Diver Exploits: After Panama, Gabriel Dives Around the World

Gabriel Diver FriendsSince 1991, I’ve dived professionally. First, I worked only through scuba (in Panama), but after 2003, I began my commercial diving career with surface supplied diving equipment.

I grew up in Panama Republic of Panama. At the young age of six, I took an interest in sea life from snorkeling around the islands. Three years later, my mother gave me a book called El Mar by Jacques Perrot, which is translated as, “The Sea”.

I couldn’t stop reading it – I was mesmerized by his words.

The story gave details of diving – even saturation. From the equipment to the projects to the unexplored depths…I couldn’t get enough of it.

Beyond El Mar, I was also influenced by two people who lived close to my aunt. One was a technical diver, the other commercial. The technical diver dropped off books about mixed gas and deep diving, which enriched my knowledge of the science behind it all. I was also able to spend some time with the commercial diver, and he provided many real life experiences of his own journey.

I’ve worked with many other great commercial divers throughout my time on the sea, but one inspired my sense of duty and motivation to work in a safe manner. This diver lost his life during a job in Panama in 2001. Though sad, it only made me more determined to pursue diving – not afraid of it.

Earning Certs in Diving Schools

Gabriel Underwater Construction

I went to a commercial diving school called Canadian Working Divers Institute. Their training program gave me the knowledge base and certificates needed to work offshore.

The best moment during my first training was a test called, “The Big Nasty.” It consisted of cutting wood that was floating in water with a handsaw; many were betting against me, but I decided that I will finish this even if this takes the entire day.

I did.

I learned to never give up. From there, I went to work offshore in the Gulf of Mexico. Then, in 2006, I went to Institut National de Plongée Professionelle in Marseille to study two areas: Life Support Technician and Diver Medic. Finally, I went to The Underwater Centre in Fort Williams, Scotland, trained on the Closed Bell diver course.

On the Move: Diving Everywhere

As an active commercial diver, I’ve worked in many countries.

  • Mexico
  • United States
  • Panama
  • Seychelles
  • Ivory Coast (CĂ´te d’Ivoire)
  • Malaysia
  • Indonesia
  • Scotland

And companies? Last count, I’ve worked for seven. Depending on a whole multitude of factors, divers may or may not be able to find stable, year-round work. I’ve never had that luxury. This is my speculation, but I think it definitely depends on the country where you work and your citizenship. This all hinges on documentation and other legal aspects which in the end translates into extra money.

Some countries are easier to travel in and through, such as the UK, US, Norway, Canada, France and others.

Saturation diving isn’t an easy field to break into. I’ve been lucky enough to work around sat systems since early in my career.

Gabriel Underwater Equipment

My last job took about three weeks to mobilize, and then we went to Indonesia to remove a couple of flow sensors and then inspect a pipe. The sat divers were in the system for approximately three more weeks, and decompression last close to 48 hours. The team was composed of people from Asia, Europe and America. An amazing team all around, I must say. All divers and supervisors were working to get the job done safely.

It was interesting because the supervisors were sharing a lot of experiences, so the younger members of the team could learn directly from them – the way it should always be. Its was like family. During the experience, I though to myself: I would not trade this for any other job.

To lead projects, it’s important to focus on a few key aspects. Planning is crucial, and it all starts with the bid process and talking to the client. You need to learn what the client wants, how long the project will last and all the legal requirements.

It takes months of work on land in order to put anybody in the water.

Equipment should be certified (updated), all gauges calibrated, helmets maintained, air quality check…the list goes on and on.

As a contractor, I worked on a job that was set up with a successful routine. First, we called Marine Traffic, then the nearest chamber, and finally the dive officer (client side). Then, we were able to start working.

We were hired to demolish an old wood pier and install a new one with clamps. We were six team members – four divers, one tender and a supervisor. Every day, we had to be there at 6:30 am and load all equipment on to the barge, organize paperwork, test and then start cutting piles with hydraulic chainsaw.

It took around a month and five days to finish all. The funny part? All around the job site, ominous signs stared at us that said, Beware of Crocodiles in the Area.

Commercial Diving: A Diverse & Challenging Career

What I enjoy the most about diving is the challenge – it’s always different. It’s a life style, and you work with your hands. To me it’s a passion. You work with amazing people, you travel a lot and, of course, you’re often working in the water. It’s team work but at the same time a challenge with yourself.

If you’re looking into commercial diving, here’s my advice: It’s a long road, but worth every step. If the sea is where you want to be, go for it.


Gabriel Despaigne C. has worked in saturation diving and maritime management. He’s worked in the professional diving field for over two decades.