If you’re a PADI Divemaster reading this, chances are you already know what an important role you play as a conservation torchbearer for our planet’s oceans and waterways. What many don’t realize is that Divemasters, too, can be qualified to certify students in “fins off” conservation-based courses to lift that torch a little higher. 

In case you’re a PADI Divemaster in that same (dive) boat – let the good puns roll – I’ve got news for you: there are courses you too can teach! Here’s the lowdown how you level up your offerings to your dive community in 2024.

Instructors Anonymous

While for many dive pros, becoming a PADI Instructor is the ultimate goal, there’s a whole club of us aqua-holics who have invested time, energy and love in becoming a PADI Divemaster, without the intention of ever taking the next step to become a PADI Instructor.

A PADI AWARE certification card

Personally, I became a PADI Divemaster because I wanted to deepen my own dive knowledge and to work in the dive industry in various ways – at the time, underwater videography, today, running Wander Women Retreats – but I knew my personal path wasn’t teaching in-water courses. That said, I do love to teach some topics – I am a yoga instructor, after all! – and consider myself a lifelong student of many others.

It was during a virtual PADI Member Forum, which I completed to renew my Divemaster qualifications after falling out of status during COVID, that I learned that I could in fact be qualified to teach Coral Reef Conservation and PADI AWARE Specialist, PADI AWARE courses that are “dry,” or don’t require in-water training. 

In fact, you can teach PADI AWARE Specialist to just about anyone – there’s no age or experience limitations or Open Water Diver pre-requisites for students. They don’t even need to be divers! The PADI AWARE Specialist course is all about ocean conservation and learning how you can make a difference for ocean protection every time you dive or travel. This specialty is ideal for divers and non-divers alike to gain insight into how decisions above and below the surface impact our water planet. Plus, the specialty course is now available with PADI eLearning, making it easier than ever for students to make time to learn about ocean conservation.


PADI AWARE (formerly Project AWARE) is the OG – they’ve been fighting for our oceans for decades! Launched in the late 1980s, it’s a registered non-profit that focuses both on community education and activism and political and governmental policy-pushing – they truly balance personal and organizational accountability. Their mantra is “fins on and fins off,” reminding divers that we can show our love for the blue with our actions both above and below the surface. Excitingly, they also have a female Global Director, which I found exciting as a #PADIwomen enthusiast.

Why Teach PADI AWARE Courses?

PADI has three conservation-focused continuing education courses in collaboration with PADI AWARE (the third, Dive Against Debris, has an in-water element, restricting it to being taught by PADI Instructors only). Here are some great reasons to get certified as a PADI Aware Specialist Instructor:

  • It’s a fab community builder. Unlike most PADI courses, there’s no ratio of students to teacher. Of course, you have to use your judgement here around the quality of the interaction that can take place based on the size, but it does mean that it’s a course you can offer to a wide audience at places like schools and community centers, or professional development days in a workplace. Remember, the PADI AWARE Specialist course, in particular, is super accessible in that again, outside of someone who is too young to comprehend it, it’s open to all. The course is centered around ten tips for divers to protect the ocean planet, and while it does discuss many dive-related concepts and situations, students don’t even need to be Open Water Diver certified to be PADI AWARE Specialist certified, giving you a nearly limitless pool of potential students to whom to teach.
  • It’s perfect for building your public speaking skills. Whether you’re teaching virtually or in person, to an audience of two or two hundred, this is a great course to help hone your oratory abilities.
  • It’s a fun activity for the last “decompression day” of a dive trip. You could offer it on trips you lead or attend!
  • It’s a great option to teach to dive lovers with their hobby on ice (wink!) in cold-climate winters.
  • It’s a cool “dry course” for divers and non-divers to do together. What a cool way to encourage customers to start to bring conservation-minded, non-diving friends into the fold! For example, for our Wander Women Retreat liveaboards on the ScubaSpa, this is a super cool evening activity I can lead for both the divers and snorkelers alike.
  • It’s great to teach in conjunction with beach cleanups. While Dive Against Debris is PADI AWARE’s flagship citizen-science program focused on reporting types and quantities of debris found on the seafloor, this course would pair fabulously with a shore or land-based clean.
  • Bonus! As a unabashed card-collector, I never met a continuing education course I didn’t enjoy, however, gaining instructor status for this course is particularly great for resumes, grad school applications, and anywhere else you might want to signal, “Hey, I like this blue dot we live on.” For your students, it’s also a pretty dope resume or application boost to be able to list a trusted conservation-based certification like this one.

While I’ve seen dive schools and individual instructors offer the course for a variety of prices, the eLearning is available to consumers for just USD $64, and it is also sometimes offered for free as a good-will offering to the community. 

By the way, speaking of eco – PADI has moved over to eCards as a way to reduce waste and make records more easily accessible and transferrable! If you’re still attached to getting a physical certification card – I get it! – you can always order it directly from PADI once the certification has been processed for an additional fee. 

Alex Baackes learns how to teach the AWARE specialty course

Let’s Learn! My Experience Getting Certified

PADI Divemasters, have I convinced you to teach the PADI AWARE Specialist yet? Great! To qualify for the Instructor Course, you need to be an “in-teaching status” PADI Divemaster, and of course, find a PADI Specialty Instructor Trainer to certify you. You’ll also, depending on your registered teaching location, need liability insurance to be able to process certifications – check with your local PADI office to confirm your particular insurance requirements. 

I was lucky enough to learn remotely from Jillian Blakkan-Strauss, a Florida-based PADI Course Director with major mentor energy about her. Not only does she lead the Instructor Development Course (IDC) program at Pura Vida Divers, she also runs her own PADI Freediving and Mermaiding company, Zephyr Freediving. Find a PADI Specialty Instructor Trainer who inspires you for your own course! 

Ahead of our course, Jillian sent over some guidance on what to expect from the course as well as paperwork including a waiver and Instructor application, the Instructor Guide, the Lesson Guides, some student handouts, and some additional resources for even deeper knowledge building. It was comprehensive but not overwhelming — I was able to review the materials over my morning tea to prepare for our course that afternoon.

We’d set aside about three hours and as soon as we logged on I realized we could fill those just gabbing about two of our mutual favorite topics – diving and travel – but we managed to get down to business. Because I am a Divemaster and not an Instructor, we started with the Learning and Teaching Workshop, which took us about thirty minutes and is the only portion of the course that was different for me as a PADI Divemaster than it would be for a PADI Instructor. As someone who has been taking PADI courses for fourteen years and has a thick wallet of certification cards, it was kind of cool to learn the teaching theory that I’ve been experiencing myself as a student for over a decade! Much of it is just plain good communication skills, too, which translate to every facet of life and business. 

I also loved getting a little refresh on what’s new – or new-to-me – in the PADI world. I finally downloaded both the PADI App and PADI AWARE App and loved seeing all my certification cards in digital form at a glance.

Next, we went over the teaching manual in detail, and Jillian patiently and thoroughly answered any and all questions I had. As a subject we are both passionate about, there was a lot to discuss and as much of the course is about being an advocate for our planet’s waters, I appreciated the opportunity to talk through real-life scenarios I’ve dealt with on retreats and as a dive customer when observing behavior you know isn’t totally above board.

After a quick break for me to prepare a mini teaching practicum, I presented to my star student, Jillian! She had been such an excellent instructor that I felt prepared and confident as I presented and after a debrief and time for final questions, we signed off with a wave and a promise to keep in touch that we’ve already made good on.

I got quite a thrill out of seeing my first ever Instructor card arrive in the mail and in the digital card app a few days later.

A photo of Alex getting ready to teach the AWARE specialty course

Teaching My First Course for World Oceans Day

For years I’ve been wanting to make a bigger splash – I did warn you about the puns! – in passing on my passion for conservation. Sharing sustainability in a fun and fresh way is a huge joy of mine at Wander Women Retreats, and we often do a conservation-themed day on our ocean-based trips. However, in some remote areas, we do struggle to find Instructors qualified to teach these courses and passionate about doing so. Now, I’m both! I feel like there are some incredibly exotic and beautiful classrooms ahead in my future, but for my first class, I decided to teach from somewhere pretty darn special… home.

So I threw a virtual World Oceans Day shell-ebration! In addition to the training itself, I also offered a digital download of an ocean-inspired cocktail or mocktail recipe to drink during the event, opened with a short ocean-inspired meditation, and sent a digital download of nature-based affirmations after the fact. 

As an added incentive to have students sign up, I also teased that I would be spilling a big Wander Women sea-cret — where and when our next liveaboard would be – and access to pre-book 24 hours ahead of its launch (it’s the Maldives, by the way!) Additionally, we raffled off a Wander Women Oceans virtual retreat, complete with recorded yoga classes taught by yours truly, as well as sea-inspired workshops with some incredible members of the Wander Women family (think undersea watercolor downloads, natural tie-dye workshops, and more!) Get creative with your events!

Note: While PADI provides you with the course materials and presentations, you do have the ability to make modifications to adapt to your location and your brand if you submit them to PADI for approval ahead of time.

The workshop itself was a huge hit and sparked amazing conversations. Even as someone very well versed in these topics, I added new goals, explored new ideas and found new solutions for myself, on pretty much each of the ten discussion points, both thanks to taking the course with Jillian and teaching it to my community.

Our event cumulated with a lot of laughs, a lot of connection and a lot of fresh energy around sustainability, sealed with us signing PADI’s Save the Ocean Pledge.  

In Conch-clusion

I’m so proud to be a PADI Divemaster and now, a PADI AWARE Specialist Instructor! Just one course in, I feel a strengthened connection to my dive community, to my conservationist ideals, and to an entire planet of fellow torchbearers. 

Who knows – perhaps Coral Reef Conservation Instructor is next!

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