It isn't uncommon for dive operators to make excellent pursuasions to the Open Water students about taking their Advanced (AOW), then Rescue Diver, and so on. The reasons would include missing out on all the fun because they are not AOW trained, or that they should continue their dive education as soon as possible, so that they can be "better divers". While I do not disagree with these reasons, but there are other factors to consider.
Fact of the matter is, many students get very stressed while on course, and one reason is because they are operating in a very foreign and hostile environment, performing tasks which are very new for them. Just like learning a new language, you would still need to practice continuous afterwards to attain some form of fluency. And the dive education work in such a way that the the skills from the previous course serve as a foundation for the new skills. So can you imagine when you are still feeling stressed about the new environment, still unsure of your basic skills, and you're expected to handle the new stresses of learning how to navigate at night, and dive deeper and in possibly bad visibility? It sounds like a recipe for a panic attack.
I'm a supporter of getting some leisure dives before taking the next step of your dive education. Use the opportunity to get familiar with the skills so that they become second nature, and just enjoy yourself. When you're able to maintain your buoyancy, clear your ears, or just be comfortable in the aquatic environment, you're gonna enjoy yourself a lot more, and be ready for the next challenge. And of course, not only will you be able to handle any challenges that come your way underwater, you will also be a valuable member of the team.
So how many dives should you have under your belt before you take the next step? Well, there's no magical number. Some people are ready almost as soon as they finish their Open Water, while others might not even take their AOW but still dive actively. It's all about not only what you want to achieve with your next level of certification, but also about how ready you think you are, in terms of your comfort level and also proficiency.
Don't fall for the marketing hard sell that your dive operator puts to you. The hard truth is that they don't make much money from selling you leisure trips, because education is where the money is for them, and considering that they already aren't making much because of the crazy prices they are offering, they would really need to pursuade a lot more students like yourself, in order for them to stay in the business.
Diving is inherently a dangerous activity. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise. As I've always told my students, your safety lies ultimately in your own hands, and for you to be able to keep yourself safe, you'd need to take charge of your own learning and safety. The type of card you carry doesn't carry any prestige or say how good or bad a diver you are, no matter what the marketing material tells you. Every leisure dive you do is a training dive as well, and once you feel you are ready and comfortable enough to take the next step, then seek out an excellent operator and go for it. The sea is always gonna be there, so there's no need to rush your dive education.
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