Some professions offer unusually good pay because they’re mentally and physically challenging, potentially hazardous, and require uncommon combinations of skills. Underwater welding is an example, requiring the skills of both a commercial diver and a commercial welder. It requires a high level of fitness and both physical and mental strength, but can be a rewarding career choice.
Underwater welding is one part of the commercial diving profession, an aquatic branch of heavy industry. Welders work primarily on large-scale projects such as bridges, oil rigs or underwater pipelines, or in ship and drydock maintenance. Job sites can be located in the open ocean, or inland in lakes and rivers, and vary in depth from a few yards to hundreds of feet. Work is performed in commercial diving suits with surface-fed air supply, though divers typically wear a scuba tank for emergencies. Much of an underwater welder’s work is project-oriented, and between welding projects a diver’s income often comes from routine testing and maintenance work.
Training programs for commercial divers are typically offered through specialized schools, or through universities or community colleges with marine-oriented programs. Standalone training courses range from two to 12 months in length, depending on their intensity and content. Colleges might incorporate the comparable training into a two-year associate’s degree or four-year bachelor’s degree. Programs usually meet or exceed standards established by the Association of Diving Contractors International, Association of Commercial Diving Educators, and the International Marine Contractor Association. The curriculum includes theoretical knowledge such as diving physics, decompression tables, and seamanship and rigging, as well as practical underwater instruction. Graduates are certified as entry-level divers, and can earn higher certifications after gaining practical work experience.
Certification for underwater welding is administered jointly by the American Welding Society and the ACDE. Previous experience or certification in welding can be useful, though it isn’t required. Certified commercial divers can take a standalone underwater welding course, while divers in training can choose a school or program that incorporates welding into its overall curriculum. Underwater work requires a strong understanding of metallurgic theory, specifically the ways that working underwater affects the welding and testing process. Many programs also train welders in the use of ultrasound technology to test the strength of welds. Certification requires candidates to pass both a written and a practical test.
Women in Underwater Welding
Women are still a minority among underwater welders, though some commercial diving schools report up to 10 percent female enrolment. It’s a tough, physically demanding job, and female divers have to compensate for the difference in brute strength by working more intelligently. Although the field is male-dominated and individual workplaces can be challenging, the demand for qualified workers is high enough that women with the necessary skills won’t lack for opportunities. New welders can expect to play a supporting role for the first few years while they gain experience and learn their employer’s procedures. Increased income and responsibility come with time, and competent welders can earn well over $100,000 in a good year.