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Scuba Diving Careers in India

Scuba Diving Careers in India

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One of the most common questions we get asked from people is about the scope of career options in diving, especially in India.
Makes sense – would you rather be stuck in an office in an unsatisfying job that leaches away your soul, while you dream of the 2-3 weeks of vacation you get each year when you can finally go diving?   Or would you rather dive daily and then spend your ample free time doing other exciting things?   Yeah, thought so, too.    But let’s face it – for most of us, the dream job also has to meet a bunch of practical requirements as well.
The purpose of this article is to talk about what the career options in diving are – in subsequent articles, I will also cover what sort of lifestyle dive pros lead.    Keep in mind that this article is focused on sport diving only, not commercial diving (underwater welding, construction, etc).
10 years ago, the world of sport diving attracted a handful of daring individualists who were willing to take a plunge into the unknown (pun not intended) and see where their passion led them.    These days, however, diving is growing rapidly in the country, with dive centers opening all across the country (including in some extremely unlikely places).   And that means there is a very high demand for qualified dive instructors.
Scuba Diving Careers in India – This can take many shapes and forms:

 1/  Divemaster:

The Divemaster is the first professional level in the recreational dive industry.   As a Divemaster, you lead certified divers in their diving activities by providing logistics and support, on-site guiding and being an added layer of safety.  You can also assist Instructors in teaching their course.    Most industry insiders agree – Divemasters tend to have the most fun, as they get to go diving at a location’s best sites along with the customers.

Time to go from beginner to Divemaster:   45+ days (although more time is recommended)*
Approximate expense:   Rs 125,000 – Rs 150,000 **
Typical salary range:    Rs 15,000 – 35,000***

2/  Assistant Instructor:   

This is the next level up from Divemaster – as an Assistant Instructor, you can independently teach some sections of various courses.  In addition, of course, you can do all the tasks that a Divemaster can.   Usually, most people rush from DM to Instructor – but we feel that spending time as an Assistant Instructor is a great way to develop your teaching skills.   That way, when you become an Instructor, you are really ready to hit the ground running (or hit the water swimming, as it were).

Time to get to AI:   7+ days*
Approximate expense:   Rs 25,000 – Rs 40,000 **
Typical salary range:    Rs 25,000 – 40,000***

3/  Instructor:

This is the highest level of dive professional (well, there are categories of instructors as well, but we can ignore that for now).   As a PADI Open Water Scuba Instructor (or comparable rating), you have the highest responsibility of all:  you can teach people to dive and issue them certification cards to that effect.  In other words, you can now introduce others to this sport that we all love.    You can also teach additional advanced-level courses, all the way up to Divemaster, actually.     The responsibility on you is higher – and commensurately, the pay also tends to be higher

Time to get to Instructor:   20+ days to complete the pre-requisites, 15+ days to complete the Instructor Development Course*
Approximate expense:   Rs 165,000**
Typical salary range:   Rs 35,000 – Rs 65,000***

4/  Non-Diving Positions:

Yes, surprisingly, there are non-diving positions to be had in the scuba industry.   Like any business, there are a lot of other ancillary functions which are essential to the smooth functioning of the industry and in many of these positions, it helps to be a diver even though you are not actually going to be diving.    Some of these tasks include:  scuba equipment sales,  equipment technician, business development/sales, customer relations and marketing, dive travel, dive resort management and more.   And for those of you interested in working in the industry but without moving to a remote destination – many of these jobs can actually be done while working from your current location.
So how many of these jobs are there, anyway?   Quite honestly, it is hard to give a definite number.     But at the time of writing this article, there are nearly 80+ dive centers in the country, and the sport has not even started to enter its boom phase.   So the opportunities are there – certainly, we are always on the lookout for good instructors, not just in the Andamans but also in the various cities, and so is virtually every other dive center that we know.
And with this industry growth comes the opportunity to carve out a larger role for yourself, as well – making this not just a job but also a potential career.   So don’t just in your office cubicle dreaming about a fun, active lifestyle – go ahead and take the plunge!

Note:

*This is the minimum time to complete the pre-requisites and also the training course for that level
**This is for the training only and is meant to be indicative only – prices vary from location to location.  It does not include meals, stay, personal expenses
***This varies by location, experience, specific role of the candidate, other skills that they bring to the table, etc.
The author, Vinnie, is India’s first and most experienced Instructor Trainer, with over 10 years experience teaching instructor candidates, nearly 20 years as a dive professional and over 25 years as a diver.
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How to pick a dive center when doing your Divemaster program

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The Divemaster course is a great step forwards for divers looking to become a part of the dive industry – as a PADI professional, they become part of the largest association of dive professionals in one of the coolest sports on (or is that under?) the planet, with employment opportunities all over the world.     The sport is just starting to take off in India and there are tremendous opportunities all over the country.   So obviously, for someone looking to become a dive professional, this is a very critical step in their professional development.
Even if someone isn’t looking to work as a dive pro, the Divemaster course allows them to really expand their horizons when it comes to their dive skills and involvement in the sport.    And either way, it is a fairly large commitment of time and effort – and a not-insignificant amount of money either.
So here are a few things to keep in mind when picking a place to do your DM program.
The next most important question is something you ask yourself – why are you doing the DM course?     Is it because you want to work in the industry?   Is it because you want the personal satisfaction of having that black professional’s card?   Is it because you want a break from work?    Or is it because you just want a few weeks of discounted diving?    Each of these are perfectly valid reasons – this is a sport and you get to make the call on what you like, and what you want.   But in each of these cases, you need to be absolutely honest about why you are doing the course.
Let me go use a college analogy:  just as the same degree can be taught very differently in a liberal-arts college vs a technical-focused college (or even two similar types of colleges), so too the DM course can be taught very differently across dive centers.    So you need to make sure that a dive center’s teaching philosophy is in line with your expectations above.   For example, at DIVEIndia, our focus is on preparing qualified dive professionals who are ready to work at a dive center (most often our own!) afterwards.   So our training has a very heavy emphasis on diver control, safety and also in assisting instructors (if you can handle students, you can handle certified divers), as well as in developing judgement, decision-making & professionalism (which occasionally translates into a little ’tough love’ from an instructor :)).    For candidates who are looking to get a month of relaxed diving for free, this is not a good fit.   But given how virtually all our Divemaster candidates who want to work in the industry have gone on to do so, we are obviously doing something right in our chosen area of focus.
Another thing to keep in mind that the Divemaster course is going to be very different from any other program that you have done so far.      Till now, every program that you have done consists of a set of skills you have to learn, which is a binary state:  either you know the skill or you don’t (simplifying a little – there are different levels of learning, but we dont need to get into that yet).   The DM course also has quite a few areas that are similar (theory, watermanship, dive skills), but these are only a small subset of what makes a professional.      Just as with any other job, there are a lot of soft skills that make the difference between a good dive professional and a mediocre one.   And those are the skills that are harder to grade:  how do you score “decision making” or “judgement” or “professionalism”?   These arent attributes which you either HAVE or DONT HAVE – they are skills that are constantly evolving.
The impact on this depends on what your goals are – if you are planning to work in the industry, then you want to develop your judgement, decision-making and professionalism.    So you want a dive center that will customize the program to some degree to cater to your strengths and weaknesses.    On the other hand, if you are looking for a break from work, then it may be better to do your course somewhere where it is taught in a standardized manner to groups of Divemaster Trainees (DMTs), so there is a more social and group aspect to the training.     Again – no right or wrong:  whatever fits your needs best.
Furthermore, what is the training philosophy of the dive center?   For example, at DIVEIndia, we generally go well beyond the minimum requirements for candidates, customizing the training as per each person’s requirements.   But, as we explain during the initial orientation, we expect DMTs to be more proactive about their learning, and to question/challenge/ask, as opposed to passively waiting to be hand-fed everything they need to know.     No matter what the personality of the candidate, there is a certain baseline we expect all candidates to achieve, but when it comes to the ceiling, that is set by the DMT and his or her interests and drive.   We feel it is a good preparation for life as a dive professional, and that’s how we operate.   For someone who isnt comfortable with this, a more “standardized” approach may be more appealing.
Continuing the training philosophy approach – every person has their own style of working.     A large part of being a good and effective working dive professional (Divemaster or Instructor) is finding your own style and continuing to develop and refine it.   For that to happen, you need to be exposed to different instructors and see how they do things, so you can pick and choose.   You need to be able to question them – why did you do it THIS way and not THAT way?    And you need to have the freedom to absorb elements from each instructor and create your own approach.     Does the program let you do this?
Another point to consider is – should you do the DM course or do an internship?   Depending on how the program is structured, internships can sometimes cost more or less.  Some dive shops trade off the DM program in  exchange for labor – you fill tanks, load/unload the boat, clean gear, etc.   In such cases, the training costs may be offset – and this is a good option for people looking for a bunch of inexpensive dives.   Other dive shops (like us) charge more for the internship – our internship includes 40 dives, but these are training dives and the candidate is not working as shop staff.       Hence the difference – again, a matter of training philosophy.
So should you do a training internship or not?    The barebones DM course meets the minimum requirements (which are fairly thorough, to be clear) and is a good option for those who want a DM card for personal reasons, but for those looking to work in the industry, we always recommend an internship – usually, these programs are a lot more immersive in nature than just a barebones DM course.  And because you are better assimilated in the dive shop, there is a greater scope for informal learning.  Lastly, those soft skills i mentioned earlier:  those always improve.   The more experience you have, the better you get in those areas.   And the better a professional you become.
There are also a few nitty-gritty type of questions to ask – what is the experience level of the  dive center and the instructors, how many dives are included in the package or internship, what are your specific roles and responsibilities?    This last part is especially important if your goal is to get in a lot of discounted dives – there are dive centers where the DM course is traded off for free labor:   DMTs get to lead dives and in exchange, they load/unload the boats, they fill the tanks, clean the gear, etc.    Again, for someone looking to get a bunch of cheap dives in, this may be a better fit than a program like ours, for example, where the emphasis is not so much on “fun diving” as on “learning” (although hopefully, both “fun” and “diving” are involved-  otherwise, why are we doing this???).
Lastly, there is also the question of what agency to go with.    If you are doing this for personal reasons, find a dive center whose philosophy matches yours, and a good instructor who will be managing the program – agency doesn’t matter.    If you are doing this tog et a bunch of dives in, find a good location where you will enjoy the diving.    If you want to work in the industry, or freelance when you travel, then your 2 main choices are PADI or SSI.   In the absence of any specific reason for one agency or the other, our general recommendation is PADI (and to be clear – we used to recommend this even when we were both PADI and SSI), for three main reasons:  (1) there are a lot more PADI dive centers than SSI dive centers, so odds of finding a job are higher if you go with PADI,   (2) as an SSI dive pro, you have to be affiliated with a specific dive center;  as a PADI pro, you can work independently  and (3) if you want to be multi-agency qualified, it is cheaper to first become a PADI pro and then cross over to SSI (especially at the instructor level).
You’ll note that we didn’t mention money.    This may come across as self-serving, but money should be the last thing you look at this level.    Do you pick a college based on tution?   So why would you devalue the quality of your professional training?   Even if you aren’t planning to work as a dive pro but are doing this for personal reasons, you should still make sure you find a good fit between your requirements and the dive center’s philosophy first (even those 3 months of fun diving for free can start to get tedious if you are expected to dive every day, without days off, and are working from 5am to 7pm daily).       That is not to say money isn’t important – for sure, if you have a few equivalent options that are equal in all respects except money, go for the cheaper option.    But your initial selection should not be based on money.   Picking a bad fit to save a little money will result in a bad experience and a waste of time and money, not a savings.
If you have read this article, odds are good that you are either planning on doing your DM program, either now or some point down the road.  Hopefully, it gives you a few pointers on what to look for, when it comes to selecting a dive shop.   Feel free to chime in on our Facebook group with your thoughts on this.