A PADI Divemaster course is the first step in a diver’s professional training. As a qualified diver, you’re able to supervise recreational diving, assist on PADI training courses and start to earn a living from these activities. It’s a hugely valuable experience in terms of your personal development as a diver, providing the opportunity to polish up on skills you may not have practised for some time, and introducing knowledge in subjects you won’t have encountered before.
Last week, I enrolled as a divemaster trainee (DMT) at Blue Marlin Komodo on the island of Flores, Indonesia, and below are a few first impressions that might help future DMTs prepare to take the plunge. This article will be followed by weekly updates covering what I’ve learned, alongside and challenges or useful tips I encountered during my training.
Blue Marlin Komodo provides a really handy overview of the main requirements of PADI Divemaster training, but wherever you choose to do the course, one thing is guaranteed: there will be a lot to cover. You begin by reviewing various chapters in your training manual, which cover topics such as assisting student divers, decompression theory, physics and physiology, equipment, and career development. The content of each chapter is discussed with your instructor during a ‘knowledge review’ and, following this, there are two exams to test what you’ve learned.
Practical application of these skills is a huge part of the PADI Divemaster course. You have to spend a lot of time familiarising yourself with the local dive sites, becoming adept at giving briefings and supervising recreational divers; you have to prepare an emergency action plan, map a dive site, and demonstrate that you have specific skills and stamina in the water, including the ability to remove and exchange all of your dive equipment below the surface while under stress; you have to learn about the day-to-day operations of a dive centre, helping with logistics and customer service; and you need to have assisted on a number of entry-level PADI courses (up to Rescue) before you become certified.
As can be seen from the above list of requirements, there’s a lot to get through on the PADI Divemaster Course, and this is one of the reasons most respectable dive schools suggest you take at least six weeks to do it. At Blue Marlin, they suggest as many as 10 and strongly recommend a minimum of eight. The more time you have, the more familiar you will become with the different dive sites, the more opportunities you will have to practice skills, and the more general dive experience you will gain.
Regardless of whether you take four or 10 weeks over your course, you’ll still be extremely busy. DMTs are expected to be at the dive school every day of the week unless they specifically request time off. A typical day at Blue Marlin Komodo begins at 7 am, when gear is checked before being loaded onto a van and then transferred to one of the day boats. Trips usually return between 3 and 5 pm, after which the equipment is washed and stored, and bags are packed for the next day. Often, customers will hang about in the restaurant, and it’s part of a DMT’s responsibility to be sociable, discuss the dives, share photos and video, and help them fill in their log books. It’s often 8 pm by the time this is done, which is the first chance you get to look over theory, go over knowledge reviews with your instructor, or build on the information you need to learn by doing further reading or watching educational videos.
Even on a day when you’re not on a dive boat there’s plenty to be done, especially during the first week when you’re still trying to find your feet, move into more permanent accommodation and make sure you have all of the equipment you need.
There’s no way around it: the PADI Divemaster course is expensive. Not only does the course set you back something in the region of £1000/US$1500 (which may or may not include the crew pack and learning materials), you will probably need to purchase your own equipment, and there’s also the annual PADI membership fee to consider (£110/US$150). For safety reasons, all dive schools should stipulate that you have your own dive computer. Most ask that you have a full set of personal equipment, but some are happy to let you borrow a BCD and regulator. As a rough guide, purchasing a new dive computer, fins, boots, mask, SMB/reel and wetsuit in various shops around Singapore set me back around £750/US$1100; however, you may be able to find some decent second-hand gear by looking on buy/swap/sell sites in the area you intend to do your training. Often, newly qualified dive masters will sell some of their heavier equipment when they finish their training.
Because your PADI Divemaster course is teaching you to be a professional, a DMT is considered part of the staff of the school they’re training with. For this reason, it’s important to follow rules on physical presentation. You need to arrive on time and be dressed in the dive school’s branded gear. The perceived credibility of the school is influenced by your behaviour even though you’re technically a paying customer yourself.
A good student will abide by these rules, but that’s not to say that they’ll always look their best! As a female DMT, the first thing to go is makeup. Unless you want panda eyes on a daily basis or know a super brand of waterproof mascara, you’ll soon learn it’s just not worth putting on a face at the start of each day. What’s more, you’ll save time by not doing so. In addition, you’ll find that a decent amount of your hair gets pulled out after becoming entangled in mask straps, velcro clasps, or other people’s clips during rescue exercises. Sunburn is another real risk when you spend so much time outside, repeatedly getting in and out of the water. Trying to see the damp, bedraggled look as natural beach chic may help give your self-confidence a boost, and chances are the other girls at your dive school will have a similar style!
At the end of the day, even though you feel overwhelmed and extremely tired at times, the PADI Divemaster course is a hugely rewarding experience. Many DMTs cram in as many as 100 dives during their training, and get to see some incredible marine life in the process. You may well have the chance to experience living in a completely different environment on the other side of the world. You’ll meet wonderful people with a shared passion and, based on discussions with them, you’ll pick up fantastic tips on the best dive spots, techniques, specialty courses and gear. You’ll see pure joy in the faces of those who discover scuba diving for the first time, and share in the satisfaction of students who’ve completed dive courses with your assistance. And, at the end of it all, you’ll come away with a recognised qualification that enables you to find employment within the dive industry and to continue your training with the PADI Instructor course.
IMPROVED SKILLS AND SAFE DIVING PRACTICES
While all of the benefits above are hugely relevant, one point that is drilled home throughout any dive course is the importance of gaining knowledge (through your own experience as well as that of others) and practising skills. One of the best ways to do this is through an intensive course that provides a deep level of information in addition to plenty of opportunities to put what you’ve learned to the test. After completing the PADI Divemaster course, there’s no doubt that you will be a more confident diver who is better able to follow safe diving practices and lead by example. Yes, it may be challenging at times, but the reward makes it all worthwhile.