Diving as a job sounds exciting! 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 remotelyoperated vehicles (ROVs). These are machines which can replace some of the tasks of professional divers. There are opportunities to operate ROVs and to maintain them.
What opportunities are there?
Commercial divers may work in a variety of settings, including those described below.
- Engineering and construction – many divers work in the offshore oil and gas industries using their skills to carry out maintenance (e.g. thermal cutting or welding) and conduct inspections on pipes, cables and structures like oil rigs. Inspection may involve taking photographs or videos. Concern for the environment has led to new developments which may also require divers to work on offshore wind farms etc. Marine civil engineering work carried out inshore may involve working on projects such as surveying or repairing bridges, ports or harbours. Work can be found anywhere in the world and is usually on a contract basis.
- Scientific work – marine biologists sometimes dive to carry out research. Archeologists may also train as divers to specialise in surveying wreckages.
- 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.
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. An ROV is similar to a robot and can be connected to a ship with a tether to supply its power; it reports findings back to the ship. 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. ROVs can vary in size from a small observation unit with a camera, to a large unit weighing several tonnes, capable of moving large objects, and controlled by a crew of specialists. 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. However, it’s more difficult for pilots of submersibles to carry out practical tasks as they must use manipulators.
What skills and personal qualities do you need?
A diver needs:
- to be fit, strong and have lots of stamina
- to be extremely safetyconscious – 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.
If your qualifications are not recognised in the UK, you can have your diving skills assessed at an HSErecognised diver competence assessment centre. There are standards relating to the different diving techniques; recreational diving qualifications are not acceptable for commercial diving. Many employers require dive-related first-aid certificates. To work offshore, you also need to complete safety training, such as the basic offshore safety induction and emergency training course. To work as a recreational diving instructor, you need diving qualifications from an HSE-approved recreational diving agency or organisation.
N.B. You will usually need to fund your own diver training, medical examination and first-aid training.
Many companies that use ROVs offer in-house training for new operating staff. 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.
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 (which employ instructors for recreational and commercial diving).
What about future prospects?
Although it can be expensive to complete the necessary diver training, once qualified, you may be in great demand in certain industries.
Where can I find out more?
- The Association of Diving Contractors (ADC) – tel: +44 (0)1202 855648. Website carries details of member organisations that employ divers: www.adc-uk.info
- Health & Safety Executive – infoline: +44 (0)845 345 0055. Website has information on careers and lists approved diving qualifications and diver competence assessor organisations: www.hse.gov.uk/diving
- The International Marine Contractors Association (IMCA) – tel: +44 (0)20 7824 5520. Website has careers information, links to members around the world and lists approved training providers: www.imca-int.com/careers