintain the lifestyle.

It can be scary. Beyond just the inherent risks diving presents to your own person, you must stay vigilant and ready to respond to the needs of your students when scuba diving. If someone freaks out, or conditions aren’t ideal, it’s your responsibility to figure it out.

Some specifics

Ultimately, becoming a scuba diving instructor is a lifestyle choice that almost certainly will lead to a very rich and interesting career. If you decide that it’s right for you to become a scuba diving instructor and want to start moving forward in the professional dive industry, here are your bottom lines.

You need to be at least 18 years of age

Certified up to Divemaster (Open Water, Advanced Open Water, Rescue Diver, Emergency First Responder, and Divemaster Course)

Have at least 100 logged dives

Have around $3000 to cover the cost of the course and the requisite materials

You must pass the Instructor Examination

If you’re a seasoned recreational diver, chances are you’ve amassed at least some of these requirements. In addition, it’s a good idea to take some of the specialty certifications offered after you complete your Advanced Open Water to become a more rounded diver.

It can seem like a daunting task when you’re just starting out with your Open Water, but experience is crucial and it’s way better to take your time and have a solid foundation than it is to rush headlong into a career you’re unprepared for.

In Conclusion

Becoming a scuba instructor is a lot of work, but the rewards from seeing it through to the end far outweigh the cost of admission. You’ll develop leadership and teaching skills that will be with you through the rest of your life. You will have daily experiences that the average person would find exceptional. Adventure, exploration, and growth become the norm for you- and your journey is far from over.

After you have completed your IE and gain some experience as an instructor, there are many other opportunities for development within the scuba industry. You could knock out all of your specialty instructor certifications, become a commercial diver or develop yourself as a tech diving teacher, or even move on to teaching IDCs yourself.

Choosing a career as a scuba diving instructor, or any outdoor industry job for that matter, forces you to reconcile with what you consider important. An outdoor job forces you to develop mentally and physically in ways that sitting in an office simply cannot. A lot of the benefits aren’t quantifiable, but at the end of the day the satisfaction and contentment you will feel will be more than enough.

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