Things I have learned as a Scuba Instructor

While compared to many instructors out there I am only at the beginning of my diving career, I like to think that I have learned some valuable lessons. Some are very obvious others just make the job a little more enjoyable. I have been diving since 2001 and was fortunate enough to make the transition to dive professional in 2009 as a dive master and 2011 to instructor. At the time of completing my IE (instructor Exams) I had no idea what I would be getting my self into, but just like as a new diver we all continue to grow and learn from others as we continuously evolve as a diver.

One of the first things I learned very quickly is teaching is nothing like the IDC (instructor development course). Like any scuba certification this course is meant to test soon to be instructors for the worst case scenario, the goal is to perfect demonstration of skills and identify and correct skills of students. While these are handy and can be very useful it is worth knowing that every shop/ every instructor has their own take on how a class should be taught. So while you may have passed all the test, it is only proof that you are capable of teaching the skills and knowledge, not that you have any idea how to actually teach. So for new instructors when you find a job at a dive shop or resort, do yourself a favor and take the time to shadow one or multiple other instructors, I know that you want to start making money but you will gain valuable insight into teaching. This is especially important if you are working somewhere different from where you did your training. I completed most of my training including my IDC and IE in the Caribbean, while I live and work in Central California. Very different environments and conditions that flipped everything i learned about teaching on its head, but thanks to a very seasoned instructor I quickly became a very confident instructor in cold water conditions.

Get a second set of equipment for teaching! This has been a staple that I share with all of my DM’s this second set of gear doesn’t have to be super nice just functional. Why do you want a second set of gear? 1. The chlorine is going to destroy your equipment, especially your bcd, suit/rash guard. My first bcd that I ever purchased eventually became my pool bcd and one day while teaching a class it literally fell apart, many parts had been held together with zip ties up until that point. So if you have nice equipment that you care about don’t constantly use it in the pool, get an old rental bcd that work and use that. Some instructors will just use the shops rentals which is fine but sometimes they take a size that a student needs and then the student is left with ill fitting equipment which I don’t believe is fair to the student. 2. You won’t have to keep switching gear back and forth, if your shop has a dive locker then you can keep your pool gear there and nice gear at home and not have to keep bringing gear back and forth. The less gear i have to shift back and forth between the pool and ocean the less likely I am going to forget something, and nothing feels worse than showing up to an ocean dive and realizing you left your mask at the pool.

Instructors don’t make that much Money. While the cost of getting certified may seem expensive to some people, what most don’t realize is that the instructor only gets a fraction of that amount. Assuming that the class cost lets say $600 that may include materials, rentals, pool fees, then instructors fees. Most of the time instructors are getting paid between $60 -$150 per student (some may pay slightly more some slightly less), keep in mind that classes involve a lot of time invested for instructors. This is why many larger dive shops will pack their classes with as many students as possible to make the class worth the instructors time, and charge so much for private classes. This is definitely not a career that anyone gets rich off of, thats why many instructors will have another career and usually teach as a side job.

Not all shops support the Keyman. If you are not part of the dive industry this may seem like a foreign term, but wether you realize it or not your instructor has a very large influence on you and the equipment they suggest matters, usually. At some dive shops instructors are only contractors that come in to teach and leave when they are done. Other shops usually small ones the instructor may also be the sales person or service tech, and play a much more ingrained roll in the operation. Key man is an industry discount that vendors offer to dive professionals, this allows them to get their gear in front of new students that are looking for recommendations. If you are a new dive professional and working at a new shop they often want you to dive the gear that they carry, this discount is usually what allows dive professionals to afford such nice equipment, despite their average wages. Not all shops offer this to their staff and instead offer their own discount that they can still make money of the equipment sold. While I understand that some shops may not offer this keyman option because every little bit helps a dive shop. I was surprised when I worked at one of the largest dive shops in California that there was no mention of keyman to any of the staff, but I guess they got big somehow and making money of employees is one way to do it.

Don’t just dive for work. While this seems obvious, you wouldn’t have become a dive professional if you didn’t enjoy diving, but it is easy especially when starting out to take as many classes as possible and have very little time to dive for enjoyment. You need dives that you don’t have to worry about anyone every once in a while, you will find that the only time you are not in instructor mode is when you are diving with other instructors. If you have dive buddies who are not as experienced you will always look to help improve them, and that is a good thing. You will start to see more teaching moments and gain stories to share with new students to prevent mistakes. But you must also constantly expand your repertoire of dive sites, keep exploring don’t just dive the same site you teach at. If you have access to more sites explore them and grow your exposure, giving new students something to look forward to in diving. This could be destinations or local, although if you can get students excited about local diving they will be your customer for life.

This falls in line with the last point but don’t be afraid to dive with students after they have completed the course. If you have good local diving many students want to go diving again but may not have anyone to dive with. If you are planning on going diving anyways and you are comfortable with them as a diver ( you should be if you certified them) invite them, this will mean the world to them. I understand that this does put you in a roll of supervision but you are providing that new diver with the best training possible, true diving, and no amount of courses can really teach what real diving is. Because i chose to dive with new students eager to dive I have found some of my best dive buddies that eventually became dive professionals themselves.

Be prepared for shit to break. The ocean and pools are terrible for dive gear and will eventually cause something to break, be prepared to fix everything every time you set up equipment. it could be a simple o-ring or a stuck inflator, hole in a wetsuit/drysuit, and all of this can lead to miserable diving or missing out on diving all together. So be prepared have a very robust save a dive kit, if you have space bring and extra regulator or hoses. The number of times I have been getting ready to get in the water and a rental bc is auto inflating or not holding air, or regulator is free flowing because it got dragged in the sand, I have lost count. Divers treat equipment that isn’t theirs like shit especially if its their first time using it so be prepared to fix something.

You will make sacrifices as an instructor. Now this may not apply to all instructors but I strongly believe that it is my job to make even the check out dives as enjoyable as possible. So on occasion I have had to trade equipment with a student because a strap broke underwater because its old gear, so i give my fins to the student and dive one fin, or trade masks because they bought a cheap one online and it doesn’t fit. While these are not fun to do and I could have just as easily forced the student to suck it up, I have had plenty of good dives, and one bad dive for a new student may ruin diving for them so I will make the sacrifice. The student may also realize that your gear is way nicer and choose to buy good gear after so its a win win.

Tips are generally regional. Many divers are aware that when you travel to a destination and you dive it is usually customary to tip the crew at the end of the day or trip. This in my experience is not as common at your typical home town dive shop. While I have had customers/students that have tipped after a class it is not very common. If you are a new instructor and starting at a dive shop talk with the other instructors and find out if tipping is common. The truth is if you are a good instructor and your students can tell you care, they will see the value in your instruction. Tips may be helpful financially but the focus should always be creating great divers that you want to go diving with.

For any instructors out there I hope this was helpful if you have any suggestions on things that you have learned as an instructor feel free to share them I will happily add them to the list providing proper credit of course.

Happy Diving, and support your local dive shops/instructors.

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