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SCUBA Instructor

The Real Poop

Don't rock the boat, don't rock the boat, baby....

No we're not talking about the Hues Corporation's hit from the ancient 1970s. Our video clip is much more dramatic. Picture a harried SCUBA instructor scurrying around his dive boat as it rolls and pitches in choppy seas off Miami. He's helping 15 Open Water Diver students gear up for their certification dives...or at least he's trying to. The students stagger and lurch around the deck like drunken sailors, attempting to wiggle themselves into their wetsuits and dive booties. The group looks like they've had a few too many, and they probably wish they had so they could be home sleeping it off. Here comes the really painful part: watching each student struggle into his buoyancy control jacket and regulator getup...with the tank attached. Add the fins for dramatic effect. Let's just say no one falls overboard.

On the other hand, you became a SCUBA instructor because you did fall overboard. Or, more accurately, because you were pushed. Your father lived by a "sink or swim" ethic…literally. When you were just a kid, he hurled you into the pool, figuring you'd learn to swim or drown. Well, glub, glub, glub. After they fished you off the bottom, and revived you enough so you turned pink instead of blue, you swore that would never happen again. You learned how to dive so you could jump in the water instead of being thrown into it. You became a SCUBA instructor so you could save some poor sap from the same fate. In the process, you discovered that the underwater world was way more interesting than the bottom of the family pool.

Back to the victims, er, divers careening around the dive boat. Believe it or not, SCUBA instructors go through this type of ordeal, er, enriching experience all the time. By the way, SCUBA stands for Self-Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus. The Open Water certification dives mark the "final exam" of the instructor's Open Water Diver class that he's been teaching for the past couple of months. All students must pass the Open Water Diver class to be certified to dive by themselves. Their four Open Water certification dives might be in the ocean, in a quarry or lake, or beneath warm tropical waters on a group dive vacation. (Trust us, the last one's the best choice.)

In case you're wondering, before the students leap into the ocean, they've spent several weeks discussing dive theory and planning in the classroom. They've also mucked around the pool quite a bit, learning to use their dive gear and trying not to run into each other. Bet you're glad you weren't swimming laps at the time.

Okay, you say, does a SCUBA instructor do anything else besides babysit newbie dive students? We're glad you asked that. For starters, before a SCUBA instructor can teach anyone at all, he must have earned his own certifications from a recognized training school (more on that later). Instructors generally complete additional training so they can be certified to teach more advanced diving techniques (and have more sources of income). Advanced diving courses include wreck diving, night diving, and dry suit diving.

While a SCUBA instructor is working hard to obtain these additional credentials, he's also angling to rise higher on the dive instructor food chain. If he's up for the extra work, he can set his sights on successive full-time management positions that often provide decent salaries and benefits. Each certifying organization has developed its own standards and paths for these higher-level positions.

At this point, you might wonder where all these certified instructors work. You probably know that many SCUBA instructors teach courses through dive shops, often working in the shop's retail and equipment service operations as well. Instructors also teach diving at community rec centers, community colleges, on military bases, and in rehab facilities (no, not those kind of rehab facilities). You'll also find SCUBA instructors on cruise ships and at dive resorts in spectacular locations.

Believe it or not, some SCUBA instructors provide dive training to students who need dive skills to perform their jobs. Instructors might teach SCUBA diving to underwater photographers, underwater construction workers, and shipyard employees. Rescue workers might also find SCUBA skills essential in performing underwater extrications and other rescue operations.

Finally, remember a Navy Diver career will provide you with some pretty extraordinary diving skills...and opportunities. Yes, the Navy will teach you to dive, or in your case, how to improve your diving skills. In fact, your demanding 15-week Navy Diver program, followed by worksite-based training, will give you diving skills you'd take years to get in the private sector.

What does a Navy Diver do every day? During a given month, you might perform aircraft search and recovery work, conduct submarine and ship maintenance and repairs, and possibly perform submarine rescue work. You'll also be on standby to assist law enforcement agencies that require expert diver assistance. On the technical side, you'll become a crack dive equipment repair tech, perform and monitor hyperbaric treatments, and learn how to dive with mixed gases. If you've always wanted to blow stuff up, underwater demolition work lets you get paid for it. How much better could it get?

At this point, you think this SCUBA instructor gig sounds pretty good. You'll get to teach babes (or beefcakes, depending on your preference) to dive, work on your tan, and get paid for it, too. You wonder if this is too good to be true. Are there any downsides to this career? Well, remember all students are not created equal. Some students will take to diving like they were dolphins in a previous life, while others will require a hands-on approach and perhaps a fair amount of additional class time. Some students may totally rub you the wrong way; however, they are paying you for dive instruction services, and you need to put your feelings aside and fulfill your part of the bargain.

Getting away from the student dynamics, you might find you hate retail dive shop work, but you have to endure it (with a smile, of course) so you can keep the class money rolling (or trickling) in. You might have to postpone a hot date because you need to organize your students' gear and prepare the tanks for tomorrow morning's certification dives. That means you'll be at the dive shop for a few hours after closing.

Still interested? Well, see if you've got what it takes to make it as a SCUBA instructor. Setting the credentials aside, are you physically capable of taking care of your students in addition to yourself? Can you drag them off the bottom and up to the surface, or swim back to the dive boat with them under your arm? Can you think on your feet? Do you have lots of patience? Are you non-judgmental, even if you think a particular student is a supreme jerk? Lots of things to consider here. Remember, these students trust you with their lives, so you'd better be up to the challenge.

Perhaps you're a total water rat, and you really enjoy diving, but you've decided that a SCUBA instructor career just doesn't float your boat. What other careers might work for you? You might consider a commercial diving career, which comes with considerable risks but might feed your need for extreme challenges. If you enjoy introducing kids to the water, consider a swimming and water safety instructor career. Perhaps you'd like to help patients recovering from illness or injury, or wounded warriors recovering from trauma, through a career as a hydrotherapist. (As a side note, some wounded warriors also want to learn to dive; maybe that's your calling.) There's plenty of water for everybody—go find yours and start swimming.