Is the DM course for me?

Many people view the Divemaster (DM) course as a logical extension of recreational diving education, when they’ve already done Advanced and Rescue and are looking for the next course to take. Unfortunately, this might not make the most sense for everyone, and you’ll see DM trainees that are either not ready, or don’t have the right attitude towards the course.

Currently, this path of diving education (Open Water to Advanced to Rescue to Divemaster) is the one that is most marketed, and thus most visible to newer divers. Divers are then naturally channeled towards this path because of business interests, rather than the individuals’ passion or aptitude.

One big distinction between the first three and the DM course, which many people forget, is that the latter is a professional level diving course. This distinction has been steadily eroded over the years, due to the demand for profit and readily available labor at the dive centers, which push the DM course to customers who may not realize the true responsibility of being a DM.

To me, one should only do the DM course if leading, helping and instructing other divers is a passion. It’s not another recreational course! It shouldn’t be viewed as a way to get free dives or to stay in a tropical country on an extended holiday! Neither is it an extension of regular leisure diving, which unfortunately is how it’s marketed.

In my opinion, the current training that a Divemaster receives is woefully insufficient. Here’s what’s listed on the PADI website for the topics and workshops in a Divemaster course.

  • The role and characteristics of the PADI Divemaster
  • Supervising dive activities and assisting with student divers
  • Diver safety and risk management
  • Divemaster conducted programs and specialized skills
  • Business of diving and your career
  • Awareness of the dive environment
  • Dive setup and management
  • Mapping an open water site
  • Conducting dive briefings
  • Organizing a search and recovery project and a deep dive
  • Conducting a scuba review and skin diver course
  • Assisting with Discover Scuba Diving and leading Discover Local Diving programs

While the above might sound good in theory, the actual syllabus falls short. Many topics are not covered in depth, leaving gaps for the instructor to fill. For example, you won’t find a list of common problems that new students face when using a mask for the first time, or the solutions to them.

The quality of learning thus depends on the caliber and experience of the instructor. Without a good instructor to guide them, it’s no wonder most DM trainees do not acquire the crucial know-how and skills from the course.

What’s more, a DM trainee need only have logged 60 dives as a prerequisite for the course. I’d argue that 60 falls on the low side, and a number doesn’t say very much. Consider this: 60 dives in a shallow bay with no current and averaging 5m depth doesn’t offer much learning by way of experience.

While there is no way to exhaustively cover all the problems and scenarios that a DM might face while diving, the topic of crisis prevention is a glaring omission from the list above. Being able to prevent a situation from escalating into a crisis is, I believe, a primary role of a DM.

That said, of course there are dive professionals around who truly deserve the name, but what identifies them from the rest?

One defining characteristic of good dive professionals, I’ve noticed, is a true passion to serve. They don’t teach or lead dives because of the money or “free” diving, but because they want to contribute to environmental protection, either by sharing its wonders with others, or inspiring a conservation ethic in the students that they teach. People who truly love the marine environment are the ones I would want to go diving with!

How then do we identify these dive professionals from the others, and how can we train more of them? Well, simply talk to them about it! Someone who has passion for the underwater world won’t be able to stop talking about it, just get them started and listen to the stories they tell, and the experiences they’ve had. They are the ones who will be looking at nudibranch pictures on Facebook well into the night, and poring through marine identification books early in the morning.

These are also the dive professionals that divers return repeatedly to dive with. You know you’ve made a difference when other divers trust their lives in your hands.

A great dive professional will still have a sense of wonder when diving at easy recreational sites for the 1000th time with their Open Water students, as opposed to one who swims away and does his own thing, or gets bored on a dive if there’s “nothing” to see. There’s always something to see on any dive if you look closely enough!

Another key trait of a great dive professional is the talent for teaching and instructing. Contrary to what the recreational agencies will have you believe, not everyone is born to teach! I truly believe good teaching comes first from passion, then next the ability to sharpen the saw, to keep on improving. Instructors and Divemasters who don’t do dives that challenge them or dives outside of “work” that hold their interest, will definitely lose their passion and burn out eventually.

The DM course isn’t and shouldn’t be for everyone. Ultimately, being a Divemaster means having other people’s lives in your hands; the decisions you make underwater can have real and dangerous implications. If you feel you are ready for that responsibility, then by all means, seek out and train under a good instructor who will show you the best ways to extend your diving knowledge and skill sets.

If the passion is really there, then keep going, and share it with the world!

Leon Boey is a GUE, HSA and PADI instructor based in Singapore and Bali. He runs the dive education centre Livingseas in Singapore, Bali and Jakarta. Diving since 2005, he first fell in love with wrecks. He enjoys all sorts of diving, and loves being surrounded by fish.
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