Do you ever fantasize about diving full time? Imagine strapping on your tanks and being underwater every day, and earning a paycheck to do it! Aside from the obvious — charter boat dive master or scuba instructor — there are many professions that involve full time, paid scuba diving. In this 4-part series, we’ll take a look at some of the more extreme dive careers available to those with the drive to go deep. First up: saturation diving!
What if you could live underwater, going to work each day without ever setting foot on dry land? This is the life of a saturation diver. These deep sea daredevils live and work under the sea for up to a month at a time. They are the people who assemble and maintain massive underwater structures like oil rigs and pipelines.
The purpose of saturation diving is for divers to avoid decompression sickness, or “the bends.” When a human remains at depth, the increased pressure causes the body’s tissues to absorb nitrogen to a maximum amount, becoming “saturated” (hence the name). Once saturated, decompression times stay the same whether you are underwater for an hour or a week. So divers live in a pressurized habitat in order to avoid having to undergo the lengthy decompression again and again.
Remember the movie The Abyss? The people portrayed in the film were saturation divers. Nuclear bombs and alien beings aside, in the real world it’s a bit different. Divers live in a pressure chamber aboard a boat, being lowered and raised to their workplace by a diving bell each day. Since they stay at pressure, they don’t have any decompression issues to worry about, at least not until their 4 week tour of duty is up. Then they face a 16 hour decompression time in order to acclimate back to the surface world. The shipboard crew monitors the divers’ health and work progress, and even provides their daily meals. A crew of 6 to 12 divers works in three teams, running three 8-hour shifts so that work is being performed 24 hours a day.
This is a demanding job. Not only are you subject to the rigors of living and working in tight quarters, but the work itself is skilled construction labor which takes a level of expertise all its own. This is not a job for those looking for glamour or comfort. Safety is a huge priority in this field. Down time is often spent conducting safety drills or reviewing protocols. After all, even though they are just feet away from the boat crew, living inside the pressurized chamber means help is a long way off.
For a little taste of the life of a saturation diver, watch this short video that shows you their living quarters and life in this extreme environment. And stay tuned for our next installment of Scuba Diving Careers!