How to become a SCUBA diving professional in South Africa

Most students have thought about it, after sitting for 12 years in class rooms and looking forward to a career of further study, or setting up I a retail shop or office somewhere – There has to be something better! How about tossing the shackles of normal life, traveling to the worlds exotic locations and becoming a professional SCUBA diver? After all, what could be better than a life of warm tropical seas, cool ocean breezes and sharing your love for the sport of diving? As a diving professional, you can find work almost anywhere, from your local dive shop or university diving program to exotic liveaboards or island resorts. The benefits are undeniable.

Of course, like everything in life, working in the dive industry isn’t always a bed of roses. You take on a lot of responsibility for the safety and well-being of the students or divers in your charge, and for that reason, the industry will verify your skills and knowledge before turning you loose as a divemaster or instructor. You also need quite a bit of experience before you can start the process. Here is a few pointers on how to become a professional SCUBA diver in South Africa

What’s the first step for turning pro?

There’s a common misconception in the diving world that instructor classes are where divers learn the bulk of their professional-level underwater skills. Not true. The divemaster class is the real divers’ boot camp. It’s the first professional-level certification and the place where you learn dive management skills like how to lead and navigate dives, assist students above and below the water, and manage diving emergencies. You’ll also get in-depth academic education about the physics and physiology of diving, and you’ll perfect your personal diving skills like buoyancy control, mask clearing and out-of-air procedures until you can effectively demonstrate them to students in a training environment. Part of your training is in the classroom, but a lot of it is in the water. And, of course, you are tested. At the end of your divemaster training, you are expected to have instructor-level knowledge in all of the academic subjects listed above and to demonstrate safe supervision and control of divers in real-world environments. You’ll also be tested physically to ensure you have appropriate swimming skills and the endurance to safely rescue distressed divers in emergency situations. The tests vary among agencies, but generally you can expect an 800-meter swim with mask, fins and snorkel; a 400-meter free swim; an extended water tread; and a 100-meter rescue tow with both you and the victim in full scuba gear — all timed according to the limits specified by the training agency. Before successfully completing the program, divemaster candidates must also have current CPR, first aid and oxygen provider certifications issued by an internationally recognized organization such as DAN or the American Red Cross.

What are the prerequisites for the divemaster class?

Open Water, Advanced Open Water and stress-and-rescue/rescue-diving certifications, and Emergency First Response Primary and Secondary Care (CPR and First Aid) training within the past 24 months are the only training prerequisites for enrolling in a divemaster program. Many divemaster candidates take the CPR and first-aid training at the same time as the Divemaster course. You must be at least 18 years old and show a logbook with at least 40 dives (60 dives by the end of the course), preferably in a variety of environmental conditions. You must have experience in night diving, deep diving and underwater navigation.

Where should I do my training?

Like your Open Water certification, there are plenty of options when deciding where to do your divemaster and instructor training, depending on the time and money you have available and your post-training employment goals:

The Local Dive Shop Almost all local dive shops offer divemaster classes/internship programs year-round because any Open Water instructor can teach those classes. IDCs/ITCs require a little more planning because they must be taught by instructor trainers, who aren’t always available at every dive shop, and the classes must be coordinated with a regional IE session held by the associated training agency. If you want to do your training locally, talk to staff in your local dive shop about your timing options.

On Location If you’d rather do your training in an island environment, you need to find a way to live on-island and support yourself while you study. Many high-volume dive destinations have operators with in-house instructor trainers, and some of these places offer divemaster/instructor internship programs, sometimes complete with room and board, which allow trainees to get real-world experience living, guiding and teaching in a resort environment. Koh Tao, Thailand, and the Bay Islands, Honduras, are two popular and inexpensive destinations for these types of internships.

In South Africa, the two most renowned coral reef dive locations are Sodwana Bay and Aliwal Shoal. Here you will find professional SCUBA diving operations, such as Blue Wilderness, that specialist in both client based SCUBA trips and SCUBA training. At Blue Wilderness, we run a 6 month internship program to take aspiring SCUBA professionals from the non-qualified level to an experienced dive master with speciality training in underwater photography, citizen science, underwater videography and shark diving. This program is a great way to quickly gain the qualifications and skills to build a career as a SCUBA diving professional and open up all the possibilities of a career of fun, travel, passion and adventure. 

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