My job entails inspection and maintenance of nuclear power plants and hydroelectric dams in Ontario. We’re based in Port Hope. The closest we get to the city is the Pickering nuclear power plant.
At Seneca College in King City, I took the underwater skills program, where I learned the physics and physiology of diving. We were in the water a couple times a week working on projects and doing emergency drills. Seneca’s program is among the most difficult in Canada, and people who don’t have any construction background or mechanical skills come out of it as confident commercial divers with mechanical skills.
Right after high school I joined the Canadian Armed Forces and then was an iron worker and certified welder. Seneca is my only post-secondary education.
I’ve always enjoyed working in and around the water. Something just drew me to that aspect of marine industry. With my love of being in the water, why not become a commercial diver? Everyone in the program has to be a certified scuba diver, and my classmates ranged from people with very little scuba experience to technical divers.
Training on the mechanical side helped me with my job now. We can be working underwater with hydraulic jackhammers to break up rock close to a dam, or if we have logs blocking a dam’s water intake, we get out a hydraulic chainsaw.
It’s a good idea to have a background in the construction field to know what you’re getting into when it comes to working in the industry. Good finger dexterity is also important because we sometimes use small nuts and bolts two or three inches long.
The part I love most is working around the electric dams. As divers, we get to see things and build in areas no one else ever sees. It’s incredible how big and old some of the dams are. There are hydroelectric plants in Niagara that are more than 100 years old. The turbines are huge. Sometimes they’ll stop the turbines and we’ll jump in to clear a blockage.
The only stressful part of the job is that we have to adhere to dive tables very closely. The deeper I go, the shorter the bottom time I have to do a certain job. Sometimes we have a small window to do a job, so we’re pushing ourselves to the absolute max. Timing is very critical. I might only have 30 minutes to do a 60-minute job.
I spend about three hours a day underwater. We’re also running two dive teams. What I don’t get done in the morning, the afternoon crew takes over and hopefully finishes up.
I’d like to be working until I’m 60, but not necessarily diving. I’d like to become a supervisor of a dive team and in 10 years’ time start up my own dive company – or maybe the complete opposite and become a teacher at a college.