Updated: Dec 14, 2019
"How much does a SCUBA Instructor make?" is probably one of the most common questions we aswer on a near-daily basis. The answer is of course very location- and situation-specific. While it's not unusual for dive instructors in North America or Europe to earn a decent wage and make rent, cost of living and some fun on the side, the job isn't exactly known for being the best plan to get rich quickly. "You're doing it for the life style" is usually a very quick and easy way out of the conversation but it fails to take one very important factor into account: Longevity. Sure, who hasn't dreamt of leaving their 9-to-5 office job behind and lead a nomad life style on the beach, teaching people what they love. Unfortunately, just doing it for the life style is only going to stay fun for so long. So, here's a few tips to increase your SCUBA instructor income. 1. FIND YOUR NICHE AND SPECIALIZE
Whenever I tell my soon-to-be-newly-graduated dive instructor candidates to pick a few specialty instructor ratings and make sure to they can teach courses that other's can't, I'm sometimes met with scepticism. It does sound a bit like a sales pitch, doesn't it?
However, finding the things in SCUBA that keep you going, is essential to your longevity as a SCUBA instructor. Perhaps you're really into photography or you love tinkering with dive gear. Specializing and offering those courses to your students, is what's really going to generate some extra income. Everyone is interested in something and a lot of people are willing to pay good money to get better at something if they can learn it from someone knowledgeable and passionate. I remember breaking the bank on a new Full Face mask and offering a distinctive PADI specialty I had acquired from a colleague Course Director before PADI had written a standardized outline. It was a bit of a gamble because full face mask diving wasn't really considered a thing in the recreational Caribbean scene. Much to my surprise, people were pretty much lining up for a chance to get their hands on this new toy and try it out. The mask made itself back in a matter of weeks and everything after that was profit. 2. HONE IN AND CASH IN ON YOUR DESIGN SKILLS If you're visually inclined, there's a great deal of contributions you can make to the dive operation you work for. Every dive center or dive store that takes itself seriously will have some sort of advertising and social media strategy. This usually requires the production of content and that's where you come in. Even if you're not a visual wizard and Photoshop is above your pay grade, there are a lot of free online design platforms that will help you create enticing visuals. Look into http://www.canva.com to find a free online design platform with lots of templates so you don't need to start from scratch. Similary, the 'Adobe Spark' app is a great tool for composing flyers, posters or social media posts. You might be surprised how much your employer could be intersted in paying you for your creations if it helps their dive operation's visibility and professionalism. I remember getting a great deal on my IDC Staff Instructor course because I was willing (and able) to re-design the dive center's website. If you're really good with a camera, perhaps you could even consider selling photos or video to customers who would like their dive experience documented. 3. RUN YOURSELF AS A BUSINESS
Even if you're employed by a dive operation, as a SCUBA instructor, you're often a bit on your own. If you're working abroad, maybe you're missing out on employment benefits that employees with a "normal" life style do have, such as vacation money, social security, etc. On top of that, it's very easy for our "fun life style" to develop a very dark side effect: complete administrative and financial chaos. We will focus more on this in future articles but considering yourself self-employed, even when you're not, is often a smart thing to do as a dive instructor. Our gigs tend to be shorter, we're expected to be much more self sufficient and self directed and it can be hard to find advise because our life styles are each their own unique story. I find that having a borderless account (I use www.transferwise.com) is a great way to get my multi-currency financial mess organized a bit more, while simple Google Docs spreasheets of my income and expenses give me a much better overview of how much this life style actually costs. Every year, I track how much I spent on plane tickets, dive gear etc, while clearly keeping tabs on which types of courses made me how much money. This seems like a lot of work, but it's something you can start doing TODAY to create more oversight. This is especially important if you live from pay check to pay check. A good rule (that I struggle to follow) is to determine a percentage of your pay check, whether it's 10% or 30%, whatever works for you, and put it in your savings (or store it in your borderless account). For some of us it's really not easy, but as time goes by, those few beers you didn't have, suddenly add up to a nice sum of money! 4. DIVERSIFY We've all heard the expression "Don't put all your eggs in one basket", yet we tend to do it all the time. We find something we love and devote all our attention to it. It's the thing every self-made man will tel you to do. "Just find the thing you love and get really good at it!". While I mostly agree (you have to put in the focus and the effort), it's a really good idea to aquire some side skills or side jobs that can provide extra income. Some of my instructor graduates have developed careers that basically revolve around this. A good example here is www.yogadivergirl.net who combines her passion for diving with her passion for yoga, or www.spacefisharmy.com who designs and sell amazing apparel for water sports lovers. Go check them out and give them some love! They're taking the SCUBA profession to the next level by branching out. That being said, despite all of the Facebook memes and Instagram quotes, it's childish to believe that you need to 100% love every second of every aspect of everything you do (you're such a Millenial). Look back at the above point and think. If you're running yourself as a business and you find yourself unable to designate a percentage of your earnings to savings, perhaps it's time to find something extra? Would it really matter if 10 or 20% of your occupation was not your favorite pass-time but it made you able to live more comfortably?
5. HAVE THE CONVERSATION You need to know what your goal is. Are you happy with $1000 a month? $1500? Do you need $2000? Slews of "The Secret" style books have been written about visualizing your goals and their success exists for a reason. It's very important to know what you consider worth your time. While it's not all about money and of course the cost of living plays a huge role into how much you can expect to earn, it's important to have clear expectations. Does your employer know what your goals are? You can't ever expect a raise or extra hours if your employer isn't aware. Use step 3 in this article to analyze your financial situation and make adjustments. If your assessment is that the numbers don't add up, dare to have the conversation with your employer. Perhaps they have extra tasks that need to be completed and are willing to pay for it. Perhaps you bringing up the topic was enough to convince them that it's time to reward your loyalty and efforts with a raise. Alternatively, be prepared to have the conversation with yourself and face the facts. Is your level of service and dedication worth a raise? Are you in a market where there's demand for what you're doing or is it full of cheap labor? Do you value the life style more than the income and should you just stop complaining? If all else fails, is it maybe time to move on to the next employer who is willing to pay more? Immobility can be a huge contributor to why you are not earning what you think you should and coming to terms with this is often a very strong first step towards making a change. Hopefully these tips can motivate you to analyze your own SCUBA employment situation. Keep in mind, you don't need five tips that will all work for you. Just the one that gets you on the right track!