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Tristan, a scuba diving instructor with 10+ years of experience offers tips on how to have success as a divemaster.
Becoming a professional requires time, study, and dedication. Engineer spend years at school and often don’t gain expertise until they’re working in the field. The same goes for nurses, teachers, lawyers, and doctors, where additional years are required to harness expertise in their profession.
It is the same in scuba diving. Becoming a professional scuba diver requires years of training and experience. The only difference between scuba diving compared to other professions is that we happen to earn a living doing what we love most in the world! Becoming a divemaster, the first level in professional diving, has no shortcuts. But, these are tips that will help you become not just a divemaster per se, but a successful divemaster.
Note: These tips are not Google generated or ripped off of a Powerpoint presentation. This advice is the product of years of experience, study, sweat and hard work by yours truly.
Table of Contents
Top tips for being a successful divemaster
Go beyond the minimum requirements before you start your DM course
Being eligible for a scuba dive master course has minimum requirements. For most certification agencies, like PADI and SSI, you must have already be a certified open water, advanced open water, and rescue diver. You must have also logged at least 40-50 dives. I advise you not to settle on the minimum requirements. Instead, it’s best to go beyond these minimums and log as many dives as possible.
When the time comes to begin your divemaster course, you’ll have your skills fine-tuned and will be able to focus solely on your divemaster training. You don’t want to tell your guests and students, “Please stay at this depth and wait for me. I’m having problems with equalization and mask clearing”.
In my case, I dived as an open water diver for three years and logged over 100 dives before moving on to my advanced diver certification. Further, I spent over 5 years honing my advanced and rescue skills and logged over 500 dives before I took my divemaster course. With years of experience and hundreds of logged dives behind me, taking the divemaster course was not really hard. While you might not need this much prior experience to be successful, it’s best not to rush through your required courses and instead take the divemaster course when you’re completely competent in all your skills.
Remember where you started
Let’s not be sentimental here. All divemasters once started out as open water divers. As we are introduced to a new environment, we have our own difficulties. Some of us may have trouble equalizing (this was my main problem), some of us may struggle with buoyancy, or clearing our mask.
Of course, our divemasters and instructors back then assisted us and patiently taught us how to overcome our difficulties by performing the proper skills. Now that we are divemasters, it’s time to return the favor. If a student or guest has problems performing a particular skill, a good way to stay patient is by reflecting back and putting yourself in their shoes… or fins. What if I was that student?What would help me?
Many students and guests are embarrassed of their challenges. You can use your experience from back then to be a lesson for your divers. Share your struggles and the tactics you used to overcome it. This will help share the message that nothing in scuba diving is difficult as long as you are doing the skills correctly.
Create a brand of service
We have different personalities, strengths, and weaknesses. Diving is a profession that easily bolsters positive mindsets and open personalities. Focus on these aspects of your personality and turn it into a brand of professional service.
Aside from professional standards set by the divemaster course, I make customer satisfaction a top priority. Most of my guests are not locals and I always remind myself that, aside from diving, my guests are on vacation and they want to be pampered (but not to a point of too much pampering). I usually fetch them at the airport or at the bus station, have some breakfast at a local restaurant for them to taste the native cuisine, and ask if they need anything before going to the dive site.
Surface interval is always a downtime for us and it is often synonymous to sleeping. But for me, it’s one of my busiest times. Gastronomic feasts and good conversations are my synonyms for surface intervals, and my brand in conversation is always a good clean joke.
Being a local divemaster also allows you to become an impromptu tour guide. I make it a point that my guests could visit tourist attractions in between dives. In this way, they could meet local people, enjoy the scenery, experience the culture and I always make sure that my guests will not go back to the hotel without drinking two bottles of local beer. Well, only two bottles especially if there’s a dive the next day.
When the dive trip is over, I make sure that I personally send them off at the airport or at the bus station, helping them move onward to their next destination.
The effect of this brand of service? Well, it’s not the tip since I consider that only the icing on the cake. Customer satisfaction, and only customer satisfaction, is the main ingredient in making a cake. Guests always come back, and in some instances, they bring along their family and friends, which means more cake and icing. If you stand out above all other divemasters in your area, you’ll have happier students and guests who then go on to spread the word to their network.
Cross scuba diving with other sports and hobbies
As a divemaster, scuba diving doesn’t have to be your own only sport. If it is, life can get quite monotonous. Do other sports–and it doesn’t have to be ocean sports. In my case, I cycle, play badminton, and sometimes go to the gym. Aside from gaining physical strength, flexibility, and stamina (which significantly reduces your air consumption), you’ll be able to meet non-diver friends who might even be interested in scuba diving!
Participate in community programs
Scuba diving should not be about the money and how much you make in your professional diving career. As divemasters, many of us entered this profession because we have a deep respect for the marine environment, which is nonetheless, our primary playground. Make it a point to participate in community programs like beach clean ups, information drives and reef restoration projects. Here in our locality, scubasurero (from the word scuba and basurero which means garbage collector) is a popular community program where divers (both pro and non-pro) meet and pick up pieces of trash in the reef.
Note: if you participate in community programs, divers will look up to you, not just as a professional diver, but also as a role model.
Stay updated and continue Learning
Learning doesn’t stop the day you’re handed your certification card. Once you’re working as a divemaster, never stop learning. As a divemaster, you may opt to learn the business side of recruiting new clients and running a dive center. Grow your network, further your skills, and try to get as many specialty courses as possible.
With the pandemic, some of us are forced to stay at home–our longest surface interval ever. Make the most of this time by learning as much as possible about diving. Revisit old photos or videos to see if you can learn more about the reef. You can even participate in an endless list of Zoom webinars that features new diving technology, industry updates, and conferences on what to do when dive tourism opens back for business.
Scuba diving is a small world, and it’s easy to get sucked into the center of it. To keep a professional reputation, avoid making fun of the weaknesses of other divemasters, or dive shops, or other diving agencies, as gossip can only come back to hurt you. Competition may be fierce especially in popular dive destinations and dive shops are doing all they can to get a chunk of the pie. Always respect each other’s trade and focus only on your own business.
In my case, competing fairly in the market may initially not give you big projects. But in the long run, if you uphold high standards and maintain that unique brand that you have created, your business and profession will continue to grow.
Prepare for the next level
There are many reasons to become a divemaster. Surprisingly, there are some scuba divers who only want to hold the title and have no desire to dive professionally. However, for many reasons, divemasters often want to take their career to the next level and become a scuba diving instructor.
After I got my divemaster certification, I worked for years in several dive shops which allowed me to grow and mature as a professional diver. Although jokes are still a part of surface interval, I have learned to communicate with my guests, give them advice, and share practical techniques that could help them improve their diving skills.
More importantly, work with your instructor and absorb everything the instructor teaches you (especially the skills you can’t find in the books). With this, you’ll be able to become an instructor yourself. In my case, I practiced my divemaster profession for 8 years before taking up the instructorship. The IDC was easy (not to mention the flying colors I got in the IE) thanks to the experience I already had.
At the end of the day, constant learning and experience had helped me a lot in molding me as a professional divemaster. I realized that being a successful divemaster is synonymous to a knife. If you don’t use it, it will become corroded, dull and blunt. But if you constantly use it, especially if you sharpen it with experience and good professional habits, then it can easily cut through the challenges ahead of you—especially cakes that are enriched with icing.