Essential Underwater Welding Training: 3-Step Process & Programs

Hyperbaric Welding Preparation

Ever wondered what’s involved in underwater welding training?

Hint: It’s a lot more than melting metal in a dive suit.

Many are eager to specialize in underwater welding, but they only get there through proper preparation and certification. These usually come in one of several program packages, either at a trade school or in a professional setting.

First, we’ll check out how underwater welding training was formed. Then, you can see what you need to do to become an underwater welder.

A History of Complications: Underwater Welding Training

When underwater welding training programs were first developed, the technology was still relatively new. Equipment was difficult to use, resources were limited and the weld standard was lower. In time, new advancements in electrodes and hyperbaric habitats aided in the process.

However, even with new advancements, underwater welding training was still a complicated mess. Topside welders could wrap their heads around it since they knew the science behind welding. But others didn’t have a clue.

David Keats, author of Underwater Wet Welding; A Welder’s Mate, understood the problem. He worked with other engineers and divers to develop an underwater welding training program that accomplished the following:

  • Introduced each trainee to the basics of wet and dry welding techniques
  • Allowed trainees to practice wet welding according to AWS/BS/ISO standards

No training program is perfect, but this set a new standard for beginner welder-divers’ capabilities. In fact, Keats explained that beginners in underwater welding training often do better than those that have welded topside for several years. This has to do with the difference in how electrodes interact underwater.

Over time, new programs have been developed that have taken underwater welding training to a premium level.

Underwater Welding Training: The 3-Step Process

Hyperbaric Welder Learning

Photo courtesy of Kirby Morgan.

Your First Step: Choosing an Underwater Welding School

Almost all underwater welders begin their career journey in underwater welding school (also called commercial diving school). Here, they learn the trade and become familiar with the foundations of the maritime industry.

Due to the high demand, almost every commercial diving school offers some kind of underwater welding program.

But not all underwater welding programs are created equal.

Research the standards that they are setting in front of you. Also, make sure you’re comparing apples to apples if you’re reading a US dive school (American Welding Society) versus a UK dive school‘s (British Standard or International Standard) program.

Many underwater welding schools offer more than underwater welding training. Most have comprehensive packages. These can cover everything from salvage work and SCUBA to saturation diving. As I’ve mentioned before, underwater welders’ responsibilities go far beyond underwater welding.

If you need help finding an underwater welding school, check out this article I made on finding the right one.

Step 2: Finding a Program & Specializing in Underwater Welding

Many schools offer basic underwater welding training programs. They do this to allow anyone to complete them, even if they’re not trained in welding processes. These programs cover the physics and usually allow wannabe welder-divers to try their hand at underwater welding.

Wet Welding Training

Underwater Welding Training-tank

Photo courtesy of Maximus Prime.

Wet underwater welding involves welding at elevated pressures where water surrounds the weld site.

Almost every dive school that offers underwater welding training does so in a wet welding capacity. There’s one primary for this:

Wet welding offers a much different experience since the diver-welder is surrounded by water and uses waterproof electrodes.

Experience is everything. Dry welding is more akin to topside welding; and though it requires just as much training, most schools don’t utilize the hyperbaric equipment necessary to carry out this type of experience. It’s too costly to maintain and use for students.

Underwater welders usually train in small tanks, no more than 20 feet in diameter. The tanks are also quite shallow, often just 10 – 25 feet down. The tanks have equipment in them already, such as the metal plates to be welded. One or two small windows allow the instructor and students to watch and give recommendations.

This type of controlled environment allows underwater welders to work at their own pace without worrying about variables like current fluctuations or high salt content in the water. In addition, the instructor can confirm that the welder-diver is operating in a safe and technically correct fashion.

Dry Welding Training

Dry/Hyperbaric underwater welding involves welding at elevated pressures where gas insulates the surrounding weld site and the diver. This is done through a hyperbaric chamber – either large or small. In a professional setting, the application of wet versus dry underwater welding go beyond training.

To prepare for dry welding, welder-divers must understand how a hyperbaric chamber works. Most hyperbaric welding takes place in a chamber large enough for several people. This is then lowered on to the weld site, where water is pumped out and the weld site is exposed.

Specialized underwater welding schools like XLT offer this type of training.

Step 3: Underwater Welding Certification as a Professional

No matter what underwater welding school you go to, you’ll never be certified to work on every weld.

Just like topside welding, underwater welding is coded different for every weld, metal, thickness and position (just imagining makes my head spin). So even after participating in underwater welding training in multiple dive schools, you’ll do additional training for whichever company employs you as a welder-diver.

This type of training may be similar to what you’ve done in school, with one key difference: You’re certifying for a very specific weld type, so the classwork and preparation phase will be significantly shortened. You’ll probably train in a tank again if it’s a wet weld. But the environmental conditions will be simulated to be as close as possible to the actual weld so that you have adequate training.

Underwater Welding Training: A Continuous Process

Welder-diver Training

Photo courtesy of Pavel Machytka.

Did you play video games as a kid? If so, then you know the difficult truth: Games have gotten easier.

Underwater welding has also gotten “easier” in some respects, due to Remote Operated Vehicles, and longer lasting electrodes. But your employer also demands a higher standard. To keep up with the Jones’s, you need to keep your diving and welding certifications current. This includes any safety requirements you must obtain in the area you’re serving.

Take advantage of every free training module, and ask employers and schools for a discount if you need to recertify in something.