All together, my PADI divemaster training took just over six weeks. This is usually the recommended minimum amount of time, but if you haven’t got any pressing tasks to get on with in life, you should really consider spending longer on it. Extra time at most dive centres does not mean extra cost, so why not gain more experience and get in as much diving as you can – especially if you’re with a fantastic school like Blue Marlin in an incredible location like Komodo.
When you come to the end of your course, the last few tasks are usually the most challenging. In addition to rounding off a few skills like search and recovery and putting together an emergency assistance plan, the final two challenges for me were also the ones I’d been dreading the most – the ‘stress test’ (also known as equipment exchange) and the ‘snorkel test’ – also known as a heavy night of drinking and probably the best send off you’ll ever have in your life.
SEARCH AND RECOVERY
Search and recovery is a really useful skill to learn. While you’ll have touched on aspects of it during your Advanced and Rescue courses (i.e., reciprocal compass headings and search patterns), this specialty skill incorporates lifting procedures.
As part of the process of recovering items from the ocean, you also need to learn how to tie a variety of knots, including the bowline, sheet bend and two half hitches. Your instructor will probably have you demonstrate U-shape and expanding square search patterns, with recovery of smallish items like partially buried weights or weight belts. You will need to show that you can tie each of the knots while hovering underwater, and you will have to put one of them to the test by attaching an item to a lift bag, adding air, ascending with it in a controlled manner, and safely transporting it back to the boat.
None of the tasks is particularly challenging, but it will be easier if you practise the knots a few times on the surface first.
EMERGENCY ASSISTANCE PLAN
The emergency assistance plan is pretty straightforward, but this doesn’t mean you should underestimate how long it might take to put together. It’s basically a list of contacts and specified actions that people may need in the case of an accident or emergency while on board your dive school’s boat.
As a PADI divemaster trainee, you’ll be asked to prepare one for a specific boat at a specific dive site, which means you need to think about the resources available on that boat, as well as which scenarios would be most likely to occur. For example, if you list potential injuries caused by marine life, it would be inappropriate to include an animal that doesn’t inhabit that particular location.
When you’re putting together your contacts list, you should include phone numbers for people at your dive centre, emergency contacts at DAN, search and rescue teams, air and land transport services, and radio channels the boat could use. You should add the address of the nearest hospital, as well as the nearest facility with a recompression chamber. You should also write a step-by-step guide to how to deal with common problems like missing or unresponsive divers, and include information on how to recognise and respond to various injuries. As an example, you can find mine here.
STRESS TEST/EQUIPMENT EXCHANGE
The PADI divemaster stress test is designed to evaluate your ability to cope with potentially stressful and unfamiliar scenarios under the water. It takes place in a safe, controlled environment like a shallow pool, and involves exchanging all equipment except your wetsuit while sharing a single regulator. If you appear to be comfortable with this, your instructor might throw in a few curve balls, like blasting air in your face, turning off the tank, inflating your BCD or snatching equipment from you. These are not PADI requirements, so if you have any concerns about the way your equipment exchange might be conducted, speak to your instructor beforehand.
Before taking on this ordeal, it’s not a bad idea to look for tips online. Watching YouTube videos with your buddy can help give you ideas for a routine. You can also discuss with them which order you’d prefer to do things in. For example, if you struggle with mask removal, you might like to get it out of the way first so it’s not playing on your mind. One very handy tip is to start with your buddy’s gear and exchange back to your own. This means that you will feel increasingly more comfortable as the exercise progresses, rather than adding to the anxiety by taking on more and more unfamiliar equipment. It’s also a lot easier to remove someone else’s gear than it is to put it on.
Last but not least, pick a buddy who’s confident underwater and can cope without air for longer than average! It might just make the difference between a pass and a fail. Your score out of 5 is more subjective than in the other water skills tests, and depends largely on how controlled the process is.
The snorkel test is your unofficial final exam and is basically an all-encompassing term to describe the night when you celebrate passing all of the official PADI requirements.
Depending on your dive centre, it could incorporate any number of publicly humiliating tasks, but one in particular remains a constant – downing some very potent alcohol through a snorkel that has a sawn-off water bottle attached to the top. It doesn’t sound like the worst challenge, except that you have to wear a mask at the same time. Your inability to breathe makes you much more anxious to finish your cocktail, and by the end of it, you probably won’t feel too jolly. Embarrassing stories may also be thrown into the mix for good measure.
Eat a lot beforehand to line your stomach, drink water afterwards, and try to pull through the drunken stupor, because you don’t want to miss your big night. If, like me, you can surprise everyone by pulling some live band karaoke out of the bag (fortunately, there’s no record of this!), then everyone’s a winner…
My PADI 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 PADI divemaster training brochure.