Underwater Welding and The Military: A DIT Instructor Teaches Wet Welding at a Pearl Harbor Naval Base

Underwater Welding and The Military: A DIT Instructor Teaches Wet Welding at a Pearl Harbor Naval Base

Jim Bernacki is an underwater welding instructor at Divers Institute of Technology (DIT). He has a pretty impressive background, including time in the Navy, 23 years in the commercial diving industry, and a decade of teaching underwater welding.

Jim Bernacki

But he’s not just an instructor. At DIT, he also serves as a supervisor, disciplinarian, and mentor.

His most recent venture proves just how distinguished Jim is in the commercial diving world.

Jim’s experiences and ability to multi-task recently got him recognized with the US military when they asked him to come lead an underwater welding training course at a naval base in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

He was a somewhat surprised when he was extended the offer. He had never taught at a military base before, but was excited for the opportunity.

“It was really cool that they sought me out of all instructors,” he says.

A Military Mindset

Jim’s skills mirror those required by military supervisors. The ability to wear multiple hats and multi-task is essential to lead a military unit. Jim fit the bill when it came to training sailors at the naval base.

Several years ago, Jim was contacted by Joint Base Hickham/ Pearl Harbor, a US military base in Pearl Harbor, to complete some underwater welding training for a group of sailors.

“Originally the military unit was going to come to DIT to train, but because of their busy schedule that didn’t happen. So…. Dive Unit 1 called and asked me if I could come to them,” says Jim.

Needless to say, Jim wasn’t reluctant to transfer his training program to sunny, warm Hawaii to work with this noble group of men . Jim was tasked with teaching Dive Unit 1, a group of 10 guys, underwater welding instruction.

“Underwater welding can mean many different things and be used in different ways, including topside welding, underwater dry welding, and underwater wet welding.”

Why Underwater Weld in The Military?

“My theory for why the military is becoming more interested in underwater welding? Self sufficiency,” says Jim.

Previously, the military contracted out most underwater welding work. But recently, they decided to bring the work in house for efficiency’s sake.

“They want to be more prepared for the demands that the world as a whole has on them. They need to be more prepared more now with the environment of the world.”

While underwater welding training in the military might be similar to civilian training, the applications are quite different.

“These guys are navy divers – not commercial divers. They are not doing construction work,” says Jim. “They’re doing military work such as survey dives, retrieving bodies, search and rescues.”


Jim guided the team through a one week training course.

The group used an informal office at a control building for a classroom. Jim based his curriculum on a modified version of his courses from DIT, adapted to suit the needs of the men he was working with.

“These guys had a range of experience in welding from zero to minimal,” he says. “In their training they never got much exposure to welding – maybe a few hours here or there.”

Underwater welding

Jim was used to the working with students who had different ranges of experience. But with these sailors, Jim only had one week to teach these men how to become proficient underwater welders and apply their new knowledge to their jobs as sailors.

A Rigorous Schedule

The military is known for having a rigorous regimen, and this training session was no different.

On day 1, the group spent half the day in the classroom. The other half was spent diving.

From Day 2 and on they were diving from 9am to 3:30, standing for 2.5-3 hours in the water at a time with a quick half hour lunch.

The Training Program

Jim ran the program similar to how he would run it at DIT. The guys rotated through five different stations, 2 guys in the water and 8 guys on the deck. He focused on teaching the two in the water, observing them with a camera and giving them guidance as they worked.

Underwater welding

The other eight divers worked in four different stations on the deck, assuming topside roles.

Every 20-25 minutes, they would rotate through each of the stations.

The stations included these responsibilities:

  • Raft operator – one person who controls air spread and monitors air flow
  • Radio operator- one person to pass along communication to divers and the men on deck
  • Knife switch operator- this person operates the knife switch which supplies power for the welding stinger
  • 2-man support team or tender- stand by the divers, ready to go or provide support wherever necessary, support hold on umbilicals, send down tools and supplies; safety checks, Pulled them up at controlled rate; every diver have a tender
  • Dive team – 2 guys in the water; one as dive supervisor

Underwater welding can mean many different things and be used in different ways, including topside welding, underwater dry welding, and underwater wet welding.

Underwater welding

Jim focused on wet welding in his training. Since, according to him, that is what is most in demand.

Water Welding and Beyond

Many servicemen and women from the military have found their way to commercial diving. But commercial diving isn’t just for those who have completed their time of service. Underwater welding, a type of commercial diving, has many applications within the military and beyond.

Beth Smith, Creative Strategist for Water Welders

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