Become a dive instructor on Ko Tao

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First published 8th July, 2009

I have made Thailand my home, I live on a small island called Ko Tao off the east coast and teach travellers to scuba dive. Many people comment on how lucky I am but luck really has nothing to do with it. My response is always the same, you can do it too, and it's true.

It's far cheaper and quicker to train to teach people to dive than it is to qualify for many other trades or occupations. If you're bored at work and looking for a change or just don't feel quite ready for college, then maybe this is for you. Best of all you get to hang out in a tropical location whilst training and once qualified you have a pick of many fantastic places to look for work. Sound interesting?

Firstly you have to learn how to SCUBA dive and the entry level course, open water, is around 4 days. This will tell you if you like diving but don't worry too much at this stage about the progression to instructor level, you have a way to go and a lot to learn so don't feel intimidated.

Enjoy the next few courses which lead up to the entry qualification for your first professional course and take some time out to fun dive too.

Your advanced course follows your open water, this takes two days, and amongst other things gives you the opportunity to dive at night, learn how to take photographs underwater and to dive deeper.

The rescue course is the next one and the final before you enter your first professional level. This will teach you how to respond to emergency situations and takes a further 3-4 days.

You can practically do these three courses back-to-back, so in around 2 weeks, you can sign up for your dive master course. If you choose this route most dive centres will advise you to go out and fun dive for a while. I certainly would recommend it as up until this point you will have probably not conducted your own dives and not actually dived just for the fun of it.

The majority of dive centres here on Ko Tao offer you unlimited diving as part of your dive master course, so therefore once you have signed up you can take some time to get some experience before progressing. You will need to have achieved 60 logged dives to certify to this level so take a break from learning and just go dive. It's part of the course, so you don't have to pay for each dive and it's certainly a cost effective way to dive everyday for eight weeks.

Most people take around 6-8 weeks to complete their dive master course and the majority of centres have schedules built around this. You can certainly take longer about it and if you are more experienced then you could also do it in a bit less time. However if you have the time to spend 8 weeks then I personally would recommend it. You'll get the most out of your course and enjoy it without feeling pressured.

So what does it cost?

If you're training to be a dive instructor on Ko Tao, expect to pay the following for the various courses (US dollar ammounts are estimates only):

Open Water: 9,800B (US$290)
Advanced Open Water: 8,500B (US$250)
Rescue, Emergency First Response: 13,500B (US$400)
Dive Master: 31,000B (US$900)
Dive Instructor: 83,000B (US$2,500)

The above prices include all materials, fees to PADI and examination fees (where applicable). Most diveshops will offer a package: "Zero to Hero", but these packages often include more than the basics listed above and therefore tend to cost more.

More importantly what does it pay?

Pay depends on a number of variables, but generally speaking you'll be doing this to dive -- not to pay off a mortgage.

On Ko Tao as a Dive Master you could expect to earn 200B per diver doing two dives, while an instructor would expect to earn 15-20% of the course price per student (that would work out at roughly 15,000B for a group of eight doing their Open Water).

Surprisingly the more experienced you are doesn't really affect the pay -- but it does affect your chances for getting more students as the more experienced divers get the bigger groups.

A final note on the pay -- once you're a Dive Master or an Instructor you can work at dive locations around the world. Some dive spots have far more lucrative opportunities than you may find on Ko Tao, but Ko Tao is a great place to learn and one of the cheapest too!

Dive Happy is a great resource for dive locations across Asia.

During the course you will learn more about diving theory and science. You will be taught how to organise diving activities safely, how to run a boat and you will learn about dive centre logistics as well as the practicalities of leading divers underwater. Once certified you will be able to refresh divers techniques' if they haven't dived for a while so you will learn how to demonstrate skills to a very high standard.

Instructors always value a good assistant and this is another role a qualified dive master can fill. You will assist different instructors over different courses to learn the role a dive master plays and to be exposed to different teaching styles. This course is the foundation for your instructor course.

As a dive master, you can now get paid to dive; leading fun dives, conducting scuba reviews and assisting instructors. Lots of people choose to spend a few months working before entering into their instructor course but this choice will be up to you and may depend on your experience too.

In order to enter the instructor development course you must have been a certified diver for 6 months and you must enter your instructor exam with a minimum of 100 logged dives.

Most people are surprised that the instructor course (IDC) only takes around 2 weeks. However you have mastered all your dive theory and science in you dive master course and you already know how to dive to a high standard so the IDC simply teaches you how to teach. The exam, at the end, lasts three days; it tests your skills in classroom, confined and open water teaching. Written exams verify your knowledge around course standards and dive theory and science. Passing this certainly entitles you to a few beers and a day off to recover.

Ko Tao certifies many new instructors every month and the standard is very high. Many people come here intending to complete their IDC but for every one of them there must be at least four who simply get stuck.

Beware, diving is very addictive and this little island seems to be covered in superglue but it's not a bad place to get stuck, after all – I did!

Thanks to Ayesha Cantrell for taking the time to put this story together. Ayesha is a highly experienced scuba diving instructor based on Ko Tao. She offers flexible, unrushed and personalised diving courses that can be tailored to suit your needs including private diving tuition. You can contact her here.

About the author:
Ayesha ditched her power suit in favour of a wetsuit and ventured to Ko Tao to indulge in her passion for scuba diving. Apart from writing for she manages the Master Divers Blog and whenever possible is underwater with her camera shooting fish!

Read 10 comment(s)

  • a nice story, i did nearly the same on koh chang. i'm not a instructor but a divemaster right now. the auther is rightwhen he or she say its not luck, everyone can do it but the most people are scared to leave everythink at home. if you are bored of your life try somethink new, if it isnt somethink for you you dont lost so much but you get a nice experience. many whishes from koh chang to koh tao in thailand.
    have fun!

    Posted by dive thailand on 9th July, 2009

  • Hi Ayesha,

    What are the chances for finding work once you get certified as a dive master or instructor? Is it easy to get your work permit in Thailand or should I not ask? Cheers.

    Posted by exacto on 12th July, 2009

  • i did the open water course when i was in oz in 2004 and for the last 4 yrs i've worked in the caribbean as an instructor. i is so easy to get work as an active instructor or dm. look on and they have job listing

    Posted by splash on 13th July, 2009

  • its easy to find a job in thailand and everywhere in the world look on the padi siteon the job board.

    Posted by diver in thailand on 17th July, 2009

  • Hi Ayesha,

    Great description of the different level of courses. For everyone reading this i can highly recommend Ayesha as an instructor for anyone coming to koh tao and taking a course. She is fun, patient, professional and got more knowledge about diving than most!

    Have fun learning to dive on koh tao,


    Posted by Jonas Samuelsson on 25th July, 2009

  • Hi Ayesha,

    Thank you so much for the article! You have answerd many questions I didn't even know to ask.

    I have another question if I may ask here. I am a 48 year old healthy male who is about to take the rescue course at Koh Tao. I desire to have my instructor Cert by the time I retire in the US at age 56. Can I expect to find work as an instructor at this age? I have taken all my courses at Scuba Junction mostly from Nat. Or, am I just wasting my time. I have close to 50 dives so far.

    Thanks again, Chris =)

    Posted by Chris on 25th December, 2009

  • I am a PADI Course Director for the Koh Tao IDC Group, if you have any questions about idc in thailand or elsewhere please email me and i will be trying to help you! Take care Jonas Samuelsson

    Posted by jonas samuelsson on 7th January, 2010

  • we got dates for idc koh tao 2011 on our website now,, please email us if we can advice you about your new career in diving, kind regards
    jonas samuelsson (new site)

    Posted by jonas samuelsson on 7th October, 2010

  • Thailand can offer really good diving all year round provided measures are taken up and enforced to protect marine life. There are so many fishing boats surrounding the coast of Thailand each night, with more than half of them being overseas fishing boats. The population of fishes are dwindling and the most exotic species can be seen in display at restaurants and souvenir shops.

    Posted by Richard Dillon on 2nd December, 2010

  • Hi , I'm moving to koh tao in oct 2013 , was hoping to find a little bar work ..what are the ball park costs and logistics of getting to being a paid instructor? Thanks in advance .Andy

    Posted by Andy on 3rd September, 2013

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