Commercial Diving 101

Defining commercial diving is difficult, because the term encompasses so many different activities. My best definition of commercial diving is this: Commercial diving is work, inconveniently located underwater, where the financial benefit justifies the expense of sending a diver.

How Much Does a Commercial Diver Get Paid?

The greater the financial risk, the higher the cost will be to send the diver.


If a boat in a slip needs to be cleaned of marine growth, the diver might use only a snorkel and make $35 USD for one hour. If the job requires raising a boat in a shipping lane from one hundred twenty feet at night, the diver could expect payment in the vicinity of $125 USD per hour. If the job is particularly tough or requires extensive gear, such as repairing critical oil rig equipment at four hundred feet in cold water, the job might cost $300 USD per hour. Of course, all rates are subject to change and negotiable.

What Are the Differences Between Commercial Diving and Sport Diving?

There are many differences between my commercial diving and my sport diving career (including technical diving and instruction). Most of the differences can be summarized as objective, equipment, and technique.

• Objective – A Commercial Dive Is Work

The objective of a commercial dive is never fun. There is a job that needs to be done as quickly and as efficiently as possible. The water, the equipment, and the surface support are simply environmental concerns. Work is the focus of a commercial dive and time is always the enemy. Often the payout for the job is based on the time it takes.

• Equipment – Commercial Divers Use Different Gear

Equipment is the obvious difference. Unlimited air supply and a desire for head protection keep us in heavy dive helmets that are fed through a hose from a gas source on the surface (usually a compressor). Taped to the air hose is a communications wire that allows the diver to describe their progress and an open hose to measure depth (we call it the ‘pneumo’). This “umbilical” is fastened to a safety harness. Add a drysuit, a weight belt, and ankle weights and I’m dressed for work. Various other tools might be required for me to accomplish the job; some I can take with me, others might be lowered down and even require surface support and hoses of their own. Scuba is the least desirable option for most commercial jobs, as running out of air before the job can be completed needlessly delays the process.

• Technique – Commercial Diving Requires a Trained Team

One of the biggest differences between sport and commercial diving is the technique. Running a commercial dive requires at least three people: a diver, a tender, and a supervisor. The supervisor’s responsibility is to see that everything needed to meet the dive’s objective is available and that dive is run safely and effectively. The tender is like the diver’s buddy, assisting with the gear, checking on equipment, and keeping the hoses in their needed place. A diver entering the water is only the obvious part of a complex system designed primarily to get a job done.

What Kind of Jobs Have You Had as a Commercial Diver?

Here are a few examples of dive jobs I’ve done:

  • Cleaning boats
  • Inspecting drain and intake pipes
  • Cleaning debris from drain and intake pipes (and mesh screens that cover pipes)
  • Cleaning really big boats
  • Maintenance on boat hulls (cleaning props and maintaining corrosion protection)
  • Burying pipes and cables
  • Digging up pipes and cables
  • Testing, maintaining, and repairing pipes and cables
  • Finding things (keys, boats, cars, guns, cargo containers)
  • Not finding things (survey work)
  • Installing, inspecting, repairing, or demolishing underwater structures
  • Removing debris (tires, old cars, sunken tugboats, wooden piles, name it)

Mind Set and Training Are Key in Commercial Diving

Despite significant differences between commercial and sport diving, one necessity remains constant: comfort in the water. Through natural ability, training, and repetition a high degree of comfort allows any diver to acclimate quickly to the environment and stay more easily on the objective at hand. A comfortable diver operates his equipment by muscle memory, acting deliberately in a stressful environment and keeping his focus on the task or challenge. Working as part of an efficient team is critical to job success and a comfortable diver is able to communicate clearly and adapt quickly to new information as it is given. The greater the comfort, the greater the odds for success in any dive.

More Diving Specialities

Underwater Photography
Cave Diving

The Take-Home Message About Commercial Diving

Sport diving, technical diving, and the instruction of both are pastimes that are undertaken primarily for fun. The instructional aspects provide a welcome secondary income, but the motivations for getting in the water are fundamentally different. A commercial dive is not about the time, the depth, the experience, or the adventure; it is about the money. Most of the decisions made about commercial diving relate risk/benefit to financial concerns, not personal enrichment. A dive supervisor may ask: “How it’s going down there?”. What he means is: “Are you done yet?”






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