Ah, the life of the typical American blue collar worker. He gets up after a long night at the local pub, maybe scrambles an egg in a dirty iron skillet, then grabs his wetsuit and goes down to the pier to find a contractor looking for work. Then, he boats a mile offshore to dive 150 feet down and wrestle an octopus for a piece of pipe so he can weld it back together. Okay, so maybe we’re not talking about a typical blue collar worker.
While commercial divers may often find themselves tasked with performing similar work as their terrestrial counterparts—say, welding joints or repairing structures—they’re usually compensated much, much better for it. Your typical welder, brazer, or solderer only makes about $36,300 per year, but a commercial diver can expect more like $45,890 (source). This is because they have to get wet. Oh, and also it can be incredibly dangerous. So, there’s that.
When things go wrong underwater, they go really, really wrong. Malfunctioning equipment, rising pressure levels, dropping oxygen levels, rabid moray eels—a good professional diver has to be on top of all of it. Except maybe the rabid eels, because we’re actually fairly certain they can’t get rabies.
And it gets worse.
Really experienced commercial divers can branch out later in their careers, taking jobs that can put their annual pay average up to near six figures. This work, however, is often even more dangerous, requiring deeper dives and even “non-water” dives. What’s a “non-water” dive? Trust us, you don’t want to know. But…yeah, we’re going to tell you anyway.
Sometimes, instead of sewage, skilled divers who are looking to up their pay will work on nuclear sites. Sure, they’re less likely to catch a flesh-eating parasite from a ten-week-old diaper, but they do have to contend with that little rascal we like to call radiation. And not the fun, now-you-have-spider-powers sort of radiation. No, this is the symptoms-so-grim-we-don’t-like-to-talk-about-them radiation.
Of course, even entry-level commercial diving has its hazards, and an incredible amount of training and experience is required to get started on this career path. The beginner stuff should be fairly (if not utterly) obvious: finish high school, learn how to swim, learn how to dive.
After that, you’re going to need to complete a program to snag your certification. That’ll cost anywhere from $8,000 to $20,000, depending on how comprehensive an education you want (source).
Looking into our crystal ball, we see that those of you still interested at this point like the water, know a thing or two about diving already, and don’t mind a bit of adrenaline on the job. Right? If that’s you, it’s time to get started.
Most companies only want to hire divers between the ages of eighteen and thirty-five, especially for the fancy, high-pay offshore stuff like working on oil rigs (source). After thirty-five, you and your aging body are more of health (and hiring) risk.
Just remember, even if you start at age eighteen and have a seventeen-year career, you’re still not even halfway to retirement age. So while you’re not going to be booted on your thirty-fifth birthday like some sort of aquatic Logan’s Run character, you do need to start planning for your future.
Maybe that means using the same skills for easier inshore diving work, or maybe that means being prepped to do something else entirely. Either way, it’s good to think ahead.
The dripping wet world of commercial diving isn’t a glamorous one, a safe one, or a particularly easy one, but for those who are mechanically minded with a thirst for adventure, there’s hardly a better job on the planet. Maybe that Sebastian guy was right after all.