Full Guide: Underwater Welding Salary & Risk Factor

Underwater Welding Salary

Commercial divers’ underwater welding salary can hit up to $300,000+ annually, according to divers and diving schools.

But here’s the kicker:

The majority of underwater welders’ income floats around $25,000 – $80,000.

Why the large pay range?

Most underwater welders receive pay by the hour or project. That means Joe Diver might make a hefty $30,000 in a few months with a big contract but then spend another five months looking for his next gig.

Underwater Welding Salary: Your Offshore & Inland Blueprint to Paychecks, Work Hours & Diving Projects

Underwater welders fit into two pay scale categories based on the location and scope of their work.

Offshore and inland.

I’m taking it a step further:

I’ve separated the salaries of  rookie and veteran welder divers, since field experience dramatically increases income.

Offshore

Underwater Welding Salary Offshore

Salary

  • Rookie (starting): $40,000 – $60,000
  • Veteran (3-5+ years experience): $75,000 – $100,000+

Project Examples

  • Platform and Pipeline Abandonment
  • Cleaning Subsea Sites
  • Surveying Chain Anchor Legs
  • Inspecting and Stabilizing Underwater Oil Pipelines
  • Wet Welding Oil Rig Pipelines
  • Hyperbaric Wet Welding Oil Rig Pipelines
  • Drilling Support
  • Installing Wellheads
  • Saturation Diving & Inspection
  • Cruise/Navy Ship Turbine Repair

Schedule

Typically 4 – 6 weeks out at sea, then 7 – 10 days at home. Insane overtime (10+ hour workdays on some projects). Rinse, repeat.

A normal offshore season runs from April – November and shuts down in the winter months due to harsh wave patterns and unpredictable weather.

Don’t forget:

Steady work depends greatly on the company and industry.

Some offshore divers enjoy year-round employment by assisting in water vessel maintenance, doing metal work in welding shop or working in topside construction. Others simply find seasonal jobs or take the winter off altogether. World travelers and lovers of the ocean enjoy offshore employment, but it’s not for everyone.

Because of higher salaries, most US underwater welders look to the ocean for their first dip into the professional world.

Onshore (Inland/Coastal)

Hyperbaric Welding Salary Onshore

Income

  • Rookie (starting): $25,000 – $40,000
  • Veteran (3-5+ years experience): $50,000 – $80,000

Project Examples

  • Cleaning and Inspecting Water Towers, Bridges
  • Wet Welding Freshwater Pipes
  • Salvaging and Recovering Sunken Fishing Boats
  • Inspecting and Repairing Dam Walls
  • Cutting Underwater Debris
  • Demolishing Decayed Underwater Structures
  • Inspecting Sewer Pipes (HAZMAT)
  • Maintaining Nuclear Power Station Inlet Structures (HAZMAT)
  • Installing Cement Dock Support Pillars

Schedule

Average (40 – 45 hour) workdays all year around. Occasional weekends for travel to and from work sites. Underwater welders often have a heavier workload in winter and spring months due to the increased storm damage of water vessels and docks.

Underwater Welding Salary: Earning Potential Based on Country & Location

Hyperbaric Welding Salary Location

Keep in mind that many divers work internationally for weeks or months at a time; therefore, their earnings are credited through the countries they’ve worked in or around.

A large portion of offshore dry and wet underwater welding takes place in the Gulf of Mexico. These earnings include income from any commercial diving project since underwater welding is only a small portion of a diver’s job responsibilities.

Let me repeat that one more time:

Underwater welding is a part of your career – not the whole shabang.

Countries report earnings of underwater welders categorically in three ways:

  1. Percentile income
  2. Numerically
  3. Internal work location

Their numbers are compiled from national employment statistics and from graduate earning reports through underwater welding schools.

United States

Percentile10%25%50% (Median)75%90%
Annual Wage*$30320$38330$50470$62190$88470

*May 2015 Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

United Kingdom

Inland SalaryOffshore Salary
£50000£67500

Canada

0-$19999$20000-49999$50K+Avg
20%20%60%$55562

Australia

Inland SalaryOffshore Salary
$65000 AUD$180000 AUD

New Zealand

Inland SalaryOffshore Salary
$65000 NZD$135000 NZD

Note: The United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand hyperbaric welding salary statistics are based off daily rates. We multiplied these daily rates off of average working days for divers:

  • Inland: 150 days
  • Offshore: 200 days

Underwater Welding Salary Factors that Can Bring Waves of Income

Underwater Welding Salary Pay_Factors

If you’re interested in earning money as an underwater welder, make sure you begin your underwater welding career path in the correct way. It takes several years of topside experience to build up to a sizable paycheck. And as I mentioned, welder divers are usually paid hourly. The pay-per-project varies depending on both the practical knowledge of the underwater welder and the nature of his or her work.

Now:

Several components influence your income. We’ll start with the most important, then move down from there.

Field Experience Above All Else

On-the-job experience is the number one factor to earning money in your diving career.

Many go into the commercial diving field with a money mindset, but no one earns a “quick buck.” You have to work your way up the career ladder and take orders from senior divers and maritime business owners.

Once you’ve completed your commercial diving training, you’ll have two choices to make: offshore or inland.

Typically, underwater welders around the North Sea often find jobs inland first, and then they may go offshore later on. Americans are on the flip side of the coin, setting their sights offshore in the Gulf of Mexico first.

The bottom line?

Dirt, grime and bottom time. You’re gaining diving experience – paramount to finding employment for the future.

In the United States, welder divers usually start as tenders, so prepare for heavier, laborious jobs for the first 1 – 2 years to gain experience. Known as a “hitch”, offshore work for underwater welders means long hours (10+ hour workdays) and isolation from their land-loving friends and family for weeks at a time.

An investment in knowledge pays the best interest. –Benjamin Franklin

Similar to most jobs in the labor market, welder divers will start to see an underwater welding salary increase, steadily bumping them up after several years of hard work. But commercial diving has a large turnover rate, so hitting that five year mark looks more like a few decades compared to most desk jobs.

And how does certification combine with diving career?

Experience isn’t enough – you need to get certified in new skill sets to improve your learning curve and make a good impression for employers. Also, applying for new types of diving jobs every so often garners new experiences, and it shows a non-resistance to changing techniques and technologies.

You’ll find that your certification knowledge is worth a lot.

Diving Environments with Beastly Conditions

Your project environment may include waves of challenges completely out of your control.

The most common?

  • Zero degree visibility
  • Freezing temperatures
  • High wave currents

Each of these factors should be taken into consideration by your employer or contractor. If you’re looking for higher pay on two different wet welding projects, you may consider one with less visibility, closed-off environment and more challenging weld.

Each project environment has a slightly different look and feel to it which is one of the major draws of this profession. No day looks the same for underwater welders. The sky (or water, rather) is the limit here.

Underwater Depth of Work to Put on the Pressure

Underwater welders receive “depth pay” which typically pays out an additional $1 – $4 per foot after a breaking line that their company decides. Usually, it’s $1 per foot up to 100 feet, then it raises up to $2 per foot.

Those who undergo a lengthy dive projects involving saturation diving (saturating body tissue with pressurized gases) can earn additional bonuses due to the time and physical strain that your body receives.

In underwater welding school, some students may switch their “get-rich-quick” fantasy from underwater welding over to saturation diving. However, most saturation divers gain several years of mid-level experience before attempting a dive in the deeper waters. Again, there’s not a shortcut to the big bucks. If you want to make saturation diving part of your career, prepare for many hours within a hyperbaric environment. This career path is a logical way to increase your hyperbaric welding salary.

Dive Methods that Fit the Job

Dive methods or “modes” refer to dives calling for certain procedures and equipment. The most common dive method for underwater welders is through surface-supplied air.

Here’s the three primary diving modes:

  • Surface-supplied air
  • Mixed gas saturation
  • Scuba

In general, the less insulation between the welder diver and his or her environment, the higher the pay. Scuba is reserved more for recreational or scientific diving, though it may occasionally be used by underwater welders as a viable method.

Knowing Your Way Around Underwater Welding Equipment

Have you ever looked at a construction site? Most are speckled orange and yellow with all types and sizes of construction tools. An underwater welder has a similar arsenal, though not all equipment is taken down beneath the surface at once.

Some equipment has more complicated operating procedures, such as large power tools or cutting torches. When in use, underwater welders must pay careful attention to their technique and position to handle it efficiently and safely.

You might be wondering:

What about electric shock?

Some diving equipment, like certain hand tools and underwater lights, pose more risk because they use alternating current (AC), not direct current (DC) power. Depending on the depth and nature of the project, underwater welders may have to use AC equipment for lengthy periods of time, increasing the risk of lethal electrocution if equipment malfunctions.

Diving jobs that call for complex and more dangerous equipment translate to a higher pay for the diver that signs up.

Distance Offshore: Sheltered No More

Typically, the further from the coast, the less emergency medical services may be available. Of course, almost all oil rigs and large ships will have the basic first aid and diver emergency equipment for you, but it won’t help if you have a more serious problem like the bends or a broken bone.

Unlike saturation diving, there’s no “cutoff distance” for an increase in pay, but employers take work site distance into consideration.

Though not a factor listed on paper, your offshore managers understand the increased hazards you’re undergoing. This may be reflected in your overall underwater welding salary.

Making Bank in Overtime Pay

Underwater Welding Overtime

Trading time for money?

Dealing especially with offshore diving, underwater welders make bank with overtime on big projects. Some divers may work up to 12 hours a day for 1 – 2 weeks straight. Many places increase pay by 50% for overtime, but each company is a little different.

Working long hours on projects applies to the entire welding and construction profession in general. Because much of this work is seasonal, overtime is usually offered to make up for the offseason.

Underwater Welding Salary: Other Factors that Influence Pay

Overall, two factors impact all others: experience and risk.

I’ve gone over the major elements that influence underwater welding salary, but I don’t want to leave these out.

  • Location
  • Performance
  • Travel Frequency
  • Education Level
  • Employment Competition

Topside Welding Versus Underwater Welding: Which Pays More?

Topside Underwater Welding Income

If you’re a surface welder right now, I know what’s happening in your head.

You’re thinking about the money:

How much would I make as an underwater welder? Is it worth the switch?

To answer this question – at least in America – I turn to again to the BLS. Their data records topside welder income. But they include more than just surface welders – try soldering, brazing machine setters, operators and tenders (phew!).

The BLS reports these careers’ annual mean wages at $37,590. This is a difference of about $15,000 as compared to underwater welders. However, because of the disparities in responsibility, environment and certifications, I feel this is an “apples to oranges” comparison.

Indeed, some pipe fitters I’ve spoken with can make over $90,000 depending on what part of the country they live in. Others working in dangerous environments like mines can pull in over $120,000 with no sweat. Okay, maybe a little sweat.

I get paid more for what I know than what I can weld. – Pipewelder

The point is, it’s not necessary to “take the plunge” if your only concern is money. Surface welders make a great living, albeit in a less diverse environment as their underwater counterparts. If you’re halfway into your topside welding career and decide it’s not for you, I have some good news:

It’s much easier to teach a topside welder to swim than a commercial diver how to weld.

Where to Find Commercial Diving Jobs

Hyperbaric Welding Salary Employment

During the Gold Rush in the mid-19th century, all prospectors had their eyes on California. Gold veins ran deep in the mountains, and yielding a rich harvest for hard-working pioneer. Location meant a great deal, just as it does for underwater welders.

The commercial diving profession receives most of their employment opportunities in construction.

So where do you go to find the best underwater welding jobs?

Since employment is based on project demand, it’s hard to predict. However, within the United States, Louisiana has the best track record for underwater welder employment level and concentration. This doesn’t directly translate to the highest underwater welding salary, however, as we’ll soon discover.

For offshore work, welder divers will find job opportunities all over the Gulf of Mexico – some estimate that 90% of commercial diver hours are billed in the Gulf. Of course, many other jobs exist across the world.

America: Top 5 Paying States

According to the BLS’ May 2015 statistics, underwater welders earned a salary mean of $54,640. Here’s the average income breakdown by state:

StateSalary
New York$84940
New Jersey$84080
Virginia$57770
Florida$54640
Vermont$51120

Not surprisingly, New York pays welder divers more than any other state. To understand these numbers, don’t try to narrow it down to a specific industry or company. It’s more the cost of living that drives income.

Future Prospects: Commercial Diving Career & Underwater Welding Salary

Underwater Welding Employment

Wikipedia Commons Public Domain

Because of the amount of intensive labor and physical stamina involved in underwater welding, some commercial divers will move on to other professions after 5 – 10 years. Typically, welder-divers range from ages 18 – 38, though no age limit exists. Some welder-divers work up into their fifties: As long you pass your physical to keep certified each year, you can continue your career in this field.

When it’s time for a job transition, underwater welders who have solid experience and education can easily shift into related fields. Here’s just a few of the many career opportunities available them:

  • Surface welder/machinist
  • Engineer (chemical, civil)
  • Remote Operated Vehicle Operators
  • Riggers
  • HAZMAT Technicians
  • Instructors at commercial diving schools
  • American Welding Society Certified Welding Inspectors
  • Underwater construction consultants

A piece of final advice:

The underwater construction industry greatly rewards underwater welders who have knowledge in a variety of fields. Your underwater welding salary will directly reflect a versatile resume or CV, demonstrating skills in a variety of projects, certificates and locations.

It’s wise to have a learn-as-you-go mentality. Well-rounded experience will dictate your pay and position as an underwater welder, but it will also translate over to other related careers you may choose at another point in life. If you’re interested in starting a career as an underwater welder, we’ve created a guide for you.

What questions do you have about underwater welding or underwater welding salary? Let me know in the comment section below!

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