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Complete Guide: How to Become an Underwater Welder

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The path to becoming an underwater welder is murky.

Here’s why:

Few achieve success.

And those that are successful often keep their success private.

No longer.

Here’s the six steps to capturing your dream as an underwater welder:

  1. Earn your high school diploma or G.E.D. (12 years)
  2. Earn experience and certification in topside welding (2-5 years)
  3. Apply to a commercial dive school and pass their physical exam (1 month)
  4. Earn certifications to increase your welding and commercial diving skill set (5 – 18 months)
  5. Obtain a commercial diving position through experience and networking (1 – 12+ months)
  6. Perform underwater welding in a professional environment

We’ll go into these more later. First though, you should be equipped with some other important information.

Many people have spent thousands of dollars on education and certification to become a welder-diver. As educational expense goes up, competition remains stiff and not everyone breaks into the field immediately.

If you are serious about underwater welding, you deserve to know the basic requirements and guidelines before you put your foot in the door.

Requirements in How to Become an Underwater Welder

  1. Earn high school diploma/G.E.D.
  2. Pass diving exam

That’s it. Easy, right?

Technically, those two requirements are all you need.

But if you’ve spent any time in the professional workplace, you know that experience is king. Experience starts with training under an instructor or mentor and earning certifications.

When you train, you shouldn’t focus on just one area (TIG welding, rigging, underwater burning, etc.).

The more skills you have, the more ways you can apply yourself in your training. From there, you have a better chance of making the cut in the diving industry.

Doctors Versus Surgeons: Where the Money Lies

Think of a family physician versus a pediatric neurosurgeon.

Both spend much of their lives working hard to break into the medical field.

But pediatric neurosurgeons make as much as three times that of family physicians.

That’s because neurosurgeons spend many more years in residency practicing and learning multiple types of surgery.

Not just brain surgery.

To learn how to become an underwater welder, you should consciously put yourself in situations that force you to learn every aspect of the industry.

On the surface. And underwater.

How to Become an Underwater Welder in 6 Steps

We mentioned the six steps before. For review, they are:

  1. High school diploma/GED
  2. Surface welding certs/experience
  3. Commercial diving school application
  4. Diving certifications
  5. Get an underwater welding job
  6. Perform and get better

Below is a more in-depth view of how to achieve career success within underwater welding.


Take Action: How to Achieve Career Success

As you can see, the road to hyperbaric welding requires discipline, patience and understanding. You can’t go into it blindly. Therefore, the rest of this guide will provide you with a template to attaining your goals in this field.

Earn Topside Welding Certifications

The union of welding and commercial diving presents an enormous amount of diverse job opportunities in the work force.

Unfortunately, the certifications are just as diverse, and I couldn’t possibly cover all of the certifications available to you. If you’ve worked as a welder, you know that companies normally set their own certification standards: For example, even if you’re certified as a welding fabricator, the company will probably have their own set of tests for you to perform to make sure you understand their fabrication methods.

As prerequisites for how to become an underwater welder, welder-divers must have certification and skill in three areas:

  • Surface welding
  • Commercial diving
  • Underwater welding

Hone Surface Welding Skill

Surface or topside welding will be included as part of your schooling to become a commercial diver. In the United States, almost all welding certification standards are set by three organizations: American Welding Society, American Society of Mechanical Engineers and American Petroleum Institute.

Focus your Energy

Learn about what welding certificates pertain most to the types of welding you would like to do, and practice those often, preferably before you enter commercial diving school. Talk to a certified welding inspector and train as an apprentice under a welder to best understand methods and techniques needed to exceed welding standards.

As an underwater welder, you will use shielded metal arc welding (SMAW)  in the majority of situations. Here are other weld types you should familiarize yourself above the water for underwater use:

  • Gas tungsten arc welding (GTAW)
  • Gas metal arc welding (GMAW)
  • Plasma arc welding (PAW)
  • Flux-cored arc welding (FCAW)

Ask the Right Questions

To prepare for welding underwater, don’t just think about the “what” in welding (technique, equipment, safety measures). Think about the “why” and “how.”

Ask yourself questions like:

  • Why does metal “x” react to heat this way?
  • Why do I use “type x” welding for these situations?
  • How can I improve my coordination to make my weld even stronger?
  • How would my equipment react in a different environment?

A successful welder must have a mechanical mind, which means they’re always asking questions and finding answers through troubleshooting.

How to Become an Underwater Welder Through Commercial Diving Certification

Quality certification in the marine industry has the potential to quickly set you apart from your peers. Like surface welding, certification  and training for divers takes place primarily in diving schools and company testing facilities all over the world.

Research Quality Commercial Diving Schools

Image credit: DCA Technical

Search for schools that offer quality training and real world experience in commercial diving and hyperbaric welding. Many schools will package multiple certifications upon graduation, meaning you get more bang for your buck.

Check out your instructors’ bios and meet with them in person. Ask about their background to find out if they have extensive experience in underwater welding. Ask about the training facilities, tanks and equipment used.

How closely do these facilities simulate a realistic environment as an underwater welder?

Exercise Patience

Most diving certification programs can be completed in a matter of months, but every environment you exercise your certifications in will be different. Respect the decisions of other divers and team leaders with more experience. Safety is top priority in every situation, and divers define success by how many make it home by the end of the day. If it’s a choice between spending an extra two hours decompressing or risking the bends, always prioritize your health.

Decide Where you Want to Work

Offshore commercial diving will require different certifications than inland diving. Invest where you want to take your underwater welding career. For offshore options, look for a school that offers Unrestricted Surface Supplied Diving certification to increase your employment options. If you’re looking more inland, make connections with local business owners who work with salvage, waterways, bridges or other freshwater work.

Maintain your Skill

Very little of your commercial diving career will actually be spent welding underwater, and most companies will look for experience in everything relating to diving skill sets and underwater construction, not just underwater welding. However, less application shouldn’t equate to less quality.

It’s crucial for you to meet industry standards as a welder-diver, though you may not weld everyday.

Stay the Course

Many welder-divers get in and get out of the water industry quickly. Some refer to it as a “cutthroat business” with torturous hours and zero tolerance. That’s not entirely true, but…

Expect hardship.

If you really want to learn how to become an underwater welder, adjust your expectations. The right expectations are key to your long-term success. If you’ve just been hired and know you’ll work as a tender, expect the highest demand and the worst jobs. If you go offshore and dive into deep, dangerous places, expect insane hours and a hard schedule.

As a welder-diver, you construct and repair a world that hardly anyone ever sees, but it keeps our economy afloat everyday. You have much more than money to motivate you – exploration, travel and challenges are part of your career for as long as you can do it.

Featured image credit: courtesy of DiveSafe International

Cameron Dekker

Cameron grew up in Allentown, Pennsylvania, a once-proud steel town on the Lehigh River, where he got a taste of TIG welding in his high school shop class. He holds certificates for Certified WeldingEducator (CWE) and Certified Resistance Welding Technician (CRWT) from the American Welding Institute. His interests include scuba diving, sculpture, and kayaking.