"Underwater welders are divers first and welders second," says Cecil Thompson.
He is a project supervisor with an underwater repair and construction company.
Thompson says welding is just one skill a commercial diver needs to find
and keep work. "In all honesty, you'll want to have more in your back pocket
than underwater welding," he warns.
If you can weld and perform a number of other underwater construction and
survey duties, those in the field say this is a good time to be a commercial
So just how do you bond two pieces of metal together while underwater?
It turns out there are a couple of ways. Instead of the gas weld rods used
on dry land, underwater welders use special electric arc welding rods. Most
underwater welding is done with the help of a dry chamber system, which is
used to keep water from the work area. These are called hyperbaric chambers
Hyperbaric chambers are expensive and not always readily available. The
alternative is a wet welding technique with no mechanical shielding from water.
But wet welding also has its drawbacks.
Sometimes the hot metal is cooled too quickly by cold water, which results
in a lot of cracking. "Wet welding is an emergency or temporary thing," explains
underwater welder Jeff Peters.
Applications of underwater welding include underwater pipelines, offshore
oil drilling rigs, docking facilities, mining, ships, barges, dams, locks,
sub-sea habitats and nuclear power facilities.
Some underwater welders are self-employed. Most work for commercial diving
contractors, shipping and marine construction companies, oil and gas companies
and the armed forces.
Wherever they work, underwater welders are usually called on to perform
a wide variety of commercial diving tasks -- everything from construction
and repair to technical survey work.
"Welding is only about five percent of the market," says Roger Thacker,
a commercial diving instructor.
Thacker says most of the work for commercial divers is in general underwater
construction in the offshore oil fields. "In oil fields, the commercial diver
is an underwater roustabout," he says.
A roustabout assembles or repairs oil field equipment using hand and power
tools, and performs other tasks as needed.
Underwater, they lay pipeline, set flanges (the big brackets that help
hold pipe together) and risers (where the pipe comes up to the platform),
and clamp pipes to rigs.
Underwater welding repair of offshore, inland waterway and port facilities
is becoming a top priority for both military and industrial communities. Many
of these facilities are operating well beyond their intended life. Underwater
welders are needed for maintenance and repair.
Underwater welding is not a glamorous job. "The places you're working are
very dark and very cold," warns Peters.
Commercial divers need to be in good mental and physical shape for diving.
Even the common cold can cause equalization difficulties. Underwater welding
and construction work require a good level of fitness and coordination.
Underwater welders work an average workweek. But weekend work and overtime
are possible if the work is urgent.