Underwater Welding: Salary & Career Guidance
What is underwater welding?
In most cases, you can expect to get wet when doing underwater welding, but there may be occasions when you’re able to stay dry. To manage this, you’ll stay submerged in a pressurized container to do your welding, such as a diving bell or submarine.
Underwater welding can involve a wide variety of tasks; depending on the location, the depth of the weld and the job specifics, the exact nature of jobs can be very different. Jobs might include the creation, inspection or repair of oil rigs, sea walls, bridges, pipes, or numerous other types of underwater infrastructure.
In order to become an underwater welder, you can’t just dive in – so to speak. There are a few pre-requisites for criteria that you need to meet before you can forge a career for yourself as an underwater welder.
It’s important to note that you will need to qualify in both diving and welding in order to have all the necessary skill sets. Completing the AWS Certified Welding Training and gaining a commercial diving certification will give you everything you need – but as you can imagine, this isn’t a quick or easy process. More on that later.
Completing this training is essential because commercial divers need far more (in terms of knowledge, skills, problem resolution, and so on) than standard SCUBA divers. This means that you’ll need to go to a specialist dive school that can offer you the correct training. Make sure that any courses you’re looking at meet the American Welding Society (AWS) D3.6 standard – that’s the only way you know you’ll be covered.
As there’s so much training involved, completing it all may take several years. However, it’s a necessary evil on the path to becoming an underwater welder – and the rewards will be worth all your hard work.
In the process of qualifying to become an underwater welder, you’ll need to spend a great deal in terms of both time and money. These qualifications aren’t free – you should expect to pay for all parts of your training, as well as any other related costs.
It’s difficult to say exactly what these costs might include, as every school will be different. However, don’t be surprised if you have to pay for your tuition, registration fees, course books, specialist equipment and more.
One cost which is often hidden from many students is that of the dive physical. As part of your diving training, you will need to have a dive physical in order to ensure that you are physically fit enough to perform the job at hand. Unfortunately, this will probably set you back several hundred dollars.
It’s worth exploring your options when it comes to paying for your training: don’t discount it as a potential career path just because you think you won’t be able to afford it. There may be some bursaries, grants or loans available to help students on low incomes with some of the costs, bringing it firmly back into your reach.
Where do you work?
You don’t have to be a genius to figure out that underwater welders work underwater. This is usually deep water (such as seas and oceans, rather than shallow streams) so many jobs will be off the coast. This, in addition to the fact that the need for underwater welders is international, means that you could potentially end up working anywhere in the world, which is a really exciting prospect.
That said, there is an increasing demand for underwater welders who are able and willing to work inland in lakes and rivers. As a result, there may be options available to you if you’re hoping to stay closer to home.
How much do underwater welders make?
As with most jobs, the salary of an underwater welder can vary widely. The average hourly salary is around $26, while the average yearly salary equates to almost $55,000 (the Bureau of Labor Statistics).
However, remember that these figures are averages, so some salaries will be higher and some will be lower. The top underwater welders can earn up to six figures in a year, so the potential to earn big bucks is there if you put in some hard graft. The salary usually depends on the diver’s experience, the depth of the dive, the location of the dive and the risks involved, so if you’re dedicated to the job there’s no reason why you can’t see your back pocket growing steadily.
Do bear in mind that many underwater welders are paid on a job-by-job basis rather than having a steady, regular flow of money. As such, both the amount of work and your income might be intermittent and unstable, so you’ll need to be pretty savvy with your finances in order to make sure you have enough to tide you over during quieter periods.
Risks and downsides
I’d bet money that the first risk that sprang to mind with underwater welding is that of getting shocked. Sure, it is a possibility, but it’s a really slim chance. Your specialist equipment and clothing – not to mention all that training! – will set you up nicely to help minimize the risks.
Aside from all the normal risks which are associated with working in water (sharks, I’m looking at you), divers also run the risk of suffering from decompression sickness (sometimes called ‘the bends’). Learning how to avoid this will be covered in your training, so this is something you won’t need to worry about too much.
However, you should consider what would happen if disaster did strike. If you fall ill or run into some sort of medical emergency, then proper medical treatment might be very far away. In these cases it would take longer to reach you, potentially putting your life (or someone else’s) in danger. All workplaces should have a number of procedures in place to cover such eventualities, but these don’t eliminate the risks altogether. Only you can decide whether this is a risk which you’re willing to take.
Finally, a career in underwater welding will probably involve a lot of time spent away from home. Although this isn’t a risk, being far away from family is a major disadvantage for many people. Sometimes work might keep you away for several weeks or even months at a time, so think about the impact that this will have on both you and your loved ones.
All in all, underwater welding has more risks associated with it than many other jobs. However, that doesn’t detract from the fact that it’s still a fantastic career which allows you to enjoy your hobby of welding, the thrill of diving, and the excitement of travel. The job satisfaction that you’ll receive far outweighs the risks!