How To Get A Job As An Underwater Welder

by Steve Darnell
Underwater Welder

For those with an adventurous spirit, landing a job as an underwater welder is a dream come true.  

From working inland on bridges and dams to offshore work on pipelines and boats, there is never a dull moment when working as an underwater welder. 

But, the thing is, this type of career isn’t for everyone. It is a demanding job, both mentally and physically, and requires a unique combination of skills to achieve success. 

If you have always dreamed of a truly unique job, or have welding experience and are looking for something new, here is everything you need to know about securing a career in underwater welding. 

How to Get a Job as an Underwater Welder

To become an underwater welder, you will need to do the following: 

  • Earn your High School Diploma or earn a G.E.D.
  • Earn certifications in topside welding
  • Earn commercial diving certification

This is a highly skilled field and the competition is stiff. It is important to practice patience as the right position may take time to open up for you. Stay active, hone your skills, and you will eventually find the right opportunity. 

Earning a high school diploma or G.E.D. is pretty straightforward, so we’ve chosen to focus on providing guidance around topside welding certifications and commercial diving certifications. 

Topside Welding Certifications

Before you can consider a job as an underwater welder, you need to make sure that you fully understand welding basics

The most common type of welding that you will use in an underwater environment is shielded metal arc welding (SMAW) or Stick Welding. But, you should also be proficient in: 

  • Gas metal arc welding (GMAW)
  • Gas tungsten arc welding (GTAW)
  • Plasma arc welding (PAW)
  • Flux-cored arc welding (FCAW)

The exact certifications you will need for a particular underwater welding position will depend on the specifications of the company. But generally speaking, nearly all welding certifications are administered through the American Welding Society, American Society of Mechanical Engineers, and American Petroleum Institute.

Because there is a wide range of underwater welding jobs, there is an equally wide range of potential certifications you will need. 

Focus on the types of welding you would most like to complete and concentrate your certification efforts there. 

If you are brand new to welding, enroll in an educational program to gain more knowledge and insight into the craft. If you have mastered the basics and are ready to learn more about welding as a profession, try to find an apprenticeship. Apprenticing under a professional welder can help you understand industry standards and practices in a functional and tactile way. 

Commercial Diving Certification

A key component to underwater welding is, as the name suggests, welding underwater. To be considered for the position, you need to have more than welding skills and experience, you need to have dive training, know-how, and certification. 

Begin by looking into commercial diving schools. You will want a program that offers real-world training in both diving and underwater welding. To succeed in the field, you will need the right training environment and access to the right equipment. Look for a program that will offer multiple certifications upon graduation and one that is able to provide dive experience that most closely resembles the conditions and environments you will face in the field. There is a big difference between diving in a tank and diving in a real underwater environment complete with currents, tides, pressure changes, and rock formations. 

Do not be afraid to ask about the training facilities and the experiences of the dive instructors. You want to make sure that your enrollment will get you closer to the job of your dreams. 

And speaking of the job of your dreams, take some time to define what that looks like for you. Do you want to work inland or as an offshore diver? Each one requires a slightly different skillset. If you hope to work as an inland diver, reach out to companies and business owners that work with salvage, bridges, waterways, and freshwater applications. If you’d rather focus on offshore diving, look for a dive school that offers Unrestricted Surface Supplied Diving certification. 

Be Prepared and Up to Date

The good news for people hoping to become an underwater welder is that most commercial dive schools have companies and businesses reaching out to them looking for candidates from the most recent crop of graduates. The not so good news is that hundreds of other people may also be in line for the position. 

Because this is a highly qualified field with a decent salary, there is significant competition for only a limited number of positions. This requires all interested welders to remain patient and engaged in the process. 

To maximize your appeal to employers and increase your chances of success once in the position, you should use and develop your skills as much as possible. 

Most underwater welding positions require you to bring a range of skills to the job. In fact, in most commercial diving positions, underwater welding may be the smallest part of your job description so it is best to stay proficient in other dive skills. 

Similarly, you will want to develop your welding skills while you wait. Whether you choose to develop your skills at home or work as a welder in a different professional application, you will want a firm handle on all types of welding before working underwater. 

Make sure that all certifications you have obtained remain up to date so that you are prepared when a job opportunity comes your way. 

Remain curious about the science of welding and really get into the “how” and the “why” of it. Ask yourself, why do certain metals respond to heat the way they do? How can you improve your technique to get better results in different conditions/environments/situations?

One thing you can do to prepare for your career as an underwater welder is to adjust your expectations. It is almost a certainty that you will not begin your career at the top. 

You will likely begin as a dive tender, tending to the needs of commercial divers. This work includes surface prep, monitoring the welder and dive conditions, and assisting where necessary after the dive. 

It could take months, and in some cases, years, to reach the status of underwater welder. BUT, this is actually an asset. Working as a dive tender can help you learn the ropes by providing on the job training without all of the associated risks. Remember, underwater welding is a risky business and it is necessary to fully understand all aspects of the job before you assume the role.

Depending on where you currently live, you may have to prepare yourself to relocate or to be away from home for long stretches of time. The majority of underwater welding positions are concentrated in the states of California, Washington, Michigan, and Florida. 

If you take an offshore welding position, you can expect to be away from home for the duration of the project whereas an inland position is more likely to have steady hours with a consistent schedule. 

Potential Job Hazards

If you are serious about a career as an underwater welder, it is critical that you understand the potential risks and dangers you may face. 

Your first instinct may be to assume that the primary dangers are associated with using electricity underwater. But, this is not necessarily the primary danger.

In fact, there is a type of underwater welding known as dry welding. This welding deploys a  hyperbaric chamber below the surface to create a dry environment for the weld, eliminating some of the concerns that come with water and electrical currents. Wet welds, on the other hand, are performed directly in the underwater environment. 

Most wet welding jobs use stick welding which utilizes an arc as its energy source. As the flux on the outside of the rod evaporates, a thick layer of bubbles is created. This gas layer then serves to protect the weld from the surrounding water and other oxidizing elements. 

While water flow and weather can impact diving conditions, one of the primary dangers of underwater welding is created by differences in pressure.

Differential pressure or Delta P (ΔP) can be fatal. 

Differential pressures are created when two bodies of water, with different water levels, meet. The most common example of this scenario would be the water levels at a dam. The vast differences in depth create differences in pressure.

Think about it: everything on earth is subjected to gravitational forces pulling them downward, including liquids like water. The deeper a body of water, the greater this downward pressure. This differential pressure results in one body of water exerting incredible force as it attempts to equalize the pressure by filling the other body. This pressure can be as high as hundreds of pounds per square inch! And, unfortunately, Delta P is invisible and can be tough to identify until it is too late. A commercial diver stuck in this scenario is likely to get caught in the flow and it is unlikely that an escape will be possible. 

The good news is that many dive companies have stringent safety guidelines in place in an attempt to increase job safety and ensure that fatal accidents do not happen. 

Underwater welders can expect that each project will require specific, situational, preparation and that their skill level and physical strength will be factors on the job. 

What’s the Future of Underwater Welding?

Automation and robot technologies have played significant roles in many industrial, fabrication, and manufacturing jobs. Given the significant risks and hazards associated with underwater welding, can we expect the work currently done by humans to be replaced by machines?

The short answer, not any time soon. Until robots are developed that can handle the intricacies and dexterity required to complete the necessary tasks, the job will continue to be performed by humans. 

Right now, advanced LED and laser technologies are being applied to things like underwater WIFI to improve communications between commercial divers, provide better understanding of the underwater environment, and increase job safety. 

Underwater Welder Compensation 

Due to the skills, training, and risk involved, underwater welders are some of the highest paid jobs in the welding career. 

The average base pay for an underwater welder is $64,486 but do not expect to start at this rate. According to the data, underwater welders in the first few years of their career can expect to earn around $54,000. As work experience increases, so too does the potential compensation. Veteran welders may be able to earn a salary of over $100,000.

Underwater Welding: Where to Begin

A job in underwater welding is a difficult one. Depending on your employer, you may be required to travel long distances, work long hours, and face a number of challenging conditions. But it is also rewarding work as you complete tasks that only a few have the skills to perform. You will be one of those few, doing very important and necessary work. 

The best way to get yourself in a position for a job as an underwater welder is to master the art of welding. Welder 101 is a series of online welding courses that can provide the knowledge and skill you need to make real money as a welder. 

Enrollment in the program comes with lifetime access meaning you can access all of the content, including new uploads, as a way of continuing to grow your skill set. With access to over 50 video tutorials, private community support, discounts on welding gear, AND a 30-day money-back guarantee, what do you have to lose?

Don’t waste any more time thinking about your dreams and enroll in Welder 101 today to begin making them a reality. This program can help you develop brand new skills as a welder, or fine-tune the ones you already have! No matter where you’re starting, Welder 101 is the answer!

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