The Magic Of A Dream…Nevermind The Free Wake Up Call!
I got my PADI Open Water Diver certification in Puerto Vallarta, back in 1995. Sometimes I wonder where my professional life would have led me if I had decided to continue my search for scuba diving career opportunities.
When I arrived in Cancun back in 1998, a literal “Green Horn” to the region, all I wanted to do was spend as much time as I could in the warm, crystal-clear waters of Cancun and the Riviera Maya, which, I confess, still manage to take my breath away.
I settled into my job as an executive sales rep. for an airline catering company. And would stay there for the next 3 years.
Not the best job in the world. Far from it, in fact. But it payed the bills. And, yes, I did learn a lot about how to run a big scale business, with the challenges and drudgery found in your typical 9 to 5 job, plus all the rigors, rules and regulations found in the aviation industry.
I learned a lot throughout these years, but it nearly killed my dream to have a job that would find me 100% involved with the ocean, which I had always wished for. Well, you know that saying “be careful with what you wish for you just might get it”? It came true for me. Allow me to explain…
Time Is The New Money…Then And Now!
Like any resort town around the world, living in Cancun is expensive. Getting in the water, to practice the sports I really enjoyed, like diving and surfing, were luxuries. They remain luxuries even today.
70.00 US for a dive was simply out of my budget, and surfing (whenever there were actual waves, which was not often at all), also carried a hefty price for the board and the sun-chair rental (in a public beach things have a tendency to disappear…you were really paying for security staff to look out for your stuff).
So for sometime, I turned to free diving and snorkeling. Eventually, when my economy got a bit better, I gave windsurfing a try. That turned out great, and amazingly, it was cheaper than diving.
And thus it went on for about two years or so, until I left the airline catering business and decided to try my luck in vacation club ownership, also known as time-share. Cancun is well-known for its many time-share projects. Some are notorious for their high pressure tactics and low integrity. To my fortune, I was accepted in a project where both integrity and honest sales and marketing were the core values of the company. Rare indeed.
And the reason I did this change? Simple: Time.
As a marketing rep. my work hours were a vast improvement from my previous job. I only needed to show to work 3 days out of the week. If you did your job well inviting people to see “the club”, the rest of the week you would work for half of the day and be on your merry way to do whatever with your personal life.
The only catch was that the job was commissioned based. No salary. If you invited families, you got payed. Otherwise, no paycheck.
So, in exchange for the inevitable income roller-coaster ride, I was given more free time than I had ever experienced. And this gave me the opportunity to seriously start looking at SCUBA diver jobs, and the exciting possibility of a new career change.
Decisions, Decisions…Time To Get Wet!
As my learning curve in the time-share industry began to level-off, I began to have better income and the time had come to put this income to good use. I decided to re-take my diving education in earnest. My free time was dedicated to learning the intricacies, techniques and rigors that would eventually lead to reaching the title of PADI Open Water Rescue Diver.
This was a decisive moment where my next decision would take me into professional dive training and all the responsibilities that came with it. Amateur time was over: Dive Master training was the next step and I took it without hesitation.
A few months later, I had my PADI Dive Master credential. I could now begin my next objective: Dive Instructor.
And just like airline pilots, the way to progress and become a skilled and confident Dive Master was to start accumulating dive time. I began to look for marinas where they needed help to take people out to dive. And this is where my journey got really interesting.
I encountered the 5 truths a beginner Dive Master must face (and accept) in order to choose diving as a full time career. Mind you, this is what I experienced in Cancun and the Riviera Maya. But I think these truths are pretty much universal.
Truth No. 1 – No one is interested in offering you dive time.
As mentioned before, to become a confident, experienced Dive Master, you require dive time. Hours spent underwater, honing the very skills which will allow you to aspire for higher level dive practice, instruction (and better pay). In case of a Dive Master wanting to reach Assistant Dive Instructor, a minimum of 60 hours of actual diving are required.
That’s a lot of diving, considering that each dive takes approximately 45 minutes.
Having connections with your local marina was essential. In my case, I was able to get in the door to one of the largest marinas in Cancun, with help of my dive instructor. It was a great opportunity and it would’ve been a phenomenal place to acquire the necessary skills due to the amount of people the marina took out diving every day.
However, the staff really had an attitude problem within their ranks, and they would make lame excuses to avoid having me on-board, even when all I wanted to do was help out…pro-bono. So it didn’t last long and I left.
I found myself once again knocking on doors of other marinas to offer my assistance. It took a while, but I settled in a smaller marina where I was given the chance to help out, again, pro-bono. See where I’m getting at?
Truth No. 2 – There is no pay for beginner Dive Masters.
Ugly truth, but there it is. Your pay is getting wet and accumulating dive hours. That’s it. This can be somewhat tolerable if you have a part-time job to fall back on. But I met a few dive masters who were there with no financial back up of any kind. Real brave (and real crazy). They lived off the tips tourists left to the boat crew. Many didn’t last long and ended up waiting tables or as sales reps for time-share projects in Cancun and the Riviera Maya.
Truth No. 3 – Get ready for stubbed toes and bruises.
Not underwater. But above it. On the dive boat.
As a beginner Dive Master, you will normally be put in charge of dive tanks, vests (also called BCDs) and fins.
Consider an average group consisting of 12 beginner divers, the boat crew, the dive instructor and you. In a relatively small dive boat. It gets cramped. Real fast.
Sometimes, dive gear becomes loose. More often than not, the ocean does not cooperate. It can get really choppy. Tanks are pretty heavy. Accidents inevitably happen.
You deal with it and move on. Remember, the customers’ have payed good money for you to take them diving. They expect a great time. So you have to bite your lip, smile and keep going.
Truth No. 4 – Motion sickness and diesel fumes. Learn to cope.
If you are sensitive to motion sickness, diving can be a challenge. But when diesel fumes are added to the mix, you have a sure recipe for disaster. And the thing is, it is inevitable.
All marine engines run on diesel. When they idle, whether waiting at the dock for everyone to climb aboard, or looking for a dive spot, the fumes cover the boat, the crew and divers. It is a very intense, pervasive odor. The experience is intensified by the inevitable motion found in open waters.
The fastest way to solve this is to get everybody in the water, as fast as possible, before anyone spills their lunch all over you, or all over the deck area. Even then, you are not guaranteed that motion sickness will go away.
One time, a beginner diver, a lady, threw up while being already in the water. It was rough and waves were making everyone sick on board. She was the first one out in the water, but the up and down motion got her really sick. She emptied out her lunch right there and then. Needless to say, she felt better afterwards and the fish had dinner that evening.
Truth No. 5 – Diving becomes a job.
Above all, you are there to guarantee the customers’ safety and enjoyment.
Regardless how clumsy, heavy or nervous they are, you are the professional. The responsibility falls squarely on your shoulders. Even if you’re just a beginner Dive Master. They don’t know that. They don’t care.
There is much psychology applied on board dive boats. You are there to still their fears and anxiety. And even then, it’s not a sure thing how the beginner diver will react once exposed to open water diving. Sometimes they do an excellent job; most times they don’t.
And you get so busy trying to keep the group together, you barely have time to enjoy the dive itself.
The enjoyment now stems from handling group dynamics. This is the real challenge. This is where you really find out whether you have what it takes to become a professional Master SCUBA Diver…or not.
Diving becomes a job. The enjoyment part of it is, in great part, exclusively for the customer. You are there to make sure they get their money’s worth. Your enjoyment becomes an afterthought.
A special kind of mettle…
Now, these truths, although quite real in my experience, may not be powerful enough detractors for those willing to look for a career in recreational diving. And that’s awesome. This article is meant merely as a “heads-up”; a glance at some of the real life aspects of this somewhat misunderstood and often times glamorized activity.
Being a Dive Master carries a lot of responsibility. After all, taking care of people above the water is complicated enough. Taking care of people below the water…well…that takes a special kind of mettle. That’s why I always look up to the men and women who do this activity for a living.
And that’s also why I always leave them a nice, hefty tip!
Are you interested in pursuing a career in recreational diving? Perhaps you are already an established Dive Master and have met with some of these challenges. Please tell us about them and share your experiences and trials in the comment box below. I will certainly do my best to offer feedback on your opinions. Thanks for reading!