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How to Become a Commercial Diver

By Lace Brunsden

Published:

Discover the enchanting world of commercial diving, a career filled with thrilling adventures beneath the ocean’s surface. In this guide, we’ll unveil the steps, training, and opportunities that will transform your love for the deep blue into a rewarding profession.

So, let’s dive right in!

Career Summary

Commercial Diver Salary

Commercial Diver Salary

The salary that you will earn as a commercial diver will depend on a variety of different factors including the risks involved and the amount of experience that you have.

According to Glassdoor, you can expect the following range:

  • Entry Salary (US$47k)
  • Median Salary (US$61k)
  • Executive Salary (US$80k)

In comparison to the average salary across the United States, the commercial diver salary can be considered fairly average.

What does a Commercial Diver do?

Commercial divers are skilled professionals who work underwater to perform a wide range of tasks and services. Their responsibilities can vary, but some common roles and activities include underwater construction, inspections and maintenance, search and salvage, underwater welding and cutting, marine conservation, scientific research, and hazardous material removal.

Commercial Diver Career Progression

Commercial diver career progression typically follows a structured path from entry-level positions to more senior roles.

Here’s a list of roles in this progression, along with short descriptions for each:

  • Entry-Level Commercial Diver: This is the initial certification level. Divers are trained to perform basic tasks and operate under close supervision.
  • Diver’s Tender: They help with equipment preparation, assist with safety checks, and communicate with the diver underwater via a communication system. This role is an excellent starting point for those new to the industry.
  • Surface-Supplied Air Diver: Trained to work with surface-supplied air systems, which include hoses and umbilicals connected to the surface. They can perform a wider range of tasks, such as underwater welding, cutting, and inspections.
  • Mixed-Gas Diver or Saturation Diver: Saturation divers live in a pressurized environment for extended periods during deep-sea projects, such as offshore oil rig maintenance.
  • Diving Supervisor: They ensure safety, compliance with regulations, and the successful execution of underwater projects. This role requires extensive experience, leadership skills, and advanced certifications.
Commercial Diver Career Progression

Pros and Cons of Being a Commercial Diver

Pros:

  • Unique and Exciting Work Environment
  • Competitive Compensation
  • Diverse Career Opportunities
  • Continuous Learning and Skill Development
  • Contribution to Underwater Conservation and Research

Cons:

  • Physical and Mental Demands
  • Potential Health Risks
  • Unpredictable Work Schedule
  • Time Away from Home and Family
  • Seasonal and Weather-Dependent Work

Useful Skills to Have as a Commercial Diver

  • Strong Swimming and Water Survival Skills
  • Mechanical and Technical Proficiency
  • Communication and Teamwork Abilities
  • Problem-solving and Critical Thinking
  • Adaptability and Stress Management

Popular Commercial Diver Specialties

  • Underwater Welding
  • Offshore Oil Rig Diving
  • Marine Salvage and Recovery
  • Bridge and Infrastructure Inspection
  • Scientific and Research Diving

How to become a Commercial Diver

Commercial Diver 7 Steps to Career

The steps to becoming a commercial diver can vary depending on your location and the specific type of commercial diving you’re interested in, but here are the common steps involved:

Step 1: Education

Start by completing your high school diploma or GED.

Why Is a GED Important to Become a Commercial Diver?

Obtaining a General Educational Development (GED) diploma or a high school diploma is essential for several reasons when pursuing a career as a commercial diver:

  • Safety and Understanding: Diving involves understanding various scientific principles, including physics, gas laws, and pressure effects, which are covered in high school science and mathematics curricula. A basic level of education ensures you can comprehend and apply these principles to maintain your safety underwater.
  • Communication Skills: A high school education helps develop written and verbal communication skills that are vital for clear and efficient underwater communication.
  • Documentation and Record-Keeping: You need to maintain accurate records of your dives, including depth, time, conditions, and tasks performed. Basic education provides the literacy and numeracy skills required for thorough and precise record-keeping.
  • Progression Opportunities: Beyond entry-level positions, you might pursue certifications, additional training, or advanced degrees in related fields. A high school diploma or GED is often a prerequisite for enrolling in these more advanced programs.

Do I Need a Degree to Become a Commercial Diver?

No, you generally do not need a traditional college degree to become a professional diver. Instead, you typically need to complete specialized training and certification programs offered by commercial diving schools or institutions. These programs focus on the practical skills and knowledge required for commercial diving, including underwater welding, inspection, construction, and safety procedures.

Some divers may choose to pursue higher education in related fields, such as marine biology, engineering, or underwater archaeology, to specialize in particular areas within the industry. However, a formal degree is not necessary for the majority of commercial diving careers.

Step 2: Basic Diver Training

Enroll in a commercial diving school or training program. These programs provide classroom instruction and hands-on experience to teach you the fundamentals of diving, safety procedures, and the use of diving equipment.

How Long Does it Take to Complete Basic Diver Training?

The duration of basic diver training can vary depending on your specific training program, the country or region in which you’re training, and the curriculum offered by the training institution. In general, most basic commercial diver training programs take several weeks to several months to complete.

Here’s a rough breakdown of the typical time frames for basic diver training:

  • Entry-Level Diver Training: Basic training for entry-level commercial divers often lasts around 4 to 12 weeks. These programs cover fundamental diving skills, safety procedures, equipment operation, and underwater tasks.
  • Intensive vs. Extended Courses: Some training programs offer intensive courses that are condensed into a shorter timeframe but may require longer hours each day. Alternatively, extended courses may have shorter daily sessions, spreading the training over a more extended period.
  • Specialized Training: If you choose to specialize in areas such as underwater welding or underwater construction, you may undergo additional training modules that can extend the overall training duration.
  • Certification Requirements: In addition to the training period, you will need to meet certification requirements, which may involve logging a specific number of diving hours, completing practical assessments, and passing written exams.
  • Pre-Training Requirements: Before starting basic diver training, you may need to fulfill prerequisites such as having a high school diploma or GED and passing a diving medical examination.

Step 3: Open Water Diver Certification

Obtain a basic open water diver certification through organizations like the Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI) or the National Association of Underwater Instructors (NAUI). This certification is often a prerequisite for entry-level commercial diving training.

Is it Difficult to Obtain an Open Water Diver Certification?

Obtaining an Open Water Diver certification is generally not considered difficult. These certification courses are designed to be accessible to beginners and are often the starting point for individuals interested in scuba diving.

However, the ease of obtaining the certification can vary from person to person, depending on individual comfort levels in the water, physical fitness, and familiarity with the skills taught in the course.

Here are some factors to consider:

  • Swimming Skills: Open Water Diver courses typically require participants to have basic swimming skills. If you are already a confident swimmer, you may find the course easier to complete.
  • Comfort in the Water: For individuals who are comfortable in the water and can adapt to buoyancy and underwater breathing, the certification process may feel more straightforward.
  • Physical Fitness: Diving can be physically demanding, and being in good physical condition can make the course easier to navigate. Adequate fitness levels can also enhance safety and enjoyment.
  • Mental Preparedness: Being relaxed and mentally prepared while underwater is crucial. Individuals who can manage any anxiety or stress related to diving will likely find the course less challenging.
  • Instructor and Training Center: The quality of your instructor and the training center can greatly affect your experience. Well-qualified instructors and reputable training centers can provide excellent guidance and support.

Step 4: Advanced Diver Training

Pursue advanced diver training, such as the Divers Alert Network (DAN) Diving First Aid for Professional Divers, and other relevant certifications. These courses enhance your skills and knowledge in underwater safety and emergency procedures.

Step 5: Commercial Diver Training

Enroll in a commercial diver training program, often provided by specialized schools or institutions.

These programs cover diving techniques specific to commercial diving, including underwater welding, cutting, rigging, and construction. The training typically includes both classroom instruction and practical diving experience.

Step 6: Internship or Apprenticeship

Gain practical experience by working as an intern or apprentice with a commercial diving company. This hands-on experience is crucial for building your skills and networking within the industry.

What are Internship Opportunities for a Commercial Diver?

Internship opportunities for aspiring commercial divers can provide valuable hands-on experience and a foot in the door for those looking to break into the industry.

Here are some internship opportunities you might consider:

  • Commercial Diving Schools: Many commercial diving schools offer internship programs as part of their training curriculum. These internships allow you to gain real-world experience while working under the guidance of experienced instructors.
  • Commercial Diving Companies: Some commercial diving companies offer internship positions, often to divers who have completed basic training but lack practical experience. These internships may involve you assisting more experienced divers on various projects, including underwater inspections and maintenance.
  • Underwater Welding and Salvage Firms: If you’re interested in specialized areas like underwater welding or salvage, look for internships with companies that focus on these services. You can learn specific skills and techniques through hands-on experience.
  • Government Agencies: Agencies like the U.S. Navy, Coast Guard, or environmental protection departments sometimes offer internships for individuals interested in underwater work. These internships can be competitive but offer excellent training and experience.
  • Research Institutions: If you have an interest in scientific diving or marine biology, consider internships with research institutions or marine laboratories. These internships often involve data collection, specimen handling, and underwater research activities.
  • Underwater Archaeological Programs: Internships with organizations involved in underwater archaeology provide the chance to work on historical preservation projects and recover artifacts from underwater sites.
  • Environmental and Conservation Organizations: Some environmental groups and marine conservation organizations offer internships related to underwater activities, such as coral reef restoration, marine life monitoring, and clean-up operations.

Step 7: Obtain Commercial Diver Certification and Necessary Licenses

Complete the required training hours and pass examinations to earn your commercial diver certification. The specific certification and training requirements may vary by region and the type of commercial diving you want to pursue.

Depending on your location and the type of diving, you may also need additional licenses and permits. This often includes a diver’s medical examination and a certificate of fitness to dive.

Can I Become a Commercial Diver Through Online Education?

Online education may be a valuable supplement for learning the theoretical aspects of commercial diving, such as diving physics, safety protocols, and equipment knowledge. However, it cannot replace the critical in-person training necessary for certification and a successful career in this field.

Commercial diving programs typically involve both classroom instruction and extensive in-water training, often conducted in controlled environments like dive tanks or open water. These programs are designed to ensure that divers are proficient in using specialized equipment, understand the physical challenges of underwater work, and follow strict safety procedures.

What are Some Web Resources to Learn Skills to Become a Commercial Diver?

While you can’t become a certified commercial diver solely through online resources, you can use various websites and online materials to supplement your knowledge and better prepare for your commercial diving training.

Here are some web resources that can be useful for learning about commercial diving and its related skills:

  • Divers Alert Network (DAN): DAN offers a wealth of information about dive safety, first aid, and diving physiology. Their online resources are valuable for understanding dive-related health and safety aspects.
  • Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI): PADI provides a range of online courses and materials that can help you gain a solid understanding of diving principles, which is beneficial before starting commercial diving training.
  • Underwater Welding Schools: If you’re interested in underwater welding, the American Welding Society (AWS) offers online resources, articles, and information about certifications and training programs.
  • Dive Training Magazines: Several diving magazines offer online content that covers various aspects of diving. Magazines like Scuba Diving have articles and tips that can be informative.
  • Online Forums and Communities: Websites like Scubaboard have active forums where divers share their experiences, knowledge, and advice. Participating in these communities can provide insights into the diving world.

What Skills Will I Learn as a Commercial Diver?

As a commercial diver, you will develop a wide range of skills to perform your duties safely and effectively in underwater environments.

These skills include:

  • Diving Techniques: You’ll learn how to enter and exit the water, descend and ascend safely, control buoyancy, and use underwater tools and equipment.
  • Equipment Operation: Commercial divers are trained to use a variety of specialized tools and equipment, such as underwater welding and cutting tools, hydraulic tools, underwater cameras, and propulsion devices.
  • Inspection and Maintenance: You’ll learn how to conduct underwater inspections of structures and equipment, identify and document issues, and perform routine maintenance tasks.
  • Rigging and Lifting: Commercial divers often work on projects that involve rigging, lifting, and securing heavy objects underwater. You’ll become skilled in rigging techniques and lifting operations.
  • Underwater Communication: Effective communication is crucial in underwater work. You’ll learn to use communication systems and hand signals to coordinate with surface personnel and other divers.
  • Navigation: Navigational skills are essential for locating and maintaining position underwater, especially in low visibility conditions.
  • Safety Protocols: Safety is paramount in commercial diving. You’ll become proficient in dive planning, decompression procedures, emergency response, and rescue techniques.
  • Hyperbaric Medicine: Divers often learn about diving physiology, decompression illness, and how to respond to medical emergencies that can occur while underwater.
  • Adaptability: Commercial divers must be adaptable, as underwater conditions can vary significantly. You’ll learn to adjust to different environments, currents, visibility, and water temperatures.
  • Problem-Solving: Diving often presents unexpected challenges. You’ll develop strong problem-solving skills to address issues that may arise during a dive.
  • Environmental Awareness: Understanding the underwater environment, marine life, and the impact of your work on ecosystems is crucial, particularly for conservation or scientific diving.
  • Record Keeping: Divers must maintain accurate records of their dives, including depth, time, conditions, and tasks performed. This documentation is essential for safety and project management.

What is the Work-Life Balance of a Commercial Diver?

The work-life balance of a commercial diver can vary significantly depending on the specific type of diving and the nature of the projects they are involved in.

Here are some factors that can influence the work-life balance of a commercial diver:

  • Project Duration: Commercial divers often work on projects with varying durations. Some projects may be short-term and require intense, continuous work, while others may be longer-term with more predictable schedules.
  • Seasonal Variations: Some diving projects are influenced by seasonal factors. For example, offshore work may be more active during certain times of the year, while inland diving can occur year-round.
  • Travel: Divers may need to travel to various locations for their work. This can result in time away from home, and the balance between work and personal life can be affected by the distance and frequency of travel.
  • Shifts and Rotations: Divers working on offshore oil platforms or remote locations may be on a rotational schedule, spending several weeks on-site and then having an extended period off work. This can allow for a better work-life balance during off periods.
  • Emergency Response: In certain situations, you may need to respond to emergencies or salvage operations on short notice, which can disrupt your regular work-life balance.
  • Freelance vs. Full-Time Employment: Some divers work as freelancers or contractors, while others are employed by commercial diving companies. Freelancers may have more control over their schedules but might also face periods of unemployment.

What’s the Career Outlook for Commercial Divers?

According to Career One Stop, the United States is expected to see a 15% change in employment in commercial diving between 2021 and 2031. This is considered to be a relatively high growth rate in comparison to other careers.

Commercial Diver Popular Career Specialties

What are the Job Opportunities of a Commercial Diver?

Commercial divers have a wide range of job opportunities across various industries and sectors.

Some of the common job opportunities for commercial divers include:

  • Underwater Welder: Underwater welders are responsible for welding and cutting tasks on underwater structures, such as pipelines, oil rigs, and bridges.
  • Offshore Oil and Gas Diver: You will work on offshore oil and gas platforms, conducting inspections, maintenance, and repair tasks.
  • Inland and Civil Infrastructure Diver: You will perform inspections and maintenance on inland structures like bridges, dams, and water treatment facilities.
  • Marine Salvage Diver: Marine salvage divers are involved in the recovery of sunken vessels, cargo, and equipment. They may also assist in emergency response operations.
  • Scientific and Research Diver: Scientific divers work with researchers and institutions to collect data and specimens for scientific and environmental research. This includes marine biologists and oceanographers.
  • Underwater Archaeologist: Underwater archaeologists explore and excavate historical shipwrecks, submerged settlements, and archaeological sites beneath the water’s surface.
  • Hazardous Material Removal Diver: You specialize in the safe removal and disposal of hazardous materials or pollutants from underwater environments.
  • Underwater Photographer/Videographer: Divers with photography or videography skills may work to document underwater environments, marine life, or commercial diving projects.
  • Diver Medic: Diver medics are trained to provide medical care to divers and treat diving-related injuries or illnesses.
  • Rigging Diver: They are responsible for installing and operating underwater rigging equipment for construction or repair projects.
  • Underwater Construction Diver: They perform various construction tasks underwater, such as installing underwater structures, pipelines, and foundations.
  • Environmental and Conservation Diver: Environmental divers work on conservation and habitat restoration projects, ensuring the protection of underwater ecosystems.
  • Underwater Inspection and Nondestructive Testing (NDT) Diver: These divers inspect and test underwater structures for damage, corrosion, and wear and tear, often using specialized tools and equipment.
  • Bridge Inspector: Bridge inspectors specialize in assessing the structural integrity and safety of underwater bridges and other infrastructure.
  • Commercial Diving Instructor: Experienced commercial divers can become instructors to train and certify new divers and offer refresher courses.
  • Safety and Training Instructor: You will educate and certify new divers and offer refresher courses. Instructors must have a deep understanding of diving techniques and safety protocols.
  • ROV Pilot: Some experienced divers transition into operating remotely operated vehicles (ROVs). ROV pilots control unmanned submersible vehicles to perform underwater tasks, such as inspections, welding, and cutting, with precision and efficiency.
  • Project Manager: You may transition into project management roles, overseeing and coordinating underwater operations.

What Type of Companies Hire Commercial Divers?

Commercial divers are hired by a wide range of companies and organizations across various industries.

These companies may include:

  • Commercial Diving Companies: Specialized commercial diving firms are the most direct employers of commercial divers. They handle a variety of underwater projects, from inspections and maintenance to underwater welding and construction.
  • Oil and Gas Companies: Offshore oil and gas companies may employ you for tasks related to the maintenance and repair of underwater infrastructure, such as oil rigs and pipelines.
  • Maritime and Shipping Companies: Companies in the maritime industry may hire divers for tasks related to vessel inspections, hull maintenance, and repair work on ships and ports.
  • Construction and Engineering Firms: Construction and engineering companies will hire you for underwater construction and maintenance projects, including bridge and dam work.
  • Environmental and Conservation Organizations: These organizations may employ divers for marine conservation and environmental restoration projects, including coral reef restoration and underwater habitat preservation.
  • Research Institutions: Research institutions, universities, and marine science organizations hire divers for scientific research and data collection purposes.
  • Marine Salvage Companies: Salvage companies employ divers for recovery and salvage operations, such as retrieving sunken vessels and cargo.
  • Underwater Archaeological Organizations: Organizations specializing in underwater archaeology hire divers to explore and excavate submerged historical sites and shipwrecks.
  • Government Agencies: Government organizations, such as the U.S. Navy, Coast Guard, and environmental protection agencies, employ divers for various underwater tasks, including security, maintenance, and conservation efforts.
  • Underwater Welding and Inspection Companies: Companies focused on underwater welding, inspection, and nondestructive testing (NDT) hire divers with specialized skills in these areas.
  • Tourism and Recreation Companies: In areas with significant underwater tourism, businesses related to scuba diving, snorkeling, and underwater tourism may hire divers as instructors, guides, and safety personnel.

Should I become a Commercial Diver?

In conclusion, the decision to become a commercial diver is a choice that hinges on several key factors unique to each individual. As we’ve explored the world of commercial diving, we’ve discovered an exciting and challenging profession that offers a multitude of opportunities beneath the waves. The thrill of working in underwater environments, the potential for competitive compensation, and the ability to contribute to vital marine conservation efforts are all significant draws.

However, it’s essential to weigh these attractions against the demanding nature of the job. Commercial diving is physically demanding and often entails working in unpredictable conditions. It may require prolonged periods away from home and family, with schedules that can fluctuate based on the specific project or employer.

Before embarking on a career as a commercial diver, it’s crucial to assess your commitment to safety, your physical fitness, and your adaptability to the dynamic nature of the industry. Rigorous training and adherence to strict safety protocols are paramount.

If you are passionate about the underwater world, possess a strong work ethic, and have a genuine interest in the unique and challenging tasks commercial diving presents, this career path may be an exciting and rewarding one for you.

Careers Related to Commercial Diver


Lace Brunsden

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