Fortunately for sport divers, it’s rare to get bored with scuba diving — especially in the unique underwater ecosystem of the Florida Keys. Not every dive is the same, and it’s virtually certain that you won’t see the same fish or microcosms of marine life that live on reefs.
But diving in the Keys is far more than an exciting and rewarding sport for recreational enthusiasts. It also can serve as a career-changing step for people who find their passion lies in the undersea realm. Why? Because in the Keys they can become dive instructors — learning how to teach their favorite sport to others and make money doing what they love.
In fact, some of the first businesses offering recreational dive training in America were opened in Florida Keys island communities. Dozens of dive operators, staffed with working professionals, actively teach and train each day — not just intermittently or seasonally as is the case in places with less friendly climates.
Specialty dive courses include navigation, night diving, wreck diving, digital photography, coral reef conservation and, for divers who want to take their sport to a higher level, professional career training as a dive instructor.
Eric Billips, owner of Islamorada Dive Center, trains divers from entry level to dive master, complementing the online eLearning standards of the Professional Association of Diving Instructors training agency with hands-on teaching in the Keys.
“We have fantastic weather down here year-round. We also have incredibly clear waters, and we’re still in the United States,” Eric advised. “You can stay in your own country and still be in a drive-to, Caribbean-type setting … which is great.”
Instructor training in the Florida Keys means learning in a dive destination that’s unparalleled anywhere in the U.S. — and one that features the continental United States’ only living coral barrier reef.
To maintain the Keys’ status as a highly popular dive destination, the region’s offshore environment has been the focus of conservation efforts for decades. The Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, established in 1990, encompasses the coastal waters of the entire island chain.
The Keys also are one of the few places in the country where divers can receive training year-round at instructor training facilities (also called career development centers).
In Marathon, the vocational school at Hall’s Diving Center & International Career Institute offers several immersion courses. Hall’s courses even include student lodging accommodations and specialized Veterans Affairs funding for military veterans seeking a post-service career change.
“We accept students who have no prior dive experience and train them for up to 14 weeks, after which they are equipped with the tools they need to work in the field as a professional dive instructor,” said Randy Botteri, the general manager of Hall’s. “There is no waiting period to become a student.”
What happens once students complete their course work?
Newly graduated instructors from Keys-based career centers can either work fulltime in the island chain, find exotic jobs on cruise ships or live-aboard dive vessels throughout the world, or independently teach their own students the mechanics, safety and all other aspects of recreational scuba diving.
“The Florida Keys is a very fortunate, diverse spot where we can teach every level of class that scuba diving offers,” Eric Billips said. “We’ve got shallow patch reefs, intermediate reefs and deeper shipwrecks. It’s really endless as far as scuba diving training goes.”