As a diver you would work at sea, or inland in rivers, lakes, canals and reservoirs. Your tasks would vary depending on your industry. You might work in the offshore oil and gas industries, in engineering, the leisure industry, or with the police.
If you are an excellent swimmer and you can cope with demanding physical conditions, this job could be a good choice. You will need to be physically fit, and be able to concentrate and stay calm when under pressure.
You do not need academic qualifications to learn diving skills. However, depending on the industry you work in, you might need specialist skills and qualifications. For example if you want to be a scientific diver you would need a degree in marine studies.
You will need to pass a strict medical examination before you take any diver training.
You could work as a diver in several industries, for example:
- offshore oil and gas – exploring and surveying, or building and maintaining drilling rigs and pipelines
- inland/inshore – working on civil engineering projects carrying out underwater repairs, demolition or salvage, or working in fish farming
- the media – performing stunts or doing underwater filming
- scientific research or underwater archaeology
- the police – searching for and recovering missing persons or evidence
- leisure – leading recreational SCUBA dives or teaching SCUBA diving skills
Many underwater tasks can now be carried out by remote-operated vehicles (ROVs), but ROVs have not replaced the need for skilled divers.
You would specialise in one of four types of diving. These are:
- SCUBA (Self-contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus) – using an air tank and flippers, mainly in recreational, media and police diving
- Restricted Surface Supplied – using an air line to the surface, usually in inshore/inland diving
- Surface Supplied – using a hot water suit, air line and open diving bells, in offshore diving
- Closed Bell or Saturation Diving – using a diving bell and mixed gas for deep sea diving (often used in surveying, marine archaeology and scientific diving)
Working hours and conditions
The amount of time divers are allowed to spend underwater is strictly controlled, but hours can still be long and intensive.
Not all your time is spent underwater, as you will also spend time planning for the dive and preparing equipment.
As an inshore diver, you would work around 10 to 12 hours a day. In some offshore jobs you may have to live for up to 28 days in an undersea pressure chamber.
Diving is physically and mentally demanding. Conditions underwater are often cold, dark and dirty, especially in inland sites. You would wear protective clothing and breathing apparatus appropriate to the depth and type of dive.
Most divers are paid by the day, and work on average around 150 to 200 days a year.
Earnings can be anywhere between £120 and £1,000 a day, depending on the type of diving and work involved. For example:
- an inshore or civil engineering diver could earn £120 to £250 per day, working 180 to 200 days per year
- an air diver working on windfarm construction and maintenance could earn £300 per day
- an offshore diver in the North Sea could earn £450 per day with an expectation of 120 to 150 days work per year
- a saturation (or diving bell) diver in the North Sea could earn up to £1000 per day
Figures are intended as a guideline only.
Before you begin professional diver training, you must pass a strict medical carried out by a doctor approved by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). You must also pass a medical each year throughout your diving career.
You might find it useful to have experience of recreational SCUBA diving before training as a commercial diver, but this is not essential. Many diving schools offer tests to help you decide whether you would be suited to working underwater.
You do not need academic qualifications to learn diving skills. However, to work as a commercial diver you will need the right skills and qualifications for your industry, as well as learning how to dive. For example:
- some offshore divers might need a degree in surveying or engineering
- construction divers might need qualifications in welding or non-destructive testing
- most scientific divers have a degree in oceanography or marine biology
- police or armed forces divers must already be serving in the force
For offshore work, it is essential that you have an up to date HSE first aid at work qualification. Some inshore employers may also expect you to have this specialised first-aid training. You can often combine this with your practical diving training. Go to the HSE website for more information.
Diving as a career choice can have an impact on your health, and it may not be suitable for everyone. Go to HSE website for more information on diving at work regulations.
Training and development
To become a working commercial diver in Great Britain, you must gain a qualification from a Health and Safety Executive-approved training centre. The HSE offers different levels of certification for various types of diving, including:
- Surface Supplied
- Surface Supplied Top-up (offshore top-up)
- Closed Bell
Holding more than one type of HSE certification may increase your chances of finding commercial diving work – for example, the International Marine Contractors Association recommends having Surface Supplied and Surface Supplied Top-up as a minimum. Each course can take up to five weeks, and you will usually have to fund your training yourself.
See the HSE website for more details about qualifications and approved training providers in the UK.
You may need to learn extra skills for certain jobs, for example underwater welding, or non-destructive testing in a marine environment.
To become a SCUBA diving instructor, you will need to take a series of courses from a sports diving organisation such as the Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI) or the British Sub Aqua Club (BSAC). For example, the first stage with PADI is to become a Divemaster, who can assist fully-qualified instructors, lead guided dives and teach snorkelling.
To qualify as a PADI Divemaster you will need:
- PADI Advanced Open Water Diver certificate (or an equivalent from another diving organisation)
- PADI Rescue Diver (or equivalent), plus
- at least 20 recorded dives when you start training, and 60 to get full certification
You can join PADI’s Instructor Development Course (IDC) once you are a qualified Dive master with at least 60 dives.
See the PADI and British Sub Aqua Club’s websites for full details of their training programmes.
Skills, interests and qualities
To be a diver you should have:
- excellent swimming ability
- stamina and physical fitness
- calmness under pressure
- good levels of concentration under demanding physical conditions
- the ability to follow strict safety procedures
- the ability to work both as part of a team and alone
Health and Safety Executive
0845 345 0055.
Unit 5, Mandarin Court
Tel: 01925 515200
Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI)
Unit 7, St Philips Central
Tel: 0117 300 7234
The Underwater Centre
Tel: 01397 703786
International Marine Contractors Association
5 Lower Belgrave Street
Tel: 020 7824 5520
Nautical Archaeology Society
Forth Cumberland Road
Tel: 023 9281 8419
You would normally be self-employed as a commercial diver. Most jobs are short-term contracts, so you must be flexible about when and where you can work. You would usually gain commercial inshore experience before moving into offshore work.
Renewable energy is an expanding industry and there are a growing number of companies who specialise in offshore wind and wave generators. This means there are now more opportunities and some longer term contracts for divers working in this field.
As an experienced commercial diver with further training, you could qualify for roles with extra responsibility and more pay, such as:
- life support technician – monitoring conditions for closed bell or saturation divers
- diving supervisor – monitoring the safety of other divers and their equipment.
Opportunities are often available overseas, although some countries demand different diving qualifications so you may need extra training before you could work in certain places.
If you are working in the leisure industry, you might also find work in a scuba dive centre where you would manage the bookings, fill tanks and sell dive excursions and equipment. Centres usually look for qualified divers to fill these positions due to the specialised nature of the activity and equipment.
You could also set up a business, or work in a related field where diving skills are necessary, such as swimming pool engineering or maintenance.
You may find the following useful for job vacancies and general reading: