Do you think you’ve got what it takes to become an underwater welder?
What if I told you that commercial diving is one of the most dangerous jobs in the world? Underwater welding is performed in many commercial diving jobs.
Sure, commercial diving pays exceptionally well. Not only that, students can complete a commercial diving course in just 7 months, and at a fraction of the cost of a 3 or 4-year university degree.
But it takes a lot more than money to send a person 100’s of meters under the ocean to make a living. Learning how to stay safe in such a risky occupation is essential to success.
This is why it is so important that all divers are trained properly. Choosing the right school, like The Divers Institute of Technology (DIT) which trains students to exceptionally high standards, will prepare students to go out into this thrilling occupation with confidence.
So what exactly does underwater welding involve and how hard is it to become one?
Underwater Welding: The Basics
The most common task that commercial divers have to perform is underwater welding. From oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico to ship salvage operations, underwater welders are relied on to weld in whatever conditions the ocean decides to throw at them.
Underwater welding is exactly that – welding underwater. But if you think that just because you can weld on land that you will find underwater welding easy, think again.
One of the biggest shocks that commercial diving students at DIT have is discovering just how hard it is to weld underwater. Fortunately, DIT instructors keep students hard at it until they can weld like a pro every time.
Let’s take a look at the different approaches to underwater welding:
Dry Welding/Hyperbaric welding
Dry welding or hyperbaric welding is widely regarded as the safest way to weld underwater and therefore preferred by most divers.
It involves using a chamber to seal off the area that needs to be welded. Once sealed, a gas mix of oxygen and helium is pumped inside to create a ‘dry’ environment. Usually, these chambers are big enough to fit 2 to 3 divers at a time.
Divers are therefore able to work in a more controlled environment, something which enables them to get better weld results. Other advantages of dry welding over other wet welding includes increased diver safety and the ability to conduct non-destructive tests on the welds themselves.
Because of these advantages, Hyperbaric welding is used when welders need to build/maintain oil platforms and pipelines as well as when repair ships etc. It is considered the “long-term” fix option.
Ask any diver and they will tell you wet welding is the most challenging. Divers must perform welds in a water environment.
How is that possible? Well, firstly, divers have to use a special kind of welder. If you were to try to use a normal welder using electricity, you would get a nasty shock that would most likely kill you.
Wet welding involves using a special kind of welder that is shaped like a rod. Underwater arc welders use between 300-400 amps of direct current via their waterproof electrode.
The real challenge to divers is mastering how to use a rod to weld. This is because a welding rod gives them less precise control than a normal welder. Not only that, but they often have to work in poor visibility with shifting currents.
Wet welding is less safe than dry welding and is also considered a short term fix.
Advantages of Wet Welding
Wet welding is much quicker as divers don’t need to construct a dry chamber around the weld spot. This fact also makes it cheaper too, particularly if the weld is in a hard to reach place. Welds also have a high resistance to tension, making this approach the preferred choice when it comes to many aspects of underwater structural repair.
It is vital that divers are good welders when it comes to wet welding. Since welds cool faster in water, there is a much bigger chance of them cracking. Divers need to make sure that their welds are 100% each time or there is a real risk of weld failure.
Battling with Mother Nature
As if being deep underwater wasn’t scary enough, underwater welders are in a constant struggle with their environment.
Sometimes, just trying to hold themselves in one place against strong currents is challenging enough. Poor visibility, oxygen bubbles, the risk of getting snagged on pieces of rock or metal, equipment failure, decompression sickness, and even scary encounters with sea life are just a few of the risks divers face.
Fortunately, the industry spares no expense when it comes to commercial diver safety. Stringent work and safety practices are always enforced and all of the equipment used has been specifically designed for the purpose of underwater welding.
Everything from the welding rod to the decompression chamber has been built for that purpose. If you were to try to use an underwater welding rod on land, for example, it would overheat and self-destruct in just a matter of minutes.
The danger from differential pressure is also a real danger. This phenomenon happens when two bodies of water at different pressures meet. The water from the higher pressure attempts to rush into the water mass with a lower one. This creates a suction effect that can trap divers underwater and expose them to the risk of drowning or hypothermia.
Training is More That Learning How to Get the Job Done Right
“If you want to be the best, you have to do things other people aren’t willing to do” – Michael Phelps
When the chips are down, nothing is more important that diver training. Being able to instinctively react to any problem that might spring up can be the difference between life and death.
While experienced divers will know all the tricks of the trade, a good diving school will prepare students to be ready for any safety issue that they may face.
Their ability to quickly identify and deal with problems is what keeps them alive. For this reason, trainee divers should make sure that they undertake their training with a top commercial diving school like DIT.
Aran Davis, Writer for Water Welders
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