Text by Ray Stevens
As the deep-sea oil and gas industries continue to thrive, demand for a solid marine infrastructure is expected to continue as well. This means that specially trained underwater welders will be needed to complete the building of underwater structures. For some, a career in underwater welding could be just the right mixture of travel, adventure and excitement. But what exactly is underwater welding and what does an underwater welder do?
What Is Underwater Welding?
Also known as wet welding, underwater welding consists of a highly trained welder being submerged at elevated barometric pressures to conduct a weld directly in the water. Hyperbaric welding means quite simply welding at elevated pressures. A form of hyperbaric welding, called dry welding, consists of a welder being submerged underwater within a hyperbaric chamber. The chamber is filled with a high-pressure gas, which forces water out. In this case, the welder has a dry environment, even at great depths, to conduct necessary welding construction or repairs. Highly specialized welding training and a commercial diver’s certification is required to become a hyperbaric welder.
What Does an Underwater Welder Do?
Underwater welders need to be skilled divers first and welders second. An underwater welder is responsible for a wide variety of underwater construction and survey duties, and may use wet welding or dry welding techniques for a number of different applications. These may include constructing or repairing underwater pipelines, offshore drilling rigs, docking platforms, mining applications, ships and barges, dam repairs, locks, underwater habitats and nuclear power facilities. Most underwater welders work for commercial diving contractors, shipping companies, marine construction companies, oil and gas companies or a branch of the armed forces.
What Is the Income Range for an Underwater Welder?
Underwater welding can be a very lucrative career. There are several factors that will ultimately determine how much you will make.
- Personal Skill – A fast, efficient, skilled hyperbaric welder’s salary can increase quite rapidly once they have proven their worth.
- Geographic Location – The location of the underwater welder will have a lot to do with how much they are paid. Several factors need to be taken into consideration, such as the cost of living in each particular state and the union wages for that particular area.
- Size of the Company – A small commercial diving company may have fewer than five crew members, a medium company may have fewer than 12 crew members and a large company may have 20 or more crew members. Usually, the larger the company, the higher the wages.
A special report put out by the American Welding Society (AWS) pegs the annual salary range for a hyperbaric welder between $100,000 and $200,000 per year. Most welder-divers are paid per project, and other factors such as depth, diving method and diving environment can affect the rate of pay.
The shale boom in the Gulf Coast has created a demand for skilled workers, particularly welders, in Texas and Louisiana. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) also reports that these two states, along with Florida and California, have the highest employment levels for commercial divers.
Skills And Special Training Needed To Become an Underwater Welder
An underwater welder will need to have the right attitude, the desire to travel and a sense of adventure and excitement about their chosen career. The candidate must also be in good physical condition and have the following attributes:
- Must be able to pass a physical exam.
- Must be commercial dive certified (a commercial dive certification is different from just a dive certification). This requires a diver to show significant skill in diver communication, diving physiology, emergency procedures, underwater inspections, hyperbaric chamber operation and proficiency in using a variety of commercial grade tools.
- The diver must also have AWS-certified welding training. This requires that a diver be skilled in welding set-up procedures and preparation.
How Does One Get Started In This Industry?
To enter the underwater welding profession, a significant amount of training is required. First, you will need formal instruction from a school that offers underwater welding training. Second, you will need to obtain a commercial diver’s license. Maintaining current qualifications is important. Like any profession, employment is dependent on economic supply and demand. As the underwater welding industry continues to grow, the standards for underwater welds and certification are expected to increase, so having up-to-date qualifications will be necessary to thriving in the industry.
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