How to Chose a Good Scuba Employer

Ok, so you have passed your Instructor Exam, and you may now call yourself a scuba diving instructor. It’s a big responsibility to teach people to safely move themselves around underwater at depth. Incompetently done, diving can lead to serious accidents. It’s your job to teach people to dive in a way that prevents such accidents.

But there is also the economic side of things. You will need a dive operation to employ you! Why not head to some remote tropical location? How can you find a good one there to work for? The business of diving has some peculiarities: In many tropical diving destination there is not a lot of labor regulation, especially when it comes to foreigners, and that exacerbates potential problems since bad bosses have way more chances to mistreat their staff in a situation like that. Also, the cultures of the diving expats and the tropical locals often interact in funny ways. Finally, diving definitely draws its own kind of people, especially in some far-off destinations: Adventurers, non-conformists, drop-outs. That’s often the fun of it, but it also creates some extra problems.

Let me share what I have learned in the last 2 years:

I have basically been offered jobs as scuba instructor, and as dive shop manager combined with an instructor role. Extra skills like underwater photography/marine bio…. are appreciated, but it’s rare to get a pure underwater photographer/marine bio guy job.

Take a Close Look:

Sometimes it’s hard to take a close look at your prospective employer if you are, for instance, in Australia and you are hoping to work as an instructor in the Philippines. It’s still worth it, if possible. Go to the place, do a few dives there, look around, talk to the people who want to employ you. It’s better to spend $ on a flight and time on the trip than to end up in a sucky place.

But also, go to a bar/pub in the place where the dive shop is located (on your own), and just listen to the local vibe regarding the place you plan to work at. The local diving community is usually easy to spot. If you find more than one person who just rolls his eyes when you mention your potential employer, you should become very weary!

See if you have common acquaintances with the owner/manager, or friends who have taught in the location where the dive operation is, and ask them about the dive operation.

Warning signs:

– A local dive pro frankly tells you: “Xxx Xxxx is difficult to work with. People I know regretted doing their IDC with him” or something like that. Folks tend to be very careful when giving a negative opinion about others in their community. If someone lets you in on a commonly held judgment like that, give them a hug and buy them a beer. They have done you a big favor.

– Someone owns/manages a dive shop but never or rarely dives himself. Unless there is a medical/maternity reason for this (not a good idea to dive pregnant or with a lung problem), it’s a sign that he/she isn’t in it for the love of diving.

– Dive operation owner/manager makes disparaging remarks about the locals (Filipinos, Thais, Indonesians, … wherever the dive operation is located), even “jokingly”.

– Dive operation owner/manager speaks almost none of the local language (Indonesian, Filipino languages, ..), despite having been in the country for years, and forbids staff to use that language (I am not making this up. I have experienced this).

– You are asked to work without pay, at least for some time in the beginning, or something along those lines. Very very suspicious!

– Rental scuba equipment looks unused for long periods of time, obviously defective, semi-ancient. There is a dead rat in-between the rental gear (I did indeed see that once).

– Rapid staff rotation, both of foreign instructors and local dive masters/secretaries/boat captains…

These are obvious bad signs.

– Dive operation owner is fat & German.

I don’t know why this is true, but I have found it to be predictive of trouble. I have nothing against Germans, or Germany, I have lived in that country, enjoyed it and still have many German friends. I met a very cool guy who is an in-superb-shape German dive shop owner, and I met chubby non-German dive shop owners who are also great guys. But fat & German ain’t good.

Good Questions to ask your prospective diving employer:

Question: Why did your last instructor/manager leave, after how much time working here?

Good answers: He started a family back home in Europe; He got a good job in gourmet cooking/producing music/industrial design, a field which he is also good at and also loves. He left for another dive operation in another famous diving region after 6 months or more.

Bad answers: He had a nervous breakdown after 2 months. He rather went freelance after 3 months. He ran out of money after 4 months (yes, ran out of money while working full time).

Question: Are you still on good terms with your previous instructor/manager?

Good answer: Yes.

Bad answers: No, he tried to sabotage the compressor and the septic tank when he left; No, he thanked everyone in town on Facebook when he left, but not me; He blocked me on Facebook; He now works for the arch-enemy dive shop on the other side of the beach.

Question: Are you friends with the other dive shops in town?

Good answers: Yes; Yes, friends with A, B, C, odd dealings with D.

Bad answer: I have no friends here, just people who envy me.

I have heard all of these bad answers, sometimes unfortunately too late to run, and in a few cases I ignored them, which I came to regret!

You get the idea. It’s exciting to be offered a job in some super cool tropical diving destination. But it’s worth taking your time and to choose wisely. Use these guidelines and avoid ending up in a dive operation with a piss-poor work environment. They exist. It’s better to do your homework & wait for a good opportunity to come along. They also exist!

Happy diving!

Cuttlefish 2

This cuttlefish knows how to dive and does not worry.