How To Become An Underwater Welder: Diving Into A New Career

How to become an underwater welder

In America alone, there are more than 400,000 welders. Despite welders being a fairly common profession, the large amount of welders looking for work means more competition for job opportunities and less competitive wages.

One of the best ways to ensure an easier job-hunting experience is to have a skill set that few can offer, which is why I suggest that you consider becoming an underwater welder. I’m going to share everything that you need to know about becoming an underwater welder in this guide.

Why Become An Underwater Welder?

In most career paths, if you specialize in something that’s in high demand, you have a better chance of getting more job offers. The welding world is no different.

While surface welding is a skill that’s useful in a lot of industries, underwater welding is even more in-demand in industries like oil, gas, and ocean salvaging. If you’re an especially skilled underwater welder, you can get up to $300,000 per year.

Why Become An Underwater Welder

Underwater welders are usually classified into two categories:

  • Inland welder: If you work inland, you might be working on dams, bridges, and river vessels. This is less risky than welding offshore, so you might earn less money here. However, you can enjoy a more relaxed schedule and travel less.
  • Offshore welder: If you decide to become an offshore welder, you’ll work on oil rigs and large ships. They usually earn more, but you need to be out at sea for months at a time and face long work hours, up to 80 hours a week or even more. Offshore welders usually have winters off because of the increased danger of working in the ocean during the season.

Whichever approach to underwater welding you specialize in, your services will likely always be in high demand. This means more opportunities to get work and more chances of increasing your income.

Steps To Become An Underwater Welder

So you’ve decided to start your journey into underwater welding. Generally, you need to do five things to get to where you are, assuming that you have little to no welding experience.

Note that in these steps, I assume that you already have a high school diploma or a GED. If you don’t have either one, companies will have a hard time employing you.

Step 1: Work As A Surface Welder 

Before you weld underwater, you need to know how to weld above water. If you don’t have any welding experience, I suggest you attend formal training in the welding process of your choice at a welding school. In addition to a welding school, you can also get an American Welding Society (AWS) certification by passing written and practical tests.

Once you’ve been certified, it’s a good idea to work on the surface for another few years. Showing that you have experience welding on dry land can help you get your foot in the door.

Step 2: Attend Dive Training & Get Certified As A Commercial Diver

With the welder part covered, you can then work on the underwater part. This means you need to go to a dive school to learn how to dive, especially if you’ve never dived professionally before. Go to a commercial dive academy to get a commercial diving certification. Training usually lasts 5 to 6 months.

Step 3: Sign Up For An Underwater Welding School

Once you have both certifications for welding and commercial diving, you have to merge those two skills. Find an underwater welding school and attend their program, which can take anywhere between 6 months and 2 years.

In this course, you’re going to learn wet welding skills and relevant safety procedures. You also need to clock 20-50 dive hours to qualify for the certification.

If you’re having trouble finding an underwater welding school in your area, you can consider looking into schools in cities bordering oceans or other large bodies of water. If they have a thriving fishing or drilling industry, you’ll be more likely to find a school.

Step 4: Apply For An Underwater Welding Job

Underwater welding certification in hand, you can now apply for a job.

Many companies that work in large bodies of water may have a need for your services. Consider drilling companies, construction firms, shipbuilders, and even underwater salvage crews for opportunities.

If you have a company in mind already when you start your training, research what kind of underwater welding skill the company usually needs, and train yourself in the right direction.

Keep in mind that, if you’re fresh out of underwater welding school, most companies won’t hire you as a welder from the very start. You’ll likely start as a dive tender, a sort of apprenticeship where you assist more senior welders during their dives. Take this as an opportunity to learn the company’s welding standards and procedures.

Step 5: Constantly Work On Your Skills

Even after you’ve passed the dive tender phase, I suggest you don’t stop there. Some projects (even ones in the same company) may require different sets of skills, so it’s always a good idea to expand your repertoire. Related skills include rigging metal components, drafting design plans, and testing finished projects.

You can even train in underwater videography and photography to help the company document their important underwater welding projects.

Risks Of Underwater Welding

Underwater welding can be a lucrative career choice because of its pay and high demand. However, there are some risks that you need to watch out for. And since you might end up working longer hours than most people, you need to be extra careful.

Risks of underwater welding

  • Decompression sickness: One of the most dangerous risks when it comes to diving is decompression sickness, also known as the bends. This happens when you surface too fast from a dive and might cause pain, paralysis, or even death in severe cases.
  • Electric shocks: Another major threat to underwater welders is being electrocuted. If your equipment isn’t properly adapted for underwater work, you may end up getting shocked.
  • Hypothermia: Temperatures underwater can get very cold and remaining in the cold for too long can be harmful to your body. To protect against this, your wetsuit needs to be properly insulated.
  • Drowning: Because you work in water, drowning is a real risk. Always make sure your oxygen tank and mask are well-maintained to prevent running out of air. You should also take care to not get tangled in any debris you may encounter on your dives.

Tips For Being An Underwater Welder

If you’ve decided to become an underwater welder, then you should be prepared for all its risks and rewards. Here are some extra tips you can follow to make that journey easier.

  • Be prepared to spend money: Certifications cost money. Because you’ll be working with several institutions to get all the needed certifications, the cost of education won’t be cheap. Be sure you’re financially prepared before going on this journey.
  • Do your research: When getting certifications or finding places to apply to, research is essential. Always do the work before deciding on a training school or company to ensure you maximize your learning and earning potential.
  • A college degree is not required, but it helps: You don’t have to be a college graduate to weld underwater. But once you start applying for work, a degree can help you stand out from all the other applicants who might only have a high school diploma.

Conclusion

The journey to becoming an underwater welder can be long and, sometimes, expensive. But once you land the job, you can bring in even more money compared to welding on dry land. However, you still need to pay attention to the dangers because the high rewards are balanced out by high risks.

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