Celebrating 30 Years in Sport Diving

By Bill Harrigan

Three decades! That’s how long ago Dave Inman opened his first dive shop in Florida. Back then my dive bag held a Royal Aquamaster double hose regulator, a pair of new-fangled Rocket Fins, a wetsuit with no stitching and a big tube of neoprene glue. Change is good, and things have definitely changed in the world of sport diving. In order to succeed in a changing business environment, though, you have to be able to make changes and adapt quickly.

During the past 30 years, Divers Unlimited (DU) has done both. The business started as a tiny store in Pembroke Pines with a 23-foot dive boat. According to Dave, it was a simple dive shop back then, selling a few items of basic gear, filling tanks and taking people diving. Divers Unlimited has succeeded by expanding from that small dive shop into large scale retail sales, equipment repair, entry level instruction and instructor training.

Now the dive boat is a custom 42-footer with all the amenities divers have come to expect. The main retail store is in Hollywood and the little shop in Pembroke Pines has become the home of the Divers Unlimited Career Development Center, complete with classrooms and an indoor pool. To provide instructor candidates an opportunity for real world experience, DU has also acquired the exclusive diving and snorkeling concession in Biscayne National Park, which includes another shop and three boats.

As equipment has evolved from horse collar BCs and double hose regulators to dive computers and octopus rigs, the business of training instructors has also become more sophisticated. Becoming an instructor is one thing, making a living at it quite another. According to Dave, that’s the reason the front runners in the business worked with PADI to create the Career Development Center (CDC) concept. As more services were demanded by divers, resorts and dive operations wanted instructors who could do more than teach diving. They wanted instructors who could operate and maintain compressors, repair regulators, work as mates on boats, teach underwater photography, guide underwater nature tours, assist dive travelers and sell equipment. The CDC were developed in order to teach all these skills. In order to qualify as a CDC, a dive school has to have the staff and facilities necessary to teach the extended range of courses required. The advantage of a CDC, of course, is the instant marketability of these extra skills.

So, you want to become an instructor. How do you pick a school? One of the nice things about a standardized course system such as PADI’s is that you know in advance what to expect. The minimum requirements are the same from one center to the next. The difference comes down to factors such as location, staff, facilities, boats, diving conditions and the effectiveness of the center’s job placement program.

Divers Unlimited has a lot going for it in these areas, such as its own teaching facility with an indoor heated pool specifically designed for scuba instruction. Details like that mean a savings in time and a more enjoyable learning environment. The center is 10 minutes from the boat in Dania, which has easy access to all of the Ft. Lauderdale and Miami wrecks and reefs. The facility at Biscayne National Park is only an hour’s drive away, and that opens up a whole new area of coral reefs to instructor candidates. DU is also in the heart of South Florida, with excellent living conditions and a great climate. The course work is intense, but finding a good place to unwind is not a problem.

Florida is flush with dive schools, and all of them share at least some of DU’s attributes. What else can help a prospective candidate make an informed choice? Take a look at the staff. These are the people who make the school come alive, the ones that make or break your day. One of the tip-offs to a good staff is longevity. If you find a staff who have been around a long time, like the crew at DU, something good is going on. Also, look at their student load. Career Development Programs at DU are limited to eight candidates in order to ensure personal attention to each student.

The bottom line for most prospective instructors is job placement. If you work hard and graduate with honors, can the CDC deliver a job, or even a choice of jobs? According to Dave, one of the advantages of being in business this long is that DU has useful job contacts around the world, especially in Florida and the Caribbean. In fact, many DU graduates are now in management positions, and they turn to their alma mater when they need new instructors. Also, the placement program at DU is offered as a lifetime

You may be asking yourself, “Is this a good time to become a dive instructor?” Dave has been watching the opportunities for new dive instructors closely during the last 30 years, and he says, “on average, the pay for instructors with multi-skill training is higher now than it’s ever been. Compare the entry level pay of any other job with the same general requirements for training and experience, and you’ll see that dive instruction comes out favorably. There are also more opportunities for work than in the past. For advancement, too, because there are more resorts, more live-aboards, more tour companies, more dive shops and more people wanting to become divers.”

Still want to make a living at your favorite sport? Divers Unlimited has what you need to get started.