I had no previous diving experience at all when I signed up for my diving course. Some instructors actually prefer that.
Toward the end 2007, I was hit with pressure to step into a position of which I had no interest in doing. I was happy with my role as a foreman on heavy construction and pipeline sites, and I wasn’t ready for a desk job at just 27 years old.
A Choice of 2 Worlds: Topside or Underwater
I have two friends who dive commercially offshore, and although I knew what they did, my knowledge barely touched below the surface. The pressure at work developed into a take-the-promotion-or-leave kind of situation, so I was on the hunt for a new job – maybe even a new career. This was when one of my friends in diving described he does very similar things to what I do, just underwater. I wanted to learn more so after a few beers and numerous diving videos later, I was sold.
My friend had been hearing good things about the PDA, as it was still the “new kid on the block,” and he had worked with a couple of guys who trained there. After looking into what their course entailed and the addition of extra equipment, I chose the premier package at the PDA.
PDA’s Practical, Applicable Training
From my training at the PDA, the portion I have used the most is First Aid at Work.
It’s always good to have first aid knowledge, and I have put this to practice out on civilian street on a few occasions. Second to first aid application, I would rank my surface supplied training next. This is the kind of diving I intended on doing and I have used this training more than anything else.
I also trained in the fast rescue craft (FRC) as part of the package. This allowed me to practice in the operation and handling of powerboats. At the end of the course, you’ve essentially earned a RYA Powerboat Level 2 qualification. Having this ticket and the ability to drive these crafts has secured me numerous slots on diving jobs, including my first ever offshore trip.
Because the PDA was so new, I was naturally impressed with the quality of the equipment and modern facilities. Onsite technicians quickly responded to repair and maintenance of equipment, and this was a reassuring factor as a new diver heading into an alien career.
Bells, Ladders & Hot Water Suits: The Vessel of Choice
What stood out the most for me was the converted ferry, MV Sleet. This ferry has been converted in such a way that any kind of diving required could be conducted. Due to the former car deck it was a large, flat and ideal platform for all the dive schools training requirements. A scuba ladder could be deployed from the bow to enable students to get their 30 metre dips done. Then, on the starboard side, MV Sleet had a permanent Launch & Recover System (LARS). This system provided ample work basket for two surface supplied divers to carry out various tasks inside and perform their diver rescues. It also served as the area where the students logged their 50 metre dives. Dark and tidal, but it sure was fun.
Then on the port side, MV Ferry included a a wet bell complete with onboard gas just like offshore systems. The umbilicals here were also supplied by a hot water machine. It’s where students got the chance to ditch the drysuits for hot water suits, and they dove from the wet bell performing various tasks and rescues as required by the offshore top up section of the course.
PDA’s Instructors – Strict But Sensible
I trained through the Commercial Diving Course (CDC) 24. Neil Macmillan, former training manager, and Nick Jackson, an ex-Royal Navy diver, were my instructors.
It was easy to sense that Nick was ex-military. If you have had military experience yourself or have been part of a military family, you would understand. That worked for me, as he was extremely professional and expected everything to be done a particular way, as one would expect. But in addition to his ability to instruct, he knew how to have fun, tell jokes and be one with the team. His instruction made the course far more enjoyable than I expected.
Because Neil was the training manager at the school, he wasn’t required to be with us at all times. When he did come onsite with us his knowledge of the diving industry immense; there was never a time where as I asked a question and he did not know the answer or could not get the answer for you. Also, his light-hearted method of teaching put everyone at ease and made the course a really enjoyable experience.
Training aside, the thing that really stood out for me at the PDA was the staff; both the training team and the team in the office. Always happy and friendly. Nothing was ever a problem.
Icelanding My First Job
Upon graduating from the PDA, I continued on and completed my offshore survival training. This training ensured that I would be prepared for any type of work that came my way. During my PDA course training, I was fortunate to befriend a fellow diver from Iceland. We got on really well.
I was home about three days when I received a phone call from an owner of a diving company in Iceland. He had taken on a large pipeline project and needed an extra diver for a month.
“Would you be interested?” he asked.
Hell yeah, I was interested; I had landed my first job as a commercial diver within a week of qualifying and I was going to Iceland. I found out my friend Petur from the PDA course suggested me for the job. I ended up going to Iceland two other times for diving jobs.
As the end of my last trip in Iceland approached, I prepared for home and the search for work. Low and behold, the phone rang. It was from the human resources department of an offshore company. The powerboat ticket I mentioned earlier had just landed me my first offshore job. This qualification, combined with my friend’s recommendation, put my foot directly into the industry’s door (thanks, Andy!).
The offshore job took place on a vessel needing a boat driver. Upon arrival, I presented my qualifications, instantly promoting me from boat driver to commercial diver. Yes, I was now air diving offshore.
Staying Afloat Through Unemployment Flood
Following this job, the recession hit and many were out of work. I kept my career turning over by doing inshore diving in the UK. Mainly in nuclear power stations including a dive in a reactor pond. That was a weird but cool experience. After completing that job, my employer promoted me to offshore wind farms, where I was offered a better position by another company.
After wind farms and a few more inshore civils jobs, I was approached again by the offshore company I worked for previously (Harkand Group). The boat ticket did it again, giving me the “in” that I needed. I went back to Harkand and apart from a few offshore trips for another North Sea company, I have been with them ever since.
I recently completed my CSWIP 3.1U inspection ticket. I hope to upgrade that to 3.2U this year and then work towards a saturation diving ticket.
Tests & Variety in Every Aspect of Commercial Diving
I think as a diver, you need to become accustomed to a career that’s challenging most of the time.
Almost everything tests your abilities, including your assigned diving tasks, weather conditions, hostile underwater environments and sometimes even those you work with. I get along with just about everyone, but every once in a while it’s simply not possible. And if you’re on a rig or a ship for a month or more you just have to suck it up – close quarters mean you can’t avoid them for long.
I really enjoy my job and will continue to dive for as long as my health will allow. No way I could go back to a regular job now. This is the career for me.
Paul Mosley is 34-years old and I lives in the United Kingdom. His former topside construction experience and professional networking has contributed immensely to his current career as a commercial diver.