Underwater welders get to work in a fascinating environment that is as alien to most of us as a different planet. The job has its share of challenges and tough times, but the perks such as travel and adventures can more than make up for it.
Top underwater welders can also earn a handsome salary, but you should know that very few people make it to the top, since this is a rigorous profession.
Let’s take a look at what you need to enter this field, how to get ahead once you’re in, and what steps you can take to ensure you succeed in the long run.
How to Become an Underwater Welder
While high paying, this sub-field is quite dangerous. About 11 people die per year. Since there are only about 6,500 int he field that's about .17% or about 1.7 death for every 1000 underwater welders.
Below are the steps to take to become an underwater welder. We'll give you the basics about what skills you need and the recommended steps to take.
Requirements for Getting Underwater Welder Certification
In order to get a job as an underwater welder, you will need to have experience, training and proof of skills in the form of certifications. In most cases, a welder-diver must possess certified surface welder skills, underwater welding skills and commercial diving skills.
Before getting training in welding and commercial diving, you will need a minimum education equivalent to a high school diploma or GED.
After completing your education, you should ideally gain experience as a professional welder for a couple of years. The more experience you have as a welder, the better prepared you will be to pass certification tests later.
To build up your knowledge of welding and the best techniques, get guidance from a certified welding inspector. You can train as an apprentice in order to pick up the skills and safety measures needed to excel in all surface welding conditions.
In the US, most of the welding certification standards are set by three organizations: American Welding Society, American Society of Mechanical Engineers and American Petroleum Institute.
After gaining the requisite welding experience, the next stage is to get commercial diving certification.
The first challenge is to pick a school that has a good reputation, experienced instructors and offers quality training along with real world experience in commercial diving and hyperbaric welding.
Once you’ve enrolled in a commercial diving school, it will take on average a period of 2 months to complete a diving certification course.
Certification is normally granted through the company you’re working for. There’s not state boards in most cases. So the particulars can vary widely, but for everyone’s safety they’re going to make sure you adhere to the appropriate standards.
What’s Required for Commercial Diver Certification
In case you’re trying for a Commercial Diver Certification with no prior experience in diving, then it is mandatory to attend a recognized commercial diving school.
In addition, you’ll need to have good swimming skills so that you can pass a diving physical, which is required for joining a commercial diving school.
Prepare for the diving physical test by first getting a medical check-up and then training to improve your stamina and underwater dexterity. The doctors will do a complete checkup of your heart, lungs, muscles and joints.
Besides swimming and diving, you will require knowledge of commercial diving equipment, the types of threats you may face when diving and how to handle them, as well as knowledge of diving physiology.
After completing the diving certification, you'll start out as a dive tender and continue to work in this position for about two years.
Once you're able to demonstrate sufficient mastery of the underwater welding process, you should be able to qualify for, and pass the underwater welding certification test.
What Special Skills Are Needed for Underwater Welding Certification
Underwater welding is of two types, ‘wet’ and ‘dry’. The wet welding method will require you to work on the welding directly in the water, while the dry method will involve working in a dry enclosure within a chamber containing pressurized air.
You should be aware of how to do the following types of welding:
Most employers will require that you be certified in accordance with the requirements of AWS D3.6M, Underwater Welding Code.
This will demonstrate that you are proficient in wet and dry underwater welding. To get a good job after getting certified, additional qualifications such as mechanical skill set and AWS or BS welding knowledge would be helpful.
In addition to the skills mentioned above, you should aim to get useful skills that will help you get ahead in your career by standing out from the pack.
Skills such as underwater cutting, fitting and rigging, inspection and nondestructive testing, drafting, and underwater photography are all related to underwater welding and can come in handy.
Diving contractors will prefer to hire you if you are qualified to assist in pre-job planning. If you can cut, clean, install, rig, and fit up the sections to be welded, you’re a valuable asset for any company.
You may want to consider getting certifications in surface and underwater construction equipment such as remotely-operated vehicles and non-destructive testing to further add to your skills.
How Long Does The Whole Process Take?
You can’t become a top-notch underwater welder overnight, just like you can’t become a fighter pilot overnight. Getting there requires training, practice and experience. Let’s suppose you’re starting from a high school level with maybe a few welding courses under your belt.
As a first step, you’d spend about 2 years after graduation working as a surface welder and gaining valuable professional experience.
Passing some welding certifications after this experience should not be difficult. Two years is not a requisite but it is a good recommendation for the time you need to grow in skill.
After the welding experience, it will be time for the swimming and scuba training. This should be done well in advance of actually entering Diving School, as you’ll be expected to be able to pass physicals.
Your mileage may vary depending on how much you can train, but keep around 1 year for this training phase. You can earn the Open Water certification at this point.
Next, you will enroll in a commercial dive school and earn your diving certification. This takes around 2 months on average. After graduating, you will work as a tender for about 2 years. It will be helpful to also do some surface welding as a part-time job during this phase.
Finally, with practice and commitment, you’ll go for the underwater welding certification. Depending on which school you attend, the period of underwater welding training can last as little as 6 months or as long as 2 years.
Once you obtain the certification for underwater welding, along with any specializations, you’re ready to launch your career.
Again, these periods are our recommendations. You could do it all faster, but the time frames we give here will really allow you to develop and be more competent in your trade.
How Often Do I Need to Renew a Certification?
Completing your certifications and having a good job is not the end of the journey! Even after meeting the qualifications and getting certified you will have to keep your certifications current. Many welding certifications need to be renewed every six months.
In case you have not maintained steady work for the 6 months prior to your recertification, you might be required to retake the certification exam. You may also be required to take annual dive physicals to continue working as a diver-welder.
Many opportunities for underwater welders are available on oil and gas rigs at sea. If you work at one of these rigs, you can live anywhere and fly to the rig on transport provided by the company.
You may have to work continuously for 1 month on the rig and then you’ll get the next month off. Due to the demanding and sometimes even dangerous work that underwater welders do, the compensation is quite high.
Dangers of Underwater Welding
The dangers of underwater welding include:
- pressure related health issues
- unstable environments
The dangers are told in more detail, below:
And there you have it!
Clearly it is not easy becoming an underwater welder, but the job can be as rewarding as it is interesting. If you’ve been desiring to embark on this journey, you now know the steps you should take in order to achieve your goal.
To recap, after getting your high school diploma, you will need welding experience and certifications, diving experience and certifications and finally you’ll combine them both while obtaining the underwater welding training and certifications.
Whether you’re an experienced welder, or just starting out, we wish you all the best on this new adventure.