Imagine you routinely sound like a cartoon character while at work. Imagine your office is 1,000 feet beneath the surface of the ocean, where the surrounding water pressure is 433 pounds per square inch and sunlight never penetrates. If the idea of having a curious, 2,000-pound grouper looking over your shoulder as you work appeals to you, you might enjoy one of the deep-sea diving careers.
Most deep-sea divers work at depths above 1,000 feet. If their dives take them below 50 feet, they earn depth pay – a per-dive premium paid for each foot of the depth to which their dive takes them — in addition to their hourly wage. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average wage for deep-sea divers is $56,520 per year, or $27.17 per hour. The top 10 percent of divers earn $132,040 per year, or $63.48 per hour, more than eight times the $16,290, or $7.83 per hour earned by the lowest 10 percent of deep-sea divers.
A career as a deep-sea diver may begin at the Navy Diving and Salvage Training Center, in Panama Beach City, Florida; or it may begin at a commercial diving school. The student learns the basic skills of open water and inland diving, underwater welding and burning, mixed gas operations, non-destructive testing, recompression chamber operations, rigging, and diving safety.
Deep-sea divers are paid for every hour they spend on a job, from the minute they receive the call to report to a job until the job is finished and they return to shore. A diver tender – an inexperienced graduate of a commercial diving school who assists the divers in the water by tending the lines that supply the diver with air and communications – who earns $7.83 per hour earns $187.92 for every day he is en route to, or on a job. The diver tender, if found competent, will be “broken out” as a diver after about three years of service.
At 1,000 feet below the surface, the water pressure is 433 pounds per square inch. To survive at that depth, a diver must live in a chamber with air pressurized to 433 pounds per square inch while he is on the job. Called saturation diving, this work is limited to the most experienced, specially trained divers.
A saturation diver lives in the atmospheric environment encountered at the depth of the work, for the entire time he works. He breathes a mixture of helium, nitrogen and oxygen to avoid oxygen toxicity, which occurs below about 195 feet. This mixture, called Trimix, helps prevent hyperbaric arthralgia, the joint pain that occurs as divers descend to extreme depths. After the work is finished and he returns to the surface, he must spend four days in the chamber for each day he was in the high-pressure environment, as the pressure in the chamber is lowered to sea level. For every day the diver is in saturation, he earns $1,523.52.
Like all other divers, he also earns a premium of $12 for every foot of depth below 50 feet. This means that, for working two days to replace a valve on a pipeline at 1,000 feet below the surface, he earns $15,235.20 in hourly wages plus $12,932.52 in depth pay, for a total of $28,158.72.