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HOW MUCH DOES A SCUBA INSTRUCTOR GET PAID?

I'm going to be completely honest with you in this article. How much does a scuba instructor get paid...

USUALLY NOT ENOUGH!

I know that's not what you want to hear (particularly if you had visions of this being your dream job), but let me tell you why I'll NEVER go back to my 9-5 even if they paid me a million pounds. 

BEFORE WE GO ANY FURTHER... IF YOU'RE LOOKING TO MAKE LOTS OF MONEY, THIS JOB IS NOT FOR YOU

Yup, I've said it. You're never going to make your fortunes being a scuba diving instructor unless you are really jammy. Like, you're the person who comes up golden every time and inexplicably finds themself working as an instructor on some billionaires private yacht (yes, I do know someone this happened to!)

For most of us, we'll probably end up working for living wage rates (which in the UK is just shy of £10/hour). Entering the diving industry as a newbie instructor, you can expect this kind of wage for a good few years as you build up experience and qualifications.

The thing is, it kinda depends on where you're going to be working in the world. It's a lot harder to live on £10 per hour in the UK compared to £10 per hour somewhere like South East Asia. "How much does a scuba instructor get paid" is a relative term and I'll talk about that more in a minute.

DOES MONEY REALLY MATTER?

Back in the day, I was a teacher. I've got a degree in Product Design and after coming out of uni not wanting to become a designer, I decided to get my PGCE.  I started teaching Design Tech (woodwork, metal work... that kind of thing) and in the beginning, I absolutely LOVED my job. Helping kids build amazing projects and watching them become thoughtful problem-solvers is awesome.

After about 3 years, I started falling out of love with teaching. I didn't stop loving what I did in the classroom - working with younguns was still ace. It was all the background stuff that no one tells you about during your teacher training. The reporting, the paperwork and the constant scrutiny by management. I spent so much time proving I was a good teacher (by planning lessons to tick boxes on some government checklist), that I couldn't actually be a good teacher.

It was around this time that I decided to make the most of my school summer holiday and travel to Andros in the Bahamas. 6 weeks in the Caribbean working on fish surveys and while I was there I completed my Divemaster. It. Was. Epic.

It was a lightning bolt, a total wake up call. At the end of the project, they had to drag me off the island. I didn't want to go back to my 9-5. As soon as I got home, I headed to the first PADI members forum. My goal was to find somewhere I could gain experience by becoming a volunteer  (that word there, ugh. "Volunteer" - we're going to come back to that in a minute and I'm going to tell you what I HATE about the UK diving industry).

If you want to read more about this initial meeting and where it led, I wrote a whole blog on it. But to cut a long story short, within about a year I was an instructor  - all while continuing my day job (which is completely normal here in the UK).

It took another couple of years for the rot of teaching to really set in. My mental health was shot, I was miserable, stressed, just in a complete rut. The only thing that made me happy? Scuba diving. I longed for the weekends when I could get in the water with students. I found myself planning diving lessons over planning design tech lessons. I had to make a change.

In 2012 I applied for a sabbatical. I also applied for every single scuba instructor job anywhere in the world. I ended up in Malaysia. I told my school to shove their job where the sun doesn't shine because I wasn't coming back.

So, what's this story got to do with "how much does a dive instructor get paid"? Well, I was earning good money as a teacher. I think I was on about £35k near the end of it. I had plenty of money to cover my living expenses, to buy nice things, to go out with my mates, to go on amazing holidays. What took me far too long to realise is that money isn't everything.

Yes, you need money to live. But keeping up with the Joneses and having the latest iPhone, I couldn't care less about that kind of thing now. I have a lifestyle that I absolutely love. You couldn't pay me a million pounds to go back to teaching (although when I came back from Malaysia and times were tough, I did dabble in supply teaching - I lasted 2 weeks and got a crappy data entry job instead. Lesson learnt!)

WHY LIFESTYLE MATTERS

In Malaysia I worked my arse off. For a pittance. At the start, as a relatively inexperienced instructor, I reckon I earned about £400 a month. I mean, you couldn't live on that in the UK but over there that was enough to rent a room and pay for food and drink. Granted, I wasn't left with much at the end of the month but the lifestyle was absolutely fantastic.

I woke up in the morning, walked to work along the beach, took people diving all day and then hit the bar at night. Every. Single. Day.  The island was beautiful, the dive sites were awesome. It really was an incredible 4 years of my life.

As I became more experienced (and James joined me), we got jobs at the biggest centre on the island. Eventually, we stepped up and started to manage the place. The wages increased, along with our responsibility. Before we left to come home and set up The Fifth Point, not only were we in charge of a huge diving operation with a team of around 25 people, 4 boats and a swimming pool, but also a hotel too. We really worked our arses off. Easily 90 hour weeks. Every week.

We learnt so much, and to be honest, there's no way we could have built The Fifth Point to what it is today without learning the ropes in Malaysia. By the end of our time there, we were earning about £1,200 a month each. When you compare that to UK wages (and what I used to earn as a teacher), it's hardly impressive - that's still less than minimum wage (WAY less if you consider the hours we worked). But the cost of living in SE Asia is so minimal, we were living like kings on a paradise island and having an absolute ball.

The instructors from B&J on a pre-season training sesion

Your wage will depend on where in the world you're working and how much experience you have, but 9 times out of 10 it'll be commission based. The more you teach, the more you make. There's not many diving jobs where you get a fixed salary (unless you find yourself working on a cruise ship or something like that). When I was managing the shop in Malaysia, I got a basic managers wage that I could top up with teaching commission. There are lots of variables, so it's hard to give you an exact figure. I can't say "if you work in x country, you will receive y wage".

The thing is, the question you need the answer to is not "how much does a scuba instructor get paid". The question you should be asking is... "is it worth it". If you want a job where you can travel the world, meet incredible people and actually enjoy getting up for work in the morning, becoming a scuba instructor is a total no-brainer. For me, the lifestyle far, far outweighs the money I can make. You just need to decide if that's the right thing for you.

WHAT ABOUT BEING AN INSTRUCTOR IN THE UK?

This is where the dream kinda falls a little bit flat. If you're hoping to live the same lifestyle as an instructor working in the tropics, but in the UK... I'll be honest, you'll be disappointed.

Paid job prospects for instructors in the UK are few and far between. If you do manage to get lucky and land yourself a job, you'll probably earn a living wage. And fair warning, I'm about to go on a total rant here... The UK diving industry is screwed up and I want you to know why.

In the UK, the majority of dive centres rely on volunteer instructors to deliver their courses. There's that word again. I'm triggered. And full disclosure, we rely on volunteer instructors at The Fifth Point too - not exclusively, but they are an extremely important part of our team. We've got full-time staff working here too, and our "volunteers" do earn a commission. I want to make this really clear - neither earn as much as I want them to. It's something I'm working on, but it's a long-game strategy. Let me try and explain.

Imagine you just completed your IDC in the UK. You're now a qualified PADI instructor and you're looking for work... why aren't there any paid instructor jobs waiting for you? Well, it's because most dive centres can't afford to pay you. They're in a race to the bottom, trying to undercut the competition. The profit margins are so crazy tight, there's no room to pay wages. It's absolute insanity, but it's happened because instructors here are soo passionate about what they do, they're willing to do it for free. Over time, this has become the norm (especially with the not-for-profit business models of BSAC and other clubs). Free labour has become engrained in the costing of courses, and after all - why wouldn't a business owner take advantage of this?

If you've seen the price of our PADI Instructor Development Course (or any of our courses, for that matter), you'll notice that we are WAY more expensive than other dive centres in our area, and I'd say we're some of the highest prices in the UK too. Why? Well, one of the main reasons is because we pay wages! Staff costs are the biggest outgoing for any small business. We're no different and it's reflected in our prices. I mentioned that we're in the long-game with this, our prices will continue to rise as we build the business and pay higher wages. My goal is to pay ALL of my instructors and divemasters an above-average wage and/or commission for the work they do.

Now, there are some instructors that are totally happy with working for free. It's their hobby, they've got a decent 9-5 that pays the bills and they genuinely do it because they love teaching. They don't want or need anything in return. If that sounds like you, you're an absolute star. Seriously, you're an incredible asset to any dive centre. And that was me when I came back from the Bahamas - I was at the PADI forum handing out business cards. They said "Nic Emery, Divemaster - will work for air". But I couldn't stay a volunteer forever, I wanted a career in diving because I didn't like the job I was stuck in.

SO, DO YOU THINK IT'S WORTH IT?

I've been brutally honest in this article. If you're chasing the money, becoming a scuba instructor is not for you. There's an old joke in this industry - "if you want to make a small fortune in diving, start with a large one".  And it's totally true! The money, time and effort I've invested to reach PADI Course Director level and open my own dive centre... nooo! Don't make me think about it! BUT, have I enjoyed every single minute of my 12 year (and counting) dive pro career? Abso-frickin-lutely. I'll never go back to a proper job. This lifestyle suits me perfectly. My wage is small but I live. The most important thing is that I'm happy.

My biggest piece of advice is to recognise your worth. Understand that you're not going to make your millions, but at the same time don't work for free or be taken advantage of. As an instructor, the world is your oyster. Use this brilliant career as an opportunity to travel the world. You only need to fork out for the initial flight ticket and the rest of your travels will pay for themselves - you can literally work your way around the world. By the time you're ready to come home... I might even have a well paid job waiting for you!

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