If you’re considering underwater welding, training’s not an option. You need training in a professional environment, and underwater welding school can bring this to you in an affordable way. They offer multiple certifications, training on equipment, heavy-duty facilities and premium diving resources.
Divers have different opinions on what constitutes the “best” underwater welding school. Most make the mistake of expecting instant results upon graduation: cash flow, job offers and adventure.
Hopefully, school instructors will put these expectations out of your mind. Remember that underwater welding is a construction job in an underwater environment. It can come with incredible financial rewards with experience, time and a little luck. But most underwater welders give up long before they reach this point. School is a launching point to a professional diving career, and they won’t hold your hand once you’ve graduated.
If you’re not sure how to choose your school, here’s an underwater welding school guide to get you started.
Instructors: Face of Learning
The majority of instructors in underwater welding schools have had their fair share of professional diving experience. They’ll probably share a few stories to about their time as a diver during your sessions. You may quickly find yourself comparing one instructor to another in terms of professional experience.
Focus on your coursework, not on your instructors’ water cred.
Regardless of how “qualified” you deem them, instructors are all there to serve and train you in the best way they know how. Give them respect and follow their lead; this practice will guarantee your success not just in dive school but in future employment.
Teamwork and respect for leadership is of the utmost importance in the maritime world, and if you don’t play nice, you’ll soon find it impossible to find a job (word travels fast – even internationally).
Housing: Complete Immersion or Drifting Solo?
Some underwater welding schools offer a complete living package, including housing and a cafeteria. Others are cut and dry with a “training only ” focus. Each has its pros and cons, depending on your preferences for privacy, convenience and immersion into your school environment with other student divers.
The biggest pro of schools with onsite living quarters and food? All of our necessities are taken care of, so you won’t have as much on your plate, and you can put your mind on your studies and relationships with others. It all comes at a larger financial cost, of course, but it’s only temporary and will give you a head start into the world of networking.
Some underwater welders actually find their first job through a connection with a fellow classmate, not necessarily from the school’s job finding service (though both are extremely valuable). Choose a school that you feel works best for your budget and future in career development.
Coursework: Think Technical
With a few exceptions, underwater welding schools are classified and operated as technical colleges. Larger colleges usually have a separate, private branch for their professional diving programs. You’ll spend time learning in a classroom setting about 25 – 40% of the time. Classes are quite small compared to most public universities, so speaking with your instructor one-on-one is easy.
Given the fact that you’re attending a technical school with a heavy focus on specific skills and certifications, you probably think in a black and white, practical sort of way.
Students with this mindset often have a weak performance in classroom coursework.
You might dismiss your books entirely as unnecessary. Don’t let this be you. Classroom instruction will introduce you to fundamental written resources on all subjects related to commercial diving repair, inspection, maintenance and equipment operation. Though you won’t remember most of the details, classroom study will aid in your journey of how to learn, not just what you’re learning. And you can always refer back to these resources later in your career.
Your instructor will take you through the core curriculum to be tested later. Most will come at a rigorous pace and may be focused in some of these strategic areas:
- Rigging & salvaging
- Physics of standard diving
- Physics of saturation diving
- Controlling hyperbaric chambers
- Remotely operated vehicles
- Human physiology
- National technical & safety standards
- Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response (HAZMAT/HAZWOPER)
- Mixed gas diving
- Maintaining underwater tools
- Operating underwater equipment
- Proper technique for underwater equipment use
- NDT: Non-destructive testing
- CPR & first aid
- Operation of underwater camera & video
- Underwater wet/dry welding
- Underwater burning
- Civil engineering inspection
Similar to other college classrooms, you’ll be tested on various subjects at the end of each course to demonstrate your knowledge. The subject areas of courses are separated and combined in various ways, depending on what the administration and instructors feel is most effective for learning. For example, one school may combine all areas of safety into one course, while another may separate dive equipment safety and national safety standards as two courses.
Passing the coursework will allow you to continue through the program.
Projects & Facilities: Training Down Under
Outside of classroom instruction, you’ll have plenty of chances to get your feet wet. Each underwater welding school has various types of facilities used for training underwater.
Some schools own lakefront property while others use outside, man-made quarries with tunnel systems to pull in water. These tanks and water systems can range in-depth, some over 150 feet. Regardless of how far down, you’ll spend a fair amount of time on the floor to get in your bottom time training.
Bottom time is the bread and butter of experience for underwater welders. It gives employers a realistic understanding of how much practical experience you’ve had so far in your career.
Most schools have inside tanks as well, and these are usually smaller and meant for fewer people. In fact, some are set aside for small operations like underwater wet welding. In this case, the outside of the tank has a clear glass for inspection. One inspector will stand with a propped camera to watch the welder-diver work magic on a basic metal joint.
Docks & Ships
Many schools have facilities devoted to inspection and maintenance of common commercial diving tasks. Schools can be quite creative, converting ferries, shipyards and docks into professional environments where welder-divers can train in just about every capacity.
Your instructor will assign tasks for individuals and for teams, such as installing a wooden pillars under the docks. You may inspect an underwater site and bring back records, or assemble a power tool underwater in low visibility.
In the end, the goal for every project is to simulate a real-world working environment.
To account for unexpected challenges in as a professional underwater welder, instructors will include additional challenges to accomplish a given project. Here’s a few you might encounter.
- Time limits on project completion
- Individual assignments on a “team task” (topside support and communication will always be there)
- Choosing days with lower water visibility, worse weather conditions
- Limiting practice time on project
Graduation: Scoping out High Seas
Plenty of students have graduated from underwater welding school, and some have found employment quickly – especially if they’re proactive in job searching as a student. Even so, the seasonal nature of underwater welding and commercial diving means that you’ll spend a good portion of your time looking for the next job. If you love diverse working environments and assignments, this won’t be a problem.
In four-year colleges, graduating with a bachelor’s degree is a major step up on the employment ladder and gives you immediate qualification, at least initially. Graduation in underwater welding school doesn’t work the same way. Employers look more at the school accreditation, earned certifications and specific projects you’ve completed. Keep this in mind when choosing your school.