Can’t afford to become an instructor but still want to be part of someone’s first experience breathing underwater? Become a Discover Scuba Diving (DSD) leader for the princely sum of £30 instead! DSD Leader wasn’t something offered to the Divemaster Trainees at my dive school and it wasn’t a certification that I had heard a lot about until I joined Deep Blue Scuba in Edinburgh. There is a lot of conflicting information out there about DSD Leader and many people don’t see it’s value, preferring to step up straight to Instructor instead. This post is about my personal experience with the DSD Leader programme and it might just help you decide whether it’s something you want to aim for too.

What does DSD Leader mean you can do?

DSD Leader does not mean Instructor but it does require some Instructor adjacent skills that you will find useful if you’re planning to do qualify further in future. What a DSD Leader can do is lead people on Discover Scuba Dives in confined water, meaning: a swimming pool or confined water like conditions, which is an open water site that offers swimming-pool-like conditions with respect to clarity, calmness, and depth (6m).

Once qualified the maximum ratios are 4:1 in the pool and 2:1 in confined water. It’s important to remember that participants aren’t qualified to do a subsequent open water dive after the DSD, as their initial skills introduction was not with a PADI Instructor.

The definition of confined water seems to trip a lot of people up here because in resort diving it can be hard to get access to an appropriate site that meets all the requirements, therefore making the DSD Leader qual less useful. Perhaps in a resort setting it does have its limitations but what people forget is that a DSD can be completed entirely in a swimming pool in a relatively short space of time. When done a swimming pool your participants only need to complete one skill which is to inflate and deflate their BCD on the surface and the rest of the time can be used to play underwater frisbee, swim through hoops and generally have a good time.

Some might say that only doing a swimming pool session is short-changing your participant but in a lot of places where access to confined water like conditions is hard (in-land, inclement weather, etc) it’s a great way to get more people breathing compressed air. It’s also a much safer environment for people who are anxious or have additional needs. For someone who has never been on scuba, the experience is already a sensory overload so sometimes having less to worry about (like kicking the reef) is a relief.

The other thing to remember is that 5 DSDs count as 1 cert so even if you aren’t an Instructor yet you can still get your numbers up and be able to go for MSDT much sooner than other new instructors.


So what is the Internship like?

I can only speak from my personal experience but I thoroughly enjoyed the whole thing. DSD Leader is one of the first times where you actually get let loose on real customers rather than a lot of the role-playing that makes up much of the Divemaster program. To pass you have to conduct four, separate, real (not simulated) PADI Discover Scuba Diving programs in confined water under the direct supervision of a PADI Instructor. During the sessions, you have to show your ability to conduct effective briefings, provide in-water supervision, and do debriefings with non-certified divers.

I did my whole program over the course of two days at an Intermediate School where we put around seventy, 11 – 13-year-olds, through in multiple sessions. At first it was daunting (not least because preteens can be mean) but just the sheer number of them as well as getting used to doing the briefings and working out a structure that I was comfortable with. My first attempt was a bit shaky but by the sixth one I relaxed into it and felt totally comfortable.

You learn really quickly how to spot fires and put them out as well. Is someone asking a lot of questions? Maybe they’re anxious. Is a mask strap sitting too low or too tight. Maybe someone is jumping ahead of the group and not listening to instructions or struggling to get all the air out of their BCD…there are a million little details that you get really good at spotting and fixing. If you’re a working DM then you’ll already be skilled at this but for those who aren’t it’s a great lesson in problem mitigation.

How yours goes is going to depend on where you complete it and who your participants are. I’d love to hear about your experiences in the comments! Sharing knowledge is how we all learn and improve so go ahead and tell me all about it.


My tips for the program.
  1. Get your slate out and look at what you need to cover in the briefing and then start talking! Even if it’s just to yourself. The more you start saying things out loud the more comfortable you get and it also helps you to see where the holes are and what you’ve missed.
  2. Get the participants interacting with you in the briefing. Ask them to guess what is in their tank (most will say oxygen), see who has been on a plane when you talk about equilizing and get a glamourous assistant to come and take a few breaths from the reg while you’re talking about the kit.
  3. Include any assistants and your instructor in the program, don’t leave them floating. Make sure you introduce them to the participants, explain their role and direct them clearly so they know where you’re expecting them to be. It can be weird to suddenly be asking your instructor to help set up kit but you’re in the driver’s seat now and it’s good practice for the future.
  4. Make sure you know how to correctly fit someone for their kit, during my program we had lots of skinny wee things so it was really important to make sure their BCD was pulled in tight and their mask wasn’t leaking or fogging so they could have a comfortable experience.
  5. If you have anyone with long hair make sure you get them to braid it or secure it really well before they get in the water.
  6. Ask for and listen to your Instructor’s feedback – this is the easiest way to improve quickly. I for example needed to work on my crowd control and staying close enough the participants.
  7. Have fun! This is the first step towards helping people discover a new passion. There is nothing better than seeing someone have an awesome time and helping them discover the same love for scuba that you have.


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