Taking the Plunge
For most folks, taking that first dip in the ocean signals the coming of summer and all the great things that come with its arrival. Cookouts, trips to the beach, vacations, and night skies peppered by bursts of fireworks. However, for a special breed of welder, a dip in the ocean represents the start of a workday, welding and cutting ship hulls, oil rigs, and pipelines beneath the ocean’s surface.
Underwater welders are truly remarkable in that their craft demands a high degree of skill in not only welding, but diving as well. If this aquatic twist on conventional welding speaks to your sense of adventure, or if you’re simply curious as to what it takes, then join us as we dive deeper into the world of underwater welding.
How do I get started as an Underwater Welder?
Picture a Venn diagram comprised of two large circles. One is labeled “Welder” and the other is labeled “Diver”. In the middle of this diagram is an area where these two circles overlap. In this proverbial sweet spot, you’ll find the welder-divers of the world. To become an underwater welder, you’ll have to be exceedingly proficient at not just one of these tasks, but both.
The majority of the work performed by underwater welders isn’t actually welding, but rather the preparation tasks that lead to actual welding activities. This means that in addition to being certified to weld to the AWS D3.6M Underwater Welding Code, an underwater welder must also be certified as a commercial diver.
The good news is that if you don’t quite fall into the middle of the Venn diagram, there are plenty of ways to get you there. If you’re already certified as a topside welder, there are several training facilities and commercial diving schools that can provide the training necessary to make the transition into underwater welding. Conversely, if you’re already a skilled diver, but don’t quite know your way around the workshop, you can look into basic welding training, and then take the steps to learn to weld to the specifications required for wet (underwater) and dry (hyperbaric/cofferdam) welding. In both cases, you can expect to begin as a diver tender, or what is essentially a diving apprentice. This phase of your career will allow you to develop the skills to weld in accordance to the AWS D3.6 Underwater Welding Code, which virtually all contractors will require.
I think I’ve got some of the basics. What are some other things I should know?
The most desirable underwater welder-divers are qualified to assist diving contractors in any number of pre-job tasks, including underwater cutting, fitting and rigging, inspection and nondestructive testing, drafting, and underwater photography. Formal training is recommended and maintaining qualifications is important. To make a long story short, the more well-versed you are in a wide-range of underwater welding processes, the better off you’ll be.
Okay, I’m now a world-class diver and a virtuoso welder…where can I find work and how much can I expect to make?
Underwater welding serves a wide range of industrial needs, and as such, the type of work you can find will depend on several variables. For example, projects such as offshore structure repair may be readily available during certain times of the year, when storms are more common, and not during others. A potentially uneven work schedule is often paired with geographic mobility. Most jobs are found in coastal areas, though not always the same ones. Those who prefer a highly structured work schedule or suffer from aquaphobia need not apply!
As far as the types of industries you’ll be able to work in, the scope is quite broad. The oil & gas, nuclear, shipbuilding, and marine salvaging industries are big ones, but welder-divers can also work in a variety of fields that may not be the first things that come to mind when thinking about underwater welding. Some of these include bridge construction, dam repair, hazardous material management and transport, cruise ship repair, and the armed forces.
The majority of underwater welders are paid on a per-job basis. More and so the nature of the jobs you will find, as well as the locations, may change considerably over time. For many welder-divers, the variety and scope of the work available, in addition to the earning potential, is what makes underwater welding such an attractive option. Underwater Welders can easily clear more than $100,000 per year if they line up a steady stream of projects year-round. The more open one is to working away from home, and the more skilled one is in a variety of welding applications and processes, the more opportunities will come your way. For current information on the expected earning potential for commercial divers and related disciplines, please visit the Depart of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics.
That sounds great for now, but what does the future look like for an underwater welder?
A career that requires such a broad range of skills provides ample opportunities for new challenges and professional advancement. Underwater welding requires a great amount of skill, as it is a very physically demanding job with a high degree of technical complexity. As such, the industry will continue to demand higher quality standards for underwater welds and more certification of underwater welding systems and personnel. These demands will challenge the underwater welding community to meet more complex technical specifications, safety standards, welding criteria, inspection methods, environmental factors, and other considerations.
In regards to what an underwater welder can do down the line, there are typically a bevy of paths they can take. Many welder-divers go on to become engineers, diving instructors, and diving operation supervisors. Additionally, many also go on to fill management and consulting positions.
The skills and experience accrued as an underwater welder can also put you in a position to become a AWS Certified Welding Inspector, which in turn can open up additional opportunities, underwater and elsewhere.
I think I might be ready to take the plunge. Where can I get more information?
If you ready to test the waters, visit AWS Underwater Welding Resources to get in contact with a training center.
Thanks for the information. Any chance you can tell me about other welding careers?
Absolutely. Visit Career Pathways on AWS WeldLink, a free, online, career planning and management tool designed specifically for the needs of welding professionals, businesses, and schools. The website is brand new so expect the list of careers to grow over the next few weeks. In the meantime, please comment below or get in contact with us about any other welding careers that you might be interested in, and we’ll do our best to feature it in a future blog post!