If you are an avid die hard diver like most of us are that indulge ourselves in this passionate escape from our reality on land as often as we can, I would be willing to bet that at some point you considered, “What it would be like to dive for a living?” I mean after all what could be better than getting paid to dive. Not to spoil the fantasy but this implies commercial diving as the likely option, and it is not only far more dangerous than sport diving but also greatly lacking the majority of the time in pleasurable appeal.
Life as a commercial diver can be a very lucrative way to earn a living but will not deliver the majority of the time the pleasure and excitement you get from your love of casual sport diving. Commercial divers more often than not are called to locations or situations offering zero visibility, in freezing cold stormy weather and in muddy rivers and lakes filled with unknown underwater obstacles and predators, any of which can entrap the diver with fatal consequences.
If you are a commercial diver you already know that you are basically on 24 hour standby and can be called to duty below the surface in any weather and water conditions day or night. These demands on commercial divers stem primarily from the fact that in the US alone there are only 5500 to 7500 commercial divers working at any given time.
Commercial diving has for some time been surrounded in controversy and accused of perpetuating extremely lax and non-existent regulations and inferior training and certification practice and protocol. It also carries the highest death rate statistic which is 40 times greater than that of workers in any other field in the world.
In reviewing reports on commercial diving deaths it becomes evident that one of the single most important and overlooked elements in any dive lies with the “tender”. This of course is the person assigned with the task of monitoring the compressor, feeding the air to the diver and managing the supply and communication lines. There was a popular case in which a commercial diver died as a result of an old oil soaked rag being sucked into the air intake of the compressor during a dive and catching fire. This of course filled the divers helmet with noxious fumes and smoke and he died. All as a result of an inexperienced and incapable tender. Many argue that commercial diving certification is
not as comprehensive as it should be in training. This may be true, but in this example the divers skills, training and experience were completely irrelevant to the cause of death. With one exception, he took his tenders qualifications for granted.
There are also many “off the record” situations this writer encountered in putting together this story that recount divers who have never been certified showing up to contractors for a commercial diving gig and are hired without producing one shred of documentation or validation of their qualifications and experience as a commercial diver. This is understandable to some degree on the part of the hiring contractor considering there just are not enough commercial divers to fulfill the global demands for their highly specialized skills. This shortage of personnel of course creates an urgency on the part of the hiring contractors to be quick to accept divers at their word so that they may keep ahead of the demands placed on them for commercial divers services.
This article is by no means intended to discourage anyone who may be considering commercial diving as a career or those already working as a commercial diver. It is only intended to instill a strong sense of awareness about not just what’s going on with you as a diver and your equipment under the water, but above the water as well. Know your “tender”.
Anything we do in life that becomes routine is normally susceptible to complacency. The reason and purpose behind this story is to remind us all, commercial and sport divers alike to remain vigilant to procedure and support systems. Never take anything for granted, especially if it involves someone whom you will be entrusting your life to.
Dive smart and dive safe.