Diver Exploits: Recreational Turned Professional at PDA

Diver Exploits Jackson

I have always wanted to work as diver, and at first I wasn’t sure what work was possible.

I have always had an appetite for adventure, from when I was young spending weekends away with my dad in the Lake District climbing mountains to racing downhill mountain bikes and motorbikes. If there is a chance of an adrenaline rush, I’m interested.

I would describe myself as a calculated risk taker, I have a tendency to do a lot of research before I undertake any activity, whether it’s commercial diving, or getting a new phone. However, my girlfriend Charlie thinks I’m just pedantic!

My Teen Years: Diving Recreationally

I joined my local diving club when I was 13. Their minimum age for diver training was 14 years of age, so I did a few months of snorkeling training before I started diving, and this gave me a sound understanding of the basics (like how not to panic when you get a mouth full of water!).

I started my diver training when I was 14 years old, completing my British Sub-Aqua Club training with the club and eventually gained my sports diver qualification.

This gave me lots of different dive experiences, from zero visibility in cold Scottish waters to the crystal clear water of the tropical Mexican Riviera, where I could see for miles.

Through researching the field I found out there is archaeological, scientific and media diving, but I wanted to build and make things.

The more I looked into and learned about the type of work divers do and the locations around the world where divers operate, the more it solidified my decision to become a commercial diver.

I wasn’t really inspired by any divers in particular. Before I started my training, I had never met anybody else that wanted to become a diver, was a diver or even knew what being a commercial diver specifically entailed!

Joining PDA: Dive School Online Research

After doing months of research between all of the different schools available to me, I found the Professional Diving Academy (PDA) came out on top in every aspect.

I searched online forums and blogs written by divers for reviews on the schools, the one major theme throughout was that the PDA had the best instructors and the best equipment. I also discovered that they are looked upon favourably by a lot of companies around the world by asking the companies directly which school their divers went to and if they had a preference either way.

Boat Jackson

During my training at the PDA, we worked on a project that consisted of building a section of submerged pipeline.

Day 1: Land Practice

Though the project was water-based, we began by practicing with the rigging and diving tools on dry land. The first day went fairly smoothly, and we were all able to follow the instruction sheets with no major problems.

Day 2 & 3: Underwater Logistics, Snags & Real-World Experience

The second and third days focused on piecing the pipeline together in the water.

We had all recently passed our HSE diving test, so were fully qualified commercial divers by this point; it was up to us to run the whole job (with a watchful eye from one of the instructors). This included setting up the equipment, running dive control and tendering for the divers in the water.

These two days weren’t as straightforward as the first, with a few stumbling blocks throughout. For some people, it was their first time using tools such as tirfors and chain blocks; for all of us, it was our first time using skyhooks built with lift bags.

The supervisor manned the coms with the instruction sheets, informing the divers what they were going to be doing.

This was probably the hardest part: trying not to rush ahead of the instructions, making sure we were putting the right piece of pipe in the right place.

Working with another diver in a tight space with two umbilicals and lots of snagging hazards forced you to think of the best way to complete your tasks. If you went one way around the pipe, you had to make sure to come back the same way.

In one case, a diver’s umbilical was nearly bolted into the pipeline; luckily it was spotted before anything was tightened up!

Overall, I thought this was one of the most beneficial parts of the course.

It really gave me a good insight into how a job will most likely run and what would be expected of me in a number of roles. It helped me with my awareness underwater, making sure that I wasn’t putting myself or anyone else in any danger.

It’s mentally draining when you’re simultaneously thinking about your safety, the second diver’s safety, your work responsibilities and how to avoid potentially harm to yourself, your buddy, the equipment or the project you are working on.

Training & Experience Boost

After my course had finished and I was fully qualified, I stayed on to do three weeks of extra training.

One week of tools training (putting a section of pipeline together), one week of welding practice and one week training from a company called Hydratight.

Hydratight’s Course: Focus Under Pressure & Working Blind

Diving Lights Equipment

During the week long training with Hydratight, we were taught about bolt tensioning – its purpose and application for commercial diving.

We were given a week to put together a section of pipeline with two flange joints using Hydratight bolt tensioning tools. We did this first in the dry training area where we were shown how to use the equipment properly and safely.

Once comfortable with the process on dry land, we started practicing in the water, running the job from top to bottom, preparing everything from the tools to the air panel. You really needed to be on the ball when setting up the equipment; if you did it wrong you could potentially kill one of the new friends you had made over the last 13 weeks – no pressure!

Using the tools in the water was straightforward, and the instructions from topside were easy to follow.

The hardest part came when we blacked out our masks.

Working in near zero visibility is a strange experience, it made me feel more exposed, but remaining calm and focused upon the task at hand soon took my mind off that! Feeling around the worksite to find your tools can be disorientating, but you use everything at your disposal to help navigate your position. This process was a lot slower than when we could see because you really had to take your time and listen to the instructions given, if you rushed while you were blind there was a good chance something would go wrong.

And dealing with pressures up to 13,000 PSI, you don’t want anything to go wrong!

Working in zero visibility in a controlled environment gives you a good understanding of how you might react in a similar situation; it shows you how important it is to have a good knowledge of the job you will be undertaking before you get in the water.

Also knowing you can rely on the other members of the team reduces a lot of the pressure when you get in the water.

Diving Career Pursuits: Maritime Networking & Improving

Commercial Diver Jackson

Right now I’m looking for some regular work, but one day I would love to get my saturation ticket and have the opportunity to sat dive all over the world, meet divers from every corner and just keep learning and improving every day.

Since I qualified, at the end of March 2015, I have only managed to find a couple of weeks’ worth of work, and that is after visiting and sending my CV to every company I could find. During my training the price of oil crashed and threw the industry into turmoil and the job market along with it.

I am hoping to get my Diver Medical Technician and inspection tickets in the near future to help my career prospects.

Key to Success: Drown out Pessimism

Don’t listen to the negative people.

There are some many who are ready to tell you that there is no point in being a diver, that there is no work and that you are better off spending your money on something else.

I think if you want to be a diver and you are prepared to put yourself out there, network and be tenacious in your search for work. You can do it.


Jackson White is a commercial diver with many years of experience in recreational diving. He graduated from PDA, and he is continuing in his goal to advance in the professional diving and marine construction industry.

1 thought on “Diver Exploits: Recreational Turned Professional at PDA”

  1. Starting out in the Commercial Diving business is a very difficult endeavor. Graduating from a good dive school does nothing but qualify you to enter the industry….at the bottom, as a tender (apprentice). Dive school is the easiest part of starting out in the Industry!
    Generally only about 10-20% of dive school graduates ever make it to break out diver (2-5 years depending on your skills, aptitude, Industry needs and being in the right place at the right time) in the offshore commercial diving sector. The work is long, difficult, sometimes dehumanizing, spending weeks or months at sea, lousy food, even lousier living conditions, and then long periods of no work during the winter months or when the Oil & Gas industry is suffering like it is now (2015). Most people cannot, will not, subject themselves to all these negative influences and ultimately go back home to their old job, girlfriend and family. It is certainly not for everyone.
    The entry level tender working offshore makes $13-$16 an hour, but they work a MINIMUM of 12 hours a day….consider that any time after 40 hours is paid at 1.5 times your hourly rate and the weekly before taxes take home pay is between $1400-$1700 a week. If you work 28 weeks in a year ( a good average at most healthy offshore diving companies) you would make between $38,500-$47,500 your first year and that does not include additional time worked beyond the MINIMUM 12 hour day – there will be a lot of 14-16 hour days as a tender when all the divers are done for the day or shift and you’ll still be cleaning wetsuits, wiping out decompression chambers, refueling equipment and straightening up the deck around the dive station.
    The first few years you need to learn as many skills as possible; particularly things like knot tying, rigging, equipment maintenance of all kinds, dive helmet maintenance, High Pressure gas transfers, Oxygen analysis, Oxy-acetylene burning, simple structural welding (don’t worry about Underwater Welding, that’s almost never done these days, and those that do it well have been doing it for many years) chamber operations (yeah, you learn that in dive school, but no one on your crew will trust you to run the chamber until you’ve proven you can do it correctly several times).
    If you are bound and determined to be a Commercial Diver, here are some tips; Sign up for every training class your company offers. Take a Diver Medical Technician Course. Be the “First on deck” each shift, and the last off the deck each shift. Don’t complain, don’t cause or have accidents. Be in top shape……it will come in handy when you’re picking up a jet hose from 200′ or making an eye splice in 1 1/2″ cable or even standing on your feet on a rocking boat for 16 hours straight in wet boots. Provide solutions, not problems to your Supervisor.
    If this isn’t even close to what the dive schools told you, you’re correct. They’re there to make money not scare you away…..they don’t really care what type of work you’ll be doing a year after you’ve paid your $20,000 dollar tuition, spent 5-10 months in a vo-tech school and graduated.
    If this doesn’t seem like something you’re up for, you should probably stay where you are.

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