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Underwater welding is an exciting and demanding profession. It can also be financially rewarding. Commercially-trained divers work underwater either in the water itself or in a dry container to perform their welding.
Due to the amount of training required to enter this profession, underwater welding is considered a highly-specialized field. If you’re interested in becoming an underwater welder, you’ll need to seek out the proper training schools and programs.
Prerequisites To Becoming An Underwater Welder
To become an underwater welder, you have to meet the following prerequisites:
- have a High School diploma or a GED
- Learn welding - the regular, dry-land version
- Commercial diver’s certification from an approved certification/licensing program.
- Get formal underwater welding instruction from an approved school or program that meets the American Welding Society requirements for certification.
How To Choose An Underwater Welding School
Underwater welding schools and training programs presume that you already know the basics of welding. Getting that knowledge should be your first step before you apply for an underwater program.
Training programs for welding can range from as few as 10-15 days to 7 months with additional courses available to teach skills required for the 4F overhead welding position and 5F positional pipe, plate, butt welds in all positions.
Once you’re ready to start learning underwater welding, you should be prepared for another several months of schooling. This includes time to get your commercial diving certification and underwater welding certification.
Some training programs include commercial diving certification; others require it separately as a prerequisite. Financial assistance is available for some programs. Another attractive feature can be job placement assistance, which is available again at some of the programs.
In order to choose the best school or training program for you, you will want to consider the following 7 factors:
There are not very many schools and training programs in the U.S. devoted to underwater welding, thus you may have to travel and relocate temporarily to find the right training program.
Given the nature of underwater welding, you’re not going to learn what you need to know sitting in a classroom. You need a combination of classroom knowledge and real-world, hands-on training that can only be found outside of the classroom. So you’ll want to look at the quality of the facilities. Does the school or program offer in-tank and physical training? How many hours are spent in the classroom and how many are spent in physical training?
Make sure you know the overall cost of the program and what is included. Tuition costs can run anywhere from $5,000 to over $20,000. And those are only a part of the course or program costs.
Many programs require you to provide your own diving equipment and/or welding equipment and gear. That can include not just the tanks and face masks, but wetsuits, booties, overalls, and steel-toe work boots as well.
3. Specific Skills that will be Taught & Certified
Most training programs or courses should teach underwater cutting & welding techniques, rigging, underwater repair or construction, use of underwater explosives and safety protocols involved in underwater welding. They will also cover how to weld with specific equipment and power tools underwater.
Many underwater welders obtain additional welding certifications in specific materials, positions, and water bodies such as lakes and rivers as opposed to just the ocean. Will you be taught how to weld within both a cofferdam and a hyperbaric chamber?
Underwater welders with additional skills such as cutting, rigging, installation, inspection, non-destructive testing, underwater photography and drafting are usually in high demand. So look into whether these are offered in the programs you look into.
4. Certifications Provided
There is no one certificate that covers Welding and Diving. You will need a certificate in (1) Commercial Diving and (2) Underwater Welding.
Some underwater welding training programs include entry-level commercial diver training and certification as part of their program. But if you choose a program that doesn’t offer commercial diver training, you’ll have to get that elsewhere before your underwater welding program.
You want to be sure that the certificate that you will receive at the end of your training will be recognized and accepted by any employer in any type of underwater environment. Make sure that the school or program is accredited by a reputable organization like the American Welding Society.
An international certification will allow you to work anywhere in the world in any type of underwater environment. This can provide great versatility and increase your opportunities for working in the oceans of the world.
If you plan to work primarily in inland locations such as lakes, rivers etc. then you will want to look into what type of local certifications (state or US) the program or course offers.
5. Quality of the Instructors
You want the very best instruction you can find from individuals that have several years of real-world experience as commercial underwater welders and as instructors and have stayed current with their techniques. How much experience do they have? Where did they receive their experience - lakes & rivers or the ocean? When was the last time they worked as an underwater welder in the field? Have they ever taught underwater welding courses before?
6. Job Placement and Tuition Assistance
Due to the high cost of Underwater Welding Courses and Training, any reputable program should offer some type of financial assistance to help meet tuition costs.
Once you successfully complete the programs, many training schools will help place you with an employer so you can complete an apprenticeship. Hopefully that will lead to permanent employment with that company.
Some Of the Top Underwater Welding Schools in the US
You can start your research into specific schools and training programs on the Internet by going to the school or facility’s website. Check out the information they provide about their program and what prerequisites they require for admission into their program or school. Once you have an initial overview of what they provide, develop a list of questions so you can call and get more detailed information.
Don’t choose your school or training program without visiting their facilities and talking with staff and instructors face-to-face. This step is very important - it will give you a feel for what it would be like to attend courses and training there and whether it’s the right learning environment for you.
Now let’s have a look at some of the top schools across the US.
Santa Barbara City College is located in beautiful Santa Barbara, CA. They offer a Marine Diving Technology Training Program. Students that enroll in the program can either earn an Associate Degree in Science or a certificate in marine technology. The certificate program takes two semesters or about one year to complete. The associate’s degree in Science would require an additional 2 semesters for a total of 2 years to complete. Courses include:
- Intro to Marine Diving Technology
- Fundamentals and Practices of Diving
- Advanced Scuba Techniques
- Open Water Navigation and Rescue
- Hyperbaric Chamber Operations
- First Aid for the Professional Diver
- Principles of Surface-Supplied Diving
- Commercial Diving Equipment
- Surface-Supplied Ocean Diving
- Mixed Gas Diving
- Principles of Underwater Cutting & Welding
- Advanced Underwater Cutting & Welding
- Ocean Structures
- Hydraulics I
- Underwater Tools & Inspection
- Bell and Saturation Diving Procedures
- Nitrox Diving
- Assessment and Development of Diving Competence
- Work Experience in Marine Diving Technology
Further description of the courses can be found in their online course catalog.
SBCC can also provide certification in Commercial Diving that meets the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) “Commercial Diver Training—Minimum Standard ANSI/ACDE-01-2009” and the International Diving Schools Association (IDSA) standards.
The Associate in Science Degree curriculum includes instruction in all phases of commercial diving, hyperbarics, bell/saturation diving, emergency medicine, and boating and marine science, to name just a few.
The college’s state-of-the-art diving and welding facility provides students with a safe and comfortable training environment. SBCC is ideally situated on California’s south-central coast, which gives you the opportunity for open sea training in the Pacific Ocean, too.
It is the only community college degree program in the nation which is accredited by the Association of Commercial Diving Educators (ACDE), the International Diving Schools Association (IDSA) Diver Certification Board of Canada (DCBC) and the National Association of Underwater Instructors (NAUI).
To be eligible for admission, students must be 18, pass a diving physical exam and pass a swimming test. They also need to have a certificate of achievement from a basic SCUBA course from a nationally recognized agency.
Students are responsible for purchasing their own scuba gear and equipment, which can run up to $4,500. Tuition and fees for the Program consist of a $46 enrollment fee per course unit and tuition of $268 per course unit. Most classes are 1-3 units in length.
SBCC’s program prepares the individual for work in the commercial diving industry anywhere in the world.
South Central Louisiana Technical College is found in Morgan City, LA, which is located on Lake Palourde. SCLTC offers a 22-month Commercial Diving Program.
Students perform actual underwater work similar to that done routinely by divers in oilfield operations. Diving students can earn the following certifications upon completion of the program:
- Certificate of Technical Studies - Commercial Diving
- ADCI (Association of Diving Contractors International)
- ACDE (Association of Commercial Diving Educators)
- Safegulf Card
- API Rigging
- CPR / First Aid
- Water Survival with METS
The Curriculum includes:
- Commercial Diving Orientation, Safety & Terminology
- Diving Physics and Air Decompression
- Diving Physiology
- Medical Aspects of Diving
- Chamber Operations
- Seamanship & Rigging
- Logs, Records & Standards
- Environmental Hazards
- Diving Equipment
- Marine Engines And Compressors Lab
- Topside Welding & Oxy-Acetylene Cutting Lab
- Underwater Work Lab
- Underwater Cutting and Welding Lab
- Mixed Gas Diving
- Operations Planning & Industrial Offshore Safety
- Job Seeking Skills
- Special Projects
Admission requirements include having reached 18 years of age and passing a diving physical exam. You’ll need to present a high school transcript and a certificate of achievement from a basic SCUBA course from a nationally recognized agency.
Students are responsible for purchasing their own scuba tank & mask but everything else is included in the additional fees. Tuition & Fees run $2,405 in state and $6,293 for out-of-state students. The student is also responsible for $2,156 in additional fees for books, equipment and supplies and lab plus certification and testing fees.
SCLTC’s program prepares the individual for work in the commercial diving industry with particular emphasis on oilfield operations.
National University Polytechnic Institute offers a Commercial Diving Certificate Program. The institute is located in San Diego, CA.
NUPI has a state of the art campus with a 44,000-gallon dive tank. There are also multiple off-site diving platforms.
Some of the training students receive includes working with dive helmets, setting up dive spreads, and operating and maintaining compressors. Other projects include working on oil pipe projects, learning how to cut and weld metal both on land and in the water and operating hydraulic tools and lift bags. Developing strong underwater welding skills and experiencing many of the same tasks performed by commercial divers in the industry are key elements as well.
Courses offered in the program include:
- Commercial Diving Orientation
- Diving Physics and Air Decompression
- Medical Aspects of Diving
- Decompression Chamber and Forklift Operations
- Basic Surface Supply Diving
- Commercial SCUBA and Inland Diving
- Diving Operations I
- Diving Operations II
- Diving Operations III
- Rigging Fundamentals
- Underwater Cutting and Welding
Specialty non-destructive testing and diving medical technician courses are offered as well.
NUPI’s Commercial Diving Program is accredited by ACDE, ADC, ASNT, AWS and lasts 8 months.
To be eligible for admission, students must be 18 and pass a diving physical exam. Students are responsible for purchasing their own scuba gear and equipment, which can run up to $4,500.
The commercial dive program costs $17,928 for the 8-month program.
Hydroweld USA is based in Miami, FL. They specialize in training welders with diving experience for underwater wet welding. Welding training is performed in an indoor 45,000 gallon filtered and treated tank. The tank has three welding stations. You’ll be able to work with work pieces in any orientation required for underwater positional welding.
Hydroweld’s teachers can communicate with you while you’re in the pool; they can see you and talk to you through their communication system. A Lloyds Register Welder Performance Qualification (WPQ) is your reward at the end of the course. This complies with the AWS D3.6M Code for Underwater Welding, class “B” welds.
Hydroweld provides all equipment and general diving gear. Students are responsible for their own wetsuit and booties, overalls and steel toe work boots. Tuition runs about $5,000.
Divers Institute of Technology is in the Pacific Northwest and found in the city of Seattle. They offer an intensive 7-month 900-hour Commercial Diver Program so you can get your Entry Level Tender/Diver certification. This will meet the requirements of the Association of Diving Contractors International and the Diver Certification Board of Canada.
This certification program will train you in SCUBA diving, rigging techniques & procedures, handling toxic waste or materials, basic NDT inspection techniques, job safety analysis, maintenance requirements for critical life support systems, and first aid/COR techniques & procedures. Courses offered during the 7-month program include:
- Physics & Medicine. To start off, you’ll learn gas laws, dive basics, prevention of dive injuries and sickness & how to treat them, First Aid & CPR.
- Lightweight & Rigging. This section focuses on dive equipment operation, rigging cranes, signals, knots, lift bags, straps & pulleys rescue techniques. You’ll also start your in-water dive experience.
- Offshore & Hazmat. This is your introduction to offshore-industry teamwork, dive station orientation, underwater assembly, and working with hazardous materials
- Welding & Underwater Welding. This 3-week segment will teach you basic dry land welding tools & skills and safety, underwater welding techniques, rigging and tending in a dive station.
- Salvage & Hydraulics. Here you’ll learn about working with diesel engines and hydraulic tools like chainsaws, scrubbers, drills, jackhammers, pumps, and hand tools. You’ll get to practice using them underwater. You will work in teams to create a salvage plan and conduct an actual salvage operation.
- SCUBA & Inland. This segment teaches you about SCUBA gear and how to use non-destructive testing tools and complete NDT and the SCUBA certification.
- Deep Dives. You’ll learn vessel safety and equipment procedures, surface decompression, and complete 3 deep dives.
You’ll be responsible for your dive equipment. Tuition and fees for the Program can run $ 25,000-$26,000.
The Ocean Corporation is in Houston. They founded the National Association of Diver Medical Technicians and were the first to offer welding as part of their training. They are accredited by the ACCSC and have been offering training since 1969.
Ocean Corp offers a 7-8 month program that includes both hands-on and technical training in commercial diving, offshore oilfield diving operations, inland diving operations and surface & underwater welding & cutting. Their list of specializations goes much farther, even into diving in nuclear-contaminated environments.
Their program meets all the ANSI standards.
Surface and Underwater welding are included in the “UDT” program - Ultimate Diver Training. It covers a wide range of cool areas, including underwater robotic vehicles. Like all programs we’ve discussed here, they offer great classroom learning. More importantly, they provide extensive hands-on experience that will prepare you for work in the real world.
Tuition and fees for the Program run about $20,00-$21,000.
Underwater welding definitely requires extensive and careful training. The job can be very demanding and dangerous, but underwater welding can pay very well and career opportunities are good. Commercial diving and underwater welding certifications are necessary to work in this field, so start with the schools we recommend here and do further research to help you get ready to work in this exciting field!