Diving is an exciting job. In commercial diving, you normally do a job underwater – for example, inspecting, maintaining or repairing oil rigs or bridges. There are also other opportunities, such as teaching diving, or guiding dives. A related area involves working with remotely operated vehicles (ROVs).

What opportunities are there?

  • Engineering and construction – maintenance (e.g. thermal cutting or welding), conducting inspections on pipes, cables and structures like oil rigs, surveying or repairing bridges, ports or harbours. 

  • Scientific work 

  • Police and the Armed Forces – people already working in these services may become qualified divers. 

  • Recreational – many people enjoy diving as a hobby, perhaps taking a course when they go on holiday or simply enjoy diving as a hobby 

Qualified divers can teach individuals and lead courses. Descending to depths of 50 metres, divers breathe compressed air (or oxygen enriched air if appropriate) either from cylinders carried on their backs, or through hoses from the surface, depending upon the type of work being undertaken. Below 50 metres, divers breathe a mixture of oxygen with helium, or another inert gas. ‘Saturation diving’ is the main technique used. Divers whose blood is saturated with the inert gas live in a compression chamber for several days or weeks at a time, being transported to and from the seabed in a pressurised diving bell. Strict routines and discipline are essential to avoid accidents. When deep-sea divers have finished their work, they are taken to a decompression chamber while they wait for their bodies to readjust to surface air pressure. Life-support technicians look after divers in decompression chambers and saturation systems. 

In some areas, ROV technology is replacing some of the tasks of professional divers – in both inshore and offshore waters. ROVs can be used at depths of up to 3,000 metres below sea level, where divers can’t work. The movements and actions of ROVs are controlled by a pilot or crew onboard a ship.  Manned submersibles are also used to explore depths that divers cannot reach. These are vehicles, with an air chamber, that can transport pilots underwater without any of the physical effects that divers experience. 

What skills and personal qualities do you need?

A diver needs: 

  • to be fit, strong and have lots of stamina 

  • to be extremely safety conscious – the work can be hazardous 

  • to be responsible and able to keep calm in a crisis 

  • to be prepared to work in extreme conditions 

  • to be a strong swimmer

What about entry, training and qualifications?

To be a diver, you don’t need any set educational qualifications. However, recognised engineering, construction or scientific qualifications will help when seeking employment carrying out inspections and construction, maintenance or demolition work. Before starting a training course to become a commercial diver, you need a certificate of fitness to dive from a medical examiner approved by an appropriate body, such as the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) in the UK; this is renewed annually. It is essential to gain recognised, approved qualifications appropriate for the type of diving you intend to do. The HSE approves qualifications in the UK, and a list of these can be found on their website. To be considered for maintenance work, candidates need to be qualified in mechanical or electrical engineering, hydraulics or electronics. Some independent training companies also offer specialised training. 
N.B. You will usually need to fund your own diver training, medical examination and first-aid training. 

Who are the typical employers?

  • international diving contracting companies in the oil and gas industries 

  • specialist diving units in certain police forces 

  • defence navies and armies, such as the UK’s Army engineering units and the Royal Navy and Royal Marines (where divers work on underwater ship repair, salvage operations, demolition, explosives disposal and military operations – this is not an option open to women in the UK) 

  • research organisations employing marine biologists, archaeologists and photographers/camera operators for inshore diving 

  • diving schools