Becoming a commercial offshore diver or underwater welder is relatively straightforward. But there is a lot of conflicting information out there. If you are interested in a career as an underwater welder, it is most important to train at an accredited commercial diving school. You should also obtain as many secondary qualifications as you can to increase your chances of finding that first job.
Underwater Welding Requirements
Want to know how to become an underwater welder? You will need:
- High School Diploma or equivalent
- Medical Certificate
- SCUBA (inshore & some offshore)
- HSE Parts I & II (plus III & IV inshore)
- ADCI Entry Level Diver/Tender certification (U.S)
- HSE Surface Supplied Air Diver Certification (& Top Up)
Many of today’s commercial diving courses put together a package of various certificates and qualifications to create a single product. This means you are offered a very intensive experience consisting of both practical and theoretical classes. These courses can run from as little as ten weeks to a full year.
While a high school diploma is not always necessary, diving theory involves a lot of physics and math. If you didn’t get your high school diploma, you will need to prove your understanding of these two subjects. Overestimating your skills or underestimating the level of intelligence needed to pass a written diving exam could be an expensive mistake to make. In addition, your medical certificate will need to be signed by a registered diving physician. Again, many courses include a medical exam within a complete commercial diving package. Make sure there is a clause that releases you from the contract should you not pass the medical.
How Long Does It Take To Become An Underwater Welder?
It can take anywhere from two to five years to become an underwater welder. Contractors usually expect you to have trained for all commercial underwater work and not just welding. You will therefore need to follow a number of courses offered by HSE (Europe) or ACDI (U.S) accredited commercial diving schools.
You will find a lot of information online – usually from lesser known commercial diving schools – telling you how you can gain your qualifications and start work as an underwater welder in just a few months time. However, these promises are very unrealistic. The more reputable schools recommend taking the longer route to commercial diving success; they know that in the world of offshore and inshore diving work, experience is king.
Reputable diving schools will also mention that the more qualifications you have, the more employable you are. In fact, it’s impossible to be over-qualified in this field of work. Why stop at first aid when you can train to be a diver medic? This extra qualification will immediately make you more attractive to contractors as they are legally required to provide skilled first aid help on all dives. Helicopter Underwater Escape Training or HUET, although not a legal requirement, is often included as a requirement in job listings. The same goes for BOSIET or Basic Offshore Safety Induction and Emergency Training.
Probably the best career advice for budding commercial divers is to begin as soon as possible. Very few companies will hire 40-year old newcomers. You should be prepared to pay for as many courses as you can, preferably while working as a welder in the gas and oil sector. This means you are constantly adding to your work experience as you gain diving experience and training. You kill two birds with one stone. Actually, you’ll kill three. In the gas and oil business you will also be given the opportunity to network. As in many of the best paying jobs, it’s who you know as well as what you know that gets your foot in the door.
What Are The Average Underwater Welding Training Costs?
The average underwater welding training costs are significant. Expect to pay in the region of $30,000 for a high-quality commercial diver program and $7500 for an additional underwater welding qualification. Fees cover:
- equipment use
- certification fees
- physical examination
- bed and board
If you want to work all over the world without any restrictions, HSE accreditation is the way to go. This means your choice of school might be more limited and you may have to travel further afield. Naturally, this will increase costs. However, there are countries where commercial diving training is cheaper, such as in Norway where a 16 week offshore air diver course will set you back about $6,000. Even with flights and bed and board, this still works out at less than the often much more popular U.S or U.K commercial diving schools. But in the world of commercial diving 16 weeks is quite short for a high quality training program – most schools prefer a broader timescale of approximately 25 weeks. Finding the right school really is a question of searching hard, making sure they are accredited, knowing what costs are included and which are extra, and doing lots and lots of homework.
What Are Good Underwater Welding Schools?
So which are the good underwater welding schools offering accredited commercial diving courses? Here are some of the best options:
- Divers Institute of Technology (US)
- Hydroweld (UK & US)
- CDA Technical Institute (US)
- Seneca College (CA)
- The Ocean Corporation (US)
- Professional Diving Centre (South Africa)
- XLT (AUS)
- Western Norway University of Applied Sciences (NO)
- Oceanos (ES)
The above schools offer a mix of full commercial diving courses or specialty courses for underwater welding. They are not listed in any particular order. All of them are accredited and work according to strict national and international guidelines. Some train at their own locations, others work together with international diving sites and training facilities which often has a cost-lowering effect. However, be warned, there is no such thing as a cheap commercial diving course. If you happen to find one, make sure you triple check exactly what is on offer and contact the school by email before signing on the dotted line!
How Much Money Does An Underwater Welder Make Per Hour?
An underwater welder can make between $17 and $125 per hour depending on:
- Type of work;
- Type of equipment;
- Hazard levels.
This hourly rate rarely reflects a steady annual salary. As mentioned in a previous article, regular work is not easy to find. Especially in offshore locations, work can be seasonal. It is common for a commercial welder to work on terra firma when pickings are thin. Inshore work is much less dependent on the seasons and long-term contracts are often available. Inshore commercial divers work for local councils or construction companies throughout the year.
Naturally, the lowest rates are for those divers with less experience. Becoming a commercial diver is an expensive step to take. This means competition from workers from developing countries is much less than in other sectors. It also means that the lowest rates are still above average. And they rise quickly after the first two years. Most job listings ask for at least two years of experience, and these listing offer much higher hourly rates.
Once you have gained a little experience, there are other ways of bumping up your salary. A supervisory role or training as a diver medic will increase the hourly rate, as will inshore diving as this is often considered to be more dangerous than offshore. Saturation diving is the best paid of all, but also the most uncomfortable, antisocial and hazardous. Saturation divers can easily earn more than $100 per hour but need significant experience and additional qualifications. There are also many limitations as to how long they can work in any one period of time.
Becoming A Successful Underwater Welder
So to become a successful underwater welder you should definitely take note of the following tips:
- Start early: You can enroll in a commercial diving course from your 18th birthday. At 18, not many of us have the $30,000 plus we need to get started. So start saving early and combine training with a day job. Don’t waste time.
- Be healthy: Stop smoking or don’t start smoking if you are considering a long-term career as a commercial diver. Keep fit and active. Learn to deal calmly in stressful situations. Brush up on your social skills and make yourself a valuable and reliable team-mate. In the long run, it all counts.
- Combine training with an oil & gas career: If you can combine training with your job, then it’s best to make that job one which makes a difference later on. Having welding experience – even on land – means you’ll have less to prove when it comes to finding that all-important first commercial diving gig. Not to mention that working in the oil & gas sector will provide you with contacts along the way.
- Go the extra mile: Get more than just the basic qualifications. It might be more expensive, but having more of them can make a huge difference. This might not translate into gigs or money right at the beginning. But after you have gained experience, it most definitely will.
- Don’t be too fussy: Take what you can in the first two to three years of qualifying as a commercial diver. Go where they send you, take what they offer you, and get whatever experience you can. Add two to four years worth of experience onto your CV. Add all the extra qualifications. Then watch your bank balance grow and the job offers increase.
Most commercial divers agree, it’s a long road to commercial diving success. But it’s well worth it in the end. I do recommend to always start by doing some private training, or simply making some cool projects of your own (on the dry land). You can get started with the right equipment over at my recommended welding gear page. Best of luck in your future career!