Ballpark Estimate: $8,000 to $20,000
Commercial deep sea diving can be an exciting and challenging career choice. Divers must be willing to undergo extensive training, be willing to work extremely hard, and be able to travel for long periods of time in order to be successful in this endeavor. That hard work can pay off, in time, with salaries that can be quite lucrative compared to other careers with similar training and experience.
The Need for Professional Divers
While many industries today are feeling strained financially, the commercial diving industry is one that is booming. In fact, the demand for qualified divers far exceeds the numbers of jobs available. Part of this need was created when Hurricane Katrina hit in the summer of 2005, severely damaging several hundred oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico that are now in need of divers to help repair.
Of course getting the job is much easier than actually doing it, though. This is because the life of a commercial diver requires many hours of hands-on labor in an environment that is both unforgiving and exceptionally demanding. For instance, if you think welding is an exacting skill at sea level, try doing it in the hostile, cold and inky blackness at 300 to 400 feet below the surface. In addition, working underwater at these depths for several hours at a time and in poor visibility can also be very dangerous.
Different Types of Dives
Commercial divers must be proficient in a wide array of job skills and must be prepared to work in either inland or offshore diving scenarios.
These are jobs that include work in intercostals waterways such as performing construction work, inspections and repairs of dams, bridges, nuclear power and water plants, pipe line systems, piers, and ships. Periodic inspection of welds and repairing cracks in underwater bridge beams is always an ongoing occupational necessity, as is repairing damage to a bridge’s foundation by the erosive effect of the current carrying away material.
The jobs in this category are more demanding and, as a consequence, are reserved for the more skilled or the younger divers. They involve diving to deeper ocean depths for performing such duties as inspection, installation, and repair of oil drilling platforms and piping. Working from large ocean vessels on search and recovering missions, deep sea salvage operations worldwide, treasure hunting enterprises, or in support of scientific/archeology projects are just some of the work-related duties performed in offshore diving.
What You Need to Succeed
To be a successful commercial diver, you must be in excellent physical and mental condition, demonstrate a very high degree of on-the-job expertise and experience, and be extremely dedicated to his profession. Most jobs will also require that you have undergone training at a nationally recognized deep sea diving school. There are currently six such accredited programs in the United States.
If you are comparing the options, there are some important factors to consider. This includes whether it’s an accredited school, the length of the training, the scope of the training, whether real-life underwater conditions are employed, the experience of the instructors, the type of equipment used, job placement assistance, and most importantly, the cost including any financial assistance programs. Also keep in mind that a federally-accredited school allows a qualified student to receive a financial aid package consisting of federal loans and grants.
In addition, the school you select should be able to meet all the requirements of the Association of Diving Contractors International (ADCI) (the principle governing body for the field), so upon graduation you will earn an ADCI commercial diver certification card. A diver cannot work without one, particularly for employment in a foreign country. In fact, not only must a diver hold a U.S. certification card, to work overseas, he must also gain certification from that country as well.
Requirements for Admission
To attend a diving school, you must meet several requirements. This includes being at least 18 years old, holding either a high school diploma or GED, or being able to pass a battery of tests before enrollment. In addition, you must be physically fit, demonstrate a high degree of mechanical aptitude and be a good swimmer. In addition, although it’s not a requirement, having prior experience as a recreational diver is certainly a plus. In fact, at some schools the prospective student is required to be certified as a sports diver in order to help keep training cost affordable.
What You Will Learn
Some of the subjects covered in a typical diving school curriculum include:
- Dive physics and decompression chamber operations
- Operation of a remotely operated vehicle (ROV)
- Underwater demolition
- Topside and underwater welding
- Hazmat/nuclear diving
- Offshore survival and safety
- Deep sea diving techniques and procedures
Besides employing a deep-water pool for training, some of the better schools will also train in the actual real-life murky environments of the Mississippi and Delaware Rivers, iron mines, the Gulf of Mexico and coastal waters of the Pacific.
What You Can Expect to Spend
The curriculum for commercial diver training is offered in a wide variety of programs. But while the locations and setup may vary, the tuition costs and length of the training are similar in most cases. Here are some of the typical costs:
- $8,000 – minimum 8-week training program for obtaining certification
- $12,000 – more extensive training over 16 weeks
- $15,000 to $20,000 – out of state tuition costs for a two-year college program towards Associate of Science degree in marine diving technologies
Keep in mind that in addition to these tuition costs, you will also need to pay for rent, food, transportation and other living expenses.
Diving as a Career
Traditionally, upon graduation the students will begin their new careers as “tenders,” with starting salaries ranging between $18,000 and $35,000. The responsibilities that go with this entry-level position include- assisting in dressing/undressing divers, tracking divers locations, recording dive data, warning off boat traffic, and a host of other tasks.
Once you’ve paid your dues, the amount of money a diver can earn will vary. The time it will take to advance from the lower paying tender to the higher paying diving position will depend on several factors including the location of the job (East/West/Gulf coast, International, etc.), the size of the company, if a diver is a union member, and the specific kind of job the diver is working on (inland or offshore).
Under the right conditions, salary increases could average $10,000 to $15,000 per year. The top salary a veteran professional can earn is usually in the $60,000 to $100,000 range.