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.

9 COMMENTS

  1. I enjoyed your article Jake. There are far too many MSD nay-sayers on the SCUBA blogs and I appreciate the way you delivered your thoughts without belittling those who may just seek the MSD rating because they want to learn from and enjoy the training it takes to get there. I’m in the rescue course now and will probably continue my SCUBA education to MSD because I want to train with Instructors while becoming the best diver I can. However, living in Ohio, I’ll not be able to make a living as a Divemaster and therefor have no reason to go pro. I am certainly not a card or title collector, I just enjoy learning from qualified and experienced mentors.

    • Thanks Mike, I’m glad you enjoyed it. I absolutely agree there’s too much snobbery in the online scuba community and a tendency to belittle those who don’t fit a certain mold. I can’t stand that – diving is a recreational activity and as long as you do it safely and responsibly, the choices you make about kit, courses and so on are no-one’s business but yours.
      Hope you are enjoying the rescue course, it’s one of the best bits of training you will do!

  2. My wife and I used MSD as a motivator to do more diving and take more classes. When we got the required classes/dives we just decided that the money required to get the actual card (US$65ish) was better spent as a down payment on becoming Divemasters.
    My biggest problem is the name. Trying to explain Divemaster vs. Master Diver makes students scratch their head. Changing the name would help. I also like the idea of limiting the number of specialties that count towards MSD would also give it more weight.

    • I think using it as a motivator to get diving is a good idea. But I think there’s a risk that if it becomes too much of a motivator to doing classes, is there a risk you end up spending quite a lot of money on a specialty you’re only half-interested in, just because you need five for the MSD tick?

      I agree about the name. Actually I would probably call it something like Advanced Open Water Diver, and rename the ‘advanced’ course which, in my opinion, is just the second half of your basic certification, and not really advanced at all. However, I suppose I could debate the naming of courses all day!

      Definitely like the idea of limiting it to certain specialities, or maybe having it so you have to do at least 3 ‘serious’ specialities like Nitrox, deep, dry suit, navigation, etc and 2 of the more ‘fun’ ones like underwater photography or naturalist.

  3. The challenge with the card is it doesn’t actually tell you anything other than the card-holder is a rescue diver. Sure, you know they have done specialisms, but you need an extra card to dive to 40m, and extra card to hire a drysuit, an extra card to penetrate a wreck and an extra card to get a Nitrox fill. It would be so much more useful if they required all of these specific specialisms to get the card, so you could carry a single card and not run the risk of someone refusing to lead you on a dive because of lack of evidence from the other cards…

    • Yes that’s a very good point – particularly with the ones you’ve mentioned where the speciality is a mandatory requirement to doing an activity / using equipment, it would make so much sense to have them listed on the MSD card.

    • Agreed, and maybe by mandating completion of the specialties that actually require time in the water, the MSD card would get a bit more respect. My only problem with the PADI MSD is that you could complete specialties without actually diving and then complete 50 dives in perfect conditions and bingo, you are a master diver!

  4. Hi, this article and commentary are over a year old as I write this. I am new to diving with only 21 dives over 16 months. I have spent much of my time training with my local dive shop. We did venture to Cozumel last February for a week of diving in waters that prompted me to learn to dive:-).

    I am trying to take courses that will make me a better diver (NAV-PPB-Rescue-EAN so far). Do not know if I will apply for the Master Diver card or not as I just want to be a safe and knowledgeable dive. I may take dry suit in the next month or so so I can train year round. Want to do Deep & Public Safety Diver next. We live in Arkansas so our conditions are not always optimal, but I believe that will make me a better diver.

    Trip to Belize scheduled for February 18, jazzed about that:-)

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