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Written by John Kinsella
There’s an old saying about the first step in a famous recipe: First, catch your rabbit. There’s a useful parallel here for PADI® Professionals. If you’re looking for a simple recipe to increase your productivity and have a lot of fun while you do it, first become at least a Master Scuba Diver Trainer. Then you have what you need to train Master Scuba Divers, and that’s a recipe for success.
Back in 1973, PADI Master Scuba Diver (MSD) was introduced as the ultimate recreational diver certification. Fewer than two percent of divers ever achieve the rating. Master Scuba Divers are the best of the best, an elite group of respected divers who have earned the rating through extensive training and experience. As you know, the path to MSD starts with PADI Open Water Diver certification, followed by Advanced Open Water Diver and Rescue Diver and five PADI Specialty Diver certifications. Before earning the rating, divers also have to log 50 dives. It’s open to all divers, who must be at least 12 years old.
The odds are you don’t know a great number of Master Scuba Divers. Here’s why, in the words of a few PADI Members who do know MSDs because they’ve trained a lot of them. Increasing your MSD certifications is something you may want to change as a matter of urgency.
Making Specialty Training Mainstream
Natalie Hunt is a very active PADI Course Director with PADI Five Star IDC Assava Dive Resort on Koh Tao, Thailand. She first trained Master Scuba Divers while working in Florida, USA, for Action Quest, running sailing and scuba summer camps for teens. The groups would stay for three weeks and specialties were a big part of the program. While working in the Cayman Islands, she would routinely link Enriched Air Diver with Open Water Diver course Dive Four. Hunt brought this experience with her when she arrived on Koh Tao in 1997 and has since made a point of taking specialty training, and Master Scuba Diver, mainstream.
“I incentivize PADI Rescue Divers to learn more about the different specialty programs,” Hunt says. “Here at Assava, I’ve created a program where if students come as Rescue Divers, they can stay and do all their dives and five specialties for one cost and it’s a great incentive for them to become Master Scuba Divers. Some people stay and do MSD only, others choose to do MSD and PADI Divemaster combined. It really depends on the time they have here on Koh Tao. Many people have the time to complete the dives needed.”
Hunt packages specialties (a recurring theme while researching this article) in other ways too. “We have PADI Deep, Wreck and Enriched Air Diver courses that we offer as a Tri Spec,” she says. “If they do those as a package they get a discount and all the dives are included.”
Hunt also uses specialty training to keep things interesting for PADI Pros, herself included. “Some divers, especially divemasters, have shown real interest in sidemount diving. Instead of me personally teaching that, even though I’m qualified, I have other instructors who are experienced technical divers and I ask them to teach the Sidemount Diver courses,” she explains.
“We also teach Self-Reliant Diver courses and recently I took on DSMB, which was quite interesting when I taught it for the first time with one of my divemasters. It was a good challenge for both the DM and me personally.”
Any Experts on Staff?
Using experts to help with specialties is a great way to increase the pool of potential MSDs. Hunt has a marine biologist – a past student – who adds real value to Assava’s Coral Reef Conservation specialty. “Her background knowledge of marine science and biology adds more insight to that program,” she says.
Hunt’s experience in the resort -environment has some real commonalities with Lee Johnson’s experience at PADI Five Star CDC Perth Scuba in Western Australia. When Perth Scuba opened 14 years ago, most of the training was comprised of core courses: Open Water, Advanced Open Water and Rescue Diver. “We didn’t have a lot of time for the specialties,” Johnson says. “We were running on minimal staff.”
But Johnson always surveyed -customers and asked about their interests and their motivation to take up scuba. “The usual favorites, such as wreck and deep diving, came out prominently in the beginning. So we started running a lot more of those types of courses,” he says. But there was a problem – one which many PADI Pros will recognize. “We would schedule a course and only have two or three students on it; not really enough to make it cost effective,” he recalls. “But you have to run it or lose face. It’s a double-edged sword – you either run it and lose money or you don’t run it and lose customers who won’t sign up for other courses because they believe you won’t run them.”
From a business efficiency perspective, Johnson had to do something. One plan was to sell gear, as most of the specialties have some sort of associated equipment. Another plan was to increase the number of specialties people did. “The MSD program seemed to be the way to do it,” he says.
“We came up with our Master Scuba Diver Challenge. We advertised five specialties and a free rescue course as a package. Divers came in, put their credit cards on the counter and chose five specialties from three levels,” Johnson says. “For level one, they chose two of the more expensive courses to run, such as those that include boat dives. Then they’d pick two courses from level two, which were more knowledge based and often had shore dives. And they chose one course from level three, which is all knowledge-based, such as the Equipment Specialist course.”
After each course, divers get a Perth Scuba T-shirt with “Master Scuba Diver Challenge” on the back and the course they completed listed on the front. They collect all the different T-shirts and, once they complete everything, they get a limited edition T-shirt that lists all the specialties and says “Master Scuba Diver Challenge Mission Accomplished.” Johnson pointed out how effective this recognition was: “Divers loved them and we’d get to see them wearing the shirts all over the place.”
To top this off, Johnson introduced the Ultimate Master Scuba Diver Challenge Weekend competition. All students who completed the MSD challenge would be eligible for the competition. This was like a mini Olympics complete with quiz questions about general diving knowledge, a pool skills assessment and a stamina challenge (all basic stuff and fun focused). The winner got a trip to Sydney with an instructor, all expenses paid, and a brand-new scuba set (Johnson negotiated a great deal on this once-a-year event).
Do Rabbits Hop?
Was this a success? “We ran the first challenge four years ago and we had 43 participants who came through that year. We were picking up students who had a few specialties under their belts from different dive shops as well. We let them enter as long as they did their last specialty with us,” he says.
Another major benefit of Perth Scuba’s MSD challenge is that many instructors started to really enjoy teaching specific specialty courses. “Now we have a group of instructors who have designed their own presentations with local content, such as videos and images of our divers on the wrecks they’ll dive,” says Johnson. “This works really well.”
The last word belongs to Jong-Moon Lee from PADI Five Star Dive Resort Ocean Player Dive in Cebu, Philippines. Ocean Player Dive is one of the largest PADI Dive Centers in the Philippines, with a continuing education ratio pushing 50 percent. Lee mentions the importance of linking specialties: Deep and Enriched Air Diver make a great combination. He makes great use of the facilities at hand: Easy access from shore makes for easy night dives; consequently, PADI Night Diver is the number three specialty at Ocean Player Dive.
But the main point Lee makes about creating Master Scuba Divers is fundamentally simple and an essential ingredient in the MSD success recipe: “Take the time after the Advanced Open Water Diver course to explain about the specialties and the MSD rating. Make sure students know that they have already completed dive one of the associated specialty,” he says.
One thing is for certain – divers will have no interest in something they know nothing about.
If you aren’t already a Master Scuba Diver Trainer or can’t yet teach all the PADI Specialty Diver courses you’d like, contact a PADI Course Director to enroll in a few Specialty Instructor Training courses or a Master Scuba Diver Trainer preparatory course.