The professionals at American Underwater Services weren’t born yesterday. Like most professional divers, they’ve undergone extensive training to become specialists in the respective fields of expertise. From maintenance and construction to marine salvaging, commercial divers learn a wide range of skills in order to meet the needs of municipalities, neighborhoods, government agencies and industries. Professionals at American Underwater Services handle a wide range of tasks like diving in contaminated waters, inspecting underwater facilities, removing silt, providing dewatering services and dredging ponds.
But those professionals didn’t acquire their skills without some hard work and preparation, the kind of time investments that assure our customers quality services that meets their unique needs. In order for them to meet those needs, they must first learn a variety of trades like offshore, onshore and HAZMAT diving. They also learn how to use a range of tools for welding, building, cleaning, inspecting or pumping. Knowing how swim helps, too.
So what kind of professionals fit that kind of description?
“The basic requirements include a high school diploma or equivalency,” said The Ocean Corporation of Houston’s Bob Browning, per DiveTraining magazine. “Applicants must also pass a diving physical.”
And of course, they also have to know what to do once their underwater.
“A strong mechanical inclination is another important trait for anybody who wants to be a commercial diver,” explained CDA Technical Institute’s Allen G. Garber. “A potential candidate ought to at least know what a crescent wrench is and how to use it.”
Experience in the profession certainly isn’t a bad thing, but younger divers have their places too once they adequately complete their training. That said, it’s never too late to join the profession.
“We had one student who completed our program at age 59,” Garber added. “It was just something he always wanted to do. And as it turned out, he found work in the inland and coastal sector of commercial diving.”
Just as age isn’t an issue, nor is gender. Women may not dominate the industry, but they certainly hold their own.
“They do really well and have no more difficulty finding a job as a commercial diver than do the guys,” Santa Barbara City College’s Judy Lough noted.
Divers Institute of Technology executive director John Paul Johnston in Seattle concurred, saying, “We have about 10 percent women attending our school, and they do a fantastic job. I think it’s a great career for women to consider.”
Before those students become actual divers, they must first obtain certification from the Association of Diving Contractors International (ADCI), which has existed since 1968. In the process, they also attend schools like the Divers Institute of Technology and International Diving Institute.
There’s really no such thing as the prototypical diver. Those who have interests in mechanics or construction are generally well-suited to the requirements, as is anyone with a passion for exploring underwater conditions (including recreational diving) and inspecting equipment or infrastructure. The use of advanced technology is also increasingly widespread, creating a need for electronically savvy minds with 21st century experience. From that perspective, at least some level of technical education is pretty pivotal.
“Having at least an associate’s degree can be vital for those who want to move up into a supervisory or management position with a commercial diving company,” argued College if Oceaneering’s Laura Feher. “Many of our graduates will continue with our online programs to improve their resumes and become more competitive in the workplace.”
And of course, that doesn’t have to be the end of a diver’s educational endeavors. Beyond on-the-job training, many return to school to hone their skills and expand their horizons.
“As an educational institution, we do encourage our students to complete their associate’s degree before entering the workforce,” Lough added. “Often after four to six years of working as a commercial diver, they want to return to school to complete a bachelor’s degree and take advantage of other opportunities. It’s easier if they already have their associate’s degree out of the way.”
Every educational institution and experience differs, but a broad-spectrum awareness of underwater proficiencies is crucial. For example, Minnesota Commercial Diving Training Center ensures each of its students is exposed to a range of scenarios.
“We have class 10 hours a day, six days a week, and we break our students up into two pods of six people, so that every student gets to do every job, including diving and tending, every day,” explained owner and president Bill Matthies. “We also train in a variety of open-water environments so our students get lots of experience. In addition to our 13-foot training pool, we dive in the Mississippi River where it’s ‘fast and dirty,’ and in nearby iron mines that offer depths to more than 500 feet [152 m].”
Once graduated from such programs, divers possess the diverse and multifaceted capabilities to enter the workforce in stride. From there, the sky is the limit.
Many divers explore offshore opportunities while others enjoy more stable employment working on inland bodies of water. Some diving jobs require more specialization than others. HAZMAT divers, for example, often work in hazardous conditions when completing maintenance or cleaning up sludge, cement or radioactive material. Such divers also must work in HAZMAT suits that restrict their movement.
There’s almost always a project in need of services somewhere, and companies like American Underwater Services are often called in to handle the tasks. The availability of work depends in large part of demand—for example, the extent to which parks or homeowners associations are deciding to have ponds dredged.
“Right now there’s a boom in commercial diving, and everybody is getting hired, but that won’t last forever,” notes expert Tamara Brown. “Commercial diving is historically a cyclical business, and anybody who enters it should be prepared for the slow times. As part of Divers Academy International’s 30-week training program, divers learn a lot of skills that translate to topside jobs, including nondestructive testing, welding, hazardous material handling, and rigging.”
Certain events can precipitate the need for even more help.
“There are roughly 4,000 oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico, and about 3,000 of them need repair due to Katrina,” Brown adds. “In fact, about half of those rigs are just gone – swept away. It’s going to take at least another five to eight years to complete the task.”
Any number of unique situations can create demand for a professional diver’s services. Shipwrecks or sunken cargo may require debris removal. Intake and outfall systems often require repair or cleaning. Divers also conduct inspection via manned digital video.
As with most careers, pay varies. More experienced and skilled divers command higher salaries, and more established companies can generally afford to pay them. The good news is that just about any trained diving specialist can make a comfortable living. After starting with salaries that range between $40,000 to $60,000 per year, more veteran divers can earn anywhere from $100,000 to $150,000 annually. Sometimes pay depends on the quality of someone’s educational experience and where they wind up working.
“Most of our graduates start out with jobs in the Gulf of Mexico, where they start out making around $1,800 per week,” Browning explains.
The jobs themselves can be rewarding, especially for those with interests in things like engineering. That doesn’t mean they’re easy, though.
“Those divers earn every penny they make,” Garber said. “A lot of guys who go into it thinking it’s an easy way to make a fast buck quickly learn otherwise.”
In addition to the physical requirements and travel associated with commercial diving, some projects require extended stays away from home and long workdays. While that kind of lifestyle isn’t for everyone, the good news is that the kind of professionals who work with companies like American Underwater Services are dedicated and enjoy their jobs. Each project is unique and requires the kind of strategic planning and communication that keeps clients happy, too.
American Underwater Services has always prided itself on hiring top-of-the-line specialists equipped to handle first-rate equipment and perform any job under the sun. Thanks to their training, professionalism and commitment to their clients, we’re confident that you’ll love their work.