08 Apr How to become a Divemaster on your Gap Year
What is a Divemaster?
Divemaster is PADI’s first professional-level qualification (there are equivalent levels with SSI or BSAC). It mainly qualifies you to conduct dive tours with certified divers, but it also enables you to assist instructors in teaching the courses you have completed, and to perform various other supervisory roles. It teaches you to be the guy in charge: you’ll plan the dive, brief the divers, lead them and point out the underwater sights, deal with any issues, and bring them all back safely. The increased standard of your abilities also allows you to dive to the maximum recreational depth of forty metres.
Why become a Divemaster?
The first thing to stress is that qualifying as a Divemaster is by no means something you should only undertake if you intend to embark on a career in diving. This may be true of further professional-level diving qualifications, but becoming a Divemaster is a perfect means of simply developing your diving knowledge, skills and confidence to their utmost in order to get the best out of your future recreational diving. I’ve found that you are given a lot more independence when diving afterwards with other companies, because they know that you can handle yourself and that they don’t need to be always keeping an eye on you. The only requirement, therefore, is a dedication to the sport and the intention to keep diving and to make use of your increased competence.
What experience does qualifying give you?
In terms of how good qualifying as a Divemaster will look on your CV if you don’t intend to work in the industry, the course certainly prepares you for a role that eventually represents considerable responsibility since you are charged with managing and ensuring the safety of the divers under your supervision. As far as personal development goes, I did my Divemaster in my gap year before university, and the latter was much less-daunting after having spent several months abroad in a fairly challenging professional environment.
The course is not excessively strenuous, but it does require a decent level of fitness – higher than recreational qualifications, because, for the worst case scenario if you do go into diving professionally, you need to be able to swim some way whilst towing another incapacitated diver. You are assessed by four swim tests which are normally conducted in the sea: a 15 minute water tread, a 100m swim whilst towing another diver with both of you in full gear, a 400m swim, and an 800m snorkel. Diving regularly as part of the course will definitely improve your fitness, but it may be worth putting in some time exercising beforehand if you want to hit the ground running.
Working in a Dive Shop on your Gap Year
Divemaster training is typically conducted as an internship with a dive shop. You must complete or have already completed the three preceding recreational qualifications and an Emergency First Response course, and you will then soon become a working member of the operation. This does involve a fair amount of pitching in (preparing equipment for trips, and loading and unloading boats), but it is an internship after all, and the advantages it affords well outweigh having to do the occasional bit of donkey work.
The Divemaster Course
There are a series of objectives you must complete to qualify. Amongst smaller tasks, such as a dive site mapping project, you must assist a certain number of times on specific courses. This sometimes entails demonstrating equipment assembly and dive procedures to trainee divers, and running through drills with them out in the water; at other times you may simply be there to escort them and help them out if they get into difficulty. A Divemaster cannot instruct, but you can conduct refresher courses for certified divers who haven’t dived for a while and are a bit rusty. By the time you finish the course you must be able to independently run through such a refresher (which is where possible done with a genuine customer) and, as already mentioned, take a small group of divers through all the stages of a recreational tour.
The Technical Side of a Divemaster Course
Diving involves a fair amount of science, although it’s not really a concern for recreational divers. To become a Divemaster, however, you do have to learn a substantial amount of dive theory dealing with the physics of diving and its effect on the human body. This is then assessed by written exams, and this will most probably be the first and last time you’re required to demonstrate such detailed knowledge of the theory. It might sound quite difficult and unappealing, but I will freely admit that I was one of the most unenthusiastic and incompetent mathematicians at school, and I passed all the theory exams by a decent margin. As long as you’re prepared to hit the books in the beach bar for the odd day, it shouldn’t be too much of an obstacle.
It’s obviously important to gain a lot of diving experience, both for you to hone your skills, and simply because PADI requires a Divemaster to have a minimum of sixty logged dives. The standard approach to upping your dive total is usually for the company to allocate a certain number of places for Divemaster trainees on every boat they send out (unless it’s particularly busy with paying customers). At the company I trained with, you simply put your name down on the manifest and there would be two tanks and gear prepared for you; you’d go out and then either tag along with other groups, or go off with other trainees and do your own thing. We used to send out two trips each day, and you could also go out on night dives when they were run. The course therefore presents a unique opportunity to do a lot of diving at a comparatively bargain price.
How long does it take to become a Divemaster?
It’s worth noting that, although the timescale is generally viewed at somewhere between six to eight weeks, you are in charge of your own progression. Companies will obviously vary in terms of how much they urge you to meet your targets, but certainly where I trained, you got a lot of trainees who chose to ‘pace themselves’ in terms of ticking off the various objectives in order to prolong the course and get more free diving in. The owners were very relaxed about this, and my only regret is that I didn’t do the same; it may therefore be worth taking the course at a time when you can make the most of this.
Course Cost and Location
These are something of a dual consideration since price can significantly vary internationally. I did my Divemaster on Koh Tao in the Gulf of Thailand which cost a very reasonable four hundred pounds, but it would be considerably more if you intended to train in Australia for instance. You therefore need to strike a balance between finding somewhere you’re going to be happy to dive a lot, and stay and explore when you’re not diving, but where you’re also getting a good deal.
Having your own diving equipment
The other cost issue is equipment, which you generally buy your own set of in order that you have a good-quality set of kit with which you become familiar and comfortable. It’s also a good opportunity to pick it up at a discounted rate since dive companies frequently have links with equipment shops. The disadvantage is the extra cost, which can go from several hundred pounds upwards depending on how much you want to splash out on the flashiest gear, and the fact that you might find it awkward to lug around with you if you’re planning to do more travelling after the course. I myself didn’t buy the larger items for this reason, and there are always ways around the issue such as buying second-hand gear from graduating trainees, and/or getting the shop to cut you a deal on renting their equipment for the duration of the course.
Choosing your diving company
Most importantly, take the time to look into any companies that you are potentially interested in training with, and see what people who have already done so thought of them. Dive companies usually set up in high volume around resorts and popular sites; this was certainly the case on Koh Tao and, as with anywhere, not all are as rigorous in their standards as they should be. Generally speaking, the big commercial operations are the ones more likely to be so-called ‘dive factories’. With such places, there is sometimes a temptation on both customer and company’s part to hurry through the training, and obviously the last thing you want is to end up qualified without the necessary experience. You ideally to find a smaller but nonetheless well-equipped outfit which is willing and able to give you the necessary individual attention.
Written by GYE writer Toby Grimes.