Since my travels well and truly kicked off in July and I arrived in Roatan, Honduras, I’ve had a lot of emails and questions asking about what day-to-day life looks like for me. I’ve tempted you with pictures from beneath the ocean and stories from my romps and japers above sea-level. I’ve told the tales of my more ‘blog-worthy experiences’, and shared tit-bits of my activities in my monthly round-ups, but I’ll hold my hands up to the fact that accounts of my ‘normal’ daily doings have been somewhat scant. So please allow me to remedy that now.
I’m training to become a PADI divemaster, the first rung of the professional ladder which allows you to work in the diving industry. Anyone who’s dipped their toe into the ocean and caught the diving bug after their Open Water certification will probably have heard of the divemaster – an intensive course spread out over a minimum of four weeks that refines your dive skills, teaches you the skills to go on to instruct, and almost guarantees to have you in the water every day. It’s a tempting prospect to hundreds of travellers the world over, but amongst all the marketing and PADI-hype it’s not always easy to work out exactly what a day in the life of a divemaster in training (a DMT to those in the know) looks like.
Until now. I’ve held off writing this post until I’ve neared the very end of my DMT programme as the nature of the course inevitably changes and evolves over its duration, but with 10 weeks under my belt, I can paint you a detailed picture of a day in my world…
A day in the life of a divemaster in training at Coconut Tree Divers
8am – the day begins.
A short stroll from our apartment down the still sleepy road of West End takes me to the shop where fresh coffee awaits. My passionate aversion to coffee means that I’d sooner drink from the toilet than subject myself to a cup of hot Joe, but it’s nonetheless a nice opportunity to say your good-mornings and catch up on any gossip from the night before. We also use this time to get the equipment ready for the morning dives – tanks, spare equipment, emergency O2 and a medicine kit are checked and taken down to the boats. Customers start to trickle in from about 8:30 onwards, and they’re always keen for a chat and a laugh as you help them get set up and ready to go.
9am – 12:30 – “AMs”
The boat leaves at 9am sharp, laden with divers. The morning boat stays out for two dives and usually goes to some of the further afield sites and, therefore, the AM shift is a coveted one. Arriving at the dive site, the DMT ties up to the mooring and helps the instructor get all customers on board ready to get in the water. For the first couple of weeks of training, the emphasis is on watching how the instructors lead the dives – listening to their briefings, watching how they lead the group, learning how to manage problems – as all DMTs are required to have led at least 5 dives themselves by the end of the course.
Coconut Tree are famed for their long, varied dives – we don’t always visit the same old sites, and we stay down for as long as the group’s air-consumption allows. That means you’ll usually get a good 60 minutes out of each dive, with a relaxing surface interval soaking up the sun in between. By the time lunchtime comes around, you’ll have two more dives to add to your logbook and a grin on your face as the boat chugs home.
For those DMTs who aren’t on AMs, the mornings are spent in the shop. During the first month, the majority of your time is taken up with the academics – reading the divemaster manual and preparing for the exams – or practicing your skills in confined water. There’s usually tanks to be filled and jobs to be done, and the DMTs are expected to help out with the smooth running of the shop.
Once the academics are under your belt, you start to get involved in assisting on courses. To pass the divemaster programme you need to assist on at least one Open Water, two ‘continuing education’ courses (Advanced, Rescue or Specialties) and one Discover Scuba Dive. This involves working with the instructor while they lead the training, and assisting them wherever possible. This might be kitting up a large group with fins, masks and BCDs while the shop processes their paper work, or helping a student underwater by practicing a particularly troublesome skill while the instructor works with the rest of the group, but whatever you’re doing, you won’t be bored!
1pm – 4pm – “PMs”
The PM shift follows a similar pattern to the AMs, with the major difference being that the boat comes back between the two dives. This allows for more customers to jump on the 2:30 boat, or for earlier customers to get off if they only fancy the one dive. The DMT’s role is exactly the same on the afternoon boat – helping the customers set up, assisting the instructor and trailing the back of the group to spot for problems. Whilst in the water, the DMT is an extra pair of eyes for the instructor. Sometimes this means spotting issues before the instructor’s had a chance, and jumping in to resolve them. Over the last ten weeks I’ve had everything from lost fins, flooded masks, nose bleeds and cramp, to levelling out panicked divers trying to shoot to the surface from 80 feet. The opportunity to actively assist during real dives is an invaluable experience which has made me a far better diver as a result. While the Rescue course teaches you how to respond to problems in theory, it’s only when you’re faced with a real problem that your reactions are tested.
The afternoon boat is often dominated by customers taking courses – once the academics and confined water skills have been completed in the morning, the afternoon is their first opportunity to jump in the open water. If you’re assisting, this means helping with the open water skills, keeping an eye on nervous divers and making sure the customers are having a good time. My favourite assist was on a Rescue course where I was asked to play the role of ‘hellish customer’ – I spent the two dives getting myself into every conceivable problem underwater while the student chased round after me, remedying my many mistakes before things escalated into an emergency. I’ve always been a bit of a drama queen and saw this as an opportunity to go “method”, screaming bloody murder at the surface pretending I was getting mauled by a shark until I was rescued. All in a day’s work for a DMT.
4pm – 5pm – beer o’clock
Once the last boat comes in, it’s all hands on deck to get equipment put away and the shop ready to shut up. The unwritten rule – “no beer until everything’s tidied away” – means that things are whisked away in record time. Staff and customers alike descend on the beer fridge like hyenas on a gazelle, and the chatter and laughter from the deck is punctuated only by the ‘phhrrrp’ of a cold can being cracked open. It’s a great way to round off the day and is typical of Coconut Tree’s attitude towards socialising – laid back, inclusive and alcoholic.
I finish this post with a caveat. This is what a day in my life looks like, but other shops will inevitably run things differently. One of best things about Coconut Tree is that they put a lot of trust in their DMTs and allow them to get fully stuck in to the day-to-day runnings of the shop. You’re treated as part of the team and given your fair share of responsibilities. It’s hard work at times, especially when the shop is busy and the boats are full, but getting stuck in and pulling your weight earns you the respect of your peers. I loved that I was able to be an integral part of the team – I wasn’t fobbed off with menial jobs or given fake scenarios to work from; I knuckled down like the rest of them and learned so much more as a result.
One of the best things about doing your divemaster is that ‘normal’ becomes an alien concept. Whilst the framework of my duties remains the same week in, week out, no two days have been the same. The revolving door that is the dive shop I work for sees hundreds of customers coming in and out every month, each with their own distinct requirements, foibles, anxieties and high-points. With them comes a veritable smorgasbord of personalities and quirks which is what, ultimately, makes this such an excellent way to spend three months: new faces, new people, new experiences and whole lot of variety. With a day-to-day as varied as this, I know I won’t be hurrying back to a desk job any time soon.