Becoming A Caribbean Dive Instructor

Ocean First   Jun 30, 2022

"How long is Seven Mile Beach?" a passenger shouted from the back of the bus. It was spring break 2015 on Grand Cayman where I took my first job as a Caribbean scuba instructor. I had just loaded 12 wide-eyed, smiling, cruise shippers into the dive shop's 1998 Toyota Hiace Bus, en route to their first try scuba diving experience. "About seven miles,: I answered back.

I moved to Grand Cayman a year earlier. Till that point, I had completed all of my dive training in Colorado and took the occasional trip to the tropics. I was in search of submerging myself in everything scuba. I wanted to be in the water as much as possible, advance my skills and teaching abilities, and "live the life." Within an hour of landing, I was underwater watching two french angelfish circle me. I knew I had found what I was looking for.

What Does it Take?

Becoming a dive instructor takes commitment and hard work. Most training agencies require at least 100 logged dives in varied conditions, multiple specialty courses, and emergency training, just to enroll in the instructor training course (ITC). You will want to invest in good dive equipment and most operators require professional liability insurance.

It took me a year and a half, while working full time at a Colorado dive shop, to become a certified instructor. It was challenging and truly prepared me for my career in diving. Good dive instructors need to be responsible, flexible and adaptable. While many instructors know how to have a good time, we are typically in bed by 9pm. Most days start at 7am or earlier. You have to be fit and alert. I once towed two divers 200 yards to shore, in the surf, with 50 lbs of gear each. They were too exhausted to swim back themselves. Students put their lives into your hands and it is a responsibility that is taken seriously.

What Agency to Choose?

There are plenty of training agencies to choose from. SSI, PADI, NAUI, and SDI are all good choices that have their pros and cons. They share more similarities than differences.  The simple answer is, pick the agency depending on where you want to work. If you want to teach in the Carribean, PADI is a good bet. Colorado? Most shops are now SSI.

Are you an SSI divemaster or instructor wanting to become an PADI instructor? Most agencies have a simple crossover process. You will be a much more attractive candidate to employers if you are an active instructor with multiple agencies. This enables shops to accept referral students from virtually anywhere and will get you more work. At one point I was active with three different agencies.

A Day in the Life

You certainly won't become rich teaching people how to dive but you will have a wealth of stories and encounters with marine life. Days can be long and tips minimal. I averaged three dives a day. I memorized all of my dive briefings. To this day I can recite the entire PADI discover scuba diver quiz. I knew the dive sites, and the fish living in them, better than my own apartment. I repeated the same jokes to new divers daily, to the dismay of my coworkers.

In the slow season my duties turned to painting, carpentry, and equipment maintenance. I caught and sold lionfish to local restaurants. I worked hard, 6 days a week for a modest wage, but I was in the water everyday and had a great sun tan.

The Perks

Instructing has enabled me to travel and dive throughout North America, meet people from all corners of the planet, and have the most memorable, life changing encounters with marine life, that I otherwise would not have experienced. It is a skill you can employ almost anywhere. Land-locked Colorado has more than 15 dive shops. Dive training is conducted on every continent on Earth. You can do it part-time, as a hobby, or full-time for your livelihood. The path to a new dive career takes time and money but will pay you back many times over.

In the year I spent on Grand Cayman I logged over 400 dives and certified over 300 students in various scuba courses. I was able to cut my teeth in the clear, warm, shallows containing various shades of blue. My caribbean experience made me the instructor that I am today. It was only possible because of the wonderful dive community and training opportunities Colorado offered me before I got there. If you have ever wanted to learn a skill to fuel your passion you can start now, without having to jump on an airplane.

There are times, while teaching in Colorado, I miss the clear warm water of the Caribbean. I even miss the bizarre and otherwise obvious questions I would often get from tourists. "Does this island go all the way to the bottom?" "Do you live here?" I even had a diver request several empty water bottles so she could bottle "all the different shades of blue," and bring them home. Becoming a dive instructor is a challenging and rewarding experience that will change your perspective and show you a new world.

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By the way, Seven Mile Beach isn/t seven miles long. It's closer to six. :)