A Complete Guide to the PADI Divemaster

PADI Divemaster Course in Thailand

PADI Course Director Matt Bolton answers the most common questions about the meaning and role of a PADI Divemaster.

One of the most common questions asked when people learn I am a PADI Course Director is ‘How do I become a Divemaster?

Often, people misunderstand what a Divemaster is and what role they play within the scuba diving industry. This common misconception and confusion has a lot to do with the word ‘master’ being present in the title. Of course, its true that PADI Divemasters are masters of scuba diving!

However, the term ‘master’ often confuses the uninitiated, many people believe the Divemaster rating is above that of an Instructor, and that Divemasters are able to teach people to dive and more. With the exception of a couple of PADI programs and Specialties this is not true.

So let’s clarify exactly what a Divemaster is and how you can become one, as well as answer a few other commonly asked questions around the subject.

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What is a PADI Divemaster?

A PADI Divemaster is the first professional level rating within the PADI system ( PADI flow chart ) and the world’s most popular Professional level scuba diving training course. Divemasters form the backbone of any successful scuba diving operation, performing several specific roles, each with a variety of tasks and duties.

As a dive leader you will organise the logistics for dive trips, ensure correct boat management procedures are followed, lead certified divers around dive sites and generally oversee all the diving activities on any given specific trip.

As a dive centre employee you will perform various customer service duties. These include making recommendations to divers on their best options when investing in scuba equipment, or offering advice on what their next step should be with regards to continuing their scuba diving education.

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Divemasters perform an important role as an Instructional assistant, assisting PADI Instructors during their teaching activities albeit under direct supervision.

Although limited in what you can ‘teach,’ Divemasters are able to complete additional training courses, such as the ‘Discover Scuba Diving Leader’ and the PADI Emergency O2 Provider Instructor course. You are then allowed to teach these specific programs and courses.

Divemasters also conduct several ‘Divemaster conducted programs’ including the PADI Re-Activate program, or when divers have been out of the water for a considerable time, to conduct an entire Scuba Review.

Working at a dive centre associated with a hotel may mean actively engaging with guests, offering an ‘intro’ or a discover scuba diving experience in the pool. This promotes PADI’s ‘dive today’ philosophy, and provides an opportunity for hotel guests to actually go diving in the ocean afterwards.

In some resort type areas, as a Discover scuba diving leader you may be conducting lots of DSD’s, especially during the busy high season months.

You will also be expected to know your way around the equipment service centre, not to mention completing daily stock checks and other administrative duties such as answering telephones and emails.

Other tasks could involve completing ‘dive checks’ for certified divers who don’t have their certification cards with them or processing certifications (PIC’s) via PADI’s OPC – Online Processing Centre. It is a key role in the overall day to day dive centre operation and logistics.

And finally as with many jobs in this day and age a PADI Divemaster is expected to have an understanding of social media, online marketing and the important role they play in modern dive centre operations.

At the very least you may be expected to contribute via your own social media accounts although often Divemasters play a more pivotal role by taking responsibility for some of the social media accounts of the dive centre they are working at. 

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How do I become a Divemaster ?

So now you know what a PADI Divemaster is, what training do you have to take to become one?

To begin with there are a few pre-requisites that an individual must meet before they can start the PADI Divemaster course.

You will need to be a PADI Rescue diver or equivalent and hold a recognised first aid and CPR certification completed within the previous 24 months. You also need to have logged a minimum of 40 dives. This is to ensure your diving ability is at the level required to start a professional level scuba diving course.

Contrary to what some in the diving industry mistakenly believe, it is the Divemaster course, not the Instructor course where Dive Professionals learn their Professional level standard water skills, not to mention a majority of that Professional level knowledge too.

Just as PADI Divemasters form the foundation of any good quality dive operation, the PADI Divemaster course provides the foundation for any good quality dive instructor and it is the platform for your future career in scuba diving.

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It is during this course where you learn dive site management skills, techniques, procedures and how to navigate when leading divers and how to manage diver emergencies.

You will study in-depth diving theory such as diving Physics, Physiology, decompression theory and perfect your diving skills to a level where you are able to demonstrate effectively and effortlessly to student divers.

And of course you are examined.

There are two final exams to complete, stamina tests including a 400 metre freestyle swim and a 15 minute tread water, a series of workshops that focus on more specialised diving activities such as search & recovery as well as deep diving.

You are evaluated on your supervisory approach and ability to control divers in real life environments’ and taught how to conduct programs that as a qualified Divemaster you are certified to do so such as the PADI Skin Diver course or the additional open water dive from a Discover Scuba Diving program.

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What can I teach as a PADI Divemaster?

The short version is that PADI Divemasters are limited in what they can actually ‘teach’ as I mentioned earlier.

You can teach and certify PADI Skin Divers independently of an Instructor as well as the PADI Seal Team AquaMission Skin Diver Specialist.

Divemasters are also able to conduct the Discover Snorkelling program as well as conduct the skin diving skills segment of the Open Water Diver course during confined water dive 2, 3, 4, or 5.

That is about as far as ‘teaching’ goes if we define teaching as ‘to impart knowledge to or instruct (someone) as to how to do something for the first time, cause (someone) to learn or understand something’

We can also ‘teach’ certified divers about the local environment when conducting the ‘Discover Local Diving’ experience with divers not familiar with the local environment.

Other program’s Divemasters participate in such as the ReActivate and Scuba Review program are designed for certified divers who haven’t dived in a while – so you are refreshing and reminding rather than teaching new concepts.

Or in the case of being able to conduct subsequent dives for Discover Scuba Diving, a Divemaster acts more in a supervisory role, although still under indirect supervision of an instructor often with greatly reduced ratios.

You are able to conduct Discover Scuba Diving in a pool or in confined open water once qualified as a Discover Scuba Diving Leader and teach Emergency Oxygen Provider courses after completing the corresponding instructor training.

If your goal is to teach people and impart your love for the underwater world onto others, you will need to take the next career step after becoming a PADI Divemaster and enrol on the PADI Instructor Development course.

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What is a Divemaster Internship?

The word ‘Internship’ nowadays immediately conjures up images of someone working and not being paid for it, misleading people into believing that this is nothing more than a way for an organisation to get a free pair of hands to help them out.

You only have to spend 30 minutes on one of the many scuba diving forums to read someone, somewhere warning against these ‘work for free’ Internships.

I am not suggesting this is completely untrue. Unfortunately, there will be organisations in a variety of industries across the spectrum that may take advantage of an Intern in this way.

The actual definition of an ‘Internship’ in the dictionary is ‘the position of a student or trainee who works in an organisation, sometimes without pay, in order to gain work experience or satisfy requirements for a qualification.’

I completed a Divemaster Internship. It helped me to satisfy some of the performance requirements of the course and it also provided invaluable work experience in the process.

I wasn’t paid for this and I certainly believe the dive centre received great value from me but I can categorically state without any doubt I got way more value!

The Divemaster Internship I did is probably the single most important factor as to why I’m here 20 years later writing this blog! It provided me with a great foundation for later roles as a dive instructor, dive centre manager and PADI Course Director.

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So what is a Divemaster Internship? There is a two-fold answer to this question.

Lets first look at the PADI ‘Internship’ option that covers the Practical Assessment portion of your Divemaster course. This section has four areas you need to complete, each with multiple performance requirements you need to master based on a scoring criteria we explain during the Orientation.

The four Practical Assessments are Open Water Diver Students in Confined Water, Open Water Diver Students in Open Water, Continuing Education Student Divers in Open Water and Certified Divers in Open Water. You are also evaluated on your overall Professionalism during these assessments.

We are extremely fortunate on Koh Tao when conducting professional level training courses to be able to tap into a large number of real life student divers who visit the island year round to Get their PADI’, not to mention plenty of them completing various continuing education courses afterwards.

This allows all our Divemaster candidates to complete what was traditionally referred to as the ‘Internship option’.

This was pre 2011 before PADI’s most recent overhaul of the Divemaster course. A significant number of Divemaster candidates where completing their training in non-resort areas where there was a need to ‘role play’ student divers when there was enough real courses going on.

This involved imitating and assigning commonly encountered problems much the same way we do on the IDC.

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As popular tourist destinations such as Koh Tao and Gili Trawangan became more accessible as bucket list places to visit, the need to role play becomes less.

This means the Internship option became the norm for many Divemaster candidates around the world who preferred to travel to warmer climates when completing their PADI Professional level training.

We have now extended this concept at IDC Koh Tao Thailand in conjunction with Crystal Dive. We include unlimited diving for those candidates who choose to book our Divemaster Internship package.

The practical assessment modules are extended and involve candidates ‘assisting’ on multiple Open Water courses during their course.

As a result our candidates gain much more experience, working alongside some of the best PADI Instructors in the business whilst learning to be effective instructional assistants, dealing with real students demonstrating real problems.

We also offer a wide range of opportunities to ‘assist’ on continuing education courses. Crystal Dive teaches a good number of Advanced Open water courses.

We also have plenty of other continuing education courses taking place with regular Rescue courses scheduled and daily PADI Specialties being conducted, the most popular ones being Wreck, Deep & Nitrox.

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What is a Divemaster ‘Working Internship Program’

This is another common question I get asked.

Most people understand that as a Divemaster candidate you are limited in what you can do. You are on a training course, under the direct supervision, for the most part, of a PADI Instructor.

Legally you are a certified Rescue diver until you have met all performance requirements, paid your membership fee and received your PADI number. Only then are you a PADI Professional and member of the largest and most popular scuba diving training organisation in the world!

So what’s next?

I have a newly certified Divemaster who was a pleasure to teach during their course and is now enthusiastic about starting a new career in the scuba diving industry and is actively seeking work.

The question I always ask is – are you ready to work for me at Crystal Dive?

This was something I thought about long and hard in the first few years of my management career. Divemaster Candidates are Rescue Divers and as such are limited in what role they can play during their training.

Certainly asking them to independently conduct any of the ‘Divemaster conducted programs’ was out of the question.

Although as certified divers we are all able to dive independent of a dive professional, customer service needs to be taken into consideration as does task loading brand new dive professionals who are just starting out on their dream diving career.

How do I balance these factors with getting good value professionals working for the dive centre and having a clear line where the training is finished and the payments start!

So I put together our Working Internship program that built upon the skills and experience candidates had gained during their DM course and essentially it provided an extended training program.

It bridged the gap from officially ending their time as a Divemaster candidate and becoming a PADI Member, to a fully working, confident dive professional.

Our Working Internship Program is aimed at individuals interested in gaining real working experience at a popular Koh Tao PADI dive centre, in order to increase their employment opportunities and their leadership & management skills. We use this program to pre-assess all future employees of Crystal Dive, Koh Tao.

The program is usually scheduled over 14 days – with 1-2 days off depending on each individual candidate and covers all the main duties and roles of a Divemaster working at Crystal Dive.

There are four main areas we focus on; Land Duties, Office duties, Boat Management, Dive leadership and Divemaster conducted programs.

Land duties focus on the operations and logistics involved in ensuring a smooth day at Crystal Dive.

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Some of the areas you will gain experience in include:

  • Correct equipment inventory – Its important equipment stock checks are correct for our 3 dive boats – morning, afternoon trips and night dives as well as our pool training sessions.
  • Check and prepare O2 & first Aid kits – all our Interns have completed the PADI EOP course.
  • How to fill Nitrox cylinders – We need to ensure all Enriched Air cylinders required for following days dives are filled to the correct specifications as required.
  • Advanced Equipment maintenance skills – we need to ensure any equipment defects are serviced. All our Interns have been certified as Equipment specialists with an extended course conducted by our in house service technician during their initial Divemaster training.

Our main office is the Operational hub of our dive centre. Office duties involve liaising with the dive staff that are on the boats, those staff teaching in the pool or classrooms, as well as your fellow Divemasters who are on land duties.

Obviously there are lots of interactions with the most important part of our business: Our customers.

Some of the skills you will learn include:

  • How to use our Dive Centre Management System to record customer information and data and enter courses, dive trips and other related products. Also, how to prepare a trip list for a dive trip and ensure that trip list is up to date and accurate.
  • Customer service skills – whilst checking divers in and out, booking them onto dive trips or courses you will learn how to promote scuba diving in general and the range of PADI courses we offer.
  • Support dive centre scheduling to ensure we have enough cylinders filled for pool training.

Crystal Dive employs a dedicated Boat Master, responsible for boat management on every dive trip.

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This is an important role with regards to diver safety and all PADI Pro’s working at Crystal need to be proficient in this role. Some of the procedures you will become familiar with and oversee include:

  • Preparing emergency safety equipment.
  • Organise location for each dive group to assemble and provide direction for divers.
  • Give boat briefing using dive roster, ensure everyone is on board, review check in and check out procedures with divers.
  • Prepare and organise setting up float/dive flag/sand screw for Instructors conducting staged skills.
  • Choosing an appropriate vantage point from which to monitor the diver.
  • Organise spotters when moving boat in/out of dive sites.
  • Being accessible to answer diver questions and be prepared to assist divers both before and after their dive.

The diver leadership & ‘Divemaster conducted programs’ module builds on the skills you learned during the Divemaster course. These include:

  • Build your confidence with briefings / debriefings and leading certified divers around a variety of dives sites at a ratio no greater than 4:1
  • Improving knowledge of dive sites, and specifically making marine life observations relevant to your diver’s level and experience.
  • Counsel divers on further diving experiences and continuing education opportunities
  • Build confidence conducting the knowledge development and skills refresher on the PADI ReActivate / Scuba Review program.
  • Gain more experience assisting Instructors with the DSD program and gain additional confidence leading the additional open water dive at a ratio of 2:1

Having managed a popular and successful PADI IDC centre for over 14 years I’m still tweaking this Internship and regularly update it. I plan to add an online marketing module, as well as a PADI OPC workshop in the New Year to keep it fresh and modern. 

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How long does it take to become a Divemaster?

Another popular question with a prospective Divemaster candidate, especially one who has time restrictions.

So how long will it take you to become a Divemaster?

It really depends on you!

Like any PADI course the Divemaster course is performance based not time based. But unlike a lot of courses, and as discussed above with the added Internship portion, DM courses can be scheduled over a much longer period such as 1- 2 months.

This allows candidates; especially in areas like Koh Tao to not only get real value for money, but lots of valuable real world experience at a dive centre.

So let’s break things down.

We already know we need a minimum of 40 dives to start a Divemaster course. One of the performance requirements prior to an individual being certified is to have a minimum of 60 dives upon.

If a candidate was to complete all 9 knowledge reviews from the DM manual as well as either do the e-learning modules or study the Encyclopedia before arriving then any remaining knowledge development would be minimal.

After completion of Final Exam part 1 and an Emergency Assistance Plan, it would leave the practical workshops and assessment components.

With a dedicated Pro level training team and multiple dive boats on multiple dive trips each day, along with plenty of pool space available 24/7, we can really personalise courses and facilitate a 10 day schedule at IDC Koh Tao Thailand located at Crystal Dive.

Providing you met all performance requirements and have a great attitude and are willing to be wet all day, you will easily get the additional 20 dives and leave as a certified Divemaster. Not an ideal scenario but do-able nonetheless.

So there’s your minimum.

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On average our DMC’s are taking around 4 weeks from Rescue Diver with 40 dives to Divemaster with 80 dives and lots of valuable experience. During this period you would complete 3 full skill circuits and lots of additional assists with our Instructional team.

And what is the ideal timeframe?

It really varies from person to person. We all learn at different speeds and in different ways but again on average I would say 4 weeks plus add the working Internship program on top and look at reaching that magic mark of 100 dives.

Of course, that’s if you haven’t already surpassed it previously – but either way gaining 60 dives from the entire program is a good yardstick to use!

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How much does it cost to become a Divemaster?

Another variable, just like timeframe, although cost is more determined by location than individual.

To complete a basic Divemaster Internship here on Koh Tao, including PADI educational materials, your PADI Membership fee, plus tuition costs and diving (although this may be limited) you are looking at around US$1200.

At Crystal Dive we offer an all-inclusive package with a few useful extras thrown in such as an Equipment Specialist course, Emergency Oxygen Provider and the PADI Basic Freediver.

We also include our Marine conservation program, a 1 year professional level diving insurance policy, the working Internship program I discussed earlier and free diving for life!

All equipment rentals are covered and we throw in some additional items that are useful for any PADI Professional including a compass, diving knife and SMB.

For less than US$1700 I believe it’s the best deal around – I would say that as it was me that wrote the program – but I believe our programs produce a well-rounded and knowledgeable dive pro.

The industry best value and feedback I receive from ex Interns who have worked across the industry, at different dive centres and in different locations backs this up.

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How easy is it to find work as a Divemaster ?

Where there is a will there is a way.

Your Attitude is important! Get out there, talk to people and put yourself in a position to pick up work as it becomes available.

There are lots of Divemaster jobs available and although there are dive centres that prefer an Instructor to take the role a DM could (usually liveaboards where they may have customers that want to complete a Specialty or two), there are also plenty that do not!

In locations like Koh Tao there is a need for good quality Divemasters possessing good communication and customer service skills and solid dive leadership abilities.

Additional abilities such as social media and online marketing skills or a second language will help you stand out from the rest but ultimately the best attribute you can possess is the correct attitude.

Prepare a CV and ideally visit the Dive Centres you are applying for work with and tell them how much you love scuba diving!

How much do Divemasters earn?

Once again a question where there is no real straight answer.

Earnings vary from location to location, as well as from dive centre to dive centre. Some dive centres pay commission only, others salary only.

At Crystal Dive we pay a combination of both – a base salary with commissions based on number of scuba review’s conducted, continuing education and equipment sales and other various incentives.

And of course earnings vary based on seasons too – high seasons see earnings 20-30% higher than during low seasons. 

The Guide to a PADI Divemaster Conclusion

As I said at the beginning of this article there are common misunderstandings surrounding the Divemaster role including detailed information about what it is as well as the course itself.

I hope this article addresses some of the common questions and misunderstandings and you are now much clearer in your mind as to where you stand.

Its important to remember that the Divemaster course provides the foundation, skill set and knowledge for any good dive professional, so my advice is take your time when choosing the location, facilities and course and study the fine details.

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Divemaster or a Master Scuba Diver?

The PADI Master Scuba Diver certification is often confused or mixed up with the Divemaster qualification by laypersons, the main reason being that word ‘master’.

So what is a Master Scuba Diver?

This certification is an ‘experience’ certification and is awarded to a diver who has met certain pre-requisites that donates experience above and beyond that of a normal certified diver. The MSD is the highest ‘non-professional’ rating within the PADI system, so in effect the ‘black belt’ of recreational diving’s non-professional diver certifications.

How do you become a PADI Master Scuba Diver?

To be able to apply for the PADI Master Scuba Diver rating an individual must first meet the following criteria.

  • Be a PADI Rescue Diver or equivalent
  • Hold 5 PADI Specialty diver certifications
  • Have a minimum of 50 logged dives

Author

Matt Bolton

Award Winning PADI Course Director – 463599

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