Chris, a graduate of Divers Institute of Technology (DIT), lived near water his whole life. And somewhere in the back of his mind, Chris knew he’d make a career working in this environment.
“One day I was driving to work and I heard a commercial on the radio talking about becoming an underwater welder. That day on my break, I called and scheduled a tour of the campus. Once there, I was sold; I knew that I wanted to be a [commercial] diver.”
Of course, his decision came with plenty of forethought.
“I did some research and narrowed it down to two schools that I would like to attend. I chose DIT because all of the research that I did suggested that I would be working in cold dark water with little to no visibility. I figured that the best thing to do would be to train for the working environment that I would be in. Also, DIT offers an international certification, and the prospect of working abroad was enticing.”
Training Takeaway: Salvage & Rigging Practicality
Plunging into his courses, Chris eagerly learned and applied the principles his instructors taught. DIT trains its students in a program lasting seven months. It’s separated into month-long modules.
The Salvage and Hydraulics module stood out for its practical application. They also used underwater demolition tools – the highlight of many DIT classes. Chris remembers the boat salvage project in particular; first patching it, then adding lift bags (large bags pumped up with air) to pull the sunken vessel to the surface.
“I ended up using those skills in the industry shortly after graduation,” he says.
Professional Application: Lifting the Right Way
As Chris has gained more experience in the maritime industry, he’s also gained a greater appreciation of skills he first picked up at DIT.
He’s become more adept at using lift bags; Chris has used them in multiple projects on salvage equipment and vessels along the Columbia River which runs between Washington and Oregon state.
Chris has also used rigging in many projects, a construction term which requires cranes, ropes and/or pulleys to gain a mechanical advantage and move large objects.
“Rigging was probably the most important skill that I learned in school. Over the last couple of years I have learned more about rigging and how to better utilize it to make jobs easier to complete.”
Primary Projects: Construction Gigs in the Sea
Chris has worked on many projects since graduating and working as a commercial diver. He now works at Liquivision Technology Inc., a company providing services in potable water tank cleaning, repair and inspection.
He remembers two projects that stood out for their challenges and required troubleshooting.
Commercial divers often repair, inspect and seal pipelines. Chris remembers a recent project that required replacing a butterfly valve that would not open.
Taking the proper steps, Chris and his team first inspected the valve to determine why the valve was stuck shut. From there, they could work together to form a solution.
“Turned out that the actuator on the valve was stripped out and free spinning so the valves could not open from the surface. There were three different valves at different depths, and it was decided that we must remove the one in the center at a depth of about 20 feet.”
But that was just the beginning. As a diver, Chris was given one of the primary responsibilities in the project:
“Each valve had a filter box protecting the valve from damage and debris. My job was to remove it and then remove and replace the valve. After removing several bolts, I utilized a 100 pound lift bag to float the filter box nearby until it could be reinstalled. Then, I removed the valve and installed a new one that was locked in the open position.”
Finally, he reassembled it by installing the filter box in its original position. Finally, Chris did one last sweep of the area to make sure everything worked properly.
Commercial divers rarely come close to marine life, as opposed to SCUBA divers. But Chris came across his share in Oregon while installing flotation bricks on a boat house that had been damaged by a storm. Flotation bricks are large pieces of dense foam shrink-wrapped in heavy plastic bags. They’re used for leveling and stabilizing structures in the water.
“While working, harbor seals and stellar sea lions came up, swimming all around me and playfully pulling on my fins and bumping me. At first I was a little nervous but they just played and checked me out.”
Outside of the seals and sea lions, job conditions were tough.
“Add limited visibility and really cold water, and you quickly learn what you are made of. I realized that I could never fight the current, and that it was best to figure out how to use it as an advantage.”
Potable Water Responsibilities
Liquivision specializes in the drinking water projects, including water towers and reservoirs. Chris has learned his fair share of the trade. Some of the primary tasks in these services include:
- Setting up the dive site
- Sanitation (equipment, drysuits, containers)
- Equipment/Diver preparation
The team must safely set up a dive station on elevated towers; it’s dangerous, but it provides the proper foundation for the work that must be done. Planning is absolutely crucial, Chris emphasizes.
“Sometimes there is very limited space and poor weather conditions. If equipment isn’t secured properly, someone can get hurt or worse.”
The decontamination process is also important, taking place before and after the dive.
“Diving in people’s drinking water requires a very clean and organized dive site. Before the diver enters the water, all equipment must be fully clean and sanitized. Nothing goes into the water without being cleaned first. We use a small submersible pump with a spray bottle to clean the diver and equipment with a 200 parts-per-million (ppm) chlorine solution.”
Professional Diving Experience, Aspirations & Advice
Chris came to several realizations from working in the professional diving industry. As a general rule, it takes a full team to complete a project in an efficient, safe manner. At the same time, each individual – including divers – must pull their weight in responsibility.
Then there’s diving.
“There is a lot that goes into a project, and often diving is an important but a very small part of the overall project.”
Chris wants to advance his career through additional experience and certifications. Specifically, he’d like to go back to DIT to earn the Inland/Offshore Supervisor Training course offered at DIT. In the future, he’d like to have the qualifications to manage his own large dive operation.
If you’re interested in commercial diving, Chris offers his advice from his own experience:
“Take every opportunity to learn anything that will make you better at your jobs or in the water. Also, stay in shape. Physical fitness is very important if you want to excel as a diver.”
Written by Matt Smith, Creator of Water Welders
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