Before the Big Leagues: Life as a Tender

Diving Tender
By U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Byron C. Linder [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
No one enters the army as a general. And no one starts their first job as a full-fledged, high paid underwater welder.¬†If you’re like the vast majority of divers, prepare for your first job title: Dive tender.

Dive tenders “tend” to the needs (and wants) of commercial divers. They’re usually busy for most of the day with a multitude of tasks that range from surprisingly challenging to downright humiliating. Of course, it’s all about your mindset.

Divers start out as tenders for three reasons:

  1. Learn the trade first-hand from an experienced underwater welder
  2. Filter out those who lack desire and work ethic
  3. Deflate your over-sized ego (a by-product of reason #1)

During most underwater projects, a submerged welder-diver has three other people on the surface. One serves as a backup in case of trouble, and the other two work as tenders. The  tenders provide essential services to the two head divers. One works directly with the diver in the water, constantly communicating and monitoring air supply and location.

Before we talk about the specific tasks and responsibilities of tenders, you need to understand¬†that a tender is¬†not a buddy diver – that’s a term normally reserved for recreational scuba¬†diving, where three divers dive together and monitor each other’s gauges.¬†Most commercial diving operations don’t incorporate this system, and even if it does, the tender doesn’t have the skill-set to serve in this capacity alongside an experienced underwater welder.

Dive Tender Responsibilities

Dive Tender Surface Preparation

Not all of these tasks may apply to tenders, as each works in varied situations. However, most will probably work in all of these capacities before being promoted. Tenders should ask two questions before their diver hits the water:

  1. How can this operation go wrong?
  2. If the operation goes wrong, what backup plans have we practiced for a safe and successful ending?

Before the Dive: Surface Prep

  • Work with team to establish safe dive depths and lengths for operation
  • Review plans and practice emergency dive procedures

Help the diver suit up

  • Check for cuts or holes in wet/dry suit
  • Secure neck and wrists openings
  • Help strap and adjust harness
  • If necessary, apply weights to underwater welder’s¬†ankles (neutral to -2 pounds buoyant)
  • Ensure inflator and deflator valves are in proper position for environment temperature and depth


  • Fasten helmet to welder-diver’s¬†collar – add emergency gas canister if needed
  • Check full length of umbilical assembly for secure connections and insulation
  • Attach underwater welder’s knife to the shoulder, thigh, ankle or belt.
  • Provide underwater welder¬†with any other needed equipment, such as an underwater welding electrode or cutting torch

During the Dive: Monitoring and Guiding

  • Communicate continuously by answering¬†and asking questions and instructing¬†welder-diver’s¬†next step in operation
  • Listen and prepare for¬†emergency signs such as a panicked voice, heavy breathing or quick movement
  • Monitor underwater welder’s¬†gas gauges (within 200 psi), time underwater, body temperature, breathing rate, depth and latitudinal location
  • Coordinate with other members of surface team

After the Dive: Checkup

  • Aid in the removal of welder-diver¬†suit and equipment
  • Inquire of underwater welder’s¬†health and operation under the water
  • Standby for any further help

Promotion in the Ocean

Diving Tender Ladder

Tenders wait anywhere from several months to two or more years before promotion to “full¬†diver” status. This period of time varies according to job type, diving environment, average depth and how much¬†of a jerk your boss might be.

During times of great demand (think Hurricane Katrina), many tenders are bumped up to a full diver position extremely quickly. This promotion is ultimately a disservice to them though, as they do not have the necessary experience to carry out all the responsibilities in the long run. So be patient, young padawan.

Tending to Cash

As a tender, you’ll be paid $13-20 per hour. This wage will obviously increase with extended time, depth pay and a variety of other factors. According to the Bureau Labor of Statistics, the bottom 25% of divers (where most tenders would fall) make 250% less than senior divers. It’s the way the game’s played.

Don’t become too excited after your break out from tender to full diver. As an inexperienced diver, you may end up with¬†less pay than you were receiving as a tender. Employers will be hesitant to give you jobs and leadership positions. Be aggressive in job pursuit and showing your abilities during this time.

Important and Not Alone

Office guys start as¬†interns. Welders as apprentices. We all have start somewhere, and that’s usually the bottom. Remember, though, you’re an essential part of the underwater welding industry. You keep us safe, secure and dressed – not in an awkward way.

2 thoughts on “Before the Big Leagues: Life as a Tender”

  1. Any suggestions for a Dive tender-to-be who is very seriously considering taking the plunge and jumping into this profession with almost no prior experience? I’m curious about how many people get the education and continue working in this career path. How many veer off into other branches of diving beyond welding or underwater construction.

    • Experience in topside construction (any type – welding, architecture, demolition) is a good first step. From there, I’d suggest underwater welding school; it doesn’t serve as a substitute for on-the-job experience, but it provides formal training to put on your CV and resume for employers.

      Some people do go into other branches of this career, but you have to start somewhere to know where your interests and motivations lie. Research first!

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