Commercial Diving Careers Explained by a Professional Commercial Diver

Commercial Diving Careers Explained by a Professional Commercial Diver

When it comes to commercial diving careers, there is a variety of different options. With varying sectors of commercial diving, understanding the differences, benefits, and risks of each is crucial. It will help you determine which path you want your future career to follow. To answer some of the most commonly asked questions about commercial diving jobs, we conducted an interview with a professional commercial diver who graduated from the Divers Institute of Technology. In this interview, Nicholas Haak talks about the DIT commercial diving program, what to expect after graduation, and gives his best advice for new and prospective divers in the industry. If you believe commercial diving is the right job for you, learn more here about commercial diving careers and what your future could look like. 

Q: What made you decide to become a commercial diver?

A: It’s actually a very funny, somewhat personal story. At the time, I was in landscape construction, and a co-worker would come to work every week claiming there was another thing he was “going to do” professionally. He would come in and say “I’m going to be a bounty hunter!” We would all just say, “Okay. Jay. If you say so.” In the following weeks, he said he was going to be a helicopter pilot, then a private investigator. Finally, he comes to work and says, “I’m going to be a deep-sea diver!” We all had the typical reaction.

The following Monday, he didn’t show up to work. I waited about three weeks before calling him to see what happened. He told me that he had started Dive School, and recommended that I come to take a look. I was living in Oak Harbor, and the school was located in Ballard, so I decided I would check it out. I went to the school, took the tour, which included going around campus and seeing the classes in action. At the end of the tour, they asked if I wanted to sign up. I said absolutely, and that was the start of my career.

Q: Can you please give us a brief overview of your commercial dive training? What were your favorite and least favorite parts of the program at DIT?

A:  It was a seven-and-a-half month program. The program included dive physics, diving basics, tool usage, decompression usage and operation, underwater welding and burning, topside welding, scuba certification, and deep dives, to mention a few courses. My favorite part was the hands-on aspect of the school. I have always done fairly well in the “book and test” aspect of school, but the hands-on, technical aspect was what I really enjoyed. The most difficult part of the program would be maybe the tight timeline, in regards to the required time for an IMCA certification. It is a rigorous program, with a lot of specialized, very detailed training and it goes by somewhat quickly. It’s challenging; you have to be ready to learn and learn fast.

Q: In your experience, how do most new graduates start, professionally speaking, and what can prospective students expect after graduation?

A: After graduation, in almost any country where you choose to work, you will be hired on as a tender. A tender is the surface member of the diving team who works closely with the diver under the water. At the start of a dive, the tender checks the diver’s equipment and topside air supply for proper operation and dresses the diver. Now, in this position, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you won’t be diving. However, it means that you will usually be the one dressing the divers, tending the hose, sending and retrieving tools from the water, working on anything that may break on deck, setting and pulling the anchors on a vessel, as well as executing general deck and equipment maintenance.

Most divers work as tenders anywhere from a few months to over a year before being promoted to full-time divers. This is common practice and anyone graduating from DIT should expect this in their career trajectory. 

Q: What are the differences in working in an offshore vs. inland environment? Do you like one better? Why?

A: I have worked both inland and offshore many times. Each of these commercial diving careers has its benefits, depending on what it is you are looking for. Many times, when performing inland work, you get off work and go to a hotel. That gives you a little bit more freedom when you’re not on the job. Generally, this means you can grab some food, see your friends, and the off-hours are a little more comfortable. The hours are different because the work hours are typically shorter; your workday may be under 12 hours.

In offshore work, you are obviously unable to leave the job site and see friends or enjoy the comforts of being on land. That said, offshore work usually has better depth pay. At these jobs, there is also better water clarity and more interesting and unique wildlife to see. 

Q: Do you have any experience with HAZMAT, Salvage, or Saturation diving? If so, please tell us about your experience with those sectors of the industry.

A: I have worked in hazmat settings as well as salvage. In my experience with hazmat and salvage diving, I dived in water that was going straight to the faucet for the city of Atlanta. At that job, they required us to wash down with bleach prior to diving into the water, and we had to dive with a dry suit mated Desco hat to prevent contamination of the water.

At other jobs in these sectors, I dived into water that had an extremely high PH level, temperatures of 105 degrees, as well as contaminated water from a paper mill. The best part of this type of job is that they normally include some sort of “hazard pay” which is an obvious bonus. The negative is that the extra gear can be difficult to wear when in the heat. I haven’t had the privilege of Saturation diving, although I would love to try it. Saturation diving requires some extra training and is more intensive because you are living underwater for the entire length of the job. 

Q: What is the best piece of career advice you can give to recent graduates of the program at DIT?

A: I think the most important thing that new divers need to know is that at the beginning, the people on the job with you normally have much more experience than you. That being said, you should listen to what it is they have to say and the things they can teach you. Although you learned a lot from school, there is an infinite amount of things you don’t know yet regarding the industry. There are so many different facets of diving, and the more skills you gain in each facet, the more valuable you will be as an employee.

Secondly, I would say that new divers shouldn’t turn down a job unless there is a safety reason to do so, no matter how hot, cold, muddy, or strenuous it is. The more time you get in the water, no matter the task, the more comfortable you will get in the water and the better diver you will be.

Q: What is the best piece of advice you can give to prospective or interested students of the program at DIT?

A: If you are interested in commercial diving careers, you should do more research about the pros and cons of this career and speak to a student advisor at the diving program you are considering. That being said, if you are looking for a career that not many people can say they have, a career that pays you for experiences and underwater views that other people normally pay for, then take a chance. Just be aware of the dangers of the profession and note that you should be prepared to possibly move. If being away from your family and friends for extended periods of time doesn’t work for your lifestyle, this might not be the industry for you.

Divers Institute of Technology & Your Career

Rewarding commercial diving careers may be just around the corner for you. At Divers Institute of Technology, we don’t just train a single type of diver. We focus on creating a well-balanced diver who can succeed in the many aspects of commercial diving. You will gain real-world experience with professional diving, benefit from an intensive, hands-on curriculum, and make connections within the diving industry. To learn more about training at DIT, contact us today. You can also fill out an application here.

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