Yesterday’s post in our 4-part Scuba Diving Careers series featured NASA diving, one of the more extreme options in the bunch. Today we’re taking a look at wreck salvage diving. There are a few different facets to this profession. Some scuba pros work as recovery divers who step in to help unlucky sailors get a sunken vessel back to the surface, while others are old school treasure hunters, seeking out lost vessels and hoping to find the riches within.
The former can be a lucrative profession whether you work for a commercial salvage operation or as a freelance recovery diver. Finding and raising a sunken yacht, or even seeking out lost valuables for a customer, salvage diving is big business. Technical skills will be required for this job, such as experience working with mixed gases and penetration diving. Raising a sunken vessel is no easy feat. Months of preparation and planning must take place before the job can be undertaken. The longer the ship has been on the bottom, the more challenging the task.
Wreck salvage divers who seek out sunken vessels are a bit of a different breed. Often they are hired by treasure seekers who have the knowledge to find a ship, but lack the skills to get to it. Others fund their own search and recovery operations, spending months or even years searching for a particularly elusive wreck that is reputed to hold legendary wealth. Famed treasure hunter Mel Fisher is one example, a wreck hunter who found the long lost Atocha, a 300 year old vessel that yielded a 45 million dollar hoard of gold, silver, and jewels. The downside? The 16 years of research Fisher conducted as well as the many court battles fought over salvage rights.
This job is not without its risks. Wreck salvage divers work everywhere from clear and shallow Caribbean waters, to the dark depths of the North Atlantic. Conditions can be hazardous, with heavy currents and poor visibility. Shipwrecks are notoriously fickle environments, holding dangers like snarls of twisted metal on which you can get snagged, or dark, oily chambers in which you can get lost. There is also the risk of structural collapse in an old and shifting wreck. Despite the dangers, there are many who can’t stay away. When you finally discover that long sought after ship, or identify a mysterious vessel, the rewards can be astounding.
For a glimpse into the world of commercial salvage diving, watch this video showing a complicated operation to recover a sunken cargo vessel. And don’t forget to check back for our last installment of Scuba Diving Careers!