10 Ways to Survive the Divemaster course

As I near the end of my Divemaster education with Crystal Divers in Bali, I realised I’ve learned a lot more than just meeting the requirements set out by PADI. Becoming a Divemaster takes a certain amount of thick skin and resolve, even though it’s a given that you’ll have fun along the way.

If you’re thinking about going pro and turning your love of the ocean into something deeper, take a look at my top 10 survival tips… They’re based on my experience and I’m sure you’ll be able to add to the list if you’re already a dive pro or in the middle of the course yourself!

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Divemaster life… Silly posing mandatory. Always.

1. Have fun.

Hopefully, this one will come naturally (that’s why you’re doing it, right?), because you learn more and remember more if you’re having fun. So enjoy the course and you’ll get the most out of it. Plus, the dive industry is a social one; if you’ve got a monk on, the customers won’t have a good time, which is bad for business. Unhappy face from the boss. Have a beer and chat nonsense after a long day’s diving and the guests will be asking to dive with you again.

2. Don’t take criticism to heart (too much).

This is true of any job, but diving involves risk – both to yourself and, as a Divemaster, to others – so sometimes you may get flak from an instructor if you made a mistake. But if you messed up one day, it’s their duty to pull you up, because they care and they don’t want anyone to get hurt. Don’t dwell. Take it on the chin, learn the lesson and move on.

3. Forget the rank you held in your ‘normal’ job.

You may have been a manager, you may have commanded respect from your colleagues and have reached a position of authority in your workplace, but that counts for toffee when you assign yourself to the DM course. You’ve gone back to an entry-level position and you’ll know about it. You’ll be a bit of a skivvy sometimes and be expected to fetch and carry, set up other people’s equipment and be the dogsbody. But being part of a dive centre requires teamwork and just like anywhere else, you have to prove yourself to be accepted.

4. But remember it’s an education…

This is a learning experience that you pay a huge wedge of cash for, so choose your school wisely and know the difference between proving yourself as a worthy dive professional and just being free labour. You meet people who’ve left other dive centres because they didn’t learn anything and were just used to clean hotel rooms and mop bathroom floors. That is not what the DM course is about.

5. Get used to funky smells.

Damp neoprene and rash vests hum. I used to catch a whiff of my dive gear at the end of a holiday and gip, but when it becomes your life, you just have to get used to that stale saltwater tang permanently. By all means, give what you can a wash, but don’t expect fragrances of jasmine and ylang ylang to greet you for long.

6. Accept the bad hair days (every day)

Gone are the mornings where I’d get up and wash and dry my hair for work. Your hair will be a sodding mess, because it’s always tied up and tangled with seawater. Accept that this is a different lifestyle and enjoy not having to fuss about with hair and make-up. It’s liberating! But I do admit I’ll try to give my hair a good conditioning treatment as often as I can, because long term, the sun and sea will ravage it to split-ended shreds.

7.  Learn about the watery world.

Divers are united by a love of the ocean, whether that be reefs, wrecks, the deep and dark, big fish, little fish… So read up on what you find underwater and share it with those you go diving with. It’ll earn you respect and form bonds with your dive buddies.

8. Be an eco DMT.

If there’s nothing left of the ocean, there are no diving jobs. So take care of our big, blue heart and show others how to dive responsibly. That can mean good buoyancy, picking up trash, being careful around marine animals – and asking people not to touch or harass them (especially photographers, who may poke around to get a good shot) – as well as learning about how important the ocean is for human life. Only when people understand that our survival is linked to the ocean will people care and make positive changes.

9. Get involved.

Doing the DM course isn’t just about ticking off the boxes you need to fulfil to get your certification card. It’s about getting stuck in to everything going on at the dive centre. That could mean decorating for a party, going to talks related to diving or mucking in on Project Aware activities. And it’s not just about doing extracurricular activities for the sake of it – you become part of a dive family. *cue ‘Cheers’ soundtrack*

Frogging around the USAT Liberty wreck, Tulamben Bali

10. Respect the role.

A Divemaster’s job is admired, even though instructors get the glory of teaching people how to dive and therefore of opening up a whole new and exciting world. But you’ll often find that students come to you and have a quiet word about something they’re uncomfortable with or unsure of, because as a Divemaster, you’re the dog’s nuts: a) ‘Divemaster’ sounds cool and b) you’re not the teacher and so students feel they can confide in you.

Because new divers now look up to you – and because your role is to assist instructors – doing the DM course requires a huge amount of respect for the trust invested in you. Being a Divemaster Candidate is often associated with having a wild few weeks off work. It’s the perfect career break activity for people already in love with diving: you learn a lot, you go somewhere exciting and you meet fun people. However, it’s also a chance for people to revert to their teenage years.

Yep, I include myself in that bracket.

Instead of slaving away in an office all day, followed by a stinking commute, you’re plunged into a college-like environment, where you work hard and party hard. I did learn to watch the partying, because sadly, I’m not a teenager and I broke myself. But let’s not pretend that a few beers and dancing on the bar after a day’s diving isn’t fun…

What were your first experiences of going pro? I’d love to hear your pearls of wisdom…


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