Commercial Diving Career & Training Information
Imagine 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, they 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.
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 that can include welding, inspecting bridges, and repairing water treatment plants.
What Does a Commercial Diver Do?
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 or stick to a more general career that involves multiple areas.
What They Work On
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, they 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
Where They 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 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 work schedules
What Are the Education Requirements I Need to Know?
Requirements for work in this field 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
Commercial Diving Training Programs
Once you have obtained the necessary entrance and scuba diving qualifications, you are free to apply to commercial diving programs. Since certification is often required by employers to work as a commercial diver, it is a good idea to consider any program that can help you prepare to successfully obtain 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 training program. Because this career field involves such a variety of tasks, the curriculum for diving programs tends to cover a dynamic range of subjects.
Some of the broad concepts typically found in training programs 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 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 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.
Some diving schools offer opportunities to pursue more specialized training once you have completed a general program. Some of the typical specialties include:
- Underwater welding
- Dive medicine
- Underwater nondestructive testing
How Long Does Commercial Diving School Take?
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 and 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?
Before you can work in the field, many employers require that you 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 program from a school with a course of instruction that is comparable to what the Association of Commercial Diving Educators (ACDE) recommends. The ACDE is a non-profit organization overseen by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). It provides academic and training expertise to some 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 a program, you may need to meet additional prerequisites 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 Salary?
Income can be 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
How Much Commercial Divers Make
Salary estimates from 2018 show that:1
- The average hourly wage was $28.59.
- The average annual salary was $59,470.
- The annual salary for the highest 10th percentile in the industry was $108,170 or more.
- The top-paying states were Alaska, Washington, New Jersey, New Hampshire, Connecticut.
What Is the Employment Outlook?
The number of jobs for commercial divers in the U.S. is expected to rise by 11 percent between 2016 and 2026, which is faster than average.2 Of course, the employment prospects might be better in some industries and locations than others, as shown by data from 2018.1
The industry areas with the highest level of employment were:
- Heavy and civil engineering construction
- Support services
- Support activities for water transportation
- Architectural, engineering, and related services
- Local government
The states with the highest concentration of commercial diving jobs were:
- New Hampshire
What Are the Best Things About the Work?
Commercial diving can be exciting and rewarding. Workers in this industry tend to be passionate about their careers and enjoy upsides like:
- An active lifestyle—You get to be physically active and are encouraged to maintain good physical health, strength, and endurance.
- Variety—You will have very little risk of boredom since the job involves such a dynamic range of responsibilities.
- Travel—You could have the opportunity to travel to many different locations throughout the span of your career.
- Camaraderie—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.
1 Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, website last visited on September 3, 2019.
2 Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, website last visited on September 3, 2019.