SCUBA Diver to Underwater Welder: Where to Start

(SCUBA Diver): I have my open water certification and several years of experience in the water. How do I become an underwater welder?

thejas via Wikimedia Commons
thejas via Wikimedia Commons

All right. You’re comfortable in the ocean, you can check your pressure gauge and you know the secret ingredient to keep your goggles free of fog (Hint: it resides in your mouth). So what’s so difficult about switching from SCUBA to underwater welding? If you’re asking this question, you’re not a commercial diver; if you are, you’re already ahead of the game.

I’m going to define several major differences between a “typical” SCUBA diver versus a commercial diver. You may not meet all of these

SCUBA Divers

A SCUBA diver may also work in a diving profession, such as a from oceanic tour guides to dive instructors. For most however, it’s more of a hobby. They use a Self Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus and other basic diving essentials. These divers only need one certificate to make their life complete: Open Water Certificate. This title allows them to SCUBA dive anywhere in the world (that’s allowed, of course) without additional training and courses.

Commercial Divers

Don’t send a boy to do a man’s job. Commercial divers (underwater welders included) are the “men” of underwater (or women – no offense). They most often use surface supplied air, which gives them the key advantage of an unlimited air supply for their work. Commercial divers wear diving helmets, fins and wet/dry suits just like their SCUBA counterparts, but most wield other specialized equipment that aids their purpose, such as electrodes, lights, cameras or spear guns. Finally, the last and most important difference: Commercial divers undergo specialized training for a longer period of time in which they earn multiple certificates in their field – not just an Open Water Certificate.

Triple Case of Need

By Jenny from Taipei (Jenny is taking the video) via Wikimedia Commons
By Jenny from Taipei (Jenny is taking the video) via Wikimedia Commons

Okay, back to my main point, going from SCUBA diver to welder-diver. Since you’re already a seasoned diver, you don’t need a lesson on basic safety or how to maintain your equipment. You’re probably already in good physical shape as well. You lack in three main areas to achieve your dream job:

  1. Commercial diver training
  2. Commercial diver certification(s)
  3. Welding experience (topside and underwater)

I’ll be honest. Even though you have a solid background in diving, it’s as time-consuming and difficult to become an underwater welder as if you started from scratch. Unfortunately, commercial diving and underwater welding are entirely different animals than SCUBA and require a different mindset and abilities.

Training and Certification from SCUBA Perspective

Commercial divers are jacks of all trades, and they require training and certification for most everything they do. As a SCUBA diver, you have a taste of the power that certification brings – your Open Water Certificate allows you to go anywhere. You must add to your certification arsenal to compete with the big dogs.

A Sea of Options: Don’t Drown

To earn certifications, you can start in one of several places:

Don’t begin by looking for jobs that employ underwater welders; they won’t hire you – yet. Choosing from the your “start” options can seem overwhelming, but you can simplify it. Before you research your options, it’s always best to build from the experience you already have. You can avoid a lot of frustration, wasted time and money by simply answering questions like these:

By Teemu Virtanen (Own work) via Wikimedia Commons
By Teemu Virtanen (Own work) via Wikimedia Commons

Mechanical: Are you familiar with machinery, architecture and/or building material (land and marine?) Have you worked in a team environment with others on a project?

Network: What people in the diving industry do you know? Do they have connections to other major commercial diving and underwater construction companies?

Welding: How much welding (if any) have you done? Are you familiar with arc welding, the primary type for underwater welders? Are you prepared to do more topside welding than underwater welding, and do you enjoy it?

Diving: You may already have some experience as a commercial diver and not know it. Have you participated in any underwater research with cameras or lighting? Have you ever operated any specialized equipment besides your SCUBA gear? You might be able to find an accelerated commercial diving program that’s customized to your background.

Advice and Experience Along the Way

Talk with your school instructors (and even underwater construction employers) about your career goals, and they can help you to achieve them. It’s important to start these steps immediately, since your passion for underwater welding may wane if it takes to long to achieve it.

Even if you have some welding experience, I would still recommend training at a welding school and/or working with an employer to increase your skill. Once you earn certification at a commercial diving school, you’ll be ready to find a diving job immediately. You won’t want to weld in a shop once you’ve fired up your electrode under the waves.

You’re ready for a huge adventure that will take your diving career to a level you’ve never been before. And if you think you were a world traveler before, you haven’t seen anything yet!