Guest Post by Beyond Blighty’s Arianwen Morris
Starting your Divemaster course is a daunting prospect. Anything that takes over one month to complete is a commitment, and you could easily be scared off by the long list of requirements outlined in your initial paperwork.
The good news is that PADI has designed the course so that you can take it at your own pace. There’s no time limitation other than the one you set for yourself and, as time goes on, you’ll soon feel like you’re on top of things.
The course itself can be broken down into different specific skills. Let’s take a look at them:
It’s a good idea to get started on the theory as soon as possible. Not only does it give you a much better understanding of the physiology of diving and inner workings of your gear, but it provides a useful introduction to your future role as a qualified divemaster.
The first few chapters are straightforward and form the basis of your first multiple choice exam. They cover topics such as assisting on courses and guiding, which will be a big part of your training, as well as how you might use your new qualification as a dive professional.
The second exam is more challenging, as it delves deeper into the physics behind diving conditions; the relationships between depth, density, pressure and temperature; and the science behind dive computer algorithms. However, even if these concepts may seem complicated at first, with sufficient revision, you shouldn’t have any problems passing exam number 2.
2. BRIEFING & GUIDING
As a qualified divemaster, one of your principal responsibilities will be to guide dives. To be able to do this well, you need to understand the reasons behind safe diving practices and to apply good judgement to a variety of situations. These skills come with practice, which is why the course requires you to have at least 60 logged dives by the time you complete it.
Being an excellent guide involves a whole array of skills you may never have considered before. It starts with arranging rental gear for customers and ensuring that it’s all on board along with the day’s refreshments and emergency equipment. You need to be personable when customers arrive, asking questions about their experience that will help you judge how much supervision they may require and which dive sites are most appropriate for them. On the boat, you’ll have to give boat and dive site-specific briefings, and be available to answer any questions. In the morning, before leaving the dive centre, you should already have checked tide prediction websites, but you may also need to investigate the currents before your group enters the water. When you’re on the dive, you’ll need to choose the best course, look out for fascinating marine life, watch out for potential problems, check air and no decompression limits, and make informed decisions on when to level up and ascend. Finally, back at the dive centre, you’ll need to debrief customers, help them fill out their log books and identify marine life, and try to encourage them to sign up for more!
3. COURSE ASSISTANCE
Aside from guiding, another large chunk of a divemaster’s time is spent assisting instructors on courses. During your divemaster training, you will need to help out with at least one each of the following:
Discover Scuba Diving, Open Water, Advanced and Rescue. Your job might be to prepare gear, to fetch or carry props, to help demonstrate skills, or to supervise part of the group while your instructor focuses their attention on one student. During the Rescue course, you’ll also be called upon to act like a victim, which can be quite testing for your stamina as well as your acting skills!
It’s a good idea to ask for regular feedback after each session, as it can often be difficult to judge when intervention is required and when a student should be allowed to figure things out for themselves. As you become more familiar with each dive site – as well as the theory behind good judgement calls – you’ll be better able to make these decisions.
4. STAMINA TESTS
Since your status as a divemaster may one day require you to deal with emergency scenarios in the water, it’s important that you’re able to demonstrate a good level of fitness and the ability to stay in control when the pressure is on. For this reason, PADI requires you to complete five stamina tests in the water. These include a 15-minute tread, a 100m tow, a 400m swim without gear, an 800m snorkel swim, and an equipment exchange.
The tow and swims are timed. The faster you complete them, the higher your score marks are. Even if you have a good level of fitness, these tests are quite challenging, so it’s a good idea to practise them. It will surprise you how quickly you get out of breath when breathing through the dead air space of a snorkel!
The equipment exchange involves switching your mask, fins, weight belt and BCD with another diver while sharing one regulator. While you’d obviously never be required to do this on a dive, it’s a great test of how you deal with unfamiliar stressful situations. If any aspect of it frightens you, such as removing your regulator or mask, it’s a good idea to talk it through with your instructor and practise during the earlier weeks of your course.
5. CONFINED WATER SKILLS
The aim of the confined water skills is to equip you better with the skills you’ll need to assist on courses. Early on in your training, you’ll have to show that you can demonstrate 20 Open Water skills and four Skin Diver skills to ‘demonstration quality’. You’ll have to perform them slowly with exaggerated movements in a particular sequence that will make it easier for students to copy.
The skills demonstrations set you in good stead for going through Scuba Reviews with certified divers who’ve been out of the water for one year or more. As part of your course, you may be asked to lead a Scuba Review under the supervision of your instructor, or they may act out the role of a student.
The role play scenario is also useful as you run through the requirements of teaching Discover Scuba Diving theory and skills, as well as the Skin Diver course.
While guiding dives, it might be possible that you’ll encounter different scenarios that are less common and, for that reason, PADI requires you to practise them.
While you may well have recently completed your Rescue course, you’ll need to be able to demonstrate that you’re still competent at surfacing an unresponsive diver, towing them to the boat while removing their equipment and administering rescue breaths, and bringing them from the water. It’s an exhausting skill, but one you’ll be very glad you perfected if you ever find yourself needing to apply it to a real-life situation.
With deeper diving comes greater risk. Divers use their air faster, approach their no-decompression limits in a shorter amount of time, and are more susceptible to gas narcosis. Your instructor will ask you to consider whether or not a deep dive is appropriate for the level of experience of your group, before asking you to guide a dive. It will be your responsibility to check everyone’s air and computer limits, and to make good judgement calls on when to shallow up and end the dive. You may also be asked to re-demonstrate your compass skills while at depth.
SEARCH AND RECOVERY
It’s unlikely you will have had many opportunities to practise search patterns aside from on your Rescue course. This scenario allows you to refresh your skills. In addition to performing U-shape searches and expanding squares, you’ll be shown how to tie a variety of knots before using a lift bag to bring a heavy item safely to the surface.
A final requirement of the Divemaster course is to work on two personal projects: mapping a dive site of your choice, and preparing an emergency assistance plan.
You should make headway with the mapping project as soon as you get the chance! It’s a good idea to choose a dive site that you visit regularly and feel you’re getting to know quite well. It also pays to pick one that will look good on paper. Think about its shape and what marine life you see there, as well as any permanent points of interest such as mooring lines.
Gather as much information as you can, such as distances, compass bearings and features that might assist with navigation, before plotting it all onto an A3 sheet of paper. Of course, the primary goal is to show, you can record details accurately and produce a map that would be of use to someone unfamiliar with the site, but it doesn’t hurt to add some artistic flair. The break from the constant assessment is also quite therapeutic.
EMERGENCY ASSISTANCE PLAN
The idea of the emergency assistance plan is to show you have understood the information required to assist anyone involved in an emergency situation at one of your local dive sites. Your job is to collate useful contact details (dive centre staff, boat captains, hospitals, transport providers, search and rescue teams and DAN support lines). You can also have some tips for dealing with the most likely scenarios such as missing divers, cuts, bites and stings caused by marine life, or air expansion injuries. You may also include a script for use when calling emergency medical services. An emergency assistance plan should take up only a couple of sides of A4 and be easy to navigate.
WHY SHOULD YOU DO IT?
The reasons why people do their Divemaster course vary. Some people want a career as a professional diver, so it’s becoming a necessity for them. Others only want to improve their confidence while enjoying unlimited diving for a month or two!
Whatever your reasons, it’s important to consider what you will personally gain from the course. It’s a big waste of time and money if you approach it with the wrong attitude. You need to be fully committed to learning, accepting constructive criticism and working long shifts.
For these reasons, make sure you choose a dive school that’s right for you. While currents – for some people – are exciting, for others they’re scary. You may find macro diving fascinating, or you might prefer to seek out larger creatures in a coral bed. Will you be visiting the same few sites over and over, or is there enough variety to keep you intrigued? Think about the instructors, who you’ll be spending the majority of your time with. Do you get on well with them and do their approach to teaching complement is your learning style? Does the local area offer a pleasant living environment? Will you have your desired level of social interaction? Are there opportunities to explore the region, and does the school offer you the flexibility to do so? Is the dive centre well equipped, and does it follow safe diving practices and care for the environment?
There’s a lot to consider, but one thing’s for certain. You can’t go far wrong with Blue Marlin Komodo!
For more tips on adventure activities around the world, as well as diving inspiration, check out her website Beyond Blighty.