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The Economics of Being a Tech Diving Instructor

Is it possible to make a career as a tech diving instructor? How about if you have a couple of instructor trainer credentials to boot? Here Darcy Kieran, principal of Scubanomics, dives into the economics of being a dive instructor based on the results of our joint global instructor survey. How much money did you say you hoped to make?



By Darcy Kieran

Header image of instructor Giovanni Gastaldo, Third Dimension Diving, Tulum, Mexico prepping for a course dive. Photo by SJ Alice Bennett

InDepth magazine and Scubanomics teamed up to conduct a survey in May and June 2021 on the economics of being a dive instructor. In this first article, based on the survey results, we will be specifically examining the economics of being a tech diving instructor and/or instructor trainer. Further analysis will be available on Scubanomics.

Based on the answers to the InDepth & Scubanomics survey, we will attempt to answer the question: Is tech diving instructor/instructor trainer a viable career decision, or is it best thought of as a part time job—albeit a fun one? The survey results help to determine what realistic salary expectations are and hopefully assist with answering  the question of whether the pursuit of this career is a good investment of time and money. We also look at tech diving instructors’ aspirations, including how many agencies employ them.

Who answered the survey?

Before jumping into the exciting parts of the study, let’s have a quick look at who answered the survey. 

Participants show a bias toward instructor trainers with many years of experience as dive instructors. Presumably, this group is more committed to the industry and is, therefore, more receptive to the survey.

As of this writing, 537 dive instructors have answered the survey, 457 of which were in active teaching status, while the other 80 were no longer teaching. If you haven’t answered the survey yet, you may still do so, as the study  will continue  until the end of August 2021; the extension represents an effort to gradually improve the reliability of the statistics and reach out to under-represented market segments.

Among those in teaching status, 61% were instructors, while 39% were instructor trainers/course directors. For simplicity of the text, we will use the term “instructor trainers” as inclusive of course directors going forward. This bias toward instructor trainers is even more significant among tech diving instructors. Of the tech diving instructors who answered the survey, 55% had at least one instructor trainer credential. This article defines “tech diving instructors” as dive instructors and instructor trainers teaching cave, rebreather, or other forms of tech diving courses.

Who are the tech diving instructors who answered the survey?

Interestingly, among the tech diving instructors who participated in the survey, 53% were instructor trainers for non-tech diving courses. It appears that teaching tech diving appeals to recreational scuba diving instructor trainers.

Tech diving instructor respondents were teaching in the following regions:

  • USA: 45.6%
  • Europe: 15.4%
  • South Pacific, Indo-Pacific, Other Tropical Asian Region: 10.7%
  • Mexico, Central America, Caribbean, Tropical Atlantic: 10.0%
  • Australia, New Zealand: 3.4%
  • South America: 3.4%
  • Other: 11.5%

For the most part, they were experienced instructors. 64.4% of the tech diving instructor respondents had been teaching for 10 years or more, and 21.5% for 5 to 9 years. Of the tech diving instructors who answered the survey, 91.4% identified as males. 

The following figure presents the age of these respondents.

And the following graph provides the household income from all sources for these tech diving instructors.

Now, let’s dive into the juicy stuff!

The rest of this article is a presentation of data from tech diving instructors and instructor trainers for rebreather, cave, and other tech diving courses, unless otherwise specified. The following data is from tech diving instructors currently in teaching status. All amounts are in U.S. dollars. 

How much money have tech diving instructors invested in their careers? 

This is how much tech diving instructor respondents have invested on average to develop their career:

  • Training: $50,553.00
  • Gear: $74,567.00

How much income are tech diving instructors generating from teaching?

This is how much annual income tech diving instructors have earned, on average, from teaching, including tips and commissions:

  • 2020 (pandemic): $18,411.00
  • 2019 (pre-pandemic): $27,230.00

This comes with a drop of 32.3% in annual income during the pandemic year of 2020. Similarly, we see a drop of 41.2% in the number of students trained during the year.

  • 2020 (pandemic): 48.4 students
  • 2019 (pre-pandemic): 82.4 students

This means an average income per student of:

  • 2020 (pandemic): $380.00
  • 2019 (pre-pandemic): $330.00

What is the level of teaching income for tech diving instructors who are teaching full-time? 

The annual income level for all tech diving instructors for 2019 and 2020 is shown above. Next, let’s look at the level of annual income from tech diving instructors who are teaching full time.

  • 2020 (pandemic): $32,453.00
  • 2019 (pre-pandemic): $46,619.00

Obviously, full-time instructors train more students, but they, too, saw a similar drop in income (30.4%) due to the pandemic.

  • 2020 (pandemic): 73.8 students
  • 2019 (pre-pandemic): 122.4 students

With an average income per student of:

  • 2020 (pandemic): $440.00
  • 2019 (pre-pandemic): $381.00

Based on these numbers, full-time tech diving instructors are generating more income per student. In both cases (full-time and part-time), revenues per student went up during the pandemic, which would make sense considering the increased work expected with new public health requirements.

How much are tech diving instructors earning per hour?

This is, on average, how much income tech diving instructors estimate earning per hour when working as a dive instructor:

  • All tech diving instructors: $21.85
  • Full-time tech diving instructors: $24.89

What was the impact of the pandemic on your activities as a dive instructor?

From the numbers above, we see that, on average, both the number of students trained as well as revenue decreased significantly during the pandemic.

However, 9.4% of tech diving instructors actually experienced growth during that period, as we can see in the following graph.

This is consistent with Scubanomics’ analysis of entry-level scuba diving certifications in the USA. While the pandemic caused a drastic drop in teaching activities, states like Florida and Hawaii actually experienced growth, since people were looking for activities that didn’t require an international flight.

What is your “employer?”

More than half of tech diving instructors are teaching as independent/self-employed.

Employment status of tech diving instructors

This is slightly less true for full-time tech diving instructors. Quite logically, as we see in the graph below, teaching in a resort is more likely to be associated with working full time as a dive professional.

Employment status of full-time tech diving instructors

So… Can you make a living as a tech diving instructor?

If you compare the income of a full-time tech diving instructor ($46,619.00, pre-pandemic) to the poverty line ($12,880.00 in the USA), it appears the answer is yes. Yet, tech diving instructors are quite divided on the question of whether it is a valuable career path for the next generation.

It is pretty much a 50/50 split opinion!

Is it a good investment?

Even if you are satisfied with a $46,619.00 annual income as a full-time tech diving instructor, let’s not forget the considerable upfront investment required.

Tech diving instructors have invested, on average, $125,120.00 ($50,553.00 in training and $74,567.00 in gear) to get the credentials and experience needed to teach scuba diving. Let’s assume you didn’t go down that path and, instead, invested that money for your retirement. If you expect an ROI of 6% annually on your retirement plan, it means that $7,500.00 of your annual income is actually just a fair return on your initial investment. It further means that your “work income” is more like $39,000.00 instead of $46,619.00.

Things worsen when you factor in the number of hours you spent on becoming a tech diving instructor. This ‘time’ has value, because you could have spent it working for pay. So… $46,619.00 in annual income is potentially misleading, because it does not fully take into account the original investment of time and money required to become a tech instructor.

How much diving do tech diving instructors do outside of teaching?

This is the average number of dives tech diving instructors have done outside of teaching in the last two years:

  • 2020 (pandemic): 72.1 dives
  • 2019 (pre-pandemic): 124.6 dives

Not surprising, this is a drop of 42% from pre-pandemic to pandemic year. 

Tech Diving Instructors as Watersport Participants

Besides scuba diving for fun and teaching diving, what do tech diving instructors do as participants in an activity?

There is no surprise here. It’s mainly about scuba diving with a little bit of snorkeling and freediving. What they intend on participating in is more interesting.

In the graph above, we see the intention to participate in the activity (not as an instructor) by tech diving instructors who have never done the activity before. It makes sense that tech diving instructors who haven’t yet done cave or rebreather diving are interested in these activities. The level of interest in freediving is about at the same level. 

Freediving has been gaining ground in the last few years, with major recreational dive training associations launching freediving courses. International Training (TDI/SDI) recently acquired Performance Freediving International, a leading freediving training agency.

The interest in surface-supplied air (tankless) diving is a bit surprising at 6.5%, considering the fact that it has not been promoted by any large dive training organization, and only 1.4% of tech diving instructors have already participated in such a dive. 

What are tech diving instructors’ goals for the future?

First, let’s look at what additional instructor credentials are of interest to tech diving instructors.

Intend to Pursue Further Instructor Credentials

Once again, we would expect that tech diving instructors would be interested in teaching additional tech diving courses such as cave and rebreather. However, the level of interest in teaching rebreathers is quite phenomenal. It means that about 1 out of 3 tech diving instructors who are not currently rebreather instructors are interested in teaching it! Freediving also looks good. 

Then, we have two noteworthy areas of interest:

  • Adaptive/handicapped scuba: 12.1%. This is more than 1 out of 10 tech diving instructors interested in the specialization. Perhaps we should expect further development and possibly some acquisitions on this front by dive training agencies. 
  • Tankless (surface-supplied air) diving: 6.7%. This is an activity currently outside of traditional dive training agencies, and yet, there is a significant interest in it. 

What additional professional goals do tech diving instructors have within the dive industry?

These are the goals current tech diving instructors intend on pursuing:

  • Become an instructor trainer: 25.9%
  • Own a resort/dive center in a tourist destination: 22.3%
  • Own a dive center in a non-tourist location: 10.8%
  • Own a liveaboard: 7.9%

It is also worth noting that 38.9% of current tech diving instructors had no further professional goal.

Training Agencies!

A dive instructor article cannot be complete without at least some mention of dive training agencies. On average, tech diving instructors are affiliated with two dive training certification agencies, and the following graph represents that split among survey respondents.

Additional Observations by Tech Diving Instructors

The survey ended with two open-ended questions. Here are some of the noteworthy comments we read in these answers.

What are your main challenges as a dive instructor?

  • Other instructors who value only the number of students at all costs. They charge close to nothing just to get student numbers, regardless of the quality of the training.
  • Teaching quality courses.
  • Finding time for marketing and administration.
  • People who want instant training and skills.
  • As an independent instructor, finding pools to use is the hardest.
  • It is an industry of enthusiasts, not professionals. From top to bottom, it is a very unprofessional industry.
  • Trying to produce good divers while recreational students typically just want to get finished as quickly as possible.
  • The negative reputation dive instructors have been labeled with.
  • Students don’t want to commit to a class that is long enough to produce a competent diver.
  • Extremely low pay, and dive centers who want to max out the instructor-to-student ratio.
  • Pool time is expensive. Coordinating enough people (students/divers/instructors) to make pool rental economical is a challenge.
  • It’s impossible to work in the dive industry and support a family. I’ve even worked for two of the major training agencies and couldn’t make ends meet on dive industry income.
  • Ensuring that teaching scuba is enjoyable enough to continue to invest the time and money that I do.
  • The industry focuses on certification instead of training. In other industries, where people care about performance rather than just certs, they will repeat training or take the same or similar course from multiple instructors.
  • Trying to make a living in spite of PADI soaking all the money out of course fees.
  • Dealing with poorly trained divers and dive instructors.
  • Getting customers to stay in the sport.

It is noteworthy that 43.4% of respondents included reference to lowball pricing of courses, low quality, and profitability issues in one form or another.

Final thoughts shared by tech diving instructors on the economics of being a dive instructor.

Ready? Set. Go!

  • The industry treats being a diving instructor like vacation pay. There is no consideration for the fact that we invest as much as an airplane pilot and are considered disposable people that can be paid a minimum, worked a maximum, and let go as soon as the situation is not ideal.
  • A small minority of instructors can “make a living” solely from teaching. Most of those are tech level.
  • PADI used to be the market leader, but as Covid has reinforced, they care more about their money than their members. I would advise all people thinking of becoming a pro to do it through SDI, NAUI, or similar.
  • There is no such thing as “economics of being a dive instructor.” You can’t make a living doing this. You are unlikely even to recoup your training costs. Dive instructors should be college students and young people, not the crusty old farts we currently have. Unfortunately, greed has driven the price to a point where retired guys are about the only ones who can afford the training to become instructors, and those same guys keep young people out either by intentional exclusion or simply by making the sport seem like an old guy game. Training agencies should stop pushing teaching as a “job.” It’s a hobby, or maybe a way for dive bums to stretch out their avoidance of getting a real job for a bit longer.
  • Most potential students don’t understand the difference between instructors and courses. They only see they get the same card at the end, so why shouldn’t they find the cheapest instructor available?
  • It has become too easy to become a dive instructor. The market is saturated with people who don’t really care but want a couple of years living the life. The system doesn’t encourage one to pursue a real career in the industry. Average wages usually don’t allow us to make a real living, especially in a domain where we are responsible for our students’ lives.
  • You need to specialize in an area in which you can excel.
  • The industry is not friendly toward independent instructors.
  • It’s tough to do full-time with the lite pay and hours involved. Moving into teaching tech and eventually, CCR, makes it more profitable.
  • Being a dive instructor makes no economic sense. One must love the idea of sharing the underwater world with others. You might earn some beer (rum) money. That’s about it.
  • Mostly unsustainable as a full-time job. Buyer’s market for employers.
  • Quality vs. quantity is a constant struggle for most instructors. It takes time to make good divers… But then the instructor begins to lose money. Producing a lot of divers is how an instructor can make the most money. Finding the balance is difficult.
  • So many instructors only do between 1 and 3 years as a “gap” from “real life.”

You may consult the survey results for tech diving instructors in active teaching status here.

There is a lot more to learn from the data in this survey, and further analysis will be provided on Scubanomics.

You may also pursue this discussion with the author, Darcy Kieran, on Scubanomics or LinkedIn.

A Very Special Thank You!

Michael Menduno (InDepth) and Darcy Kieran (Scubanomics) want to warmly thank the following organizations for their support with this study:

Global Underwater Explorers(GUE), International Training (TDI/SDI/ERDI/PFI),  Tec Clark – The Dive LockerRAIDDAN EuropeX-Ray MagSITA, DiveNewsWireand Scuba News Canada.

Additional Resources: 

You can find the second part of the analysis of the survey data here:  The Economics of Being a Recreational Diving Instructor

Part three of the Analysis which looks at gender and agencies: The “Economics” of Being a Scuba Diving Instructor (Part 3)

The Data Behind The ‘Economics’ of Being A Tech Diving Instructor

Scuba Diving Equipment Market Size 2021–2025

Dary Kieran articles (Medium) 

In the dive industry, Darcy Kieran has worked in retail and wholesale. He’s been a Course Director and scuba diving Instructor Trainer with numerous dive training agencies. He owned/managed dive shops, dive resorts, and charter boats in Canada and the USA. He’s been on the Board of Directors of DEMA. He has gained valuable experience from other industries, including sporting goods manufacturing, radio & TV broadcasting, railroads & transportation, digital marketing agencies, and education. Darcy is an engineer, radio announcer, and author.


Resurrecting a Ghost: The Launch of Ghost Diving USA




By Katie McWilliams. Photos courtesy of Ghost Diving USA unless noted. Header image by Jim Babor

Ghost Diving, formerly Ghost Fishing, has officially arrived in the United States. Naming Southern California as home for the United States chapter is not an expansion to a new territory; instead, it is a warm welcome home after a long journey. 

Ghost Fishing first arrived in Southern California in the mid 2000s spearheaded by Karim and Heather Hamza. Their team, a group of volunteer technical divers, set out to improve the health and viability of the Southern California waters. The team started with the Infidel, a sunken squid fishing vessel near Catalina Island in 45 m/150 ft. They diligently worked to clean the Infidel which took almost two years. This victory was huge for their effort. Sadly, due to lack of funding, they were unable to continue other projects. Despite this hardship and some time away from their pursuit of the ghosts, Karim and Heather are back and more motivated than ever. 

Heather’s passion is deeply rooted in her mission to advocate for animals. This passion has helped her to push through and focus on advocating for the animals that are often unseen. The marine life that goes undetected but is ever threatened in our oceans. These are the animals Heather makes very certain to see. Her passion and love for them is palpable; it radiates from her like the warmth of a sunny day. It beckons you to join her cause. This is what keeps the fire alive in her heart for Ghost Diving. She knows that she can turn the collection of nets and her experiences into educational opportunities. Heather’s aspirations for Ghost Diving USA include continuing to educate others regarding the threat of abandoned and discarded fishing gear, seeking legislative solutions to the problem, and ultimately, building an informed and empowered community that takes care of our oceans.

Karim thrives in situations that require precision and accuracy. He explains that for him, this new era of Ghost Diving is providing a fresh opportunity to build a community of elite divers that share a passion for and commitment to a great cause. He has the knowledge and experience to help train and mentor divers along their path to becoming ghost divers and intends to give all he can to the process. He wants to bring to fruition teams of divers who trust not only each other but also the process, as well as high training standards and passion for the cause. As Karim described all the things that a ghost diver needs to be, one of the original team members immediately sprang to mind, Jim Babor. 

Jim recounted the arduous process that is becoming a ghost diver and being active with projects. He started with the project as a safety diver. The deep team would come up from the dive to the nets, and Jim would ascend with them through their scheduled decompression. He then progressed into his technical training and began photographing and documenting the work the divers were doing. Jim shared something that truly captures the essence of the passion needed to be a ghost diver. When asked about some of his most memorable incidents, he recounted the amazing experience of rescuing live animals by cutting them out of nets they were trapped in.. When asked what it felt like to cut an animal out of the net and watch it swim away, Jim was simply at a loss for words. We spoke on the phone and despite Jim’s reflective pause as he gathered his thoughts, it was apparent that the experience resonates with him on a deep level rooted in compassion. For Jim, the Ghost Diving USA launch brings his commitment and journey as a ghost diver full circle.  

Helping to lead Ghost Diving USA into the future is scientific coordinator Norbert Lee, Scuba instructor, marine biologist, and active technical diver. To speak to Norbert is to feel his can-do attitude and realize his aspirations are rooted in protecting and fostering the growth of the underwater world while educating the community about ocean conservation. More importantly, his strong sense of commitment to the team effort shines through everything. In asking Norbert about his journey to becoming the US chapter coordinator, he cited the significance of the mentorship he has and continues to receive. This mentorship comes from a variety of sources including Pascal van Erp, the Hamzas and Jim Babor. 

Norbert Lee’s goal is to collect data about the environmental impact of ghost nets and how their removal impacts the health and growth of a given area. By collecting this data, he is confident he can help to educate the community about the true impact of abandoned fishing gear. He does not want to stop with nets. He wants to help recover lobster pots and other fishing apparatus that continue to catch fish after being left behind. Through educating the community, he does not want to villainize or chastise commercial fishing but rather to build working, symbiotic relationships with fishermen. By working together, Norbert hopes to have the nets removed before they do irreversible damage. 

The Founding of Ghost Diving

Pascal van Erp has a commanding grasp on the issue of abandoned fishing gear. As the founder of Ghost Diving. Pascal’s passion has built a formidable and forward-thinking movement. Speaking to Pascal is a unique experience. He exudes a quiet confidence that only time and experience can build. In researching his work to prepare for his visit and subsequent presentations, it became quite apparent that Pascal is consistent in his message. The message is that Ghost Diving breathes new life into abandoned nets that can be recycled or upcycled. To reuse and upcycle the nets means to actively contribute to the health of the planet for today and more importantly, future generations. 

Next, Pascal emphasizes Ghost Diving is dangerous. He explains that the dangers are not always apparent. Instead, they lurk in the shadows cast by ghost nets. Team dynamics are not only critical but a matter of life and death. Pascal frequently mentions the significance of trust. The ability to trust teammates to maintain composure in the face of adversity. Trusting that if something goes wrong, they can and will continue to problem solve. Trusting that they can and will save your life. The team must always perform at the highest levels. It is critical that the dive is executed according to plan and that the procedure is applied with absolute fidelity. The nets do not discriminate between human life and marine life. They are not forgiving. A diver can meet an untimely fate in the grasp of a ghost net. 

Ghost Diving USA provides a unique and exciting opportunity by planting its roots here. With support from Zen Dive Co., ghost divers will have access to equipment, standard gasses and service that will meet all their needs while ensuring the quality and reliability of these resources. While funding issues had previously plagued Ghost Fishing, the Ghost Diving partnership with Healthy Seas along with other community sponsors helps to ensure the security of the critical funding that makes these projects possible. 

Launching Ghost Diving USA

Zen Dive Co. hosted a launch event for Ghost Diving USA on Thursday, April 28. The energy in the building was electric. Everyone was thrilled to network, build community, and work towards supporting Ghost Diving USA in any possible way. Karim opened the evening by describing the net diving mission that the ghost divers had gone on earlier in the day. He explained in detail that the Moody, a Wickes class destroyer, sits at approximately 45m/150 ft. Conditions at sea were challenging. Spring is a rough season in Southern California. Variable winds cause large swells, and upwellings bring up life giving nutrients. Unfortunately, both phenomena significantly reduce visibility. This dive was no exception. Karim described a thick green cloud in the shallower depths cutting visibility to 4.5–6 m/15–20 ft. This green cloud blocked out all ambient light as the ghost divers descended, and then cutting the nets only made visibility worse. Essentially, there was no ambient light, and visibility quickly became next to zero. The ghost divers were forced to rely upon the light they brought with them. Despite the challenges, the net clean-up was successful, but the work is far from done. The ghost divers will have to return to remove more net. 

Pascal made a brief presentation about the problem of ghost nets. It was incredible to experience a room full of people feeling compelled to act, and everyone looking for the way they could best support the mission. Veronika Mikos of Healthy Seas helped to drive the point home when she explained that through partnerships with organizations such as Bracenet and Aquafil, the recycling and upcycling of nets can help to significantly reduce carbon emissions. Additionally, as the ability to recycle nets and the products made from nets grows, they become sustainable and renewable. The yarn made from the nets can be processed infinitely and never loses quality. 

The most precious resource to any of these projects is manpower. Volunteers. People willing to train hard, think of the many versus the one and ultimately focus on safety. A ghost diver is a technical diver that has successfully completed a series of training workshops that help to best prepare them for what they will experience on a net retrieval dive. The workshops also serve to build team cohesion. Pascal and Karim both explain that the need to work with technical divers is not to be exclusionary. Ghost divers need to be able to handle any situation that may arise at any moment. Technical divers are trained to do exactly that. 

For recreational divers and non-divers alike, there is a place for everyone. Ghost divers cannot do what they do without support. Jim shared with me that his son, middle-school-aged at the time, used to volunteer as surface support. He and a friend would help to bring nets onto the boat and then search through them meticulously for any trapped marine life that could be released back into the ocean. Not only did his son help to raise awareness through multiple award-winning science projects, but he also became a diver crediting his experience helping with ghost nets. The Hamzas and Norbert hope to grow Ghost Diving USA to include recreational limit projects that allow for the training and participation of recreational divers. 

Ghost Diving USA is hitting the ground running. If you are looking for a way to get involved, a great place to start is to follow them on their social media pages. They are on Facebook and Instagram as Ghost Diving USA or @GhostDivingUSA. If you would like to inquire about the application process, you can reach the USA chapter via email at

You can also act right now. Learn about what abandoned fishing gear does to our oceans and talk to others about it. Through raising awareness, you can help remind people that while the surface of the ocean is beautiful, it is what is below the surface that desperately needs our help.

Photo by Sean Farkas

Additional Resources

Ghost Diving International:
Healthy Seas:
Alert Diver:Ghost Fishing by Michael Menduno. The story of Heather Hamza and her team (2014).

Katie McWilliams is an avid diver, spending every spare moment she can in the water. Currently completing her divemaster and training for her technical pass, she wants to not only further her education and ability to explore the ocean but help with the training of divers. Specifically, Katie wants to focus on spreading awareness of how we can help the health and conservation of the oceans and marine life. Outside of diving, Katie works in moderate/severe special education. She enjoys reading, exercise, off-roading, camping and spending time with her husband, family and friends. 

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