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What It’s Like to Work as a Dive Guide

Forget 9 to 5. Being a dive guide is 5 to 5—and I love it.
By Lawrence Watkins as told to Melissa Smith | Updated On June 30, 2021
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What It’s Like to Work as a Dive Guide

Lawrence Watkins

Watkins signals from a Pura Vida Divers boat.

Image by Andrea Whitaker courtesy Pura Vida Divers

It’s 5:15 a.m. when my alarm goes off, but when you have the job I have, you don’t even think about hitting snooze.

I do my morning routine, which includes plenty of stretches in preparation for the day ahead, then walk across the street to Pura Vida Divers, where I work as a dive guide. After picking up a few tanks and some paperwork, it’s a five-minute drive to the marina where our boats are docked.

It takes about 30 to 45 minutes to load the tanks, prep snacks and water for the day, and fill the camera rinse bucket. I also make sure to check the manifest to see which repeat customers we have onboard and who my new friends will be. I start trying to memorize names — one of the hardest parts of the job — and soon, the people they belong to start showing up.

As a dive guide in Florida, there’s usually a healthy mix of vacationers and retirees on our boats. Either way, the only thing we’ve all got on our minds is diving.

My co-crewmate and I start loading gear bags on board and getting a feel for our divers’ skill levels, which will help us decide which sites to visit this morning.

The captain gives his briefing, and we’re off. Well, we’re off after a couple of stressful minutes untying dock lines and making sure they’re in the right order to easily grab when we come back in. Luckily, we’ve got a good captain and have had lots of training outside our daily charters, so we know how to follow the golden rule — don’t crash the boat.

On our way to the site, we cross under Blue Heron Bridge, an iconic dive site of its own. This area is a no-wake zone, and it gives us the perfect opportunity to give our safety briefing, which I use to hone my stand-up comedy chops. Yep, I’m one of those dive guides who tries to make the spiel a little entertaining. Even the bad jokes keep the mood light.

My fellow guide gives a briefing with expertly drawn diagrams of the site we’re headed to and not-so-expertly drawn animals we might encounter. I’m hoping to see an octopus that’s been hanging around the past few weeks, but you never know who’ll show up. Just a few weeks ago, our crew even saw a great white shark in our Southeast Florida waters.

That’s the thing — you can dive them three times in a week and know the reefs like the back of your hand, but the way the ocean moves, it can look like a different site each time. There are endless possibilities, which is what keeps it exciting.

We get to our site and do final checks. Then come the best three words I’ll hear all day: “Dive, dive, dive!”

On the reef, I find as many critters as I can, banging my tank to alert everyone else. Today, we see a southern stingray with a missing barb (affectionately known as “Stumpy” to the locals), a swarm of green morays watching us cruise past with mouths agape, and a bull shark. No octopus, but that’s okay — there’s always another dive.

Once we’re back on the boat for our surface interval, seeing the excitement in the divers’ eyes as they talk about what we saw makes my day per usual. It’s one of my favorite perks of the job.

During the next dive, I stay back to bubble-watch with the captain as my co-crewmate gets their turn in the water. I take this time to eat my lunch (usually rice and veggies — I’ve gotten used to eating full meals on a dive boat), and play mama bear, blowing our horn to fend off any fishing boats straying close to our divers.

Once the group surfaces, I help get everyone back aboard and listen to them recall the encounters I missed out on as we head back to the dock.

If we have morning and afternoon charters, we repeat the whole process, but otherwise, we put the boat to bed, rinsing everything down and collecting any trash or gear left behind.

It’s 5 p.m. by the time I’m home, and despite spending all day on the water, I head to the beach to catch the last few hours of sun. I moved to Florida from Colorado to avoid the winters, after all, so I’ve got to soak up much warm weather as I can.

Around 9 o’clock, I crawl into bed and set my alarm for 5:15 a.m., grateful for another invigorating day in paradise, already excited to do it all over again tomorrow.