While it does seem and often is a fun scuba job, being an instructor is hard work and often time-consuming for what you actually make.
What does a scuba instructor actually make a day’s worth of work?
A scuba instructor on a good day can make about $100 dollars take home after taxes, cost of living and all those factors included. That is with multiple dives, a generous company, and good tips. On average less than half of that is more common if you even have work. This depends greatly on the area of the world you live in as well.
This does seem like a small amount of money and you are probably wondering how people can live on that and why they do it. These are very good questions and I will get more into the details and nuances below (I will be using USD when speaking about currency to keep it simple and uniform).
As a scuba instructor, your daily take-home will usually average between 30 to 50 dollars (if you have work). These numbers are a bit far from where salary.com states that the average salary is 48,000USD a year (I am guessing this was skewed by tech divers on oil rigs).
The pay is not a lot and you are probably comparing this to your profession now in the US, Europe, or elsewhere.
You have to remember that most full-time dive instructors are living abroad in areas where the cost of living is much lower. Even though you are paid less you could possibly have a higher take-home pay (possibly but not likely).
If you want to make the most money, the United States, the Caribbean, Mexico, and Central America are the places to be.
This is just a general statement based on my experience and you can make a lot in other places but depending on your citizenship it could be hard to work in other countries. Getting a work permit to teach scuba can be very difficult, especially in the United States.
It will be hard to get a job three as competition is high as everyone wants to see whale sharks and manta rays. To begin you will also most likely guide which pays lower than instructing.
First-Hand Experience From World Class Instructors
“When in Nusa Lembongan in Indonesia you get about $5 to $10 per person for guided dives. In Mexico, the average was about $10 US a tank for guided as well.
For courses, you would make more doing it freelance but the work is not as consistent and is much more tedious. Shops in Mexico usually do a monthly salary that is about $1,000 but work is more consistent and you get tips and can upsell courses for commission.”
“Most places in the Maldives have a monthly salary of about $1000 USD and you get extra for service fees that could be up to $800. Also, some places will fly you home and include housing.”
Steve Freeman (IG@stevesgonewalkabout) has been a master instructor from Australia that have dove all over the world for the past ten years.
“On the island of Utila in Honduras, I’d get $30/student for a specialty course, which was 1-3 days. But you’d typically sell deep, wreck, and nitrox as a bundle to make more out of each student.
Open water/ advancement courses and rescue were $60/student.
Pre covid the freelancers like me would get overflow from the courses, or people whose time frame didn’t line up with courses with shops.
I know in Mexico it was different. As an instructor you’d pay $60 for the Padi cert, you’d rent your students’ gear for around $60-90 for the three days and the boat Captains charged you around $20/student.
So even if you could charge $400 a student you would make about $150/student for three days, which beats working for a shop!”
Breaking Down the Numbers
You also have to consider that you are only paid for the dive. There is the boat ride, gear preparations, dive briefings, cleaning the gear after, etc.
For example, I lived and worked in Panglao, Philippines at a very busy dive center. I would get $12 for leading a dive with all things included which would be about 2 hours of my time. If I was teaching an Open Water course to one person (on average 3 days) I would get about $40 a day per student and the days are around 6 hours with pool, theory, and open water.
This was a pretty decent shop and they paid fairly well compared to other shops.
Rent was about $250 a month, food $200, gear maintenance $30, dive insurance $10, Scooter rental $30, and beverages $100 (if you drink).
So a rough estimate of $600 to $800 a month. This is totally doable but not much room for anything else to save.
Can You Make a Living Being Only a Dive Instructor?
Yes, you can if you work at a very busy dive shop that can support your year around. Most places have high and low seasons where tourists can be nonexistent.
Technical divers charge more for courses but then becoming a tech instructor takes a lot more time and money as well. Teaching and taking underwater photography is also a great way to instruct and to make a solid living.
This again means you need to learn all the skills and get the equipment to do so.
Having More Skills to Stand Out
This is not the most important factor, but it can be a true game-changer if you have extra skills besides scuba diving. Here are a few that are highly sought after.
- Languages – This is one of the first things they look for when instructing overseas. It will get you more clientele and a lot more opportunities. Speaking the local language is also a huge benefit as your boat drivers, transportation, and maintenance may not speak your native tongue.
- Website Design – To be honest a lot of shops are outdated and not up with the times. If you can update a shop’s website to organize clients and organize bookings this will bring in more clients and often if you bring in clients yourself you get an extra commission (usually 10% to 20%).
- Gear Maintenance – Being able to repair gear and fix things is imperative. Sun and seawater destroy everything, not to mention clients dropping gear.
- Boat License – In some places, foreigners are allowed to drive boats and this could set you apart. Often though locals from that country are only allowed to drive the boats, for instance, I have an American boating license but it doesn’t work in most of Asia.
- Sales – If you can upsell the course and gear the shops may have this will help you a lot. Many people are not adept at dealing with this as it makes them uncomfortable, so it may take you some time to get good at it.
Should I Work Independently or for a Dive Shop?
Working for a dive center has the advantages of getting more reliable work, having more insurance, usually a boat, and access to all different sizes of gear.
The downside is that they will take a bigger cut from your courses and guiding. I have done both and believe it all depends on where you are.
If I was in the US where dive insurance laws can be strict, being covered by a company would be my choice. As I live in Indonesia and shore dive and rent gear myself for cheap, I do not work for a company.
Conclusion and Things to Consider
- It is Possible – I hope that this information helped to understand that a diving support salary varies widely from place to place and depends on what skills you have. If you love diving, the ocean, and being around people then you can make it work. It may not be easy, but it can be done.
- Be Positive – It sounds cliche but a positive attitude and a good work ethic go a long way. There are a lot of people per job and just being good at diving will not give you a leg up. I am not saying that you should work for free but adding a bit of effort counts in this field. I have met a lot of different people that I helped out even though I didn’t need to and it has led to large tips and even job opportunities.
- Experience – As with any job, experience is necessary so when your dive masters dive as much as you can with as many different instructors as you can. I worked at one of the largest dive shops in Panglao with over 15 instructors. I dove with all of them and helped on as many courses as I could. I spent 6 months on my dive master. The more diving experience you have, the more chance of earning enough money.
- Become a Master Scuba Diver Trainer (MSDT) – This can be done pretty quick and you can teach specialties, meaning there are more opportunities for work compared to an open water instructor. With some of these specialties like coral propagation for instance you can run courses on that and also help out the local environment.
- Buying Your Own Gear – I have not been to a shop that provided the gear for a full-time instructor. It is expensive to buy but there are some good products that are sturdy and will get you started.