One of the biggest decisions faced by underwater welders is work location: Where’s the best place to find a job? A dock on the Boston harbor? Local water tower maintenance in Quebec? An oil rig a thousand miles off the Gulf of Mexico?
Inland (onshore) and offshore divers face different sets of circumstances in their respective fields. The nature of their work has different demands of time, skill and experience. However, both have many similarities and crossovers, especially in your daily responsibilities. Let’s take a look at these two types of underwater welders.
Diver Services Performed
Inland and offshore divers do their fair share of underwater construction, inspections, maintenance, and testing. Some services are more prominent in inland or offshore work, though, and those are the ones we’ll concentrate on.
Inland diving services are as diverse as the companies you work for, especially in day-by-day tasks. In the morning, you may be inspecting a leak in a freshwater tank reservoir. By late morning you’re welding the leak, but soon afterward you’re out salvaging a sunken boat off the east shore of a local lake. Salvaging and rescue can be a full-time job with inland divers, as is regular maintenance and inspection on bridges, water intake systems and reservoirs.
- Salvaging and Rescue
By contrast, underwater welders in the oceans and gulfs perform somewhat repetitive services, though it holds its own adventurous edge. If you’ve just graduated from underwater welding school, you’ll probably start out as a tender, performing tasks for other divers and engineers. However, as a more experienced underwater welder, you’ll “dive in” immediately. You may measure and spot-weld extra piping on an oil rig or submerge in a diving bell to explore new drilling potential on the ocean floor.
- Pipeline repair and installation
- Oil Rig Inspections
Work Environment of a Sea-dweller
One of the main advantages of an inland underwater welder is their location. It’s accessible and close, unlike offshore jobs. Inland underwater welders work in and around any body of water that’s not the ocean: Lakes, rivers and ponds. Accordingly, they spend their time on local structures and systems.
- Water pipelines
- Intake systems
- Small to medium-sized boats
In the offshore world, welder-divers don’t have the luxury to drive home from work in the evening, and their work is concentrated on the internal and external parts of oil platforms. On the plus side, most offshore environments provide comfortable living quarters for sleep and entertainment.
Oil rigs have an extensive line of drill pipes called a pipe string that connects from the rig to the drill hole. They also have hundreds of feet of metal pipe casing, containment systems, thousands of moving parts above and below the ocean’s surface. All of these places must be inspected and maintained. Don’t worry, you’ll have the help of several hundred people.
- Oil Rigs
- Large Ships
- Petroleum pipelines
A diver’s work schedule provides the most obvious contrast between inland and offshore. Arguably the most attractive feature of an inland diver’s job is his or her schedule. They’re close to their work.
Most inland underwater welders come home in the evening, though some projects require a week here or there to stay on site. You’ll probably work a typical “8-hour” workday, though many divers are on-call for emergencies. In most cases, time between preparation and execution of a given task lasts only an hour or more. Winter and spring can be quite busy, as many docks and boats are damaged or sunk during these seasons. Inland, you have a better chance of finding a year-round job.
- 8 hour workdays, though some on-call work
- Occasional 1-3 week stints
- Year-round work
“Honey, I’m home!…after a month away.” Most underwater welders start out as tenders in the offshore business, but be prepared to forget your social and personal life for a while. You’ll stay a month or more out in the ocean, and then return for about a week. When you’re working, you’ll pull 10-12 hour shifts that rotate from week-to-week.
Underwater welders normally continue this schedule until their project or contract is finished. Offshore means seasonal, so the bulk of your work will come between April – November. Winter and early spring is too risky for operations out in the ocean.
- 4-6 weeks on, 7-10 days off work
- 10+ hour workdays
- Seasonal Work (shutdown during winter)
Underwater Welding Salary
I go into more detail in this article, but there’s a few key points to pay attention to when understanding pay differences between inland and offshore.
Taking into account all factors such as experience and location, inland underwater welders are paid slightly less than their offshore counterparts. However, divers working inland usually operate under less variables such as political unrest and seasonal catastrophes (hurricanes, tsunamis). Therefore, they can depend on a constant wage. They also work under government standards, union laws and the like that may increase their wages.
- Mid-range salary
- Year-round work
If you’re not a tender, you’re probably bringing home a sizable paycheck in this line of work – sometimesseveral hundred (US) dollars a day. Offshore underwater welders face higher risk, work more overtime and travel further from home. Some also participate in saturation diving, which brings in a considerable amount of dough when working under ocean depths.
The downside comes in the winter, when offshore jobs are almost non-existent for underwater welders. Most find diving jobs inland or work in related fields like machining or surface welding.
- High salary if not a tender
- Multiple opportunities for increased wages (saturation diving, overtime)
- Seasonal work
Company Structure and Career Opportunities
Inland marine companies operate under a smaller budget since they cover a small region and aren’t extracting millions of dollars of natural resources beneath the earth’s surface. Therefore, you’ll probably work with a small team.
“Moving up” or transferring may or may not be difficult, depending on the network that you build in the industry. There’s more room for petty conflicts and interpersonal conflicts. Safety standards are high, and you’ll find enjoyment working with new situations with your team each day.
Distinguishing Career Features
- Lower Competition
- Smaller Team
- High Safety Standards
Starting out as a tender, you’ll work your way up to “veteran” status after a year or two in offshore diving. On an oil platform, you’ll find a slurry of activity; every position, from the lowest technician to the highest manager has their hand in the operations here.
Competition and stress are high, but so are the benefits and incentives as you work your way up the career ladder. As with inland diving, you’ll find safety a high priority, and you’ll probably go through a large-scale training program. They’ll invest a lot in you and expect a good return on that investment.
Distinguishing Career Features
- More Benefits (and risk)
- Bigger Operation
- High Safety Standards
Your Choice…Sort of
You may already know which kind of underwater welder you want to be. Unfortunately, you can’t always choose – sometimes the company chooses for you. Prepare yourself with the necessary skills and certification, then remember that flexibility is key, especially for the first 3-5 years.