Training Timeline: From a Novice Diver to a Divemaster

New divers may feel they should wait for a time before progressing through the diving certifications. How long should it take to go from a novice diver to a divemaster?

Many scuba divers feel they should wait for some amount of time before progressing to their next diving course. This can be especially true if they want to move from a beginner to the professional rank of divemaster. On most recreational-training paths, the certification courses are performance based, which means there’s no set time between courses. Most recreational training courses, rather, have prerequisites and performance-based goals. Time duration is not an issue, except when it comes the first instructor-level course. In reality, however, a diver must consider subjective and individual factors before advancing to the next level. Here we’ve addressed some of the considerations when it comes to progressing from a novice diver to a divemaster, following the PADI system of diver education.

Open Water

If an individual is medically fit and at least 10 years old, they can enroll in the PADI Open Water diver course. This course can run from an intense three to four days to an extended period over four to six weeks. After this course, the student can dive to 60 feet (18 m) independently with a buddy. Most Open Water divers, though, dive with a professional dive guide.

Advanced Open Water

At the Advanced Open Water level, divers can participate in specialty and deep dives (100 feet/30 m). AOW students can also learn about navigation underwater and specialize in certain areas like Fish ID or photography. As an instructor who has taught thousands of divers over the years, I feel that most divers should continue directly into the AOW course from the Open Water. Doing so makes new students better divers, with more in-water time under direct supervision. In fact, some training agencies once covered many of today’s OW/AOW performance requirements in one entry-level program.

After open-water certification, if you’ve mastered performance requirements, then enrolling straight into an advanced course is a natural progression. Even if you still get a slight pre-dive feeling of anxiety, this is more desirable than the Dunning-Kruger effect of false confidence or complacency that could cause problems. Students must be 12 years old and Open Water certified to take the PADI AOW course.

Rescue Diver

Potential PADI Rescue Divers must be at least 12 years old. They must be certified as PADI Advanced Open Water divers or Adventure divers with the navigation adventure dive (or equivalent). They must also complete CPR/first aid and secondary-care training during the course. Whereas OW and AOW courses focus on a diver’s skills, ability and diving environments, the Rescue course focuses on the well-being, safety, and rescue of other divers. So, in addition to meeting the course prerequisites, a diver must have excellent situational awareness.

Before enrolling in a PADI Rescue course, a diver may need more time in the water than the nine dives required for an AOW certification. Some divers may be naturals for the rescue course even as novices. Others might need to log some serious bottom time before developing the proper situational awareness and skills.

Anyone diving in a more challenging environment from earlier certifications — such as going from tropical water to cold water, low visibility, or strong currents — should take the time to get comfortable before taking on added challenges.

If you are an avid diver, even if you don’t intend to turn pro, the Rescue course is a natural progression. The course not only boosts your own confidence, but also gives you the skills to help others if necessary.


Divemaster is the first professional-level course. You must be at least 18 years old, with the PADI Rescue Diver course (or equivalent). You must have CPR/first aid and secondary care training in the last 24 months, with a minimum of 40 logged dives. The Divemaster course qualifies divers as professionals who can assist instructors with training activities. Divemasters can also independently guide certified divers and conduct certain PADI programs for certified divers.

As mentioned, if you intend to work as a dive professional in a more challenging environment than you trained in, you should gain additional dives in this environment before enrolling in the Divemaster course. There is a drastic difference between having 40 dives in the tropics and 40 dives in colder, challenging conditions. Your comfort level in the water and situational awareness for other divers and yourself must be be “on steroids” at the professional level, as you will oversee several divers at one time. Thusly you should also be comfortable with task loading in the water.

Also consider your own motivation before enrolling in the Divemaster course. Many divers feel this is the natural progression, as highlighted on training-agency educational flow charts. But unless you want to guide and work with other divers, it may make more sense to consider either the PADI Master Scuba Diver program or Tec 40 course. In these courses, you’ll advance your own diving knowledge and skills or gain access to specific dive sites and environments.

An individual choice

Each course, other than OW, has prerequisites. But divers must ultimately assess their own mastery of dive skills, comfort and situational awareness in the water. Determine your motivation for advancing to the next level of training before moving on. As the Training Director at one of the most reputable and awarded PADI Career Development Centers worldwide, we ensure that dive numbers are more than just numbers. Instead, we focus on amount of time logged in-water. Every diver has an advanced level of dive skills, dive etiquette and situational awareness before taking the next course.