Since the day you took your first breath underwater, you’ve been dreaming about how cool it would be to one day get a qualification in diving that will enable you to work in the profession. You’ve researched different locations, saved up some money, absolved yourself from any responsibilities back home and committed to your PADI Divemaster course with Blue Marlin Komodo. Of course, it’s only natural to feel some degree of trepidation, so in this article, current divemaster trainee and full-time professional travel blogger Arianwen Morris discusses a few common expectations of the training, and how they match up to reality.
Expectation: There’s an Overwhelming Amount to Learn
When you first arrive at the dive centre and they hand you all the paperwork, you get to see all of the criteria for becoming a divemaster laid out in black and white. There’s a lot to get through, including theory, course assists, stamina tests, briefings, guiding, mapping, rescue and search recovery scenarios, as well as the final, dreaded stress test.
Don’t panic. This is the reason most dive centres suggest you spread the course out over 6 to 8 weeks. This is actually ample time to do everything. In fact, after a few weeks, the pace often slows and you might even have days when you feel restless because all you’re doing is fine-tuning skills rather than ticking off requirements for your qualification. Your instructors will know what you need to accomplish and by when, and they’ll make sure you fit everything in, with contingency for unforeseen holdups.
Reality? While there is a lot to learn, your instructor will help pace it out to make it fully manageable.
Expectation: The Theory Will be Challenging
There’s no doubt that the theory part of the PADI Divemaster course goes into far more technical detail than previous diving certifications required, but there’s no reason why you should struggle. The PADI learning materials are laid out in such a way that they cover the basic information first and then build on it. The first seven chapters of your Divemaster Manual provide the information you need for your first multiple choice exam, and the majority of this is common sense.Chapters 8 and 9 take a lot more time to process as they discuss topics such as depth/pressure/density relationships, decompression theory, the physics behind how your equipment works, and the various factors affecting dive conditions.
The important thing to remember is that you have plenty of resources to fall back on. Your crew pack includes a huge text book called the Encyclopaedia of Diving. This goes into far more detail about each of the concepts covered in your theory manual. You’ll also be assigned a mentor who will be on hand to talk you through any difficulties. At the end of each chapter of your manual, you’ll fill out a knowledge review and then discuss what you learned with your instructor. They’ll talk you through it in detail before you sign off that you understand all of the concepts. Following this process, and with a bit of revision, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t pass both exams first time.
Reality? The first 6 chapters are quite easy. Zoom past these early in order to give yourself plenty of time to really absorb challenging bits. Remember, your instructors are a great resource!
Expectation: It Will be Expensive
Unfortunately, it’s true that the divemaster course is quite pricey. Your course fees are a significant chunk of this cost, but there’s also the crew pack and PADI membership fees, as well as the requirement to purchase your own gear if you don’t have it already. At Blue Marlin Komodo, they let you borrow a reg and BCD, but you’re expected to have your own mask, snorkel, fins, boots, wetsuit, dive computer, SMB and reel, and pointer stick. A compass is also very useful. Think of purchasing your own equipment as an investment. Once you have gear you’ve chosen yourself you’ll never want to rent again. It’s your chance to kit yourself out in the most comfortable and visually appealing state-of-the-art products and, if you choose well, they’ll last you for many years to come.
Also, when you think about it, for the number of hours the dive school invests in your education, it’s quite a cheap qualification compared with many. Over the course of your training, you’ll complete between 60 and 100 dives, gain invaluable experience, and benefit from constant support from your instructors. At Blue Marlin Komodo, you receive a discount on all food and drinks purchased at their restaurant, and you get to spend time helping out on their liveaboard Ikan Biru. You also get to join a trek with Komodo dragons on Rinca Island. Living costs in Labuan Bajo are extremely low. A decent double room in a shared house, with WiFi, hot water, a kitchen, and all bills included, should set you back no more than IDR 2,000,000 a month.
In addition, you come away from a divemaster course in Komodo with extremely valuable experience and a qualification that sets you in good stead to begin a career in the dive industry. With time, you could easily make your money back.
Reality? Yes, the actual price tag can be a bit high. However, doing your divemaster course is actually one of the cheapest way to dive everyday!
Expectation: The Stamina Tests Will be the Easiest
Most people expect the in-water stamina tests to be a piece of cake. They anticipate having them ticked off pretty early on and then putting the biggest amount of time and effort into the technical skills. With the exception of treading water, the stamina tests are actually quite difficult. Swimming 400 m in the open ocean isn’t too taxing, but doing it fast enough to get full marks is – for many – an impossible feat. Thankfully, PADI allows for imperfection. As long as you get at least a 1/5 for each task and your overall mark is 15 or above, you’ll pass this section of the course. If you have concerns about one or two of the requirements, ask to practise them. You might also suggest that you fine tune your performance on those tasks you find easiest so that you can gain full marks to counterbalance the lower marks of the tasks you struggle with.
Reality? This stuff can be tough. Starting a daily routine of swimming in the morning or during your surface intervals can be incredibly helpful if you are at all nervous.
Expectation: The Currents Will be Crazy
If you’ve decided to do your PADI Divemaster training in Komodo, you may well have heard that the currents can be a little insane, and there’s some truth in this! Especially around full and no moon, the largest volumes of water are moving with the tides in the shortest amounts of time, and this can have a seriously powerful influence on diving conditions. The important thing to remember is that your instructors are experienced with each of the dive sites, and they know to dive them differently depending on the tides. For example, some dive sites require you to dive on the lee side of an island, where the water is mostly protected from currents. Others require you to drop in with negative entry and go with the drift. Listen to your dive briefings and respect the ocean, and you should have no problem managing challenging conditions. What’s more, you will learn how to predict whether there will be a rising or falling tide at a particular dive site, as well as its relative intensity and how this will affect the way you approach the dive plan. As a certified divemaster, this experience will earn you more respect from the dive community and you might well find that you’re more employable as a result.
Reality? Yes, they can be. But 98% of the time they are crazy in a very predictable way. Diving every day and getting “in tune” with the ocean’s ebbs and flows can help you learn how to deal with most. You don’t want to be afraid, but having a healthy dose of caution doesn’t hurt either.
Expectation: Divemasters Party a Lot
The main reasons people sign up to the divemaster course are to gain valuable experience, to achieve a professional qualification, and to have the chance to take part in a sociable lifestyle with likeminded travellers. In some locations, such as Koh Tao, Thailand, and Utila, Honduras, where dive schools line the beach, there’s a really strong focus on drinking and partying, and this holds a lot of appeal. Realistically, though, unless you spread your course out over 8+ weeks and your dive school lets you take multiple days off in a row, you’ll probably be too exhausted to party heavily. Early starts, the physical demands of diving, and the mental drain of constantly learning, being assessed and working as an intern will leave you pining for your bed by around 8:30 pm most days!
Having said that, the dive community is a sociable one and, wherever you choose to study, you’ll find yourself having a few drinks as the sun sets, discussing diving and travel with your instructors, course mates and customers, and forming strong friendships. Blue Marlin Komodo has a bar and restaurant where many of the town’s long-term residents like to hang out, and there’s always Paradise Bar for a fun-filled Saturday night. Also, let’s not forget the infamous divemaster ‘snorkel test’, which will give you the chance to celebrate your new qualification in style once you’ve met all of the requirements of the course.
Reality? It all depends where you fall on the “work hard, play harder” scale. Yes, there will be plenty of opportunities to get down with your bad self and the great friends you’ll make diving. That being said, there will also be plenty of days where you pass out by 9pm…at the latest.
Expectation & Reality: It Will be Fun
At the end of the day, no matter how tired you feel or how challenging you find certain aspects of the course, your PADI divemaster training will be a lot of fun. You wouldn’t sign up for it in the first place if you weren’t passionate about diving, and that’s how you’ll spend the majority of your time. Even learning theory is a fascinating process, as you piece together more and more information on why we dive the way we do and how diving developed as a sport over the past half a century.
You will get to witness marine environments swarming with an incredible abundance and diversity of life, and you’ll have an overwhelming sense of satisfaction as you familiarise yourself with dive sites, deliver your own briefings, guide groups of fun divers, and assist with students who are just beginning their underwater journeys. You’ll meet amazing people from around the world, share your experiences, and pick up diving and travel tips that may well shape your future choices.
PADI often emphasises the importance of making learning enjoyable, and there’s absolutely no reason why your divemaster course shouldn’t be one of the most rewarding experiences of your life.
Guest Blog by Arianwen Morris
Travel Blogger: Beyond Blighty