Diver Exploits: Don’s Ventures from Topside to Underwater Welding

Hyperbaric Welding Don Gibbons
Underwater hyperbaric welding

Movie Magic Turned Reality

Ever seen The Abyss? As a kid, it intrigued me. When I saw Ed Harris welding and diving into the depths, I thought: That’s as cool as space.¬†When I grow up, I want to be¬†like that guy – minus the aliens.

Later on, I got my chance.

I grew up in a small borough in central Jersey. It was a great place to live¬†because there was tons of culture, and you‚Äôre an hour away from beautiful beaches or farms and mountains, even close to the Big Apple. But I dreamed of something that take me further, to places I hadn’t yet seen.

Working in the Welding World

I started training in a vocational school for training in topside welding. This established the foundation for my future career in construction Рtopside and underwater. In my teens I applied for commercial diving school, and I attended Divers Academy International.

For my current skill set, I must give credit where credit is due. Most of that goes to my welding shop instructor. If it were not for his guidance, I would not be where I am today.

First Experience: Underwater Welding

After graduating from DAI, it was time for the job search. Once I hit my first job, I began life as a tender and worked with other divers. But I also received valuable training in a field I’d been interested for years: underwater welding.

Even with my background in topside welding, I experienced a surprising learning curve. The process was entirely new, and all of the variables in surface welding were present Рplus a few more, such as surface communication and water pressure. Like all welding types I set out to master, I knew Time and Experience were my best friends.

Earning What Matters: Certification

In terms of qualification on paper, there’s one¬†test that stands out above the rest in my mind.

My topside 6Gr. Simply put, it’s a fixed pipe test with a restriction ring. This¬†was also the test that allowed me to begin my underwater welding career.

Tests are primarily done in a shop setting or in a diving tank, then sent to an inspector for a pass or fail inspection. If the test is part of an initial qualification process, then the coupons must be sent to a third-party inspection lab for a detailed analysis. Qualification tests are usually tested using three methods:

  1. Initial visual inspection
  2. Macro etch (Examination to reveal weld penetration and fusion)
  3. Break inspection

My career in commercial diving and underwater welding has taken me amazing places, but there’s been surprises along the way. One of the my biggest shocks came as I began to realize the massive scope and influence of¬†the maritime industry and the work that accompanies it. Especially offshore on oil rigs – they’re essentially a floating, self-functioning city.

Just like the construction industry, commercial diving work happens in waves.

Sometimes finding gigs is spotty, other times, you turn work away. For me, finding work has been relatively easy, and using my welding background has allowed me to diversify my work scope.

My Journey at Dryden

Underwater Welding Oil Rig
View into an oil platform substructure. New construction with an underwater welder working in the background.

My work at Dryden Diving Company has been incredible. I’ve had my share of challenges and participated in some underwater welding. The video that was taken here is of me working on a vertical “T” plate. It’s used as a warm-up coupon (practice metal used in welding).

We use them¬†prior to testing, so our welders have a better chance on the tests. Without a practice coupon, it’s like taking a written test without first studying.

Most projects we do have three or more divers, but it depends solely on the work scope.¬†The project may necessitate a large chunk of topside preparation, or the scope might¬†call for more than one diver in the water at a time. In most cases, each person on the job rotates through tasks, but there are circumstances where a particular person or group will stay with a certain task. You can’t replace quality skill and experience.

The two things I love most about my work at Dryden is the environment and coworkers. It’s a¬†family atmosphere with an¬†up-beat attitude, and the enthusiasm level is almost always high. That makes the hard situations and difficult choices easier.


Don Gibbons works as a commercial diver and underwater welder for Dryden Diving Company, Inc. He has over a decade of experience in welding.