WHAT’S IT LIKE…working as a Divemaster on the Night Manta Ray dive in Hawaii?
Amazing! In one word, amazing.
Every night in Kona, Hawaii there is a fantastic opportunity to scuba dive with coastal manta rays feeding. It is an incredibly unique dive, where over 15 dive boats show up to the same spot every night to coordinate for a large group experience, putting divers in the water to sit in a circle and observe one of nature’s miracles.
When all goes according to plan, the Divemaster finds a big spot of sand that is coral-free, sits down all seven of their divers and reminds them to point their flashlights up and wait. The light attracts tiny organisms called plankton–it is the same idea of gnats being drawn to a porch light in the summer. This plankton builds up and the mantas show up to eat it. The manta ray is a harmless ocean giant that grows up to 16 feet across and weighs about 100 pounds per foot of wingspan. When these pterodactyls of the sea show up to eat, it is an awe inspiring ballet as they twist, spin, and barrel roll to get the most food in one pass, all within less than an inch of the divers head. The fun doesn’t end there, these fish don’t usually show up solo, often having 10 to 20 mantas in one site at one time with the record being 46 at once!
The work on these dive boats is pretty straight forward and easy to understand. It is a great job that should always be done professionally but in the spirit of fun. In the Kona area, a Divemaster certification is the common requirement to be eligible to lead the Night Manta dive.
On a typical day, set up for the charter starts about two hours before the boat launches. The crew of two or three collect scuba gear for the guests and load all the tanks. All of this equipment is driven to the harbor and transferred onto one of the boats. Guests are greeted and helped onboard, then the adventure shoves off. As soon as the boat is underway, the Divemaster’s job is the comfort, safety, and entertainment of the guests on-board. When the party arrives at the dive site, the Divemaster starts to give detailed briefings about the life and conservation of mantas as well as the dive itself. This dive attracts a lot of newer divers, so guests are also given dive refreshers at this time.
When everyone is ready they are helped off the boat, into the ocean and lead to a sandy patch on the bottom to sit and observe the mantas feed. About an hour later, the Divemaster signals the stunned audience to start their ascent to the surface, get back on the boat, and the Captain heads for home. The ride back is spent hearing each guest’s own version of the magic they just witnessed. As the boat docks, everyone says friendly goodbyes and the crew heads back to the shop to clean and put away gear.
Positives: The opportunity to be Divemaster on Night Manta Ray dive can be fun from start to finish and I was lucky to get to participate in it on a nightly basis. For many divers this is a chance to go on an once-in-a-lifetime dive and I got paid to do it five to six times a week. This was the perfect opportunity to play in the water every night, work on boats, and show different people the magic of the ocean. There is no better way to inspire people to conserve the delicate balance in the ocean than to get them up close and personal with one of the most awe-inspiring creatures in it.
On a smooth night, all the Divemaster has to do is place divers on the sand, check on their air supply every few minutes, sit back and enjoy the show. In good sea conditions with calm divers, being a Divemaster on the night Manta Ray dive is a pretty great gig.
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Another great bonus to being a Divemaster with the manta rays on a nightly basis is the chance to show people the beauty and magnificence of the ocean. By getting them up close and personal with the fish, they can see first-hand how great manta rays are and how important the underwater ecosystem is. Getting people involved in the ocean is the first step in protecting it and the best way to get people involved is through sustainable and eco-friendly tourism that minimizes the impact on the animals. By working as a Divemaster on the night Manta Ray dive, you are afforded a nightly opportunity to educate guests about the sea and the mantas while working with a FANTASTIC organization, Manta Ray Advocates of Hawaii, whose main goal is protection of the mantas!!! This organization strives to protect the mantas while promoting safe viewing opportunities. If you choose to work with or just dive with the mantas, check with them first to see which dive operations are on their GREEN list!!
Negatives: Conditions and circumstances can make this job challenging more often than on day dives.
Since the Manta Ray Night Dive is a draw to people from all over the world, it also means this attracts ALL levels of divers. It can be the Master Scuba Diver Trainer from Australia with thousands of dives and a decade of experience, but it can also be a man from Ohio who has never seen the ocean, can’t swim well, and was certified to scuba dive just to go on this excursion. It is common for all experience levels to get grouped together on this type of dive.
Night Manta is not an easy dive. It is a night dive in 30 to 40 feet of water with GIANT fish and, in the winter months, some pretty wicked underwater surge, kicking up sand and reducing visibility to much lower than some find comfortable. If there is one uneasy or panicked diver in the group of seven, the dive becomes a tactical challenge in a hurry and can be the kind of night a Divemaster draws on for years to come to say, “eh, I’ve seen worse.”
And rough sea conditions don’t end when you are back on the boat, in fact this can be worse. The rolling and tossing of the waves has a fun effect on those unaccustomed to the motion and causes random release of bodily fluids. In rough winter conditions, it is not uncommon to have to clean vomit out of regulators, wetsuits, towels and off the boat each night. Without getting graphic, vomit is not the worst bodily fluid that needs cleaned up and occasionally I found myself washing more than just liquid out of wetsuits. Number One Rule: ALWAYS remember to wash your hands after work!
Housing, Transportation and Pay:
Housing and transportation are never supplied. The dive shop may have leads on places to live but you are on your own to actually find it and pay for it. Same goes for transportation. Once you are at work, however, the rides to and from the harbor are just part of the job. The pay is enough to live in Hawaii if you work full-time and share accommodation. Your bills can be low if you live near the shop, but a lot of Divemasters have two jobs, working part-time days somewhere else.
How Did You Find It?
This one was done the old-fashioned way, going from dive shop to dive shop and asking to talk to a manager about a job. First step is to move to Kona on the Big Island of Hawaii. I moved there with little boat experience, but I decided to take advantage of living in Hawaii and do a job in the water. I went to nearly every dive company in Kona and dropped my resume and then I was VERY persistent with call backs. With a few dives and a great love for the water, I got lucky to find Big Island Divers because they would hire a person as a Snorkel Guide and train them to be a Divemaster. I was set. It was Great to learn from a company that had amazing Trip Adviser reviews and employed so many experienced Dive Instructors to learn from.
When I was finally hired, the manager that hired me said, “You have very few skills we need but you kept calling back even when I stopped returning your calls. I liked that and I decided to take a chance on you.” So if you think working with huge fish underwater at night is your new passion, hand out your resumes in Kona, Hawaii and never stop calling back. And to that Manager who took the chance, thank you! Thank you because it was the start of a whole new direction in life for me that never would have happened if you wouldn’t have taken that chance!
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Disclaimer: All opinions in this article are my own and do not express the opinions of others or my employer. Also, this is an article about my experience working for one employer and will probably vary for others during different times, with different people and with different companies. Use your head.