Commercial Diving Career Information
I magine that instead of heading to the office, your morning commute involved a trip down to the ocean floor. This is a daily reality for many commercial divers. From oceans and oil platforms to rivers and lakes, commercial divers can work in a variety of inland and offshore settings, handling a dynamic mix of tasks and responsibilities. However, there is one consistency: Regardless of the work environment or the task at hand, commercial divers work underwater.
If you are interested in pursuing commercial diving as a career, it is important to first obtain a solid understanding of all aspects of the field. Keep reading to learn what exactly commercial diving is and whether it's the right match for your future.
What is a Commercial Diver?
A commercial diver is someone who has been trained as an advanced diver and is able to perform a wide range of tasks related to underwater industrial construction. Many people tend to confuse commercial divers with underwater welders, but, in reality, they are two very different careers. Underwater welders are trained to perform one specialized task, whereas commercial divers can be responsible for many different duties. Although commercial divers are commonly trained to perform underwater welding, they must also learn to handle a multitude of additional tasks, such as inspecting bridges and repairing water treatment plants.
What Does a Commercial Diver Do?
If you are wondering, "What does a commercial diver do?" the answer is that a commercial diver is basically a professional diver who has been trained to perform a variety of tasks underwater. There isn't one specific job description that can be universally applied to this position because their responsibilities can vary widely depending on whether they choose to concentrate on one area of commercial diving or stick to a more general career that involves multiple areas.
Before adding any sort of skills or credentials, a commercial diver must first concentrate solely on becoming an experienced and talented diver. Once their diving abilities are proven, commercial divers can add areas of expertise. Some of the areas encompassed by commercial diving can include:
- Underwater construction
- Shipwreck salvaging
- Underwater structure inspection, maintenance, and repair (including vessels, docks, pipelines, bridges, and more)
- Oil platform maintenance, construction, and repair
- Underwater photography (still and video)
- Underwater welding
Depending on the task at hand, commercial divers can work with a broad range of tools and equipment such as:
- Hand and power tools
- Pneumatic equipment
- Compressed air equipment
Commercial divers work in one of two types of categories and environments (although some may spend time dabbling in both):
- Takes place in oceans
- Usually encompasses jobs related to oil platforms, exploration and salvaging, pipelines, and more
- Is widely considered the more dangerous and demanding area of commercial diving
- Takes place in non-ocean locations like rivers, lakes, harbors, etc.
- Generally involves more engineering-related tasks such as building or repairing bridges and dams
- Can allow for more flexible and less stressful work schedules
What are the Commercial Diving Education Requirements I Need to Know?
If you are wondering how to become a commercial diver, the first step involves intensive education. However, before you can apply to career training programs, there are usually some commercial diving qualifications that you must obtain first. Commercial diving requirements include:
- A high school diploma
- Basic recreational and commercial SCUBA certification through an accredited program—usually accredited by the National Association of Underwater Instructors (NAUI) or the Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI)
- First aid and CPR certificates
- A diving medical examination from a qualified doctor
Once you have obtained the necessary entrance and scuba diving qualifications, you are free to apply to commercial diving programs. Since certification is required to work as a commercial diver, it is important to ensure the program you pick is accredited and committed to helping you prepare to successfully pursue certification upon graduation.
What Can I Expect to Learn at a Commercial Diving School?
Once you have fulfilled all of the prerequisites, you will be ready to enroll in a commercial diving program. Because this career field involves such a variety of tasks, the curriculum for commercial diving programs tends to cover a dynamic range of subjects. Some of the broad concepts typically found in a commercial diving program include:
- Diving physics
- Decompression procedures
- Prevention and treatment of diving-related diseases and injuries
- Commercial diving technology
- Industrial and offshore safety concepts
Once you have a solid background in general and theoretical material, you can move on to more hands-on training, learning to work with underwater tools and obtaining practical experience in a variety of areas such as:
- Operations planning
- Seamanship and rigging
- Welding and cutting
- Blueprint drawing and report writing
- Marine engine and compressor maintenance and repair
- Hyperbaric chamber operations
- Underwater photography
- Hazardous waste operations and emergency response
The majority of the time, quality commercial diving programs will also include opportunities for you to gain experience practicing your skills in a real-world environment and/or within on-site training pools that simulate actual industry settings.
In addition, some commercial diving schools offer opportunities to pursue more specialized training once you have completed a general commercial diving program. Some of the typical specialties include underwater welding, dive medicine, and underwater nondestructive testing.
Outside of Training, What Does It Take to Be a Successful Commercial Diver?
Outside of formal training, there are some additional commercial diving qualifications that tend to lend themselves to success in this challenging field. Some of these traits and abilities can be learned, while others must generally come naturally:
- Adaptability—Since you will be expected to work in many different environments, performing many different tasks, you need to be able to adapt quickly to change.
- Physical fitness and endurance—Because of the physical demands of the work, you need to maintain excellent physical strength and endurance.
- The attitude of a team player—Due to the nature of the work and the risks involved in commercial diving, it is a job that involves working as part of a team. Therefore, you must be able to work efficiently and effectively with many different people.
- Flexibility—Since there are no set hours for this type of work, you need to be flexible when it comes to availability.
- Mechanically inclined—You will be required to work with a wide range of tools and equipment both in and out of the water, making mechanical ability extremely important.
- A level head—Because of the nature of the work, you may find yourself in an emergency situation at some point in your career. Therefore, it is crucial that you are able to stay calm under pressure and levelheaded in any situation.
What is the Cost of Commercial Diving School?
The cost of commercial diving training can vary depending on the education level and the length of the program. However, you can expect to pay anywhere between $8,000 or less for a short-term basic commercial diving certificate program and $20,000 or more for an in-depth degree program.
Some programs may include the cost of equipment and supplies as part of the tuition, whereas others may charge separately or expect you to purchase equipment yourself.
In addition, you need to keep in mind that, before enrolling in a commercial diving program, you will need to gain both recreational and commercial SCUBA certification. Basic recreational SCUBA programs are generally very short-term and usually cost around $500. Commercial SCUBA training requires over a month of training and has an average cost of about $2,000.
How Long is Commercial Diving School?
If you are wondering, "How long is commercial diving school?" the answer can vary because, like tuition cost, it depends on the type and length of the commercial diving program you choose. That being said, a short-term certificate program can typically be completed in as few as six months, whereas an associate degree program may take up to two years or more.
It is also important to remember that, before you can enroll in a commercial diving program, you must become certified as both a basic recreational SCUBA diver as well as a commercial SCUBA diver. However, most accredited recreational programs can be completed in as little as two weekends if you are already an advanced swimmer with some diving experience and are able to complete the classroom portion online. Commercial SCUBA accreditation can normally be completed in five weeks as long as you have already logged the minimum required dives (usually 20) within the past year.
Is Certification Required for Commercial Divers?
Before you can work as a commercial diver you must first gain certification. The most common certification in the industry tends to be from the Association of Diving Contractors International (ADCI). The ADCI is a non-profit organization founded in 1968 that has established industry-wide standards for commercial diving to help ensure safety.
The first step in obtaining basic certification is to complete a commercial diving program from a school that is accredited by the Association of Commercial Diving Educators (ACDE). The ACDE is a non-profit organization overseen by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). It is responsible for granting accreditation to commercial diving schools (as well as military dive schools and other related facilities) that meet or exceed the curriculum and training requirements for ADCI Entry Level Tender/Diver certification. These requirements are categorized into three separate areas:
- Technical proficiency
- Field experience
- Demonstrated proficiency
Once you have graduated from an accredited commercial diving program, there are additional prerequisites you must meet before receiving ADCI Entry Level Tender/Diver certification. These prerequisites are listed in the ANSI/ACDE Minimum Standard for Commercial Diver Training and include formal training or experience in:
- Diving procedures and techniques
- Emergency procedures
- Physiology and physics as they relate to diving
- Diving equipment
- First aid and CPR
- Computer technology
Additional standards exist for those who want to perform work within hyperbaric conditions (such as underwater welding within a hyperbaric chamber).
If you wish to obtain certification beyond the entry-level Tender/Diver credential, then additional minimum qualifications apply. Full information on the ANSI/ACDE Minimum Standard for Commercial Diver Training and the prerequisites for its various credentials are available on the ADCI website.
What is the Average Commercial Diving Salary?
The average commercial diving salary can be difficult to get a handle on because it is affected by a variety of factors, including:
- How many years of experience you have in the field
- The area of the industry you are working in
- The type of environment you are working in (for example, offshore or inland)
- The level of difficulty and safety associated with the work you perform
However, salary estimates are available from a 2011 study conducted by the United States Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics.* According to the estimates compiled in this study, average salary rates stack up like this:
- The mean hourly wage was $28.19.
- The mean annual wage was $58,640.
- The average annual salary for the lowest 10 percentile in the industry was $31,510 or less.
- The average annual salary for the highest 10 percentile in the industry was $94,630 or more.
- The top-paying states were California, New York, and Washington.
What is the Job Outlook for Commercial Divers?
According to the 2011 study by the United States Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job outlook for commercial divers varies by industry area and location.*
The industry areas with the highest level of employment were:
- Civil engineering construction
- Support activities for water transportation
- Highway, street, and bridge construction
- Utility system construction
The states with the highest concentration of commercial diving jobs were:
What are the Pros and Cons of Becoming a Commercial Diver?
On the whole, commercial diving can be an exciting and rewarding career field. However, there are downsides and safety concerns as well. Workers in this industry tend to be passionate about their career and feel that the positives far outweigh any negatives. However, it is important to understand both the pros and cons of working in the industry.
- You get to be physically active and are encouraged to maintain good physical health, strength, and endurance.
- You will have very little risk of boredom since the job involves such a dynamic range of responsibilities.
- You could have the opportunity to travel to many different locations throughout the span of your career.
- You will have the chance to meet and work with many different people. Due to the need for teamwork in the industry, close friendships are often forged.
- You will likely have to spend time "paying your dues" in an entry-level position before you can move up to more interesting work and higher pay.
- Depending on the area of commercial diving you enter, you may only be able to work for about six months of the year, meaning you will need to budget carefully.
- If you choose to pursue offshore commercial diving opportunities, you will likely need to travel extensively and may not get to see friends and family for extended periods of time.
- There are some health and safety risks associated with deep dives, including decompression sickness, bone degeneration, air embolisms, high pressure nervous syndrome, and more.
- Depending on the area of commercial diving you enter, you could also face dangers, such as tool or machinery-related injuries (for example, underwater welding can present the risk of electric shock).
- Because of the physical demands of the job, career longevity tends to be rare. Often, commercial divers need to retire from the industry by the time they are 40.
What is the Next Step?
Now that you have a better understanding of the commercial diving career field, if you are interested in taking the next step, a great way to start is by checking out commercial diving schools and requesting more information about the ones that catch your interest today!
* Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012-13 Edition, website last visited on August 2, 2012.
Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI), website last visited on July 10.
The Association of Diving Contractors International (ADCI), website last visited on July 10, 2012.
The Association of Commercial Diving Educators (ACDE), website last visited on July 11, 2012.
American National Standard for Divers - Commercial Diver Training - Minimum Standard, website last visited on August 2, 2012.