Responsibilities of the Dive Guide

Yesterday I posted some of my favorite diver etiquette tips. I didn’t do it to sound all Martha Stewart but because often divers don’t realize the impact their behavior has on other divers and those that serve them while on a dive adventure.

But what about the other side of the coin… what are the responsibilities and etiquette of a good dive guide?

Something that caught my eye a few years ago was a survey done by one of the dive mags about the biggest issues that traveling divers face. Do you know what topped the list? ATTITUDE of the dive master!

This was a great thing for us. Why? Because that is a foundation for our company, Global Diving Adventures. We know that as divers you have saved your money, planned for sometimes more than a year, and often traveled halfway around the world for a dive vacation. It is our responsibility, and pleasure, to ensure you get the best a place has to offer. We personally pick our favorite dive guides on every trip and guide them on the best way to guide you! And then we add our own huge dose of enthusiasm, knowledge and experience to each adventure.


So what do we think are the responsibilities of a good dive guide?


1. Safety of the Divers.

Of course, the dive guide is there primarily for your safety. They should be knowledgeable about gear. They should know their boat and be sure all safety equipment is on board and in working order. They should be able to drive the boat in an emergency. It is essential the dive guide know the local dive sites, currents and potential hazards of the area and are able to handle underwater emergency situations.

Questions to ask:

Does your dive guide carry a surface marker buoy? Do they carry extra weight? Do they have basic equipment such as a working dive computer? Do they perform a current check before starting a dive? Do they know the skill level of the divers and choose a dive site based on this?


Recently on a scouting trip to Africa, I went out to a dive site with a small group of divers. The site was in rough seas about 6 miles offshore. The reef started at about 80 feet so this was clearly a dive you wanted to do on a dive computer. To my horror, I noticed a few things about the dive guide. He carried a surface marker buoy but noticing the strong current, he released it partway through the dive. If the driver had followed the buoy, he never would have found us when we surfaced. The guide also did not have a computer. He kept swimming to his dive master in training and checking his computer. He also appeared very lost on the site. This did NOT instill confidence to the divers.

2. Guiding

Guiding to us means more than just knowledge of the local area and that your dive master will take you confidently on your dive. It also means that they will point out interesting creatures along the way. A good guide will know and understand local flora and fauna and go out of their way to find and show it to you.

Questions to ask:

Ask your guide about the dive sites. What are their favorite and why? What endemic species exist here? When is the best time/currents to dive various sites? Does your dive guide ask what you want to see? Did your guide prep you, as a photographer on what lenses to use for the upcoming dive or ask you what lens you are using to be sure to point out either good wide angle or macro opportunities?


On a recent dive trip to Indonesia, we were doing a muck dive looking for small, odd creatures. We came across a very interesting sea horse in only about 25’ of water. The dive guide told us to wait a minute, that he was going to surface and come back down. (he was only guiding Ridlon and me). Then he returned to us and put a large stick in the sand near the sea horse. I realized that he was marking the location below the water and making mental notes above the water in order to show the next group of divers this remarkable creature. How many dive guides do that?????

3. Looking over all aspects of the dive

The dive guide should be the first to arrive and the last to leave. They are responsible to see that all your questions are answered and that you are confident and ready to dive. They need to be able to take charge to get the dive boat out on time, divers geared up and in the water and run the dive efficiently and effectively. They should also look out for opportunities to enhance the dive experience.

Questions to ask:

You really don’t need to ask questions, simply watch the process and if there are concerns, voice them.


On a recent dive adventure, I sat back and watched the morning process of prepping for a dive. The dive manager spent most of his time creating too detailed drawings of the dive sites so he didn’t have to do anything else. The dive guides who were there on time, enthusiastic and engaged became our go to dive guides. One particular boat driver ended up handling and overseeing nitrox analyzing and assisting divers with their prep. This driver became our driver of choice. He took us out of his way to find 30+ mantas feeding on the surface and showed us the best way to get in and snorkel with them. Our divers were ecstatic about the opportunity and the driver received huge kudos as well as big tips!

4. Enthusiasm and Attitude.

This is a huge aspect of the job and also the responsibility of the dive master. They don’t need to be the island cheerleader but a happy diving attitude leads to happy divers and return divers. Divers want to dive with people who love diving, as simple as that. We work with dive guides who enjoy their work and want to continue to educate themselves and the divers on the local area, flora and fauna. We work with dive guides who understand that the difference between a 60 and a 65 minute dive can mean the difference between happy and pissed off divers. Parameters for dive times are important but (as long as your dive computer allows), dive guides need to be flexible if there are interesting things to see underwater.

Things to Notice:

Does the guide seem bored with it all? Do they point out interesting critters on the dive? Do they engage the divers in conversation before and after the dive or retreat to the bow of the boat and ignore you? Are they stop watch Nazis underwater? Are they interested to see new things? We always have a field copy of a fish book on the dive boat so that before the dive we can talk about what we hope to find and afterwards we can identify what divers saw.


Recently I was approached by a diver who told me about their experience diving with a “bad attitude” dive guide. The guide simply hung off the reef in blue water, head down, not engaged with the divers, completely bored. He watched his computer and signaled only when it was time to end the dive. The attitude of a dive guide rubs off on the divers and creates a boatload of unhappy divers. If this happens to you, do not be afraid to request a different dive guide.

5. A note on Cultural Differences.

Divers travel the world in search of the rare and the wild and much of the world’s best diving is in remote locations in developing nations. Your dive guide will most likely have cultural differences from you. Understanding these and bridging the gap will make for a happier experience for everyone. For example, often Fijian and Indonesian dive guides are shy. They can be extremely knowledgeable but you need to engage them. Once they know you are interested, they are usually delighted to work with you. Some of them are shy due to a language barrier. Try to learn local words from them to help you communicate better and be enthusiastic yourself! Have your picture taken with your guide! Ask about their culture and their life.

A good dive guide can truly make or break a dive vacation. If you are a dive professional here is a list of things that you can do (above the basics of the job) to ensure your divers are happy and will want to return to dive with you. Want to stand out above the others? Read on…

1. Be enthusiastic!

2. Learn and be interested in local flora and fauna

3. Point out interesting things on a dive. Remember that just because you see it every day doesn’t mean your divers do!

4. Engage your divers in fish books to learn about the local sites.

5. Give a thorough and interesting dive briefing.

6. Be interested in your divers both below and above the water.

7. Help your divers with gear before and after the dive.

8. Dive within the parameters of your dive operation but be flexible and a bit lenient with dive times (while staying within safety limits of course).

9. Don’t go and hide after the dive, perhaps you can spot dolphin on the ride home. Divers LOVE this.

10. ASK your divers what they would like to see. Pointing out a trumpet fish to a diver who has 5000 dives may not be interesting to them. However, they may have a blue ringed octopus on the must see list. Know this.

11. ASK your photographers if they are shooting wide or macro so you can find good opportunities for them.

12. Understand your diver’s abilities (read their paperwork) to take them to appropriate dive sites.

13. If you are allowed, come up in the evening at the dive resort and engage the divers. Divers love to know about you and your interesting life.

14. Try to work with the same divers the entire trip. Divers enjoy the consistency of the same, good dive guide and chances are better for you to receive a tip from them for exceptional service.

15.Remember that your divers have usually come a long way to see what your dive area has to offer. Show them the best you have and make them happy they chose to come dive with you.

16. And above all, engage your own “happy diving attitude”. It’s good for your divers, your dive resort, and the dive industry as a whole.

 Thanks to all of our great dive staff on our recent adventure to Sorido Bay Resort, Kri Island, Raja Ampat, Indonesia.  You guys ROCK!

The gang on a surface interval

Natan- a top favorite dive master

James and Lius at the helm!

Annis, a driver who loves his boat,

Dive staff showing more than diving talent!


To Your Diving Adventures!



Loving on the fish books every evening!

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2 Responses to Responsibilities of the Dive Guide

  1. Julia February 27, 2012 at 4:52 pm #

    Hi Carin, love your post and blog! ps: We miss our furniture 😉

  2. Kandie Vactor February 25, 2012 at 9:11 pm #

    Hey Carin —
    Thanks for the great article. These are the things that make or break a trip, and most people don’t talk about. I will share this with the people we are training to be good — make that great — dive guides! I always appreciate your sharing of your considerable knowledge and experience.

    You and Ridlon are still our heroes!

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