Every dive training organization offers advanced courses designed to make you a better diver and impart more specialized skills. Additional training is a wonderful thing! And you should take advantage of every opportunity to learn new skills and improve your diving, but what does that really mean? The average diver gets wet 10 times per year. If you did that over the course of 40 years you’d have some experience.
We both took advanced courses after our open water certification and they certainly made us better divers. “Better” can be a kind of moving target though right? Better to me means I learned more about myself and what I’m comfortable with. Everyone says to not dive beyond your limits – which is good advice. The problem with limits and SCUBA is you don’t want to find your limits and then not live to tell about it.
As far as I can tell, comfort in diving is achieved by:
Learning new skills
Testing those skills
Diving different environments (freshwater, saltwater, drift dives, quarry dives, etc.)
Diving with new buddies
Better diving comes from the experiences you’ve accumulated. Different dive buddies, different sites, freshwater, saltwater, drift dives, quarries, lakes, missile silos, you name it. If you decide to pay for a course, it’s really the experience you’re paying for- the knowledge comes with it. Additional training is an opportunity to work with someone who is more experienced. That Instructor can impart new skills and help you explore them in a safe and controlled manner. Effectively allowing you to explore those aforementioned limits with lower risk.
Attending a course with a regular dive buddy makes a big difference in how you operate as a team. Ben and I had a lot less experience during our first couple classes together. We definitely hadn’t reached a point where we could tell what each other was thinking. The challenges in those dives really brought us together and made us better divers and a better team. One of the tougher exercises, we mucked around on the bottom tying lift bags off to a piece of heavy pipe to practice moving it around underwater. A cloud of sediment blacked out the sun and we primarily operated by feel. You have to rely more on your buddy and deeper communication gets developed over time. Plus it rained all that weekend and we got to snap this cool pic after the dives.
Take the courses so you’ll be accompanied by a mentor who has been there, done that and can help keep you safe during the learning process. They know where the pitfalls are so you (hopefully) don't have to find them the hard way. Take the time to learn each new skill and master it before jumping in somewhere and just doing it .Being a good diver is not about how many "C-Cards" you can pull out of your wallet. Learning a new skill makes you “better” certainly. Making the new stuff second nature through practice improves everything!