Over the last month, I’ve been reminiscing about my time as a divemaster in training (DMT) by sharing the ins and outs of becoming a divemaster. I’ve recalled what a day in the life of a DMT looked like and I’ve spilled the beans about the nitty gritty of the course itself. Now I feel it’s only right to round off my nostalgic recaps by answering some of your questions.
My time on Roatan has been and gone and after 12 weeks of hard work, big laughs and good friends, I have emerged as a fully qualified divemaster. The three months I spent at Coconut Tree Divers were some of the most valuable of my life, and for anyone considering becoming a DMT, I would highly recommend it. However, I’m aware of just how much choice there is out there. Type ‘divemaster course’ into google and you’ll be inundated with literally thousands of different dive shops from all around the world, each touting their services and instruction as the best. From free internships to intensive ‘zero to hero’ courses, everywhere offers their own slightly different spin on PADI’s much-loved course. So in an attempt to help you wade through the minefield of information out there without losing your mind, I’ve laid out the what, where, who, why and how of becoming a divemaster.
PADI describes a divemaster as a “dive leader who mentors and motivates others” and, in essence, they’re right. A divemaster is basically the bridge between amateur and pro – you’ll be the best possible diver you can be after completing all the skills, scenarios and academics, but you’ll be at the bottom of the career ladder with a little further to go if you want to actually teach. The programme is designed to perfect your own skills whilst also giving you a taste of working in the industry – once certified, you’ll be able to assist instructors as well as lead certified divers independently.
You’d be surprised by how many of my friends and family still didn’t really have an idea of what a divemaster actually was until they read this blog. Perhaps it’s because we casually use the word ‘divemaster’ a little too loosely for the formal English language: “I’m doing my divemaster” is a phrase you’ll overhear at least 10 times a night in the bars of Roatan, but you’d never say “I’m doing my doctor” (or, if you did, you’d mean quite another thing altogether, and questions about doctor-patient relationships would be raised…) Or maybe it’s just because no one can really fathom that training to be a divemaster is actually work. But, prepare yourself, for work it is. The harder you work, the more you’ll get out of it and the better you’ll fit in.
For me, deciding where in the world to dive was a tough choice. The beauty of diving as hobby is that it takes you to some of the most stunning places this planet has to offer, but choosing exactly which one to settle for is like trying to pick your favourite Spice Girl – nearly impossible. But I suggest taking a two-pronged approach which might help you to whittle that long-list down.
First, decide on a few of places that you’ve always wanted to dive – and by ‘few’ I mean two or three, don’t make things harder than you have to. For me, Roatan made the list because of its legendary reef; divers wax lyrical about the clarity of the water, the diversity of marine life and the relaxed, sociable top-side vibe. But I also had a couple of other dream locations that I’d been lusting over – the Cook Islands and Borneo. Run a quick search for all three now, have a flick through the treasure trove of swoon-worthy photos, and I challenge you to pick one based on quality of diving alone. No, you’re going to need another factor to help you decide exactly which version of paradise you want to find yourself submerged in.
Enter the second prong – the dive centre itself. This might sound obvious, but I know many people who were tempted into shoddy divemaster training programmes based on the lure of pristine diving conditions. No matter how beautiful your dream destination is, it won’t be right unless you find a centre that suits you. Which brings me neatly to my next point…
I wrote a post during the early stages of my travel planning about how to choose the right dive shop and, having enjoyed exemplary training and world-class diving, I can say (with a smug little smile on my face) that my formula works pretty well. The most important thing when choosing your dive centre is finding the right fit for you. Whilst that’s easy enough to ascertain in person, most of us are limited to virtual meetings and conversations, which can make the process of getting a feel for somewhere feel a bit sterile.
Persistence is the key here – email, email and email again. You want to find out as much as you can about the centre before you make your decision: what does a normal day for their DMTs look like, how often will you get to dive, what size operation is it and how many other DMTs will be there at the same time as you? Make sure you ask about the diving in general, as well as the divemaster programme – do they have oxygen on their boats as standard, what are the conditions like for the time of year you’ll be there, what’s their boat like? Finally, probe a bit deeper and get a sense for atmosphere the shop projects – do they socialise outside of work and what kind of working environment can you expect?
Of course, you don’t have to ask all of this outright; a lot of answers lie on their Facebook page, on TripAdvisor, in the tone they use when they email back. It might sound pedantic to ask yourself so many questions before you even book, but you’ll be spending a lot of time and money there so you want to be sure your choice sits well with you.
I’ll give you an example. I was almost sold on one particular shop. I’d got myself so hyped up about the diving that I didn’t think to stop and think about the centre itself. I was all set to plough ahead, credit card in hand so I typed out an enthusiastic email and waited for the reply. And when it came, I tried my best to ignore the bad feeling I had in the pit of my stomach – so what if it was a little curt, a little rude even, the diving was going to be incredible and photos never lie right?! As if to convince myself, I typed the name into Google, primed and ready to start oggling at a screen filled with turquoise waters, schools of hammerheads, and whalesharks. But something caught my eye – lurking in the middle of the search results was a forum post which had sparked a lot of discussion, primarily about the sexist owner. People had joined together to vent about their experience of doing their divemaster with someone so rude, unpleasant and disrespectful. Within minutes, I’d redirected my search elsewhere. Had I not stumbled across that thread, had I proceeded to ignore my instinct, this would have been a very different blog post.
Fortunately, there’s a really simple solution – do your research and trust your gut. For me, Coconut Tree just felt ‘right’; a small(ish) but busy, lively shop with an emphasis on training and safety and a stellar reputation. It turned out to be the perfect balance between hard work and great fun, and suited me to a tee.
If you have the option of meeting with a range of shops before you make your choice, this is probably a quicker and easier way of getting a feel for the place. But, if like me that’s a luxury you can’t afford, take your time and don’t settle for anywhere you don’t feel perfectly happy with.
In my experience, there are two types of DMT – hobby DMTs and career DMTs. The hobby-ers are usually in it for a good time not a long time; they tend to be backpackers with a passion for diving who see the divemaster as a great way to enjoy cheap diving, meet likeminded people and learn a bit more in the process. The career-ers on the other hand have already decided that they’ll be going on to do their instructor training and see the divemaster as the first step towards earning from teaching diving; they’ll tend to look for centres that focus on professionalism and quality training, ones with recognised reputations that allow you to experience all facets of working in the industry, from filling tanks and working in the shop, to leading dives and assisting on courses. Both types of people have perfectly valid reasons for becoming divemasters, and both will take a huge amount away from the programme, but it’s worth identifying which you are before you start so you can work out where to train.
Do you just want to dive every day? Perhaps is the laid-back party lifestyle that appeals to you, or the idea of giving your gap-year some structure? Do you want to hone your skills and just become a better diver, for you? Or maybe you see this as the first step towards a career in diving, you’re planning to go on to take your IDC (Instructor Development Course) and find paid work? All of these are excellent reasons to do your divemaster, but just be sure to know why you personally are pursuing the divemaster dream.
For example, if you’re hoping to enjoy a good work-life balance while you’re there (by which I mean you’re keen to split your time evenly between the ocean and the bar) that’s absolutely fine, but make sure you don’t choose a centre that comes down too heavily on the work side of the scale. I loved being a member of the team, but it did mean I was in the shop 9 hours a day, 6 days a week and there were expectations as to levels of professionalism. Some shops are known to be even stricter and won’t let their interns drink on a ‘school-night’. Be sure to check that the shop’s ethos is in line with your own.
After all that, I think this really is the easy bit. There are a few prerequisites that you can’t ignore – if you’re 16 for example then there’s little you can do about the whole issue of turning 18 – but other than age, the actual logistics of becoming a divemaster are all perfectly manageable.
The two main hurdles standing in your way are likely to be time and money. Leap over the first one by being flexible; if you need to get your dives up (you need 40 dives to start the course), build them up before you go. Dive at the weekends, in the evenings, wherever you can. If you arrive with 40 dives under your belt having completed your Rescue and EFR training, you’ll shave a week off the whole course. Some places offer divemaster courses that take only a matter of weeks; although I would advise against this option, it’s one way to get the divemaster under your belt quickly. Alternatively, find a local shop and spread out your training over your evenings and weekends – that way you won’t have to take a single day off work if you don’t want to.
As for the second hurdle, money always seems to get in the way somehow. Becoming a divemaster can be expensive, with courses costing anywhere between $500 – $2000, and the price of equipment, materials and cost-of-living mounting up alongside it. But a lot of places offer free internships where you pay for the training in labour by working for the shop. Many have their own staff accommodation which they will offer at discount prices, and you’re likely to be able to use their rental equipment for free throughout your training.
If you can persuade the cat to move, you can use rental gear to help save money
For some, the prospect of embarking upon the great adventure that is the divemaster course can be daunting. I know, because I was one of them. Moving my life abroad, leaving behind the safety and familiarity of my home and jumping into the unknown was scary. But I looked before I leapt and landed safely as a result. So if you’re wondering how to get there, what it will involve, where you should do it and who with, that’s the first step towards an exciting new chapter. I hope this, and my series of divemaster posts, has helped answer some of those questions and that you’re well on your way to venturing forth into your very own divemaster – take the plunge, you won’t regret it!
As ever, my advice is based on my own experiences and are solely my own opinion. If, however, there’s anything more you’d like to know about becoming a divemaster, the course itself, Coconut Tree Divers or Roatan in general, don’t be shy – get in touch.