A few words about some of the jobs in the dive industry...
Retail Dive Stores
Manufacturer Sales Representative
Other Manufacturing Sector Jobs
If you've ever wondered about potential careers that involve scuba diving here's a breakdown of the few opportunities. Many people who want to become professionally involved in diving are driven by passion which is good however passion has to be tempered by professional reality.
These are opportunities that deal specifically with sport diving. Commercial diving is a separate world unto itself which does overlap with sport diving in some areas however professionally speaking, commercial diving is commercial diving and sport diving is sport diving. Commercial diving opportunities can be as diverse as diving for golf balls in a golf course pond or underwater welding from a saturation habitat performed 2000 feet underwater. When considering commercial diving careers is often wise to start with your specific professional goal in mind and layout a path of training and experience to get there. Depending where you are headed, military experience, college or vocational training might be the starting point. Generally you will find that being a skilled diver is a secondary requirement to whatever skill is required under water (welding, collecting samples or blowing things up). Being a diver is generally not enough to get a job under water. A good piece of advice: contact the people who are doing the job under water that you wanted to ask them how they got there.
By the way, if it is exploration of the underwater world that drives you, consider a career in Remote Operated Vehicles. The ROVs are now doing a lot of the amazing underwater work today and squeezing out human divers in some cases.
A few scuba diving jobs...
Dive master is a term that relates to a certification level of a scuba diver but it is also a generalized term used in the industry for diving guides, trip leaders and teaching assistants. Dive masters are used in a number of situations from Caribbean resorts to summer camps but in very few situations is a job that allows anyone to make a living. The dream job for a lot of divers is to be a dive master at a Caribbean resort. There are jobs like this out there however local citizens often get first crack at them and some island nations have laws governing foreigners taking jobs. Competition for these "dream jobs" is intense and some resorts offer internship programs. Qualities that can make a dive master more competitive in the marketplace include being multilingual, being handy with tools, experience and or licensing in boat handling (Seaman, Capt., etc.). Local knowledge of the dive sites gives a candidate an edge. Excellent water skills and diving knowledge have to be developed to the point where it's a non issue. People interested in doing this type of work should begin gaining as much dive experience in as many different environments as possible. Seek out a dive master training program that will allow you to work with classes and gain group management experience.
The hard truth is that typically professional dive masters as resort guides don't get paid well and it can be a hard lifestyle. Early mornings lead to long days loading boatloads of tanks in the hot sun doing four dives a day living on an island that has only a couple thousand full-time residents. Depending on tips at the end of the day you may or may not have grocery money and you're too tired and broke to go out and party. But, you will have a relationship with the ocean like no one else. You will spend more time under water than marine biologists and potentially see things they study in the laboratory. There will be times when you're out on the dock alone watching a sunset over the intense blue ocean that you would never see anywhere else. If you want to be a working resort divemaster, this is why you should be doing it, not for the money.
Also, a word of advice to current or potential resort dive masters, amid the surf, sand, the sun screen, the bikinis, never drop your guard. Good dive masters will tell you that even after thousands of dives, the divers in your groups will still surprise you with everything from stupid stunts, panic attacks, suicide attempts and poor judgment. Your focus and attention at the right moment on your 1000th dive can make the difference between a minor incident and the nightmare you will carry all your life.
There are a number of agencies worldwide that train and certify scuba divers and these agencies train and certify the instructors. While basic training for scuba divers can be very similar between agencies, the approaches and ideologies for training instructors can vary considerably. Some agencies operate only through retail dive stores while some agencies in Europe are based on individual clubs. Some people become certified scuba instructors to teach on their own as an independent instructor gathering their own students and arranging their own training venues. One thing to keep in mind is that in addition to agency dues, an instructor must carry liability insurance (malpractice insurance) which can be quite expensive depending on the insurance company and what it covers. An independent instructor has to bring in enough money to cover his insurance cost, venue cost and equipment cost before he gets paid.
If you're considering becoming a scuba instructor and looking at all the different paths, it is probably best to consider your ultimate goal first. If you want to teach diving in the Caribbean you will need all the skills of a dive master plus instructor certification as well as local knowledge. Again, being multilingual and boat skills gives you an edge.
In America, one of the main employers of full-time scuba instructors is retail dive stores. Just like jobs in general, competition is tough and like jobs in any part of the sport diving industry, being a great diver is not enough. You need to have a broader skill set that can make a contribution to a specialized retail operation. Being comfortable with Point-Of-Sale software, great personality, the ability to manage an accurate inventory and sales experience are some of the qualities that a dive retailer will look for in a full-time instructor. Some stores don't have instructors on staff but will contract out their training classes to local independent instructors.
Generally speaking, there are some retail dive operations in America that are large enough to hire full-time instructors and offer them professional benefits like health insurance. In some cases, part of the instructors pay will be a commission on the purchases made by their students. Being a scuba instructor, is not something you should do for the money because the money isn't there. Many independent instructors are happy just to cover the cost of their insurance and equipment. If you want to be an instructor you need to do it for the right reasons. You need to find that sense of reward in opening people up to the wonders of the underwater world. People do support themselves and make a career of it but if you think you will make a lot of money you'll probably be disappointed depending on what you think a lot is.
Like a dive master, an instructor is responsible for the lives of his people underwater. Your diving skills have to be developed to the level where you can manage yourself underwater and still have the mental and physical capacity to manage other divers going underwater for the first time. Some people really don't know how they will react to a situation underwater so it's often difficult for an instructor to know. An instructor cannot be thinking about his own diving, it must be automatic. On land, a great instructor will be a great communicator giving informed, complete presentations and underwater will be focused completely, intensely on their students every second.
Many people who become passionate about scuba diving and decide they want to make it their career choose to open dive stores. It is important to have passion for your career however passion doesn't pay the landlord. The dive retail business is extremely competitive and retailers have to battle Internet sales and other stores for every single penny they get. As wondrous as scuba diving is, a dive store is still a business and all the challenges facing any new business face a new dive store. I have been a diver for over 30 years and have been in the industry for almost 20 years and in that time I have seen literally over a hundred dive stores go out of business, sometimes destroying life savings, marriages and friendships in the process. They are the same basic reasons that half of all new businesses fail within the first two years. While being a dive retailer does present unique challenges because scuba diving is involved, the real hazards are the same that destroy new businesses of all kinds.
Poorly Capitalized - the rule of thumb for any new business is that you won't turn a profit for the first two years. you need to have enough investment capital to pay two years of expenses and your salary in addition to the startup costs.
No Business Plan - There are people who decide they love diving, or love fashion, or love hamburgers then start a dive shop, fashion boutique or hamburger shack with no ideas about expenses or profit margins.
If the opening day for your dive store comes and you open the door without knowing exactly how many sales dollars you need to bring in at what profit margin for the year to pay your expenses, you will fail in less than two years. If you don't understand that question you will fail in one year.
Unclear Relationships with Business Partners - If you and your dive buddy open a dive store without clearly defined relationships as investors and partners, you will fail. Typically, that failure will result in lawsuits, extreme animosity to your dive buddy and quite possibly somebody getting their porch light shot out by pellet gun. Yep, it happens.
Unrealistic Expectations - I once visited a dive store where the owner proudly showed me their indoor heated Olympic size pool, in house travel agency, a show room stocked with every known brand of scuba equipment and two classrooms. I didn't have the heart to tell him that if he looked at the demographics of his area, he is going to have to certify and sell scuba equipment to every man woman and child in his midsize city over the next 10 years to make his business profitable.
There are some great dive retail operations out there but the people behind them are not just great divers, they are great business people. They have an awareness of their expenses, they are realistic about what their potential sales volume is. They understand their local area, the SCUBA market environment and know how many sales dollars they have to bring in to break even for every cost dollar they spend.
When I first got into the business, I thought there would be some pattern to all the successful dive stores but I found that every successful dive store is different. A successful dive store in an inland city may only have one or two spear guns in stock but a successful dive store in a coastal town close to blue water may have a wall stocked with a dozen spear guns. The successful dive stores have some general things in common and they are the same things found in other successful businesses. A clear business plan, realistic expectations, an awareness of expenses, a good understanding of the customer, a few basic business skills and sufficient startup resources are the basics you will need. Your passion for diving will give you the drive to push through the long hours and labor associated with starting any new enterprise.
One can find a lot of diversity amongst manufacturers of scuba products. There are small garage or single shop operations producing small lines of specialized products all the way up to the corporately own namebrand full-line manufacturers. The sales and promotion of those products can vary also. Some brands and product are promoted and sold to dive retailers through "inside" sales reps. That is they are employees of the manufacturer and typically will serve additional roles as customer service, tech support etc. Some products are sold through "outside" sales reps. This would be an independent salesman that might promote a group of different lines to a dive store but is not an employee of any of them. An outside sales rep collects a commission of the product he sells in his territory and operates as a business paying his own expenses. Some companies have no titled sales reps and simply market and promote with in-house resources.
Competition for jobs is tough in general and so it is competing for jobs in the scuba diving's manufacturing sector. If you're competing for an inside job, you're made more competitive by things like sales experience and training, computer literacy, solid work history and a relationship with the diving in the territory you want to represent.
For outside reps, the skill set is similar to someone running their own business, keeping expenses low, making best use of your time, etc. Also, you need to take on the right mix of winning product lines that dive stores will want to carry and spot new products from small manufacturers that could potentially be the next big thing.
The entire market for sport diving equipment is much smaller than most people think. Some marketing surveys placed it along the lines of black powder muzzle loader shooting sports in terms of dollars worldwide. Sports like ping-pong and boccia ball deal in dollar volumes that tower over scuba like a colossus. But, a cool aspect of the diving industry unlike the aerospace industry or the computer industry is that you can easily meet the people at the top of the food chain. If you work in a store selling Apple computers it's very unlikely you would get the chance to meet Steve Jobs but a person working in a retail dive store going to a tradeshow or consumer show can actually talk to people who designed decompression algorithms. The top underwater photographers, free divers, explorers, scientists are all right there.
The jobs in the manufacturing sector for diving are many of the same functions in manufacturing any other product. Competing for jobs in customer service, tech support, warehousing and distribution, are like competing for jobs anywhere else. It is about a good skill set, work history in addition to some knowledge of diving.
Retail Dive Stores
Manufacturer Sales Representative
Other Manufacturing Sector Jobs