I did it! I decided to take the next step in my professional diving progression to complete the Divemaster program. The course was challenging but also very fulfilling. Below is some insight I gained throughout my journey to PADI Divemaster.
PADI sets the criteria for enrollment in the Divemaster program so it is important to refer to their website for current requirements since these can change. Before starting the program, I earned Master Scuba Diver credentials. While this is not required, it did help guide my progression. Whether it was the specialty certifications I chose (especially Deep, Night, Peak Performance Buoyancy), the variety of dive destinations to which I traveled (conditions with drift, current, surge, diverse marine life, varying salinity, freshwater) or the actual dive sites (reefs, wrecks, caverns/cenotes, underwater photography opportunities) I selected, each fulfilled a very specific purpose in my training. While my friends may have thought my travel selections were random, this was not the case. I wanted to be efficiently diverse in my dive portfolio. When you are ready to begin your course, you will need to select a dive shop to affiliate with. Take time to do your research and chose the right program and dive shop for you – many factors may influence your decision (price, duration, location, language and communication practices, staff credentials, dive shop reputation, references, internship opportunities). If you do not own a compass, dive slate with pencils, audible and visible signaling devices (whistle and surface marker buoy) and dive knife, you will need to purchase these.
- Lessons Learned: If you are considering advanced credentials, my recommendation is to be methodical (unless you have and endless supply of time, money and patience). Select certifications wisely. Dive in diverse conditions – as your skill level safely supports – and log all of your dives. Pay attention to the lessons you learn (everything from equipment failures to seasickness). Embrace cultural diversity. Research potential goals and keep them in sight even if they are years ahead of you. Make friends and have fun along the way! Your instructors and dive buddies are part of this experience with you.
I opted to complete the PADI eLearning program because I wanted to take time to learn at my own pace and always know where I left off and what was still in front of me. Since I am a combined learning style (my best retention is through written, auditory and hands-on experiences) and do not particularly enjoy reading textbooks, the interactive experience balanced the program for me. The other reason I selected eLearning is because I enrolled in an international certification program. By completing the eLearning components before I arrived, I maximized my time in the water with my instructors and ensured I was well prepared.
- Lessons Learned: The Divemaster program itself is not a race – take your time. While you do not have to purchase the Divemaster Crewpack before starting the eLearning, I would recommend this since you will eventually need the books and eRDPML calculator. Before you buy these, research prices. I found a great online deal through a credible dive shop that included all the materials (with authenticated hologram) plus free eRDPML, embroidered baseball cap and extra mask strap. When you start the eLearning, consider completing each section in consecutive order and allow time in between sections to be sure you are not rushing. Take the quizzes seriously and pretend the knowledge reviews are final exams.
Beyond the eLearning exams, there are two in-person written exams. The first is focused more on PADI standards and programs while the other is more focused on dive theory. The best preparation was to study the Instructor Manual and the Divemaster Manual (especially chapters on the environmental conditions and dive theory).
- Lessons Learned: While you are reading, test yourself with the written self-assessments and knowledge reviews. Have a friend do a mock test with you verbally. If you are able to explain the concepts out loud, it may help you with the written test. Be sure you know how to use both the dive tables and the eRDPML. You will need both of these for the exam.
There are several endurance and stress tests to complete on-site with your instructor which are set by PADI, so keep in mind that they may change. Generally speaking, a candidate should expect to swim, tread water, task load and demonstrate rescue techniques. Each test earns points based on performance with a required minimum to pass.
- Lessons Learned: Unless you regularly swim timed 400m laps, buddy-breathe and tread water with your arms above water, practice. Being in good physical condition will help you score highly on these tests.
Demonstration Skills Assessments
A Divemaster candidate will be expected to demonstrate the skills used in the Open Water and Skin Diver courses (there are ~24). Keep in mind that you are not just demonstrating the skill itself (after all, you did that when you got your Open Water certification) – you are demonstrating your techniques for teaching those skills. As with the stamina tests, each demonstration earns points based on performance with a required minimum to pass.
- Lessons Learned: Practice, practice, practice. I watched videos over and over until I knew exactly how to demonstrate each skill. I found it helpful to refer to the Scuba Review dive slate (it lists all the skills) in a room and do the demonstrations without any words before I even got into the water. This may look funny to someone else watching you, but being able to master the teaching techniques out of water makes it easier when you do enter the water. Also, learn to demonstrate these 24 skills in order because that is how you will be tested (and how you would eventually teach) and repetition is a good way to study.
Practical Skills and Assessments
There are several tasks to be completed in this section. Again, PADI sets the criteria but it will likely include activities such as dive site mapping, dive site set-up and briefing, search and recovery and deep diving scenarios (unless you already have these specialty certifications), assisting with student divers and leading local dives. You may also continue with additional internship activities with some dive shops.
- Lessons Learned: In terms of how to prepare for this, my recommendation would be to develop a comfort in speaking with people. Because you will be working with real students and new divers in the program, it is important that you are comfortable interacting. Practice doing a dive site briefing with a friend by using your slate. It can also be helpful to observe other Divemasters. For the other assessments, be sure you know how to use a compass, your dive computer for depth measurements, surface marker buoy, lift bag, search patterns, knots, etc. Your instructor can also help you with these, but it is far less stressful if you have a good understanding before the course. It will also save you time in the course so you can do more diving and less instruction.
After your course, a candidate will work with the dive shop to submit the final paperwork to PADI along with the annual fee. To maintain credentials, renew annually.
- Lessons Learned: Be sure all components on your application are complete including the hologram and photo that must be attached. Photocopy the application before your dive shop mails this to PADI in case there are any issues. The turnaround time to get your Divemaster card is ~2 weeks. Once you have your credentials, do not forget to renew your membership annually. Also, be sure you stay up to date with your Emergency First Responder (EFR) credentials as well – I believe these need to be renewed every other year.