On the face of it, it’s pretty simple. Once you have done Open Water, Advanced Open Water, Rescue Diver, 5 Specialty Courses and a minimum of 50 logged dives, you can apply to be a Master Scuba Diver and, on payment of the requisite fee, will receive a new card and iron-on patch declaring your new status. PADI says this places you in an ‘elite group of respected divers’. Is this really true, though? What does the Master Scuba Diver rating mean, and is it worth pursuing and, let’s not forget, paying for?
What It’s Not
It might be easier to start with what it’s not, and thereby also illustrate where some of the confusion arises. First of all, it’s not a qualification, it’s a ‘rating’. That means it doesn’t have a stand-alone course of its own, or any course material. It neither teaches you new skills nor qualifies you to do anything different when diving. Rather, the best way of thinking about it is that it summarizes your previous experience and wraps it all up in one neat title: Master Scuba Diver.
It’s also not the Divemaster qualification. Despite sounding similar, the differences are huge. Divemaster is the first of the PADI professional qualifications and requires additional training and examination, and qualifies a diver to lead dives and assist with certain training courses.
So, given that, why would anyone get it?
The Argument in Favor
One strong argument in favor is that it is a neat way to summarize your experience. PADI says that “when you flash your Master Scuba Diver card, people know that you’ve spent time underwater in a variety of environments and had your share of dive adventures” and there is some truth to this. A diver who has completed the requirements for Master Scuba Diver should be a capable diver, responsible buddy, and have some experience of different diving conditions and scenarios, depending on what specialty courses they did. When diving with strangers it is perhaps easier to simply say that you are a master scuba diver, rather than have to summarize all the courses you have done and dives you have logged.
On top of this, it is a nice ‘trophy’ for the majority of divers who have completed all the recreational, non-technical PADI courses but will not go on to do professional qualifications. They have worked hard to get to that point and some kind of title to summarize their experience is a worthy reward.
The Argument Against
However, I would make the case that PADI’s claims that the card places you in an ‘elite group of respected divers’ is questionable. At the point someone has achieved their Master Scuba Diver rating, they have only really completed the bare minimum training necessary to be a serious and safe recreational scuba diver. While many casual divers may indeed not get this far, few regular divers are going to be particularly impressed by the fact that you have done the basic PADI courses and 50 dives.
Of course, impressing people isn’t the main goal, but it’s also debatable whether the rating is even a useful summary of your experience. Take, for example, a diver who has spent their time in warm, non-tidal waters with good visibility, done 50 dives and the courses up to rescue diver and then done specialty courses such as Underwater Photographer, Underwater Naturalist, Fish Identification, Coral Conservation, and Diver Propulsion Vehicle. There is nothing remotely wrong with these courses, they are all fascinating and valuable. However to me that diver would make a very different buddy to someone who had done their 50 dives in a variety of locations, including cold water with limited visibility, and then done Enriched Air, Deep Diver, Underwater Navigation, Peak Performance Buoyancy, and Night Diver, let’s say. Yet both would be Master Scuba Divers.
So Should I Get It?
My concern is that the Master Scuba Diver rating comes a little too early in a diver’s career to truly place them among the respected elite in the way it should. Furthermore, it doesn’t really tell me enough about a diver, meaning I would inevitably have to ask them more about their experience and training anyway. These two factors mean that, to me, the rating possibly isn’t worth the expenditure.
However, that is not to say that it might not be worth it to you. Completing the pre-requisites for it takes work and commitment and, if you find that you have done so and are then willing to spend the bit of extra cash on the rating then you should do so and be proud of it. What I would not do, though, is sign up for any specialty courses that you are not really interested in simply to move towards the rating. Get there naturally by doing courses that interest you, and then make the decision for yourself.