(Apprentice – Journeyman welder): I have less than two years of experience with topside welding. How can I become an underwater welder?
Advantage – You
As a beginner welder, you have several distinct advantages over others.
- You’re young (at least at heart)
- You’re gleaning from more experienced welders
- Safety standards are much higher for you than your predecessors
- You’ll learn faster and more efficiently since you haven’t developed any bad welding habits yet
Take these advantages and run with them.
If you don’t have an experienced welder you work closely with, find one. He or she can challenge you daily and bring your welding skills up to a level they need to be at for your future career in underwater welding.
As an inexperienced welder, your focus should stay on improving these areas of your career, the big three:
Preparation Starts at the Surface
Everyone knows about astronauts and their work on the international space station, missions to the moon and orbits around the Earth. But unless you’ve toured their facilities, you probably aren’t aware of the rigorous and long training process that they go through before they exit our atmosphere.
Astronauts train for years in simulated environments and work in every possible scenario to make sure they can function in outer space. The countries that send them leave nothing to chance – every instrument, procedure and function is practiced over and over until it’s second nature to the astronaut.
So it should be for welders; especially those working toward underwater welding. If you’re just starting your career as a topside welder, you can build a foundation of understanding from welding in its most basic form.
Every time you make a measurement, examine a fitting or re-weld a bad seam, you’re gaining experience. Look for ways to advance your arsenal of new welding skills through studying and application. In time, you’ll gain a wide variety of skills and mechanical understanding that can be transferred into almost any job, including underwater welding.
Skills involving arc welding (SMAW and MIG) will benefit you most when you apply for an underwater welding position, since those are the primary methods used. However, more experience equals better pay and security. I’ve listed some methods for increased experience:
- Receive training at a welding school
- Watch YouTube “how-to” videos on welding
- Study diagrams and pictures various welds
- Learn metal properties on the periodic table
- Familiarize yourself with welding vocabulary and terms with mobile apps
- Work as an apprentice under a more experienced welder (crucial)
- Weld different metals and thicknesses
- Weld in different environments
- Weld with different helmets, electrodes and power supplies
- Work on your speed, range and arc intensity to combat these common problems with arc welds: Weld spatter, porosity, cracking
I would recommend at least two years of professional welding experience before looking into an underwater welding school (your next step). You can train and earn certifications in these schools upon graduation.
No, certification isn’t required to become a welder or underwater welder (except commercial diving certification). Even so, certification is a welder’s way of officially saying, “I’m experienced in these areas.” That’s a very powerful statement for an employer, and your certification can be the difference between a mid-level and high paying job.
As you probably already know, there’s no “standardized” way to get your certifications – every welder has different ones according to their interests and those of the business they work for. Same for underwater welding. For more information on certifications, you can sign up for my newsletter.
“It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.”
Not entirely true by itself but a big piece of the puzzle. In order to advance, you must form a network of trusted individuals who can help take your skills to the next level. That’s part of the reason I created Water Welders, so everyone interested in underwater welding could communicate in one place.
I’ve researched many forums and places for welders to get together, and here are some of my favorites:
- AWS (Sign up for their annual membership – it’s cheap and gives you a discount on their resources)
- Welding Tips & Tricks Forum
- Welding.com Forum
- CDiver.net Forum
- TIG Welding (Facebook Group)
- Welding and Cutting Professionals (LinkedIn)
Networking takes time, and you can’t go into it with the mindset of “what can I get out of this relationship?” It’s about helping people; that’s why we do what we do. Also keep in mind that your network may not directly increase your professional visibility in the world of underwater welding. You must be intentional about the relationships you make so that you can make inroads with people connected to this field.
When the Going Gets Tough…
As one welding instructor told me, “If you can’t weld above water, you certainly won’t be able to weld below.” Luckily, you have the first part down. You’ll run into many challenges, and you’ll have to earn your underwater welding position – no one’s going to hand it to you.
As a newbie welder, you’re in a great place with a bright future. Even if you decide that an underwater welding career is not for you, you can still greatly benefit from increased experience, certifications and a network. Go get ’em!