Work as a Professional Diver, or Work at Target Stores?

October 2020

Target pays $15/hr; HOW do you value yourself as a professional?

Our promise to the industry is to always educate the market and assist Professionals with trying to make a career from their efforts. In order to do so, a professional MUST understand how finances work in relation to level of effort. You only have so many hours a year to instruct, and one must decide how much of their personal time they are willing to sacrifice.


The sacrifice goes beyond just making money, but also quality time with students, friends, and most importantly loved ones. I know this first hand as it’s taken much sacrifice to build a business, in a saturated market, and go against the standard low cost course offerings to have a career. Attract the customers you want to provide service; YOUR WAY.

For Professionals and business owners that want to provide value to their staff, take the time to read this post. Not only will it allow for management and subordinates to have a proper discussion, it allows YOU to determine your

worth in your prospective industry.

Though this is geared toward SCUBA diving, this is applicable to any profession.

Many dive businesses often go into long discussions, or show dismay for their competitors who offer cheap training compared to what many would consider a ‘normal’ rate.

*THIS MAY OFFEND SOME, BUT THE INTENT IS TO PROVIDE VALUE TO THOSE WHO WANT TO TURN DIVING INTO AN ACTUAL CAREER; NOT A SIDE HOBBY. As for TARGET, I do love their Holiday specials and tip the employees nicely. In NO WAY does this undervalue the professionalism of a Target employee either, one should always respect what they choose to do.*

The dive industry isn’t just “changing,” it has already changed. The barrier to entry is so low, literally anybody can do it…Or, can they? One thing NOT taught in a proper Instructor Development Course is understanding value. Also, how to establish value and compete in a saturated market. Knowledge is power and understanding data and your finances too. Instead of worrying about the price your competitors have set, why not focus on your own strategy? There will always be a person to implement a business model that undercuts a market. Out of panic of losing customers, the next one falls victim to the same flawed approach.

Note the DISCLAIMER at the bottom and realize these are theoretical numbers……. **Ryan whispers** okay, they are not really that theoretical as they do match a consistent pattern between dive businesses from three different states who agreed to discuss their previous shops numbers

We can spend all day talking about low prices and say that it is evolving. News Flash: The dive industry HAS evolved. Only you can decide what business model to follow, or don’t.

In Florida, we have numerous shops that Groupon, or use other discounted services, to attract and recruit consumers. Honestly, I love seeing it. They are certifying between 500 to 900 per year, and what a great return that might be!!!! Think about it, with that many students, instructors and DM’s should be making at least $18 to $20/hr right?!?


The Reality… Many people simply want a certification card because they:

  1. Are Going on a trip and need it;
  2. Bucket List item to;
  3. Talked into it (thank you Spouse);
  4. (Typical) Impulse Buy.


What happens after they have fulfilled their want? How does a person then suggest a $1500 – $2000 personal gear package when the most important aspect (training) is undervalued and discounted by large margins. SCUBA diving is a perishable skill.

Generally, the same customer then goes online to look for the cheapest packages browsing eBay, Craigslist, FB Marketplace, etc. This is because they never learned the actual value in investing in their education, or honestly didn’t care. Many don’t feel confident making educated decisions on what gear to buy, and then post in groups where undoubtedly thousands of opinions will be offered. Yes, this is the reality. It becomes as confusing to many the same way “your” and “you’re” do.

Example: You’re getting taken advantage; and your instructor knows it.

Anyway, you’ll often see the people then show up at our events, and wonder why they can’t last as long underwater. They wonder how they can perfect buoyancy and perform skills the same way our OW divers do. They question why is our Open Water program a minimum of 10 hours underwater vs the 3 hours in total they spent? Great questions if you ask me.

From a business side, having these companies compete to offer the BIGGEST DISCOUNT is truly the best marketing strategy. In fact, it costs ZERO dollars toward your bottom line. Translation, free marketing opportunities. This doesn’t work for many as you have to back up what you preach, but it works for our staff. Instead of competing with the churn/burn’s, we simply hired top instructors in our area. Why not have the best work for you, and pay them accordingly?

Where does all this go? You may be thinking [as a Professional]…”The more students I teach, the more money I can make.” So let’s take a look at your financial freedom teaching 312 students per year.

If you are a dive professional, working full-time, and averaging less than $15/ hour then keep reading. NOTE: Make sure you record your TIME IN and TIME OUT for the day. This is your TRUE HOURS worked, not just time in class. Treat yourself as an employee, not a contractor.

This breakdown is for those that don’t understand how students numbers work, and will help you to better understand what your value is. If you work more hours than the following example, or teach less, adjust accordingly.

Step by Step with a TL;DR at the very end.


Take a sample size of 312. Why 312? Because that’s $100/student for the same equivalency of $15/hr at a standard 40 hour/week job = $31,200.

(See Target’s press release regarding raising minimum wage)

At $15/hr you at least make $31,200 / year. Target pays their employees $15/hr around the country. Even at minimums for an agency [time], you still work 8 hours in a day. Finance lesson aside….simple math.

Your average Groupon course is 3 days long. The average Groupon rate is $299.99 for an Open Water Course (some at $199.99 and others at $399.99).

First, how many hours will you have to spend assuming you taught 1 person per day:

7 hours per day * 3 days = 21 hours (many spend more if they have to prep, fill, clean, etc).

21 hours per * 312 students = 6,552 hours teaching

NOTE: A standard work year contains 2080 hours ( 40hrs/week by 52 weeks )

What about those that teach maximum 8 FULL certifications per class? This will be referred to as “compounding certifications.”

312 students / 8 students/day = 39 days * 21 hours per class = 819 hours total hours.

If you stopped here, and made $31,200; your hourly wage would be $38 per hour.

That’s good side money for sure assuming you have another job to carry you the rest of the way.

However, that is not how this actually works.

***We all know Mother nature will say “F that”.***

  • Classes get cancelled;
  • You wait for people to show and they don’t;
  • Ocean doesn’t allow you to dive;
  • Average class size is closer to 4, but you still teach the same hours;
  • Your average instructor makes $50 / student–not $100;
  • COVID…

So we have to consider a PERCENTAGE LOSS that gets applied. Typically, you’ll lose 40% in an area like Florida; Up to 60% in winter regions for the normal markets. This can be applied to your ACTUAL available work hours and compounding certifications (most important)–keeping total student count the same.

NOTE: If your average class size is smaller, then adjust the total students per class accordingly. We will do hours and class size.

819 hours / 312 students = 2.625 hours dedicated per student.

2.625 / (1-0.40 percentage loss) = 4.375 hours per student worked.

Now we have something to work with to make $31,200 per Year…

$31,200 @ $100 / student = 312 students = 1365 work hours = $22.85 / hour

$31,200 @ $75 / student = 416 students = 1820 hours = $17.14 / hour

$31,200 @ $50 / student = 624 students = 2730 hours = $11.42 / hour

$31,200 @ $15 / hour (Target) = 2080 Hours without Liability

If you only teach 100 Students per year, and make $100 per student, you have GROSSED $10,000.

$$$$$$$ What is your time worth? $$$$$$$$$

If you aren’t hitting these figures, don’t worry. VERY FEW (if any) individual instructor actually is per year.

Finally, we need to deduct the following to determine NET income:

  • Gasoline to/from site/work;
  • Parking fees if applicable;
  • Paying personal insurance, or on group policy;
  • Lease for classroom or shop;
  • Energy / Utility Bills;
  • Website (if applicable for independents);

You get the idea.

Thus, YOU decide if you want to work harder for less, or offer higher quality and demand more.

For Many Dive business owners they prey on single-use consumers and bait-switch. As you can see from above, this is a simple diagnosis as to why cheap models are not sustainable. Shops certifying over 500 students per year should be GROSSING over $500,000 / year. However, many struggle to reach even the $200,000 mark. Not surprising. For those that do, they/we have found a strategy that works and is executed.



#Trial and #Error is CRITICAL to your Success.



Bottom Line, at $15/hr you at least make $31,200 / year. Target pays their employees $15/hr. Making $100 / student, that’s 312 you need to teach. Even at minimums for an agency [time], you still work 7 hours in a day.

Here we go:

21hrs * 312 students = 6552 hours teaching = 273 days / 7 days (normal week) = 39 weeks non-stop to make $31,200/year. Now, you can reduce that time by simply compounding students as most of us do.

So, 6552 hours / 8 students per class = 819 Total Hours, or $38 / hr, but wait…there’s more. Things happen, don’t go as planned, mother nature will say “F*** that;” we apply a nominal percentage loss of 40%. 819 hours is really closer to 1365 hours, and your $38/hr just turned into $22. At $50/student earned, you would need to teach either 624 students, or work an extra 650 hours (113 days) more than your cashier at Target each year.

As for myself, I’ll be applying as a greeter at Target before I completely undervalue my brand and employees. Always know your worth and I truly hope this helps.

All the best,

Ryan Custureri

**DISCLAIMER** No need to take my advice. Run your own analysis and use realistic numbers instead of just theoretical. For me personally, it’s 10 years of compounding statistics keeping logs and data on every customer and competitor. From discounts to marketing strategy {many simply copy at this point}, data is the MOST valuable resource to formulate your business model.

Continuing Education

Check out these posts to continue learning how to become a true scuba dive professional. Our discussions range from exploring teaching techniques, to operating a dive business, becoming a full-time instructor, or planning events and more. 

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