Instructor Pay

The endless debate about Instructor pay drags on repeatedly, but no one who explores this subject can come up with a definitive answer until now.

There are two sides to the coin. On one side, the argument is that being a diving instructor is a profession and should attract a professional pay rate.

The counter side argued is that being a diving instructor is a way of life, a chosen lifestyle where the job itself and the perks that come with it compensate for the low wage.

Not as simple as you think

will work for food sign

Both arguments have their merits, but I don’t think it is a simple as some people make it out to be; it is difficult to ignore the number of people applying for a position that state quite openly; they are willing to work for little pay in exchange for experience.

I can understand their point of view and sympathise with it. I can see they need to build for the future.

This phenomenon needs exploring more. I have started to outline an article to address this concern and other misgivings of the Dive Industry from a DEMA report recently.

Then comes the seasoned pro who has 3 to 5 years of experience. These instructors are the industry’s backbone, bringing a wealth of knowledge and technique, where ever they go.

The seasoned instructors enjoy the lifestyle and the perks and see the diving industry as their chosen careers. They are looking to the future and building up their knowledge to become an operator themselves one day.

These instructors have no interest in working for the bare minimum and quite rightly so. They do not apply or do not take up any offer that does not meet their expectations.

How Instructor pay is structured

Then comes the payment structure itself. The primary three ways for pay to be offered and calculated.

  1. Straightforward fixed pay on a fortnightly or monthly basis.
  2. Straight payment and then an agreed percentage of courses or fun dives.
  3. Commission only (sometimes with survival pay agreed)

Each one of these has advantages and disadvantages depending on

A. The instructor’s personality and ability to interact with potential customers.
B. Where in the world the work is located.
C. At what part of the cycle between high season in low season

Perception problem with Instructor Pay

Also, we have a perception problem.

Often, instructors who come from a western economy are thinking in their own base currency. When the exchange rates are applied to a local currency, they are appalled by what they perceive to be a low salary.

And indeed, compared to their own country, the amount in compensation that is offered may seem derisive. However, instructor pay is calculated based on the economy of the country you are working in, not your country of births minimum wage.

On many forums and Facebook groups, you will see a few disgruntled instructors who are always griping about the diving industry’s low wages.

My best advice is to ignore these types of people. They don’t know your circumstances or what your ambitions are.

For some people that love to travel and experience other cultures, hopping around the diving circuits for one or two years earning modest money as they go is an ideal way of life.

This travelling instructor style will be in short supply after COVID, and the tourist centred dive centres will miss them more than they know. They fill lots of gaps and cracks.

Whereas I would agree that you are unlikely to become rich, working in the scuba world, you can earn a comfortable living depending on what living style you want to have.

If fast cars, luxury apartments, and designer clothing is your ambition, then no, the dive industry is unlikely to do it for you.

SCUBA Instructor turnover

There is a high rate of diving instructor turnover. I don’t have the exact figures, but from experience, I would say that most new instructors are not working as full-time instructors three years later.

They have either moved on to other work or taken a position in the scuba-diving world that may include diving instructing but not the main focus.

There are always exceptions to this rule, which can often be instructors that have settled down in one place and working freelance for several dive operators. This style of employment can work well for both operators and instructors.


There are so many variables in the scuba instructor world of employment, with so many different permutations. It is almost impossible to come up with a “baseline” or “standard” instructor pay scale.

I have come up with a formula that I think might work for the dive businesses located in seasonal tourist countries.

Before I reveal this formula, I would encourage instructors starting in the industry and think that they may want to make this their primary employment to consider doing the following.

A. Try to put yourself in the operators or business owners position and think about the expenses it takes to run a diving business, especially if it is headed up by a person foreign to the country that the dive centre is located.

B. To understand, you need to increase your value to the business beyond teaching or guiding diving to increase your wage.

It is okay to start your journey as a diving instructor, pure and simple, but that will not keep you sustained and happy for more than two or three years.

Once you are past the wanderlust, having worked for five or six operators in as many countries, you will start to look toward your future. To have that future, you need to offer diverse skills, not only direct scuba skills.

Side Hustles

You should also be aware that many senior instructors, managers and owners often have other income lines, sometimes called side hustles.

The sooner you can develop some side hustles that do not conflict with your primary role in diving, the more stable you will be. A subject that we will be covering in-depth in the future

Should the coronavirus not have any more hidden nasty surprises for us, then we can expect the diving industry, although smaller to be operating fully again in late 2023. Between now and then there will be a slow buildup, so this is the time to start developing your side hustles.

Blackboard with many formula

Computations of Instructors Pay

It would seem that the most challenging computation to make is the differences in the cost of living in each country, and the different locations inside the country.

In most locations, the dive operators have set their prices based mainly on the local economy with some adjustments to the amount of service they give to the customer.

Course content does not change between dive centres. The level of service and inclusions does change; this is reflected in an Open Water Course price between establishments with different business models.

So it seems sensible to fix the base pay level to the cost of the Open Water Course which then changes from country to country and business to business.

The Formula for instructor Pay

My idea takes the Open water Course price for the calculations. The pay should be the equivalent of 1 OWC per week.

So if a course is 350 USD (after conversion), then the wages should be

350 x 52 / 12 = 1,515 USD per month

For this, the instructor would be expected to teach 10 Open water Courses per month or whatever the agreed terms are

A commission can be offered after 10 Courses in the month.

This way, a worldwide base rate can be established that remains the same but changes for every Dive Centre.

sticker saying living wage

Living Wage

It also gives the instructor a living wage in the country they are working in and gives them the opportunity after bringing in 2 and 1/2 times what they are being paid, some additional income.

Those offering cheap courses but with many customers and the more upmarket resorts charging more are all paying an equal amount that changes with the level of service and inclusions.

Now I am hoping this article will cause a lot of discussion which I welcome. You can leave comments below or go to our Facebook page and group and have your say

Seconds out, round 1, let’s keep it clean

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