SDI Divemaster: My Three Takeaways
By Allison Van Sickle
Divemaster: SDI’s most substantial eLearning course with the practical skills requirements to match. As I’ve just moved this course from ‘In Progress’ to ‘Completed’, here are the biggest takeaways I would pass to the next candidate:
#1: Be Patient and Be Persistent
SDI Divemaster is not a class that you’re going to knock out in a couple weekends, or in my case, even a couple months. It’s a professional development program that for me looked more like a semester-long college course. And that’s not a bad thing! If you can take a few weeks off to do nothing but Divemastering, great. Otherwise, you’ll have to chip away at it when you can, where you can. Even when trip cancellations, equipment failures, poor health, or bad weather get in the way, you can still make progress toward becoming a good Divemaster. I found the biggest asset for me was keeping the academics fresh in my mind. While an instructor will likely be aware of her students’ skill level and gear set-up prior to entering the water for a training dive, as a Divemaster working on a boat, for example, you don’t know the comfort level or experience of customers coming your way. You’re going to be asked questions about anything from gear configurations to recommended Nitrox mixtures and dive profiles, and you’re going to have to assess the situation and provide an educated answer on the spot. So even if you miss an opportunity to get in the water, you don’t have to miss an opportunity to make yourself a better Divemaster.
#2: Know the Skills that are Required by the Course, and Know the Skills that are Not
Familiarize yourself with the required skills and standards well in advance, because not all Divemaster skills are SCUBA skills. Just because you’re comfortable and efficient underwater in dive gear does not mean you are an efficient swimmer without aids on the surface. And just because you are comfortable adjusting your gear underwater does not mean that performing such skills to demonstration quality will come naturally. Have an idea of your current competence with these skills before you’re asked to demonstrate them. You should also familiarize yourself with the Divemaster slates that are required for the course. By studying them beforehand, I was able to picture the bullet points on the slate while still engaging with the divers during a briefing. But keep in mind, not all Divemaster briefings are dive briefings. As a regular on one of the boats I dive with, the captain knew my instructor and I would be going through some skills throughout the coming weekends. As I began assembling my gear one morning, I heard my name called as he announced that I would now be giving the amenities briefing to the boat full of customers. All eyes turned to me as I pointed out the best places for the seasick to position themselves and the importance of facing downwind, along with what should and should not go in the toilet. Know what’s required by the course and be prepared for what’s required from the real world also, because you will need to master both!
#3: Professional Does Not Happen Over Night: Create Opportunity to Practice Early and Often
Recognize the opportunities to exercise professional responsibility. I made a point of becoming more aware of other divers in the water even as my instructor and I were practicing one-on-one skills. I started noticing divers’ pre-dive safety checks, assessing the comfort level and control of those who would drop in with our group, and whether they were checking their gauges. I started paying attention to which divers kept an eye on the dive guide and which ones swam off on their own. These things will have to become second nature, so I started working them into my routine before the responsibility became entirely mine. It is easy to experience task overloading with all the new responsibilities introduced by the Divemaster course, so create all the opportunities you can to practice. That can mean learning the terrain in which you will be guiding by heart or developing the skill of knowing where your guided divers are and whether they are keeping track of their gauges. You’re not going to accomplish this in a weekend, and you’re not going to knock these skills out once just to prove that you can perform them when necessary. You’re going to develop them over time and use them on every dive, so start early and take advantage of every opportunity to practice!