Quite some time ago I solicited some questions and reader Mel asked these.... "What do you typically look for when hiring a divemaster? (Qualities, skills, type of experience, etc.)" and "Is it possible for a DM to make a living wage in the Kona area?". I haven't answered these yet so I thought I'd try now.
Part of what got me thinking about this was a phone call I got back in October or so. I had a Course Director (essentially Instructors that teach how to become Instructors... not a whole lot of them working in Kona right now) from Colorado call me asking about work, if I recall correctly he was looking at moving out this way in the following month. Course Director is a desirable qualification, but not one that is needed at my business at this point. Anyway, I filled him in the best I could giving him the names of a couple of shops that might possibly be large enough to hold an occasional Instructor Development Course. As we were ending our conversation he wished me good luck on my "upcoming season"... I couldn't bring myself to tell him Kona's busy winter dive season is typically December 20th through January 3rd or thereabouts... the holidays were hopping this year, but boy did the number of boats on the water drop as of Sunday. There's a lot of people who think "snowbirds" will keep the diving community busy all winter, but the reality is that not all that large of a percentage of that group are divers, and while places like the Florida Keys are just a few hour air flight from over half the population of the US and see a lot of people taking a long weekend to dive, we're a bit harder to get to so the busy dive times tend to surround typical vacation breaks. I wonder if he had any luck getting on anywhere. Personally, if I were to come here out of the blue looking for a scuba job, I'd do it the first week of June and keep my fingers crossed that things pick up by the end of the month, as summers are the longest "busy" season we have here. If he found his way to Maui, which arguably doesn't have quite the diving Kona does, but has lots more tourists and hotels, he might have been able to hook up with some steady work.
On to what I look for when looking for a DM... Personally, I've been lucky in that I've known, and in most cases worked with elsewhere, every person I've hired for quite a while. That really helps because I've known their ability, local knowledge and disposition already. I'm lucky enough to have employees who've been leading dives in Kona and Hawaii for one to three decades each rather than having to rely on people who just became Instructors or just moved here. Odds are if I do need someone else in the next couple of years it just might be someone who's already working here, but you never know. To me the local knowledge is important, but really loving diving and really liking meeting new people are probably more important. Enthusiasm and sociability skills are darned important on a 6 pack boat, and probably at a premium on any boat. If I were a dive operator with a shop, retail skills would be real important. An Instructor's certification and a Captain's license are a big plus, especially for my particular business. I'd guess the larger portion of the "DMs" here in Kona are actually Instructors, but there are some DMs who either came up through classes in the local shops or walked in the right place at the right time and have found work.
Occasionally I get some bright, enthusiastic people approaching me for a job, but they have no scuba leadership certifications or Captain's license. I'd love to be in the position to give them some work, but unfortunately that doesn't work on the boat, there's really no such position as a "deck hand" on the dive boats, at least the smaller ones... people who fall into this category need to look at a boat with a shop (and then get the leadership certification to get work on the boat) or look at getting on a boat that primarily services tourists other than divers.
Wages... not really a subject we talk about that much. When I came over in '99 the prevailing wage worked out to between $65 and $75 bucks a charter. There are some DMs/Instructors getting a higher wage, and apparently some getting lower still these days. Some are paid a decent hourly wage, but aren't necessarily guaranteed full time work, so in the end you're likely still talking Taco Bell earning levels for a lot of divers in the business. Many divers here have second jobs to make ends meet, have additional incomes, or are semi-retired and don't necessarily need full time work (that's a huge bonus to their employers). I gotta be vague because the wages run the gamut here, I know of dive guides making anywhere from Zip (working for free) to 15/17 bucks an hour but not necessarily full time.
Working in this trade is more about lifestyle than earning power for the vast majority of people here by my guess. I've seen lots of faces come and go, but several that have made it work for a number of years. I'm not sure that it's any different here than anywhere else. It's a wonderful time when you can make it work.
Here's a rather blurry shot of a small group of Bicolor Anthias (Pseudanthias bicolor). They're a real colorful smaller fish, often found in deeper waters (this is in about 90') in coral heads in or next to sand patches here. If you are out poking around in a deep sand patch it's not uncommon to see a lone coral head with a group of fish surrounding it, as you approach closer they'll pull into the coral head for protection. They're commonly found in heads that have a cleaner shrimp, pictured here in the lower right.