The PADI Divemaster Course: Tips From a Staff Instructor

This diary entry will prove useful for divers who are working towards their PADI Divemaster certification, as well as those wanting to teach the course! I will briefly explain why this course is my favourite to teach before breaking down the program and adding my personal notes and tips along the way.

After becoming a PADI Open Water Instructor through the Bay Islands College of Diving (@diveutila) in December 2016 and completing my Master Scuba Diver Trainer internship (MSDT), I was instantly eager to start teaching the Divemaster program.

I have been teaching Divemaster’s in Training (DMT’s) now since September 2017, and it's by far the most enjoyable course for me to teach.

This is mainly due to two reasons:

1) I get to challenge myself as an Instructor, keeping up to date with the PADI curriculum as well as making sure my knowledge of standards and procedures remains sharp and current. Also, as someone who is very friendly and can be described as a 'people pleaser', teaching DMT's has given me the confidence to deliver constructive criticism as well as feedback/ scores which some candidates may struggle to receive.

2) I get the opportunity to form a bond with the DMT's which I am unable to do during any other recreational course, mostly due to the length of the Divemaster program (approx. 3-6 weeks) and because our professional relationship shifts from student and teacher towards more of a mentor dynamic. Not only am I their instructor, but I am also someone they can come to for counselling and be a role model figure.

My partner Asa and I were lucky enough to certify both of our brothers as PADI Divemasters!

Here's a breakdown of the PADI Divemaster program and a few of my notes on how I approach teaching the course, as well as the areas in which I've witnessed candidates both struggle and excel!


Knowledge Development

Knowledge Review, RDP, Exam, EAP - In these theory sessions I like to refer to personal experiences in my explanations. This is my preferred method of teaching (especially when teaching Chapter 9), as I find that many students may not have a complex understanding of physics and biology prior to taking this course - and neither did I! This way, I can explain these ideas by relating them to everyday life and this also gives me the chance and time to truly connect with the DMT's and learn more about them.

Divemaster Orientation with new DMT's Caterina & Daniel


Water Skills Development

400m swim, 800m snorkel, 15min tread (with hands out for the last 2 mins) - Potentially one of the most dreaded tests, but all in all the swim test sounds worse than it actually is. If you're someone who isn't a natural swimmer, I would recommend giving yourself time to practice and don't eat too soon beforehand!

100m Tow - As you all know from your Rescue course, there are three different types of tows. One is very effective for long distances... Revisit your rescue manual before this timed test and pick wisely, that's all I'm going to say!

Gear Exchange - This is definitely the other most dreaded test amongst candidates! Possibly because, unlike the other water skills, you must achieve a grade 3 or above to pass. Candidates are also only given up to 5 minutes to prepare for this test, unlike any other components of the Divemaster program. You must demonstrate teamwork and remain calm without surfacing in a panic, just as you would when handling a real-life unusual circumstance. As an instructor, I would usually plan for this test to be towards the end of their training so they are confident in their abilities.

Dive Rescue - Though this rescue demonstration is not scored, it is up to the instructor to assess the diver's skills and award either a passing or a fail grade. For some candidates, it may have been a while since their rescue course and therefore their skills may be a bit rusty. I like to set aside a generous amount of time to develop their skills and repeat the steps time and time again for the DMT to feel confident and to perform the demonstration at ease. The key to this workshop is to count slowly and only unclip one item per count cycle, to avoid overwhelming yourself; and repetition!

Those who I did my training with, those who trained me, and those who I've trained, have become my lifelong friends

Dive Skills Workshop - On the subject of repetition... The 'skills circuit' requires just that. There are a total of 24 skills (including skin diving) for the candidate to master and perform at demonstration quality. This workshop requires candidates to put time aside and practice together in-between their scheduled sessions with an instructor where they are scored. If you don't practice, how are you supposed to improve? And so what's the point in being scored?! Practice!!!

It is important for the instructor to also set aside time to give a thorough debriefing to every student and make sure they understand how to improve. I also like to send each student a copy of their scores for reference during their next practice.

[*with at least one underwater skill to a 5.]


Practical Application

Dive site set up - I would achieve this objective with a candidate during their Open Water course assist on dives 1 or 2 using a sand-screw.

Mapping - I would advise all candidates NOT to leave this project until the very last minute, as I've witnessed time and time again! This can be a challenging task to wrap your head around and plan, so make sure that you and your buddy discuss logistics in detail before the dive, and you should aim to visit your chosen dive site at least twice to successfully create an accurate map. I personally would always appreciate the added detail of marine life (specific to that site) and colour!

You don't need to be an artist to pass this project, so try to keep it clear and simple. I don't expect every map to resemble this one below, though the bar has been set!!

The Holy Grail of all maps, by Phil Gates

Briefing - As a DMT you should be trying to dive as much as possible during your internship to improve and practice your dive skills and awareness of others underwater. Please take your briefing slate with you on every dive/ boat, even if it's just a fun dive. It is so important for you to practice your dive briefing at every opportunity you get, so you don't blank or panic when it's time for you to brief your instructor and real students! USE your slate and refer to it throughout your briefing to ensure you don't miss any of the 10 points; you will not lose marks for having your slate in your hand!

Search & Recovery Scenario - In my experience, this is definitely the most challenging dive for many candidates and happens to be the workshop which I've had to schedule for a redo time and time again; and it all comes down to lack of preparation. Make sure that you fully pay attention during the instructor's demonstration! Before arriving for the workshop, make sure you practice and research what is expected from you (the same goes for every workshop). Practice with your buddy and go over the knots and search patterns until you could do them in your sleep! You don't want to be confused and have to signal these issues to your buddy or instructor whilst underwater.

Deep Dive Scenario - This dive can be stressful for interns due to many factors. During this scenario I am looking for my candidates to address these three main points in their deep dive briefing: Increased air consumption, lower deco time and gas narcosis. Acting as their certified diver, I will ask for the candidate to lead me on a deep dive, whilst I present deep-dive related problems along the way for them to recognise and quickly react to. If your diver seems to be affected by gas narcosis or is running low on air, then shallow up; and don't forget about the drop tank - it is there to be used as a safety measure! Make sure you show understanding of how a deep dive differs from a shallower dive by asking your divers for their air and deco time frequently.

A BIG privilege of teaching DMT's is dressing them up in crazy costumes for their graduation party and celebrating their success with them!


Divemaster conducted programs

ReActivate - Having passed your skills circuit, this workshop allows you to show off your demonstration skills and correct your diver's mistakes. Aside from leading a group of fun divers, this is a course that you will be teaching often as a certified Divemaster, so it's crucial for you to not only recognise common mistakes but to anticipate them as well. For example, if you are going over any skill which requires the student to inflate their BCD, you must be apprehensive of a potential power inflate and move closer to the student, ready to correct the problem. I really enjoy teaching this workshop as DMT's are at the point of their training in which they exude confidence and it's a really rewarding situation to see.

Skin Diver - Although this is notoriously the 'easiest' workshop in terms of skill level, this is the first scenario in which DMT's have to adopt the mindset of a teacher and provide me as their instructor with the first glimpse into their ability and attitude towards the course. This workshop can be awkward for some people as they may get embarrassed about 'teaching' for the first time in front of their fellow candidates.

Discover Scuba Diving - This workshop is always fun. DMT's always find it unnerving to see their instructor acting as a novice diver, and they're not sure whether to laugh or not! Though this workshop is arguably the most theatrical and comical, it is also entirely focused on safety. Remember that as a certified Divemaster you could one day be in the position where you are leading an uncertified diver and you need to be confident in your ability to look after them, but also make it an enjoyable experience. I would recommend for candidates to NEVER take their hand off of the diver's tank in the open water portion of this workshop and always predict that the worst will happen so plan for it! As your instructor acting as a novice diver, if you put me in a situation where I could be unsafe, I will take it as an opportunity to fully demonstrate that as a lesson for you. You can never be too cautious in this workshop, but remember to let your diver have fun.


Discover Local Diving in Open Water - This dive is an opportunity for DMT's to practice their briefing and guiding skills by leading me on a fun dive. Though this may sound straightforward enough, remember that this is the main role performed by a certified Divemaster so you will be expected to execute it perfectly. This dive really highlights the transition from you fun-diving with your fellow interns to you being a professional diver and in control of other people (or an entire group). Make sure you're regularly checking on depth, air consumption and point out as much marine life as you can, even if it's just a Christmas tree worm! Keep your diver safe but engaged throughout.


Practical Assessment

Course Assists - When assisting an instructor on any course make sure you are always paying attention, always offering your help and making the effort to build rapport with the students! As a DMT, students look up to you as a role model and at times may feel more comfortable confiding their concerns to you, rather than the instructor. Your performance will be reflected in your grade, and I am always particularly impressed when my candidate performs a task without being prompted or asked, and when they help me make the course as fun and as safe as possible for the students. After all, it is an experience for them as well as a certification!

Professionalism - I have now certified over 50 Divemasters and I have to honestly say that 99.9% of them have received top marks for their professionalism. I put this down to the calibre of training from The Bay Islands College of Diving, both that they as candidates receive from us as Staff Instructors, but also the training installed into us by our Platinum Course Directors Nick Derutter (@divesaga) and Stephen Aynsley (@padicoursedirectorsja).

My Dive Utila Family back in 2017

Having broken down the PADI Divemaster course and gone into detail about my personal notes and tips for every element, I must add that what I love most about this course isn't the individual workshops or the overall program. Sure, you can achieve the highest marks across the board, but what truly makes you a great dive professional is paying attention to the finer details: recognising the quirky traits of your own instructor, taking note of what inspires you most about them, which elements you want to bring to your own teaching style and how you will aspire to become someone else's role model one day.

Happy diving my friends!


Written by Abi Smith

My Blog website can be found here!

Instagram: @thescubadiaries

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