I started my working life as an agricultural welder, welding everything from dumper buckets to ploughs to chicken cages. I enjoyed the variety of work, but the money was not good.
Two years later, I left and enrolled at Boston College United Kingdom where I studied Civil Engineering. This program got me a start in tarmacking on the roads around Lincolnshire. Tarmac is essentially asphalt, and it’s applied to the roads in need of repair.
For the next four years I stayed working indirectly for Lincolnshire council.
The money was okay and I was home nights and weekends, but it was not what I wanted to be doing and definitely not what I enjoyed. Before long, I was looking at how to get back into welding.
A New Form of Welding: Underwater
“You can make good money on the pipelines.”
In the past, whenever welding was the topic of conversation, people told me this time and time again, so that’s where I started looking. While looking online I came across underwater welding – now that looked interesting.
Upon further inquiries, I found that to perform underwater welding, you must hold the relevant commercial diving qualifications. I was going to be in Scotland in a couple of weeks, so I rang The Underwater Centre in Fort William to see if they could show me around their place; they kindly agreed. After being showed around for a couple of hours, I went away happy with a lot to think about.
Two weeks later, I decided on The Underwater Centre and booked the premium industry package to start in eight months.
A Difficult Course & Getting My Feet Wet
After qualifying from The Underwater Centre, I completed my BOSIET, OPITO Rigger stage 1, working at heights, confined space and a commercial endorsement for the RYA level 2 power boat ticket.
After doing the 3.1u preparation course (non-destructive testing) at the centre, I didn’t book the final test at TWI Middlesbrough until April next year. It was by far the hardest diving related course I have completed, and after working nearly a year in the industry I realised it was a must-have!
I finished my dive course on the Friday and started my first dive job on the Monday for South Bucks Diving – very lucky.
Diving Jobs: Concrete, Cuisine & Christmas
Later on, after sending hundreds of CV’s and making endless phone calls to every company I could find, I started on a job with Northern Divers, laying concrete mattresses over a pipeline in the river Humber. It was a hard job on the best of days, and with short tide, windows and zero visibility, it made for an extremely challenging task for everyone involved.
Later that year I flew to Switzerland to remove an old jetty from Lake Geneva and replace it with a fixed concrete structure which was extended further into the lake. The use of different types of subsea tools like the Hilti UW 10 (underwater steel bolt gun) and oxy thermal lance (similar to the Broco setup) was all good fun.
Diving every day with good visibility and chomping down amazing food served three times daily made for the perfect job; I was out there for about two months, flying home as planned just before Christmas.
Another one day job, burning off old reed screens with Dive Tech UK turned into constant work for over a year, doing dive jobs around the east coast of England with confined space operations and foul water diving in between.
Inshore with Eyes on the Horizon
Now at the age of 24, I’m keeping very busy working inshore civils in the UK still holding all the offshore qualification for when that offshore opportunity arises.
My eventual goal is to combined my welding skills with the diving and become a hyperbaric welder.
Know someone already established in the industry.
This is my advice to anyone looking at entering the commercial diving industry. A lot of the times when dive teams are looking for another diver, a diver or supervisor already on that job will recommend a good diver they know for the position.
James Fletcher is a fully trained HSE commercial air diver with NDT certification and experience with inshore maritime projects. He’s looking forward to advancing his career in the offshore industry.