Your Place in the Diving Industry
By Jeanne Bear Sleeper
Where are you willing to live? What experience, talent or credentials do you bring to the job? Who do you know? How much money do you need to make?
These are the four factors, in order of importance, that contribute to landing the right job in the diving industry.
Where Are You
Willing To Live?
Location translates to geography and level of luxury required. Obviously there are more diving related jobs close to popular scuba areas. Nevada offers jobs for diving instructors, dive store managers and manufacturers' representatives but only a handful of positions compared to nearby California. The Golden State has 29 million residents and a 1,000 plus mile coastline compared to Nevada's 5 million landlocked, desert residents.
Certification agencies generally cite Florida, California, Texas and the New England states as the top four areas for number of certified scuba divers. If you are thinking about relocating, consider searching the Internet Yellow Pages under 'scuba diving.' The number of dive retail stores is a pretty good indication of the area's diving activity. Compare metropolitan areas, not just a certain city. For example, if you looked up Los Angeles, you would find a relatively short list of shops for a major city. That's because most of the retailers are in the cities surrounding Los Angeles.
If you are unwilling or unable to relocate, your chances of long term, career employment in scuba diving are greatly diminished. In most cases you have to go to the full time job, it rarely comes to you. However, part-time instructors can supplement their day job income by teaching scuba nights and weekends.
What diving lacks in dollars, it often replaces with high levels of job satisfaction. Live-aboard dive boat deckhands do not make much money. But quality of life; diving every day, meeting interesting people, minimal personal monthly expenses, seeing unusual animals and behaviors, enjoying the beauty and healthfulness of a clean, ocean environment; can be the job's highest reward. Working in this environment while perhaps logging days of sea service toward an ocean operator's license, is a great way of life.
Live-aboard life varies radically from specialty dive boat to cruise ships. While huge cruise ships offer glamour for passengers, the crews' life below decks is substantially different. You need to recognize the difference between guest and staff before you sign-on for a six month tour of duty. A cruise ship staff's work hours are long. But, if you want a first job away from home that offers international travel and glamour status, then cruise ship divemaster may be right for you.
Many cruise ships do not allow non-officer crew in the ship's public areas during off duty hours. If you envision every night as disco night, read the employment contract fine print carefully.
Live-aboard dive boats present their own challenges. Since they tend to be 65 to 100 feet long, space is at a premium and crew quarters are small and shared. Unless you want to sit in the engine room, it is hard to get away from everyone. The crew is expected to socialize with the passengers, perhaps provide the sing along entertainment after dinner and give mini-photography classes to beginners. You have to really be a people person to last more than a few months as a live-aboard diving instructor.
Resorts offer lots of job options. They are in places that people want to visit and the lure of palm trees and warm water is high. So is the competition for jobs!
Working in most foreign countries requires a work permit. This is a bureaucratic tangle of red tape that employers help you navigate but not without a lot of time and money invested. You will love the catch 22s; you cannot apply for a permit until you are on the island, you cannot legally work without a permit, you cannot afford to live on the island without working, you may not be able to rent an apartment without a work permit and, lastly, you cannot get a permit until you have a job (which you cannot get without the permit). Keep smiling and it will eventually get sorted out.
Once you have a job in paradise, you can plan on working 10 to 12 hours a day filling tanks, loading boats, selling in the dive store and teaching resort courses in the pool. After a few months you graduate to actually taking certified tourists open water diving. With more experience and local knowledge, you begin teaching specialty courses and wearing out your dive gear from being in the water so much. Soon you realize that your dream of teaching diving in tropical waters has come true.
What are your
Experiences, Talent and Credentials?
Many industry careers begin with a leadership level certification. Being an instructor may be a requirement, even if your job does not involve teaching classes. Employers use instructor certification as an indication of your knowledge and water proficiency. Being an instructor is an excellent first step. Then comes the critical question: 'What else can you do?'
From A to Z, there are thousands of talents, skills and professions associated with a scuba diving-related career: anthropologist, biologist, captain, diesel mechanic, engineer, first aid instructor, geologist, historian, ichthyologist, journeyman welder, kelp specialist, line attendant, mariner, navigator, oceanographer, physical education teacher, Queen Angelfish expert, restorer, store manager, trainer, underwater photographer, valve designer, writer, x-ray technologist, (ship)yard manager or zoologist.
On remote or team-oriented jobs, there is typically a requirement for multi-talented people. Can you captain or crew a boat? Do you know rigging? Can you act as the medical resource? How fast can you fix broken machinery? How are your computer skills to log finds, dives and compute scientific data? Do you know how to field adjust and repair several brands of regulators? Have you worked in retail or food service? How often have you run or maintained an air compressor? Can you turn out a tasty meal from a camp stove? No matter what your hobbies, life experiences or education, you need to be able to fill two or more slots to enhance your chances of landing many jobs.
Who Do You Know?
Networking is the name of the game. Who you know will not guarantee you a job but it may allow you to find out a position is open or get an interview. Since many diving related jobs are with private companies, they are posted within the company but not necessarily advertised broadly. This makes it hard to find out about out of area jobs. Try reviewing big Internet job sites such as the Monster Board at www.monster.com, the Job Center at www.jobcenter.com or Online Career Center at www.occ.com when looking for jobs. But, don't stop here if few scuba diving jobs are listed. If you are an instructor, ask your certification agency about its job seeking assistance program.
If someone in the industry knows your work skills and ability level, he/she may be willing to write a letter of introduction or reference for you. This can be submitted along with your resume. Don't be surprised if the letter is very general in nature, since a person giving a reference can be sued for giving false or misleading references or failing to disclose pertinent information about a job applicant. Don't ask someone you have only casually met to write a reference letter.
Persistence and timing are important as you look for a job. Let people know you are looking. If you want an instructor/dive store salesperson job, spread your personal business among all the stores where you would like to work and ask the staff about any current or 'about to open' jobs.
Volunteering or interning is a time honored way to get your foot in the door. An employer who knows you, likes you, has seen your work ethic and appreciates your volunteer service is much more likely to hire you. Given the opportunity to volunteer, make every day on the job as productive for your employer and important to you as possible. Perform the simplest tasks with pride and enthusiasm.
How Much Money Do You Need To Make?
If your aspirations are to own the fanciest house in town, then recreational scuba diving is probably not the best career choice for you. This industry is not noted for exceptionally high pay for either employees or business owners.
People tend to choose sport scuba businesses for reasons other than salaries. They like the sport, the underwater environment, being outside, working with people and being in the recreation industry, where they get a lot of personal satisfaction and recognition and where there is plenty of room to shine as a leader.
Beginning jobs are typically low base pay but there is room for entrepreneurial activity. The depth and breadth of your talent and experience will help you move up the pay ladder faster than years of service increases. Sales jobs that derive part of their compensation from commissions and base pay can support a family. What you bring to the job in addition to your instructor certification will have an impact on your income.
Becoming a scuba diving instructor is a physical and mental challenge. It is a commitment of time and money. For many who have traveled this path, it is often one of the most rewarding accomplishments of their lives. No matter what your reasons for becoming a scuba instructor, it is an achievement that may change the course of your life. It is a grave responsibility to be entrusted with students' lives. But the rewards of teaching or using your instructor skills in a diving related career are enormous. The key is to take off the rose colored glasses and pull out a magnifying glass of reality. Be sure the 'actual job' is what you are ready to do and matches your goals and aspirations.