How many ways can you make a living in diving?
Quite a few, it turns out.
The underwater industry isn’t just a bunch of SCUBA divers swimming in tropical waters. Nor is it all underwater welders lighting up metal on oil rigs.
The commercial diving profession has many categories.
Requirements: Commercial Diving Jobs
Commercial diving jobs are loaded with specialized fields and certifications.
These fields range greatly in pay, work hours, risk, required experience and certification. Think of it like going to law school – you focus on bankruptcy, criminal, civil rights, or another type of law. Still, every lawyer has to pass the BAR exam, a more general test that gives him the right to practice law.
You can specialize in multiple commercial diving fields with the right certification, but first you’ll need to obtain your commercial diving license like these ones (the “BAR”).
After that, you’re ready for an exciting new career!
Branches of Professional Diving
Let’s take a look at commercial diving careers available to you.
Note: On average, professional divers with no experience begin their careers with relatively equal income, regardless of which type of diving they pursue. After approximately 3-5 years, differences in income are more apparent between diving professions.
- Military & Police
- Underwater Photographer
- Aquarium & Pool
- Commercial Diving Instructor
Welcome to the ocean.
It’s popular practice for commercial diving newbies to find an offshore job after gaining earning their diving certifications. If you want to weld underwater, this field is where it’s performed the most. You may come aboard a stationary oil platform or traveling with a crew on a ship. Many divers work 4-6 weeks on a “hitch” and then come inland for 10 days.
Offshore commercial diving jobs mean days, sometimes over 12 hours. Their schedules shift according to the work that needs to be done, whether they’re welding a pipeline, measuring gaps for new material placement or rigging.
Many commercial diving jobs are in the Gulf of Mexico or various parts of the Atlantic Ocean off of northern Europe, or South America. Work isn’t constant – seasonal demands and dangerous weather mean offshore divers will often go for several months without work.
After a few years in the ocean, many divers move inland to find more steady jobs with less hazards and work hours. Instead of being stuck on a boat for months, onshore commercial divers typically come home at the end of the day. They work in lakes, rivers, bridges and docks that range in size. Similar to their offshore counterparts, some weld and repair vessel hulls or pipelines.
Salvaging and topside welding are more common practices in this field – many boats capsize during storms and must be recovered quickly to avoid further decay underwater. Inland commercial diving jobs also mean cleaning water intake/outtake systems and performing design inspections.
Salary: Medium – High
Feces. Oil sludge. Wet cement. Radioactive material.
If you’re crazy enough to work in hazardous, dark liquids, this is your dream job. HAZMAT divers help with repairs, maintenance and cleaning in a variety of environments. Some jobs are routine, like inspections in a water treatment plant’s chemical vat.
Others are emergencies, like an oil spill offshore or a nuclear plant meltdown.
One of the most interesting aspects of HAZMAT divers is their suit.
They come in a variety of thicknesses depending on the environment, but almost all suits are made of thick rubber with attached gloves and a free flow diving helmet.
The entire suit is pressurized and completely sealed to avoid leakage or puncture. HAZMAT commercial divers also require proper decontamination after each job.
Risk: Low – Medium
If you have a keen interest in underwater plant and animal life, you may find yourself in this field. Scientific divers examine and research geology, archaeology and biology underwater. As a general rule, these people are scientists who work as professional divers, not the other way around.
Most scientific divers work for larger organizations that engage in underwater research and application. They are trained to use unique instruments for conducting underwater experiments and sample taking.
Depending on which branch of the military these divers are assigned to, they will receive underwater training and tasks that closely match that of offshore and inshore commercial diving jobs. As naval personnel, you’ll work under strict rules and leadership structure.
Assignments include underwater welding, salvage, and general maintenance of ship hulls and marine equipment.
The American Navy has developed its own resource on underwater cutting and welding which you can read.
Military & Police
Risk: High (Military); Medium (Police)
These divers come in two flavors, but both work for the government to protect the nation’s interests. Military divers and “frogmen” engage in underwater bomb defusing, demolition, search and rescue or sabotage. They are few in number, many times part of the special forces.
Police divers hunt for clues and evidence related to criminal investigations. This can be anything from contraband to a dead body. Oh yeah, and their badges are waterproof.
Next time you watch Titanic, remember that these divers had a huge part in it. Most underwater photographers (also called media divers) work primarily as professional cinematographers or photographers. They often start off as freelancers. Some start their own business and others work directly under another underwater photographer like an apprenticeship. Through these experiences, they take their underwater photography and videography to the next level.
They use waterproof cameras, lights and sound equipment to record underwater footage. This footage may be for their own personal use or part of a huge Hollywood production.
Aquarium & Pool
These divers don’t work with aquarium sitting in your living room. They work with zoos, outdoor recreational merchants and even theme parks. You have seen one on your visit to Cabela’s when they dropped feed into the fish tanks.
Aquarium divers regularly clean and take care of the underwater wildlife. At theme parks, pool divers help train marine animals and entertain the public.
Commercial Diving Instructor
Salary: Low (3-5 years experience)
Commercial diving instructors have experience and certification in one of the commercial diving branches qualifies them to teach others.
Some work at underwater welding schools, and others help certify divers in marine organizations. They teach and test areas of technical knowledge and application in the water.
Which kinds of commercial diver jobs interest you the most? Comment below!