It’s rare to find a well-paying job that requires little education.
Even more to earn your entire year’s salary in as little as a few months.
Underwater welding can be one of those professions.
Today I’m going to show you exactly how much underwater welders earn by:
- Job type
- Wage factors
Let’s dive in:
2016 Average Underwater Welding Salary: Monstrous Earning Gap
Commercial divers earn an average underwater welding salary of $54,340. However, most salaries float around $25,000 – $80,000 according to global statistics and commercial divers. Welder-divers in the top 10% make $88,640 while the bottom 10% pull in $30,320.
Diving experience is the biggest determiner of an underwater welder’s income. Location comes in second.
But here’s the kicker:
Some commercial divers’ underwater welding salary can hit up to $300,000+ annually.
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.
Here’s the primary factors that affect your diver-welder income:
- Depth of Work
- Dive Methods
- Underwater Welding Equipment
- Distance Offshore
- Other Factors
But factors are just part of the equation.
To be passionate about this career, you need to know where it will take you.
Take a look at your options:
Welder-diver Offshore & Inland Blueprint: 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.
- Rookie (starting): $40,000 – $60,000
- Veteran (3-5+ years experience): $75,000 – $100,000+
- 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
Typically 4 – 6 weeks out at sea, then 7 – 10 days at home. Insane overtime (10+ hour workdays on some projects).
A normal offshore season runs from April – November and shuts down in the winter months due to harsh wave patterns and unpredictable weather.
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.
- Rookie (starting): $25,000 – $40,000
- Veteran (3-5+ years experience): $50,000 – $80,000
- 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
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
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:
- Percentile income
- Internal work location
Their numbers are compiled from national employment statistics and from graduate earning reports through underwater welding schools.
|Inland Salary||Offshore Salary|
|Inland Salary||Offshore Salary|
|$65000 AUD||$180000 AUD|
|Inland Salary||Offshore 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
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.
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.
Premium Paper: The Power of Certification
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.
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.
Saturation divers can make up to $45,000 – $90,000 per month. Income is dependent upon the length and depth of their project plus tenure of the diver.
Stop drooling. There’s more to this:
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
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.
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.
Making Bank in Overtime Pay
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.
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.
- Travel Frequency
- Education Level
- Employment Competition
Topside Welding Versus Underwater Welding: Which Pays More?
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 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!).
Welders make $18.07 an hour according to current mean hourly wage statistics. The top 10% make $26.13 an hour and the bottom 10% make $11.51.
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
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:
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
Because of the amount of intensive labor involved in underwater welding, some commercial divers will move on to other professions.
Some after 5 – 10 years.
But the majority?
Less than a year.
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 a few of the many career opportunities available:
- Surface welder/machinist
- Engineer (chemical, civil)
- Remote Operated Vehicle Operators
- HAZMAT Technicians
- Instructors at commercial diving schools
- American Welding Society Certified Welding Inspectors
- Underwater construction consultants
Bonus Advice on the Money
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?