Week 1 of the PADI Divemaster course was a little bit overwhelming. It was not dissimilar to that feeling you get when you start a new job and wonder if you’ll ever be able to take everything on board. I realised immediately that the next 8 to 10 weeks would be more intense and time consuming than expected. By the end of the week I was exhausted. I’d spent every waking moment either on the boat, at the dive centre, or studying theory.
However, despite the tolls on my physical and mental state, I had no regrets. I’d met a fantastic team of instructors, boat crew and support staff; visited some of the most incredible dive sites on the planet; got settled into a lovely shared house; and begun to appreciate the small community vibe of Labuan Bajo, Komodo.
By the end of week 1, we’d also made a respectable dent in the intimidating list of divemaster trainee requirements…
THEORY AND EXAM PART 1
The theory component of the divemaster course can be split into two broad categories. Chapters 1 to 7 of the Divemaster Manual cover topics that help you to understand your role. These range from your duties as a divemaster to safety and risk management, and even future career prospects. Each chapter ends with a knowledge review, and you go over your answers with your instructor(s) to ensure you understand the content. This is followed by your first exam, which consists of 60 multiple choice questions. These are relatively straightforward if you’ve done a respectable amount of preparation and don’t get caught out by trick questions.
Chapters 8 and 9 are much more technical and, for this reason, a second exam (consisting of another 60 multiple choice questions) is dedicated solely to the dive environment and dive theory. You probably won’t get around to this until week 2 or 3.
COURSE ASSIST (RESCUE)
During your divemaster training, you’re expected to assist on various courses. These include those that you will have completed yourself in order to be eligible for the PADI Divemaster Course (i.e., Open Water, Advanced and Rescue), plus the Scuba Review and Skin Diver Course, which – as a certified divemaster – you will be qualified to teach. You also learn to guide certified divers on Discover Local Diving experiences and to assist and guide as part of the Discover Scuba Diving course.
The order in which you assist on these courses will depend largely on bookings and your availability. My first course assist was Rescue – one of the most fun, because it gives you plenty of opportunities to help demonstrate skills and play the ‘victim’.
You’ll be required to fake panic and unconsciousness both on the surface and underwater, to purposefully gear up incorrectly and to enact potential stress-inducing situations. If you do it well, the student should be thoroughly paranoid by your presence after a couple of days, but you’ll probably build up a strong rapport too.
OPEN WATER SKILLS DEMONSTRATIONS (PART 1)
When assisting on courses, your primary role is to handle logistics, which facilitates the role of the instructor. You may be asked to supervise the group when your instructor has to focus on an individual or other duties, and it is also likely that you will be required to help demonstrate skills – either because they require more than one person, or because a student is having difficulty learning one or more of them. In these circumstances you need to demonstrate in a way that maximises student learning, and this means slow, exaggerated movements, performed as part of a specified sequence. You also need to remember to make each critical attribute of that skill visible to all student divers who are observing your demonstration.
Part of your divemaster training involves re-learning the 20 Open Water skills as demonstration-quality routines.
If you did your Open Water Course a long time ago, your memory of some of these skills could be hazy or there may even be new ones you haven’t come across before. They include the following:
- Equipment assembly, adjustment, preparation, donning, and disassembly
- Predive safety check
- Deep-water entry
- Buoyancy check at the surface
- Snorkel-regulator/regulator-snorkel exchange
- Five-point descent
- Regulator recovery and clearing
- Mask removal, replacement and clearing
- Air depletion exercise and alternate air source use
- Alternate air source-assisted ascent
- Free-flow regulator breathing
- Neutral buoyancy
- Five-point ascent
- Controlled emergency swimming ascent
- Hover motionless for 30 seconds
- Underwater swim without a mask
- Remove and replace weight system underwater
- Remove and replace scuba unit underwater
- Remove and replace scuba unit on the surface
- Remove and replace weight system on the surface
The first time you go through this skills session, your instructor will show you the sequence once and you’ll have to relay it back to them. If your actions aren’t obvious, you miss a vital step, or you complete a skill in the wrong order, you’ll receive a score of 0 and be required to re-demonstrate it at a later date.
Even if you perform skills perfectly, remember that you may well be called upon to demonstrate them again in the future so it doesn’t hurt to run through them in your mind on a regular basis.
15 MINUTE TREAD
As well as demonstrating technical skills, you need to be able to show that you’re comfortable in the water and have a level of stamina sufficient for performing any divemaster duty. During your divemaster training, you’ll be evaluated on your ability to tread water, swim various distances with and without fins, tow a tired diver, search for and recover something, react to a rescue scenario, and eventually, exchange all of your equipment underwater while under stress.
The 15-minute tread is usually performed in the open ocean between dives, and you’re required not to wear a wetsuit because it could help your buoyancy. It’s quite easy until the final two minutes when you have to hold your arms up out of the water.
FAMILIARITY WITH DIVE SITES
As you go through your divemaster training, you gradually take on more and more knowledge about the dive sites you visit. You may start by learning their names, figuring out which are the most popular, and associating them with certain topography, dive objectives and marine life.
In Komodo National Park, mantas are one of the top attractions and they’re seen most commonly at Makkasar and Mauan. Siaba Besar is a fantastic muck dive, with a sandy bottom leading to a sea mound that often sports a turtle or reef tip shark. Batu Bolong is another popular choice. It’s been listed as one of the top dive sites in the world by National Geographic and has an incredible abundance of marine life. It’s also susceptible to down currents and should only be dived by experienced divers on its lee side.
As you progress, you learn more about specific features of each dive site, precisely where they’re located, the best time of year to visit, and how they’re affected by rising and falling tides at different phases of the lunar cycle.
From the beginning of your divemaster training you begin to familiarise yourself with the working processes of the dive centre. Customer service and logistics is a big part of running a dive centre and you’re expected to greet and assist customers, help them to select gear, and ensure that they fill out paperwork correctly. Often, you’re responsible for packing gear bags ready for the next day and, early the next morning, you need to check that all gear, first aid, emergency response equipment, food and drink, and the correct number/type of tanks have been packed. You may also need to help the boat crew load and unload the boat, set up other people’s equipment, and rinse gear at the end of the day.
Whenever you spend time at the dive centre, you’re recognised as a member of staff and it’s important to retain an air of professionalism. Filling out log books, helping customers to identify marine life and chatting about the day’s diving is all part of the job. It doesn’t have to be a chore though. This is a great opportunity to learn from other divers’ experiences.
My divemaster training is being conducted by Blue Marlin Komodo, which is located in the small town of Labuan Bajo on the island of Flores. While PADI lays out a list of requirements for passing the course, each dive centre conducts it slightly differently. The order in which you complete each requirement varies, as does the timescale. Blue Marlin Komodo recommend that you take 8 to 10 weeks to fully experience and familiarise yourself with each dive site. They include time on a liveaboard and provide quality training with a focus on enjoyment and safety. For further information about the course, see their divemaster training brochure.