You can’t climb a ladder with your hands in your pockets.
I’ve lived by that phrase, even with the you’ll-never-make-it sentiments I’ve received from others who I told about my plans to become a commercial diver.
In the Service: Veteran of the Air
I am an ex-servicemen from 16 Air Assault Brigade Colchester, and I’ve served many years as a paratrooper. If you are US servicemen (airborne type), then you might have seen me in Afghanistan. People there properly called me “Jeffers”.
I’ve currently served three tours of Afghanistan on the front line and one tour in Kabul as Patrols Company. In total I spent 3 years on the front line. I would like to explain a few more things about my tours, but for security reasons I best not. I made a good career for myself in the British Army and pushed up the ranks quite fast as a respected section Commander and Platoon Commander.
I don’t believe in failure and refuse to do so in any task given. My career moved on in the Army and I was hungry for new challenges, as most of us sleep 30 percent of our lives and look for something better the other 70 percent.
I was on my last tour in Afghanistan when I received some good news: I had been put forward and recommended for UK Special Forces. With my interviews over with the Commanding Officer of the regiment, my date was set to start training.
It was also just after having Christmas on the front line.
With two months left until I was home, I received some bad news – my mum had fallen very ill and did not have long to live. Cancer had set in and her chances of pulling through were slim. I was extracted from the front line with not much information and transported off to be dispatched back to the UK where my mum was in hospital.
I was flown back on a C13 to Birmingham International then taxied to Norwich hospital where I got to say goodbye. I’m grateful for getting the chance that many people do not. My thanks go out to all those that were involved in getting me back to the UK to say my farewells.
My father had died some years before, and now it was just my brother and me. He’s 16 years younger, so I felt I had a duty to help him. He came to live with me. He worked a good career as a carpenter joiner and was previously living on his own.
I pushed on in the Army and passed the training for UK Special Forces. The most I can say is that it went well.
After completing my selection I had a two-year posting ahead of me, but at the same time a younger brother to look after. I had to make a decision, and as you all well know – blood is thicker than water – so I left the Army and my commercial diving training began.
Training: Plunging in Headfirst
I would categorize myself as a risk taker.
I absolutely hate thought of working in an office (well not yet, anyway). I decided to put all my savings into my dream of becoming a commercial diver, so I booked my space after making a decision on where I wanted to do my course.
I booked with The Underwater Centre in Fort William, Scotland, where I started my training (November 2013) covering underwater construction, including welding and NDT 3.1.
Classrooms & Tanks: Diving In
I was excited.
I was worried.
What was to come over the next 14 weeks was a very steep learning curve. I had to adapt very quick to this new lifestyle.
Intense First & Second Weeks
The first week brought intense classroom study and tons of first aid and emergency drills.
During the second week it was time to get our feet wet. After going through the main objectives and the uses of Kirby Morgan Helmets, it was time. Our main tasks centered on understanding how our buoyancy related to depths, safety procedures and rescues, getting to grips with the kit and understanding our navy tables.
This was great. I felt if I can do this for a job, I would be one lucky guy.
As time went on, we become more involved with certain tasks including using lift bags, seabed surveys and plenty of night dives.
I found that most of our orientation was key to understanding the ground rules. As time went on, we hit deeper and deeper waters, and I realized that I’d made the right choice to invest my hard-earned cash (which, I must add, was a very large sum to me).
Underwater Welding Training
I pushed on through the weeks, doing everything from assembling materials on the seabed to underwater welding.
I found underwater wet welding very different from welding on the surface; some people seem to “take to it” better than others. Most people try to stay clear of the Broco burner, but I got to grips with it quite well.
I found myself plodding forward, knowing that what I had as a dream was now turning into a reality.
Still more weeks went by. More training every day. More homework every night.
For me, every night was a study night.
Decompression, NDT & Diving Bells
Soon, the decompression chamber was introduced, and into the deep we went. During our time at the bottom, it was peaceful and I often had my thoughts to myself. I wondered if I could fly back home that weekend to see my partner. Some weekends I could and others I couldn’t, but the dive was worth it.
With my construction over, I went on to doing NDT work and training 3.1u. I learned more about buoyancy and swimming operations. Then, I began a new phase: Taking and viewing photos of various sizes of crevice corrosion. I found this to be a very intense part of my course; it lasted for two weeks, and it was one of the hardest to learn. Throughout the process, I had plenty of study and things went well.
During much of my diving in Scotland the visibility was very limited. However, these experiences gave me more practical experience in the workforce. Water was often below zero (and the water was warmer than it was outside) but I continued on, as this sort of weather was not new to me growing up in the UK.
My experience with diving has been fantastic.
I could not wait to get back in to the water every day. I felt that if this led to a job, I’ve made the right choice. I’d wake up every morning knowing that I could do this for a living, and it really is a dream come true.
Training Mission: Completed
I completed the course at the end of February 2014, taking away the skills to start my new career within the diving sector. I also earned a few additional qualifications to help me get my first job. Some of my skills included work with surface supplied equipment, communications, underwater wet welding, rigging, and an RYA Level 2 Powerboat certification.
I can’t narrow down the best part of my training. It was more about the overall decision I made to gain a better future for myself.
Graduated & Gaining Experience
After completing my course, I then applied for many positions but have found it tough trying to get my first job.
Many jobs require experience…but how do you gain that as a newly qualified diver?
I’m still applying to land my first job. I refuse to stop trying.
I’m now saving for traveling, since diving jobs often require you to go several places in a short period of time.
My first stop will be the USA. I haven’t mapped out my route just yet, as I’ll depart for my big adventure at the end of 2015 and just keep traveling around the globe until I finally get my first shot at a job within the diving sector.
Then I’ll be able to say I’m living my dream.
I know that some people may find this strange, but I will do what I can to get my first chance at making it as a commercial diver. I am passionate about diving and failure is not an option.
I am under no doubt that with this work I will be away for long periods of time, but for me I have worked away most my life and understand the implications of this.
Motivations & Climbing the Career Ladder
My motivation: Is it the money? Or the happiness and satisfaction that comes with a job that few get to experience? Or the opportunity to travel?
It’s all three, but at this moment it’s about achieving my goals and just having the chance to work underwater.
Eventually I’d love to climb the career ladder in commercial diving, perhaps moving to deeper seas as a saturation diver.
On many occasions, I’ve thought to myself that getting a job in this industry is a matter of timing and being in the right place at the right time. Or even knowing key people within the diving sector.
But my advice to anyone thinking of becoming a commercial diver:
How will you ever know if you never tried?
For me, I’m still pushing to gain a job and I hope that when I start my adventure at the end of this year. Just maybe I can write about the new chapter of my life to Water Welders.
Many thanks to all the commercial divers out there that are currently diving. Keep safe and dive deep!
Living in the UK, Aaron Jeffery is a graduate of The Underwater Centre. He’s passionate about commercial diving and plans on moving up in the maritime industry and gaining diving experience around the world.