Things to Know: Divemaster (Scuba Diving, DMT)

Working as a scuba divemaster was some of the best experiences of my life, and I would recomend going through a divemaster training course if you love scuba diving. It's a fun, cheap way to get a lot of dives which would otherwise cost you tens of thousands of dollars if you were going as a guest. Becoming a divemaster has allowed me to do scuba diving around the world while either getting paid for it or at the very least getting free diving and accomidation while taking people out for fun.

I've learned a lot since doing my DMT (Dive master trainee) program, and as a former scuba instructor, I've even taught a few myself since. This blog post is going to answer all of the questions that a new DMT would have, or someone wanting to work as a divemaster, or if you're thinking about doing your instructor's course (IDC) with PADI, SSI, or any other scuba diving organization. This post will also inspire people who just want to work and travel and want to find a fun, easy job to do while seeing the world.

My Diving Journey:

I went to Thailand in 2008 to become a divemaster. I had just finished my open water course and with just 4 dives, I already knew I loved it. I got my open water certification in Phuket, Thailand but heard about the legendary island of Koh Tao which was known as a little known diving haven back then before it got popularized by backpackers. I started working as a divemaster in 2008 full time for almost four years, and then again for one season last year in 2016 just for fun, even though I no longer needed the money.

I've now been diving throughout Thailand in Koh Phangan, Koh Tao, Phuket, Similans, Phuket, Koh Lanta and Phi Phi. My diving journeys have taken me from Hawaii, Australia, Utila, Roatan, Cambodia, Bali, Komodo and even Borneo. More about my favorite and least favorite places down below.

Best Place to do your DMT

I wrote this post because a friend asked me where he should do his DMT (Dive Master Training) and instead of going back and forth with him over facebook messenger, I decided I should share my knowledge here for everyone to benefit from.

The best places to dive are often the most popular places with the best marketing. It doesn't necessarily mean they are the best diving spots, and often they are the worst. But we also have to taken into account cost, living conditions, and things to do.

The first thing to ask yourself is if you would prefer a large school with a lot of other DMTs (Divemaster trainees) going through the course with you. I'd recomend finding a program with between 2-4 other DMTs as if you're the only one, it gets a bit boring and your instructor often won't want to waste their time showing just you something. But if there are more than 4 other DMTs it'll most likely feel like a factory where you won't learn as much and it'll be hard for you to find a job afterwards to gain experience or money.

The best place to do your DMT is finding a place with good diving, a medium sized group, daily dives so you can get enough experience, and the option to dive from the shore or close to the shore so you can easily go daily. The problem with doing your DMT in places like Koh Lanta are the fact that even though the diving is excellent and way better than Koh Tao, it costs the dive shop to bring you on board the boat as they have to feed you breakfast, lunch, and your weight in fuel which can be $25+ per day. This makes it hard to get enough dive experience.

DMT Goals:

Your goal should be to finish your DMT with around 100 dives and not just the minimum of 60. Then be able to stay for at least an additional month to actually get some experience. Whatever school you go to, make sure you get in writing (in an email) that you can stay and intern for free (trade non-paid work for free dives) afterwards. If you don't work straight after you do your training, it'll have been a waste as you'll never be able to get a job as a divemaster if you've had no experience since the course itself doesn't actually prepare you to be a good guide, you need real world experience for that. If you plan on doing the course to say you're a divemaster and not actually work as one, you're wasting your money and will be considered a fake divemaster if you ever try to brag about it. It would be the exact same thing as spending money to become a ski instructor just to say you're one, even though you've never actually worked a season.

As for locations, my favorite place that I've found to do a DMT is Scuba-Junkie Mabul in Borneo. Not only do they have amazing diving, but it's also a nice atmosphere to learn, meet others, and it's the perfect size. Next up would be Koh Tao, as even though the diving isn't incredible, it's good enough for beginners and a great place to do your DMT. I personally went with Scuba-Junction which was a good size school where I didn't feel like just another customer, and got to really learn the ropes. I'm glad I didn't go with a bigger school like Ban's as I would have felt like just another number there mixed in.

If you want the possibility of getting your DMT for free, you can apply at Koh Phi Phi and be prepared to hustle by standing in front of the shop for 4 hours a day getting people in. You'll have to be an attractive girl or a young attractive guy to qualify. But even though the diving in Phi Phi is better, the overall lifestyle was better on Koh Tao, and it really was paradise for a young backpacker type experience. Here's my review of Utila Dive Center and why they are the only dive shop I've been to that I wouldn't recomend.

I'm sure there are other places in the world that would have good divemaster programs and other schools on Koh Tao that would be good as well, but in general I would alway just go with a school that is rated top 5 on tripadvisor, but only has between 1-4 other DMTs so it's not too crowded, and on an island that has daily local diving so you can get your 100 dives in, and work for a minimum of 1 month afterwards, even if it's unpaid.

Scuba Equipment:

If you can, do your DMT with all rental shop gear. If you have to buy your own, I would buy the same type of gear dive shops use. My favorite was the basic Scubapro MK2 regs, and Scubapro T-One BCD while using one size up shop fins as if anything ever breaks, they have all the parts to fix and maintain it. Unless you're diving in ice water, which I don't recomend anyways, there is ZERO need for expensive or fancier equipment like wing type bcds, or fancy regs. Don't' be an idiot, save your money. As for wet suits, get used to wearing the thinnest, lightest possible, as they are annoying to take on and off, and once you level up to a thicker one, it's almost impossible to go back.

The rule is, if you see ANYONE else on the island diving in shorts and a rashguard, you can as well and should. I like these Hyperflex 1.5mm tops which are a good mix of a bit of warmth and easy to travel. Just get one size smaller than you think as they run large. Get whatever mask actually fits you, and dry to borrow one to test dive with it before you buy.  

For your dive computer, you'll need something that you'll want to wear with your 24/7 so I'd get a small wrist computer like the Oceanic GEO. Personally I used a Suunto D4 but can't justify anyone paying over $400 for a dive computer. 

Final Thoughts

Going through my divemaster training program in Koh Tao then working as divemaster on Koh Lanta and in Borneo were some of the best years of my life and I loved it. I think it's an awesome way to spend a year or two traveling around, doing something you love, and learning a lot about nature, yourself, and if you read books, life, while doing so.

I regret ever doing my IDC and becoming an instructor and don't recomend it to anyone as it kills your love for diving. Maybe I just had a bad experience but it feels to me that PADI and Utila Dive Center were just about the money and I didn't get adequate training to get a job or work in the industry afterwards. Even though I got lucky and worked as an instructor for a few years afterwards, if it wasn't for me speaking a 2nd language, I would have been screwed. My advice is to enjoy life as a divemaster for a few months or years, until you don't, then move onto something else. Don't become that grumpy old instructor that has no other options and complains all day. I vowed a few years ago that I would never dive again until I could afford to do so far a resort guest, and trust me when I tell you, that it feels a million times nicer than waking up at 6am to carry tanks,  setup gear, and sometimes work 13 days in a row with no days off.

I loved my years as a divemaster and I think a lot of you will too. If you're thinking about doing so, read my book 12 Weeks in Thailand: The Good Life on the cheap as I describe in more detail what it's really like. Let me know in the comments below if you have any questions, I'm happy to help.

Bonus: How to Take Great Underwater Photos

A friend just asked me:

"hi Johnny
I'm going to Malaysia to scuba dive and want to do some videos with my gopro 5 black
any tips on what gear I should get? 😛
and how to make a good underwater video"

Here was my response:

1. Practice your buoyancy first, being comfortable with diving and stable is the most important.

2. Film at the beginning and end of the dive when you are at 15 meters or less. The shallower you are, the better the light.

3. You'll need a "super suit" housing to go past 10M deep.

4. You'll also need a red filter if you want to film under 15M with color.

5. Unless you plan on diving more than 20 times, in the next year, it's cheaper, and better to just hire an underwater photographer or videographer at the dive shop.

Warm Regards,

Johnny "Fighter-Divemaster" 

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