The Essence of Occupational Diving

Occupational diving is a term that covers a remarkably broad spectrum of activities. It involves a variety of trades and skills, all of which are complicated by the hostile environment in which they are performed. Jobs like welding are tough, but even tougher when performed in the inky, cold blackness 400 feet below the surface.

While many people associate occupational diving with the offshore oil industry, there is also a lot of inland occupational diving. This includes support for everything from nuclear power plants to bridge inspection and repair to building and repairing wastewater treatment facilities. Regardless of what kind of occupational diving it is, it requires a skill set far afield from recreational diving, and quite unlike anything else at all. An occupational diver must be equally capable of performing a multitude of different tasks, and in much more demanding situations than other tradesmen.

What Occupational Divers Do

Occupational divers perform a spectrum of work activities that entail a variety of hard-won skills. The following list identifies some of the jobs that occupational divers may perform. These jobs may be performed in a variety of diving environments and depths.

Bridge inspection, construction and repair
Fabrication of equipment
Flotation devices maintenance
Gravity surveying
Guideline replacement
Hyperbaric chamber operations
Injection equipment installation
Life-support systems construction, operation,
repair and maintenance
Marine environmental control check
Medical and emergency care for diving illnesses and accidents
Operation of 1-atmosphere suits
Operation of remotely operated vehicles (ROV)
Operation of diving bells
Platform construction, inspection, maintenance and removal
Rock drilling and blasting
Search and recovery
Seismic surveying
Sewage line installation and maintenance
Site surveys prior to installation
Submersible operations
Surface geological appraisal
Trenching or underwater jetting
Underwater inspection, installation, repair and maintenance
Underwater painting
Underwater photography and videography
Underwater surveys
Underwater welding and cutting
Water line installation, inspection, repair and maintenance
Wellhead repair and maintenance

Requirements and Prerequisites

At the outset, the requirements for becoming a occupational diver are not overly difficult to meet. The basic requirements include a high school diploma or equivalency and a recreational diving certificate. Applicants must also pass a diving physical conducted by a qualified diving and hyperbaric physician.

Beyond the basic requirements are good swimming skills, and a strong desire to take on a difficult challenge. A strong mechanical inclination is another important trait for anybody who wants to be a occupational diver. A potential candidate ought to at least know what a crescent wrench is and how to use it.

The occupational diving industry offers a lifetime career. It is not uncommon for DCBC to certify diving supervisors in their 60’s.

The Divers Institute of Technology in Seattle, reports that they have about 10 percent women attending their school, and they do a fantastic job. It is a great career for women to consider. The bottom line really is the desire to achieve and willingness to work hard.

Training Programs and Certification

There are broad variations in the format and content of occupational diver training programs. For example, an occupational SCUBA training program requires 160 hours of training, normally over four weeks, and an Unrestricted Surface Supplied Diver training program would require 840 hours taking anywhere from 12 to 24 weeks.

Despite their differences, a common thread in the fabric of occupational diver training is occupational diver certification. To be eligible to work as a occupational diver, one must hold the proper certification. To obtain internationally recognised DCBC diver certification, a diver must graduate from a DCBC accredited occupational diver training school which follows the Canadian Standards Association’s (CSA) Occupational Diver Training Standard (CSA Z275.5-13).

The content of a typical occupational diver training program includes a variety of subjects. The CSA curriculum includes such diverse topics as diving physics; decompression tables and procedures; anatomy and physiology; diving diseases; treatment of diving injuries; first aid and CPR; seamanship and rigging; lightweight diving equipment and procedures; operations planning; dive logs, records, and Standards for Occupational Diving; maintenance of diver’s umbilical, underwater tools; drawings, blueprints and report writing; welding and cutting; mixed-gas diving; marine engines and compressors; and industrial and offshore safety.

While not typically necessary, a background in recreational diving is a plus when it comes to occupational diver training. As a recreational diver, familiarity with the underwater environment, and at least a cursory understanding of the physics and physiology involved with putting a human body underwater can give a recreational diver a bit of an edge, at least in the initial stage of training.

Occupational diving school is decidedly tough. Only about 72 percent of those who begin diver training will finish. Some of the tougher parts of the academic program are the decompression tables, physiology, and non-destructive testing, but more students drop out for personal or ‘life issues’ than because of academic problems.

Job Prospects and Pay

For those willing to take on the demands of occupational diving, the rewards are generous. Starting annual pay for a occupational diver is in the $40,000 to $60,000 range. Once a diver gains experience and proves themself, the pay can grow to $100,000 to $150,000 a year. But there is more to look at than just the base pay and benefits, with lots of incentives being offered. A occupational diver can earn a variety of incentives and bonuses, including a hat bonus, safety bonus, and recruiting bonus.

An eye toward the future should include consideration of non-diving work in the industry. If a diver suffers an injury or develops a medical condition that precludes diving, having topside skills are an ace up the sleeve. Oftentimes, occupational divers entering their mid 40s or 50s will move on to other jobs where their skills and knowledge can be applied.

The Realities of Occupational Diving

Despite what might sound like “easy money,” occupational diving is hard physical work, and there’s not much in the way of sitting around on coffee breaks. Don’t expect to be packing your lunchbox for a 9-to-5 day as a occupational diver, either. A occupational diver in the offshore might be out at sea working for two to six weeks at a time, which is tough on some individuals. Ten-hour workdays are also common in the industry.

Within the realm of occupational diving are two broad categories that offer distinct advantages for different lifestyles. First is the offshore diving industry, which offers more international travel. Offshore occupational divers are usually away from home for longer periods of time, as much as six weeks at a time with one to four weeks off in between. Inland and coastal occupational diving may be a better fit for those with families who prefer not to be away for as long at a time. Often, divers in this sector of occupational diving will have more “normal” working hours and shorter days, allowing them to spend more time at home. However, even the inland and coastal occupational diver may still travel for weeks at a time to perform the work required by larger contracts.

If your current job lacks the excitement and adventure you long for, and you don’t mind hard physical work, then occupational diving might offer just the career path you’re looking for. With the right training, you can get in deep, without getting in over your head.

Choosing a Occupational Diving School

Training to become a occupational diver is available from a variety of schools across Canada and the United States as shown under “Diver Training” elsewhere on this site. While they all graduate certified occupational divers, there are distinct differences in their offerings. The challenge is to decide which school offers the best package for you. Here are some of the questions you may want to consider when making that important choice:

  • When can I start training, and how long will the training program run?
  • What is the training environment and schedule like, and how much hands-on experience will I receive?
  • Beyond the DCBC certification, what additional certifications such as diver medical technician, ROV pilot/technician, non-destructive testing (NDT), and Hazardous Worker (HAZWOPR) will I receive?
  • Is financial aid available, and can I take advantage of veteran’s benefits?
  • What are the additional costs above the tuition, such as books, equipment, and room and board?
  • Will I be prepared for career changes if and when such needs arise?
  • Where are graduates getting jobs, and how will the school help place me where I want to work?