The Worst Divemasters I Have Ever Encountered

worst divemaster encounters

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After logging more than a hundred dives, I’ve had a fair share of good and bad experiences. Most have been good because they were in the Philippines, where you can almost be certain that every dive will be a good dive.

But once in a while, I do experience a bad dive. And not because of the dive site but because of the person guiding our dives- the divemaster.

The divemaster (DM) is a dive professional who organizes and leads a recreational dive. As they are more familiar with the local dive sites, they are responsible for making sure the dive is safe for visitors who are unfamiliar with the area.

They do this by informing divers of the hazards they may encounter on the site, what the dive site can offer, and the ideal route to take for a safe dive. They assist the group of divers in and out of the water, as well as guide them underwater.

While most divemasters have done exactly these and more for my dives, I have encountered some who left me dissatisfied and to some extent appalled because of their behavior during dives.

Some divers might tolerate such behaviors, but for me, they’re big no-nos as they ruin the dive experience.

I’m sure there are many others who have done worst. Nevertheless, here are the worst divemasters I have encountered.

The one who left us

One of the worst divemaster I have ever encountered was the one who left us in a dangerous dive spot. The site was named the washing machine. The name in itself can give you an idea of what to expect on the dive. Located in Verde Island, the site was notorious for having intense and unpredictable currents.

The divemaster gave us the dive briefing and stressed how challenging it was going to be. He assured us that it was okay to sit out the dive. Of course, we didn’t.

We entered the water and soon enough reached a spot with currents so strong we had to hang on to the reef so we would not get swept away. The dive guide kept heading into the current. Swimming hard against the current, we followed him.

Eventually, we got out of the current and he signaled to do our safety stop. I turned around to check on my dive buddy, Jem. I could not find her. So I stopped for a bit to look for her. When we finally saw each other, I realized I lost sight of our divemaster.

Ten meters away from us, I saw the fins of another diver swimming out into the blue. As there was no one else around we followed him swimming at depth. I felt so uneasy swimming in an area where I could not even see the bottom. It was the first time I felt scared while diving.

We finally reached the boat, and we ascended. I was relieved to see that it was our boat. But annoyed to see our DM was already in it, waiting for us.

I felt that the divemaster should have waited for us. And made sure we safely ascend together especially in such an area where he himself stressed was dangerous.

Diving in Verde Island was spectacular. This dive was safe and was NOT taken in Washing Machine. Don’t let a bad divemaster ruin your future dives.

The one who navigated with a sea cucumber

It was my first time to visit Puerto Galera. The plan was to go see the Alma Jane wreck. We entered the water to where the wreck was supposed to be. But when we got there, it seemed like it had disappeared.

So we kept swimming. We went to the right. Then to the left. Then to the right again. Still no wreck.

We were obviously lost. Or the wreck was gone. So he signaled us to wait as he tried to get his bearing.

Then, he spotted a sea cucumber on the ground. And he picked it up and cradled it in his arms. Jem and I looked at each other wondering what he was doing with the sea cucumber.

He started to swim again. He appeared to be navigating with the sea cucumber. We followed him anyway, what choice did we have. Still no wreck.

He decided to just give up looking for it and did a normal dive instead. Well, not so normal since he was still holding the sea cucumber like it was his baby.

We made the descend and he still didn’t let go of the sea cucumber. He could probably tell that we were puzzled with his sea cucumber.

As soon as we reached the surface, he told us that these things were delicious. And proceeds to pass the sea cucumber to the boatman. We were speechless.

No Alma Jane, but he seemed happy to have caught his lunch.

We were not so pleased.

following the divemaster in a dive
A divemaster should be familiar with the area and knows to navigate, preferably without a sea cucumber!

The one who kept disrupting the peace.

Ting! Ting! Ting!

This divemaster got into my nerves as well as into my list of worst divemasters because of how noisy he was underwater.

We were diving as a big group of 7. Normally, this would be a difficult especially when it’s with divers with different dive certifications and who did not know each other. However, we were all experienced divers, diving at a safe distance from each other in buddy pairs. And it wasn’t like we were diving in 7 different directions.

Well, it looked fairly easy to manage, at least from my perspective.

But for some reason, every few minutes he would bang on his tank to catch our attention. Ting! Ting! Ting!

He would just hover in place and it wasn’t clear what he wanted to tell us or why he was banging on his tank. Was he talking to me? To somebody else? Then we would continue diving again.

Ting! Ting! Ting!

Ugh. So annoying.

What did he want? I didn’t have a clue. I think he just really want to bang on his tank so we knew where he was?

He didn’t indicate if he wanted us to hurry. Or if he wanted to check on our air. And it definitely was not to let us know he found something spectacular. Because not once did he point to anything interesting.

He just led and made a noise for no apparent reason. Disrupting our peace and quiet every few minutes.

The one who caused underwater traffic.

While this divemaster was not assigned to my dive group, he still gets featured as one of the worst divemasters I’ve encountered because he kept leading his group into ours.

It’s fairly normal to bump into dive groups underwater. But this particular dive guide liked to cause underwater traffic.

It’s not so bad if you’re a small dive group. But his group of 6 merged with our group of 7 is not exactly the best situation underwater. It can get confusing when you’re having to figure out who’s diving with whom.

People can get mixed up and confused. It also felt very chaotic when his group started to show up next to ours.

The dive site was spacious, it was in Apo Island after all. Yet he still chose to bring his group in the middle of ours. He did this not just once but multiple times.

Diving in Apo Island should be in your list but do check reviews to make sure you dive with a good DM at all times!

The one who wanted to impress but failed

Another one of the worst divemasters I’ve encountered was the one who brought us to a nest of cuttlefish in Siquijor. You would think, oh, that’s not so bad, that sounds pretty cool actually. It kinda was and it wasn’t.

As I haven’t seen a cuttlefish eggs before, it was pretty cool. But at that time, I wasn’t quite sure what he was showing us. I actually thought they were bubble corals. I took a mental note to ask him afterward to confirm.

I signaled okay so we can continue with the dive. Then, he reached out, took one, and tore the membrane open. Out came a cuttlefish! That’s when I found out we were looking at a cuttlefish nest.

He probably thought we would be impressed to see this. But of course, I was absolutely horrified. Never thought I would see a diver, especially a dive-pro, forcibly hatch a cuttlefish.

It still haunts me to this day recalling the baby cuttlefish swimming out in the open.

Despite our bad divemaster experience, my buddy and I vowed to return to this magical island. For our next visit, we went diving in Siquijor with a more eco-friendly shop. No ocean animals were harmed this time around!

What to do when a divemaster ruins your dive?

Most of these dives happened long ago, but in retrospect I should have spoken up sooner. I wish I told these unprofessional divemasters I did not like how the dives turned out because of something they did.

Let me stress though that these divemasters are not bad people, they just did something that made the dives unforgettable in a bad way. I think it’s safe to assume that most likely they did not know any better. Maybe they were not even aware that what they did was not cool.

And, I am partly to blame. At that time, I felt I was not in the position to say anything. I was new at diving and who was I to tell them otherwise.

But now, I realize how important it is to talk about these things. Because if we do not speak up they might keep doing it over and over again, thinking that people do not mind. When in fact, people do mind. I mind.

If we don’t mention anything, it can ruin other diver’s experiences as well.

Feedback is so important.

The next time you too see a divemaster doing unacceptable to you, say something. Tell them directly that you do not like what happened. Or if not, tell the dive shop what happened and why the experience was ruined.

In extreme cases, you might be able to report the violation but do so wisely as livelihoods might be at stake.

So whether if you’re a new diver or not, if you see something that’s not right, speak out.

And for all you know, you could be saving a sea cucumber or a cuttlefish’s life.

worst divemasters ruining dives
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Do you have a worst divemaster story too? What happened or what did the divemaster do to ruin the dive experience for you? Leave a comment below!

The links above may be affiliate links. If you shop through them, I’ll earn a commission at no additional cost to you. For full information, please see my disclaimer here.

Ara Juan

Ara is the founder of DiverBliss.com and PhilippineDives.com. She is a PADI Rescue Diver with a goal to dive in all the best places around the Philippines.

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6 Comments

  1. October 5, 2020 / 2:43 pm

    Hahaha sorry but the story about the sea cucumber cracks me up! Although it’s far from funny, but I can totally imagine your confusion during the dive. These stories are awful, and although Divemasters are only just humans and can make mistakes, you’re right that you should always speak up! Especially when it concerns safety or harassing marine life.

    • Ara Juan
      Author
      October 10, 2020 / 10:35 am

      Yeah, one of my regrets was never saying anything about it especially since I was still “new” to diving. It can be intimidating to voice out concerns especially to a person of authority.

  2. March 16, 2021 / 4:34 am

    Similar to your baby cuttlefish story: we were diving in Tulamben two years ago and our newly-certified divemaster was so eager to please us. We’d been diving with him for three days around various wrecks reefs and he’d been pretty insecure about how to lead, it was obvious he was trying his hardest, but between the language barrier and his age he really struggled. Nevertheless, we genuinely liked him and he was a sweet kid. On our last dive there, he was making a real attempt to show us some “new stuff” in an area that already had plenty to see. Suddenly a young octopus appeared briefly from underneath the rocks and then darted back into its hole. We glimpsed at it and gave the “oh, wow cool!” hand signal, then began to move on. Apparently, that wasn’t enough for our guide, who proceeded to stick his metal pointer into the hole attempting to scare the poor creature back out for us to see again. I was so distraught at the sight of him jabbing that pointer into the hole–the octopus was clearly panicked and emitted a black ink in defence. I shook my head and tried to let the kid know we were not happy with his behavior. Finally, my husband tapped me on the arm and motioned for me to follow him. We left the area so the guide would harrassing the poor thing. Afterward, I fumed in silence but never reported him to his mentor. The language gulf was pretty significant and I knew he was so happy to be working as a divemaster that I didn’t want him to get in trouble or lose his job. I hope our displeasure about his treatment of the octopus registered with him but I doubt it did. Unfortunately, the belief that divemasters have to “entertain” their clients (for better tips or repeat business, I don’t really know), is pervasive in some businesses. I still think back on that dive and wish I could’ve gently taught him that respecting the critters living down below is far more important than putting on a show for tourists.

    • Ara Juan
      Author
      March 16, 2021 / 12:44 pm

      That sounds horrific! Thank you for sharing that story. I also regret not speaking out when I could have so I try to keep these stories in mind. So I don’t regret it the next time.

      I really wish more dive shops implemented stricter policies about harassing marine life.

  3. Stephen Evans
    January 22, 2022 / 10:00 am

    Hi,

    Where to begin.

    In the last two months or so. I’ve been to a few dive sites in the Philippines. Most of the sites have been amazing.

    However the divemasters have been 50/50.

    The most recent shore dive, I barely got into the water. The briefing was limited, fine I can live with that. Put on wetsuit and then weight belt. We were then asked to wade into the water to get into the BCD.

    Many DMs use a metal rod to steady themselves on the coral. I’ve lost count of the time I’ve seen fins snap or crash into coral.

    • Ara Juan
      Author
      January 24, 2022 / 9:12 pm

      Hi, Stephen, I hear you and can totally relate. I do most of my dives in the Philippines and unfortunately, there are many rogue DMs who aren’t even officially registered or didn’t even get proper dive education and training. Some dive shops are strict about who they hire but there are some who aren’t so it’s also very important to choose who you dive with. Where have you been diving?

      If your DM isn’t good I’d bring it to the owner’s attention. I’ve done this before after diving with a reputable shop that hired a freelancer and the DM wasn’t up to their shop’s standard. The owner appreciated the feedback and gave the DM a stern warning that they won’t hire him again if that happens.

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