Scuba diving’s Big ‘Free Internship’ debate

Scuba diving’s Big ‘Free Internship’ debate

Anytime the topic of free internships is brought up in diving forums it sparks heated debate. The post usually goes something like: “I want to learn diving/do my DM/Instructor course and am looking for somewhere to do it for free”.

While the logic behind the thinking makes sense: “I have a skillset and I want to use that in exchange of acquiring a different skills set.” Let’s just think about that for a minute. Or, better yet, let’s transfer that to a different profession: “I want to become a doctor/lawyer/hairdresser but instead of paying for my education (and experience) I would rather build a website or do the marketing for the educational institution of my choice. Here the logic fails a bit.

By becoming a dive professional you choose to make diving your career. Most instructors and dive masters invest a large amount of money into their training, to purchase equipment, to acquire continuing education, and yes, to make their way to the locations where they end up working. Through asking for a free internship candidates are asking these professionals to share their knowledge and experience for free. This devalues the skills and knowledge that you stand to gain.

What are the pros and cons of doing a free internship?

The pros

This one is quite obvious, you gain the knowledge, experience and skills of a professional level qualification while working for the company instead of paying for your courses. It is an attractive option- you get to dive and gain qualifications in exchange for something that you already good at doing.

You get to spend some time in a beautiful location while saving money on food and accommodation (often included in the exchange).

The cons

While some dive centres provide value for your services, others tend to favour paying customers (after all, they have bills to pay). Candidates who are on free internships often have their training placed on hold in order to accommodate paying customers. This might lead to knowledge and skills sessions being rushed or squeezed in whenever the instructors have free time.

It is not unheard of that candidates work for a company for a time only to have a disagreement with management or the owners and then leaving the dive centre without completing their qualification. Or, since paying customers takes priority over candidates who are on free internships, the candidates might find that they have a large part of the course to still complete as their departure date draws closer- leading to rushed training.

How free internships influence the diving industry

Some dive centres see candidates on free internships as free labour to supplement their core staff. They also acknowledge the marketing benefits that these candidates have (think about pictures of living on a tropical island proudly displayed on social media).

As mentioned before it also devalues the dive industry. If you get something for free you tend to not appreciate it as much as something that you paid your hard earned cash for. You want to live the dream… but you want to get there for free.

With thousands of dive professionals being certified each month the competition is growing more and more fierce. Asking for free internships and discounted diving creates a knock-on effect that eventually trickles down to instructor salaries. So, imagine you make it through your free training and start looking for a job as an instructor, only to find out that everyone-and-his-buddy are asking for discounts and free internships… and you, as a dive instructor, barely earn enough to afford living on your dream island – never mind buying a cocktail or two.

*A version of this article first appeared at

Juanita Pienaar

Juanita Pienaar is a citizen of the world, recently settled back down in her home country, South Africa, after spending time traveling and living in Asia and Africa. She has a passionate love affair with the ocean and loves to share that passion by teaching scuba diving. She is a yoga teacher and fully believe in finding the balance in life. She has recently discovered the joy and freedom of wearing yoga pants ‘out-and-about’. Juanita loses herself in the written and spoken word.

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