An underwater welder is a specific type of commercial diver. Highly trained in both diving and welding, they do their work while submerged below water. One of the most dangerous jobs in the world, underwater welding, or marine welding, requires that you are in good physical condition and have specialized training as both a diver and a welder.
Underwater welding can involve two types of environments. The first involves wearing a diving suit and air tank. The other, called dry welding, involves being enclosed in a specially fitted chamber, which forces out the water with high-pressure gas. Those who work far below the water's surface, where barometric pressures are elevated, are called hyperbaric welders. When working underwater, the welding is done with electric diodes, which melt the metals and bind them together at temperatures up to temperatures up to 9,932 degrees Fahrenheit. This can be extremely dangerous when working underwater, where gas bubbles may form. A large bubble of hydrogen or other explosive gas can be fatal, if it is ignited by the welding equipment.
Additionally, much of the work includes preparation of the site, monitoring dive lengths and depths, as well as registering with authorities before the dive. You will also need to inspect and maintain diving equipment and work tools, including helmets, masks, air tanks and welding equipment.
To become an underwater welder, you will require certification as a commercial diver and training in accordance to the American Welding Society's Underwater Welding Code. The AWS maintains a list of schools that provide training specifically for commercial diving and underwater welding on its website. Completing such a course should give you the training you need to get both certifications. Note that a recreational scuba license is not enough to become a commercial diver, so it won't help you in your underwater welding certification. A typical 21-week course costs approximately $25,000.
The Association of Diving Contractors International, or ADCI, requires that you have at least 625 hours of formal training in commercial diving to get a certificate as an entry-level tender/diver. You will likely require additional diving hours and extended training for some projects.
Any industry requiring that welding be done below water will need underwater welders to get the job done. The biggest employers are commercial diving contractors, oil and gas companies, marine construction companies and shipping companies. Underwater welding projects can include the construction or repair of pipelines, offshore drilling rigs, docks and platforms, mining companies, ships, barges, damns, locks, nuclear power facilities, as well as underwater habitats.
Years of Experience and Salary
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 3,280 commercial divers employed in the United States in 2017, including underwater welders. Commercial divers made a median income of $55,270 that year, meaning, that half made more than this and half made less. The top 10 percent of earners made more than $96,850, while the bottom 10 percent made less than $30,130. Underwater welders should expect to be among the high-earners, according to the American Welding Society, which states that they can earn from $100,000 to $200,000 each year, particularly after they have a few years of experience. Most underwater welders are paid on a project basis, which can fluctuate, depending on the demands of the job, like the dive depth and environmental factors.
Job Growth Trend
The demand for commercial divers in the United States is expected to increase by 10 to 14 percent between 2016 and 2026, according to O*NET Online, which is faster than average. Currently, the states with the highest demand for commercial divers, including welders, are Texas and Louisiana, which has been fueled by the shale boom along the Gulf Coast. Florida and California also have high demands for commercial divers.