What Is a Commercial Diver? (With Types and FAQ)
Updated December 12, 2022
Industries you might not associate with water often engage in aquatic operations. To complete these operations, they may work with commercial divers. Commercial divers are skilled professionals who perform a wide range of water-related duties in various industries.
In this article, we explain what a commercial diver is and what different types of divers do, and share the answers to frequently asked questions about the career, including information on their essential skills, education and training, work environment and the average salary and job outlook for the profession.
What is a commercial diver?
A commercial diver is a professional diver who performs underwater work for various commercial purposes. Commercial divers work in multiple fields that have operations on or in water or need periodic support from divers, such as:
Oil and gas industries
Because of this variety of industries, their work may occur in different settings, such as lakes, rivers, swamps, dams, oceans and sewers. To mitigate risks, some divers must take safety precautions such as vaccinations, special equipment and specialized training.
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Types of commercial divers
The responsibilities of commercial divers vary depending on the industry in which they work. Below are some of the duties divers may perform in different fields:
Offshore divers work for companies in the oil and gas industry. Their responsibilities include exploring underwater in order to build and maintain structures necessary for the production of oil and gas. Compression sickness and exposure to oil and gas components are among the risks of offshore diving.
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Inland or onshore
These divers work inland, often on engineering projects in lakes, rivers, harbors or dams. They may help survey or build structures such as bridges and dams. These professionals may perform underwater inspections or dredging operations. Inland divers also perform routine cleaning for portable water tanks.
Hazmat divers work in hazardous materials such as polluted waters and sewage. Their work may involve:
Maintaining valves or pumping equipment
Welding within sewers
These professionals also ensure that they have certain vaccination before work and go through decontamination procedures after dives help to manage the risk of diver contamination.
Similar to hazmat divers, nuclear divers work in hazardous material, but they specifically dive in irradiated waters. They help perform maintenance and preventative safety measures within nuclear plants. Nuclear divers must use special equipment that does not absorb radioactive contamination and often wear cold-water suits to prevent heat stress.
These divers are both scientists and divers. They study marine life and underwater data both inshore and offshore, often working with educational institutions or governments for research. While diving, these professionals may observe the habitats of aquatic wildlife and collect samples.
Media divers are also trained camera operators who film and photograph subjects underwater. They often work on documentaries or films that need underwater footage. These professionals may work on a contract basis and photograph a variety of subjects, including wildlife, people and underwater landscapes both offshore and inland.
Military divers support military operations underwater. They also may work on repairs of vessels or equipment. These professionals also may search for missing persons and perform demolition work, so they’re often highly trained in their field.
Police divers help police in investigations by helping to search for or recover objects underwater. These professionals are often sworn police officers who can work full-time as divers or work around aquatic territories. They may complete underwater dives to recover evidence, review a crime scene or locate a missing person.
Commercial diver FAQ
If you’re interested in becoming a commercial diver, you might benefit from reviewing the answers to these frequently asked questions:
What are some essential l skills for a commercial diver?
Successful commercial divers are likely to have certain skills in common, including:
Swimming: Because commercial divers work primarily in water, strong swimming ability and comfort in aqueous environments are essential to the job.
Physical and mental endurance: Certain diving specialties place divers in potentially dangerous scenarios. Divers must be physically fit to endure deep-sea pressure and composed to handle high-stress situations.
Teamwork: Divers typically work in teams, with a crew above water to provide support. This team relationship requires trust and constant communication to ensure they complete the job accurately and safely.
Adaptability: Commercial diving often takes divers into unfamiliar environments, so the ability to adapt to new surroundings is integral to a commercial diver's skill set.
Welding and other tools: Divers in many specialties, particularly those who work in oil and gas, engineering and construction, often perform repairs and other maintenance activities, so proficiency in welding and with power tools can be useful.
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What are the requirements for becoming a commercial diver?
Common requirements to be a commercial diver include earning a high school diploma or equivalency, being between 18 and 35 years and passing a dive physical with a licensed physician. The physical certifies the diver is physically and mentally fit to perform the duties of a commercial diver. Certification by a diving instruction school recognized by the Association of Diving Contractors International, or ACDI, is often a requirement to be a professional commercial diver. Some employers and institutions may also ask that you have a Transportation Worker Identification Credential, or TWIC, as well as first-aid and CPR certification.
Divers in certain specialties may need additional qualifications. Offshore divers may benefit from having an advanced degree in engineering, surveying or a related field, and scientific divers likely need degrees in a discipline such as marine biology or oceanography. Other divers, such as those who work in engineering or construction, may benefit from qualifications in welding or nondestructive testing.
What is a commercial diver’s work environment like?
The physical work environment for commercial divers depends on their specialty and can involve:
Oil rigs in the ocean
The water in which they work can be extremely cold or dark. Offshore and media divers can expect to spend long stretches of time on their respective job sites, potentially two to six weeks at a time. Inshore divers are likely to go home after work is complete for the day.
The workday hours for a commercial diver can vary as well. Some divers work standard eight-hour days, whereas others may work up to 12 hours per day. A diver may spend two to four hours underwater at a time, followed by two to four hours of decompression to prevent compression-related conditions, but these factors depend on dive time and depth.
What equipment do these professionals use?
The work of commercial divers requires that they wear special equipment such as wetsuits, protective eyewear and diving fins to dive and move in various depths underwater. They typically work in teams and have support from a crew above water. Depending on their work, they may also carry tools, such as welding equipment, underwater.
What is a commercial diver’s typical career path?
Many commercial divers begin in offshore diving, which can lead to opportunities in other diving specialties. Offshore diving projects often require broadly applicable skills such as welding, repair and exploration, so offshore divers can develop abilities that are useful in onshore, hazmat, nuclear, military and police diving. They may also work as support for scientific and media divers. With additional training in camera operation, they may also work directly in media diving.
Experience in any of the commercial diving specialties can also lead to opportunities in other fields that involve underwater work. Below are some examples of related careers:
Diving instructor: Diving instructors teach others how to dive. Their students may include recreational divers and prospective commercial divers.
Aquarium diver: Aquarium divers work at aquariums, water parks, zoos and other institutions that feature marine life. The divers' responsibilities may include cleaning marine animals and their enclosures, collecting marine specimens and even training marine animals to perform in front of audiences.
Hyperbaric medicine: The academic, government and private sectors may offer opportunities for qualified divers to work in providing medical care to divers and others who need hyperbaric medical treatment.
Underwater prospector: Some divers may consider underwater prospecting, in which they search the bottoms of bodies of water for precious materials such as metals and artifacts.
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Salary and job outlook
The national average salary for divers is $53,506 per year. Factors such as years of experience and location can affect your earnings. Some common benefits that employers provide to divers include:
Professional development assistance
Employee assistance program
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the projected employment growth for commercial divers is faster than average at a rate of 17% through the year 2030.
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