If you’re anything like me, a dive junkie, you dream of turning your love of diving into a career. Last Spring and Summer, I put that dream into motion by signing up for my Divemaster course and finally (after almost a year of dragging my fins so to speak), completing it!
I had already completed some level of my own personal training, but for me, completing my Divemaster was a big deal because it has put me on the professional track. It’s different now because every time I’m out on and in the water, I know that I have to conduct myself differently – as a dive professional (not to mention that now I’m fantasizing about retiring somewhere warm and diving out the rest of my days ;)). If you’re considering parlaying your love for diving into a career, here are some tips that helped me successfully get through my Divemaster internship. I hope they help you too:
1. Work with a dive shop you love (or at least feel confident in). I love my dive shop. I love the people at my dive shop. I loved the staff and their training methods right from day one (day one being – signing up for my Advanced Open Water course as I did my Open Water at another shop). I respect the people at my dive shop. This may seem obvious but it’s not. Why does this matter? It makes a difference because as a DMT (Divemaster Trainee) you are essentially running around anticipating the staff’s needs at the pool, in the classroom and at the dive site. It’s human nature to want to do your best for people you actually like and with people whose company you enjoy. That camaraderie that diving brings out is made even more rewarding when you’re learning from people you like and respect.
Also, if you choose a dive shop whose dive and training philosophy you agree with and you mirror, it will make for much smoother sailing. For instance, my dive shop teaches in a backplate and wing right from the open water level. Most shops do not. We all dive the same way, in the same gear, adhering to the same philosophy. I’m not saying this so that you drink whatever Kool Aid your dive shop is serving up (it’s good to be familiar with and know different types of gear or kits) – it’s just so that you are comfortable with the way your shop teaches, with the gear they dive in and are aptly able to demonstrate that with your own diving.
2. Make sure your own diving is top notch. This is not intended to knock the training of other dive shops or other agencies and I’m only speaking from my own experience, but I do feel that if you’re going to work towards becoming a dive professional, your diving should be professional quality. That is – you should have a certain comfort level and competence in the water in addition to having some experiences from which to draw upon to help with situations that may arise. When I spoke to my main instructor about wanting to become a divemaster, I asked him if I should pursue that first, or do my own technical training first. He suggested doing my technical training first. He argued two points as to why: a) I might be less likely to continue progressing and making time for my own dive training once I entered the professional track because I would be busy with said professional track and b) by continuing to advance my own training and diving first, those skills could only benefit me as a divemaster.
So I did more training. I got my tech 1 certification and continue to do dives at that level. I got my cave diving certification and try at least three times a year to head down somewhere to get my cave dives in and maintain those skills with wreck penetration dives up here. I’m not saying I’m an expert diver – far from it. I’m just at the beginning. I learn something new with each dive and I’m still doing courses as I gain more experience and want more challenges. All I’m saying is that doing that type of training and diving has actually helped me maintain my calm and composure in other settings – both in diving and even in my professional career.
The first time I helped with a class doing their open water certification dives, I thought it was more stressful than cave diving in some cases – watching where every student was in the water, keeping an eye on anyone having problems, anticipating problems – and I think my own personal dive training helped with being task loaded and problem solving in the water. Also – it’s hard to be credible with students and talk the talk if you can’t walk the walk. They will emulate who they learn from – their divemaster and their instructors. So be a good diver for them to role model and make sure your diving skills are worth emulating.
3. Empathize. This was huge for me. I saw myself in a lot of the students I got to know last summer. I saw some of them struggle and I remembered my own learning experiences at the open water level. I have no problem sharing my own experiences as a diver who struggled when I first started learning to dive. I was called the “slow kid in the class” by my open water instructor and that stuck with me and made me want to be better! Admittedly though, when I was first learning to dive, if my mask flooded with water – forget about it!! Game over!! It was through sharing my own stories and how I overcame some challenges or little things I developed for myself to remember certain things, that I was able to connect with some students and help ease them through their own worries. Diving may be second nature to you now but remember that for a student learning to breathe through a regulator for the first time, remembering to equalize, wondering why that little button is making them go up instead of down, etc. – this is all new to them. Be sympathetic to that and make that learning experience memorable for them by being supportive and sharing your own experiences. Everyone has to start somewhere. Plus, it’ll remind you of how far you’ve come in your own diving 😉
4. Stay on top of your checklist. During your internship you’ll be required to check off a series of skills and dives both in confined water (pool) and in the open water. My dive shop required a few extras as well – just because. Make sure you check off each task and get the date and signature for each item as you progress. It’s time consuming later on when you have to go back in your records and in your calendar to find dates, locations and other logistics for those tasks. Do yourself a favour and stay on top of it.
5. Remember, you’re a DMT – a divemaster in training – NOT a divemaster. During your internship, don’t forget that you’re still in training. You aren’t yet a divemaster until your dive shop and your certifying agency says you are. DO NOT misrepresent yourself. You’d be surprised at how some candidates actually forget this – which leads me to my next tip.
6. Leave your ego at the door. Seriously. It doesn’t matter how many dives you’ve logged. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been diving. It doesn’t matter where you’ve been diving all over the world. Leave your ego at the door. You are essentially at the bottom of the professional ladder in diving when you start as a divemaster in training. Get over yourself. Not only is it aggravating and annoying if you come to class as a know-it-all, it also prevents you from receiving the benefit of knowledge and experience from the instructors you’re working with. Also, you are not a demigod with the students. Again, get over yourself. You are there to help them, not to be idolized by them. Remember, it’s not about you – it’s about the needs of the student and of the instructor.
7. Pack a save-a-dive/tool kit. As a diver, you may have had other people – like the divemaster – save you when you had gear issues. Now that you’ll be the divemaster that role falls to you! My save-a-dive-kit also doubles as a toolkit. You should have:
- an adjustable wrench for quick repairs or adjustments to loose hoses
- an O-ring kit (absolutely essential)
- a spare mask strap (a student’s new Costco mask purchase broke on day one at the pool and a spare mask strap came in handy)
- a spare fin strap and buckle
- a spare regulator mouthpiece (nervous or stressed students sure do chew on those things)
- zip ties for securing loose thingies (zip ties are beyond awesome)
- allen keys or a multi-use dive tool that includes hex wrenches
- a cutting tool like a z-knife
- a brass o-ring picks for removing old o-rings, cave line for securing various clips and accessories
- a lighter to clean up frayed lines and webbing
- a spare pencil or two for dive slates and wet notes
- a DIN to yoke adaptor or vice versa
- some spare double enders or bolt snaps to keep hoses and gear tidy and stowed
- and a small container of silicone lubricant for greasing up parts that need greasing
These are just the essentials to start with! Diving is a gear intensive sport so keep these essentials on hand to save your gear and save your dives. I can guarantee you that in the course of your DM training, you will need a save-a-dive/tool kit if you don’t already have one.
8. Budget for the dives. Just as with any course you take, there are course costs – in addition to the cost of the books, slates and the course itself, you’ll be required to conduct some dives as part of your checklist. Budget for those dives which will happen over the span of your internship. There are boat dives, so charter fees will be necessary. There are dive sites you’ll need to get to and pay entrance fees into in some cases. There may be dive trips you’ll need to sign up for in order to complete certain tasks. Plan for that. If you sign up with one of those shops down south to do your divemaster training, they’ll be set up differently but up here in the great white north, you’ll need to spread out your internship across several types of dives in different locations so don’t forget to allocate funds for that.
9. Come prepared. You’re only going to get the most out of each class session/pool session/OW session if you come prepared. I admit I am not the most organized person but doing the readings in advance helps when you’re trying to problem-solve or explain things to students. It’s not just about doing the readings so that you can hand in your knowledge reviews, that information will come up when you’re with students who will be asking lots of questions all the time. You’re a source of knowledge for them so instead of doing it half ass, do it whole ass! Just joking – you know what I mean. Take it seriously. Just because this is diving and it’s fun, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take it seriously. If you’re doing your divemaster then it’s no longer just going to be a hobby for you, remember, this is a professional level designation you’re working towards now. If you were an accountant wanting to up your professional designation, you wouldn’t dream of writing whatever exams were required without putting in the time to do the background homework and readings. Take it seriously.
10. Use the internet – WITH CAUTION. You can do your research online for certain aspects of your training such as dive site characteristics or your mapping project. This is not to say go onto the scuba boards for information because quite frankly, there are a lot of haters and internet-know-it-alls on those boards who will try and influence you and your thinking (says the person writing a blog post about how to successfully become a divemaster). Use your own head. Use your own judgement. Use the internet for good, not evil. In my case, I used it to research how best to put together my mapping project. I looked at a bunch of examples I found online and took aspects of what I thought were the best from each and applied it to my project. I was quite happy with the results.
Your mapping project is intended to teach you how to scope out a dive site and take the types of measurements and readings that will help you put together a map for briefing purposes. It’s not intended to be a nautically correct map for publishing in National Geographic magazine. It’s intended to help brief divers on a dive site’s characteristics, qualities and landmarks so make it fun, make it relevant and make it memorable so that they remember the info! Your instructor will give you tips but cruise around on the internet to see what others have done and use that as a starting point for your own.
11. Take courses to supplement and complement your Divemaster course. I’m not a technically minded person and reading about how the gear worked was like trying to understand the cyrillic alphabet. I am a visual or hands on learner so I took the Equipment Specialist course. It helped me really understand the equipment portion of the Divemaster role and exam – in particular when we opened up the different pieces of gear and looked inside. Being knowledgeable about how your gear works is one aspect of being a Divemaster – especially when problem-solving gear issues or trying to save a dive with gear fixes. Depending on your diving experience, there are other courses that may also enhance your Divemaster experience such as:
- Deep Diver Specialty – If you don’t have tonnes of experience doing deeper dives, take the Deep Diver Specialty to gain some experience – in particular how to set up the Deep diving skills for a Deep Diver course as a DM.
- Nitrox – to be able to do longer dives and for some (like myself), having greater endurance in the water and more energy after a day of diving with students as a long day of diving can be physically taxing on the body.
- Search and Recovery – this is a series of two dives you’ll have to plan based on two scenarios you’re given by your instructor. You’ll need to know the different types of search patterns, measuring distance underwater, directional compass headings and also your rescue skills.
You may also want to consider sitting through a refresher course. For example, if you’re not up to date on rescue diving, sit through another rescue class. You will be evaluated on your ability to do a full rescue, gear removal of you and your buddy while giving rescue breaths, followed by the evacuation out of the water. By sitting through a course such as the rescue course, you keep your rescue techniques and skills sharp.
If you’re already a technical diver, you’ve already exceeded the skills and techniques of some of these more recreational specialties, consider implementing more advanced concepts and equipment to continue to develop your expanding skill sets. Regardless of your level of training before becoming a Divemaster, the point is – there is always something to learn and something to continually expand upon and additional training which can only add value to your overall Divemaster training and role.
12. Be early. Those who know me will know I’m notoriously late for things all the time but this is exactly why I’m sharing this with you 🙂 It will save you time and stress. Be early for each and every one of your dives/classes. By being early, you can set up your gear in advance. You can partially gear up in advance. Besides just being better organized – you will be prepared for all the help your students will need by getting your needs out of the way first. You will have time to coordinate with your instructor before students start arriving and you’ll both be on the same page for the flow of the day and for each required activity or task. Your needs will typically come last so get ahead of the game and be early and get prepped early for each dive. As part of your checklist, you’ll be required to coordinate a dive which means you MUST be there early to sign all divers in and ensure they are all briefed properly before entering the water. So bring your A-game and be early!
13. Bring food! Again those who know me will laugh at this. As a DMT you will be on site, at the pool or even in the classroom long before everyone arrives and long after the students are gone. You will have long days. You won’t have time to run out and grab snacks in the middle of your day so pack a cooler and bring snacks and sandwiches to keep you powered throughout the day. A thermos full of hot water and cup-of-soup makes for a great surface interval snack especially during cold days! Don’t get hangry!! Bring food!
14. Be a good role model. The PADI manual explicitly states this but you know something? This sounds cheesy at first, but this is very true. You are the person students will look to when they don’t feel comfortable talking to an instructor about something. Your actions and words can influence new students. Take care with that. Be a good role model in the way you interact with them, in the way you dive and in the way you conduct yourself. I’m not lecturing here. I’ve just seen how students can take on the habits of their Divemaster and instructor – for better or worse. Be mindful of that.
15. Make time for this internship. Most divemaster candidates underestimate how much time it takes to complete everything you need to for this internship. There are the readings you need to do in advance of the classroom sessions, the classroom sessions to review all the topics covered in the DM manual and the encyclopedia, the pool swimming tests, the demonstration of skills in the pool, the requisite number of classes to work through from open water to advanced you need to participate in, the additional dives including the deep dives and search and recovery dives, the dive briefings, studying for the exam, the physical, the mapping exercise which takes several dives to complete and more……that’s a lot to cover off.
Make sure you go into it with a realistic sense of how much time you’ll need to put in. Review that checklist in advance and discuss it with your instructor so you know what’s expected roughly for each task and how much time each will take. Your dive shop should have a schedule of when all the courses are happening; when there is pool time and when the open water dives are scheduled. Plan for those dates. There are multiple opportunities to complete your checklist but you need to realistically MAKE the time to do so. Chances are you’re doing this while working at a full-time job or some other time commitments so plan for your internship accordingly.
16. Remember that success is not guaranteed. I know I told you this post is about how to successfully get through an internship but nothing is guaranteed. You have to perform. If you don’t, you don’t pass. It’s that simple. If you need to work at something, then work at it. If it means extra time in the pool or extra dives, then do it. Practice makes perfect. Learning never stops. Master any skills you need to. Use your instructors to help you get there. They want you to succeed as much as you do but any dive shop worth their salt will not hand you that card – you have to earn it. If this program were at a college or university, you wouldn’t expect to be handed a degree or diploma simply because you’d paid for the course. You have to earn it. So work for it.
If you’ve enrolled in a Divemaster course, chances are you love diving. You probably dive during much of your free time outside of work and other commitments because it is a passion. So give it your all but really put the time and effort in and go into it with the right mindset to succeed and work for it. It will be incredibly rewarding and one of the most fun things you’ll likely do in diving. You’ll meet some great people and hopefully keep pushing yourself to learn more with each dive and with each dive season. Keep your skills sharp. Keep training.
If you have other tips, please share them here or drop me a line and let me know how your Divemaster training went!