A commercial diver in his equipment including helmet.
Safety first in commercial diving. Photo courtesy of Aiden

A commercial diver is a diver who works underwater for long periods of time. Today we are chatting to Aiden, a commercial diver who works in Canada.

What is your job title?

My official title is Surface Supplied Diver.

What are your job responsibilities? What does a typical day look like?

All of my responsibilities, typical day, and hours depend on if it’s a dive day or a shop day. On most days I show up at the shop at 7:30. If there is no dive job that day then I could be doing a multitude of things; cleaning, organizing and repairing gear, tying up and releasing oil tankers and auto carriers in the port, or even just painting equipment. On shop days I work 8 hours.

If it’s a dive day then we load all our gear into one of our boats, our dive trailer or the dive van depending on where and what the job is. Once on-site, we set up two sets of dive gear, one for the main diver and one for standby. We always have a standby diver ready to jump in to execute a rescue in an emergency. Depending on the job you could be in the water for 30 minutes or 3 hours or even longer some days so we never really know how long of a day we’re going to have. I’ve had 8 hour days and I’ve had 18-20 hour days, all depends on how important the job.

Most of my work right now has to do with ship husbandry. So inspections and repairs on large ships is a big part of that. We also do a lot of construction jobs where we could be required to weld or burn underwater. I worked on fish farms for a bit too and there was about 1000 different jobs there. Anything from picking up dead fish to using 1000lb lift bags to move massive barrels of concrete.

2 commercial divers ready to get into the water
Aiden and a friend ready for a day at work. Photo courtesy of Aiden

What equipment do you use?

For all surface-supplied dives at my company, we use Kirby Morgan Superlite helmets as they are the most widely used helmet in the industry. We don’t use a classic BCD, instead, we use a bladderless 5 point harness and use our drysuits for buoyancy. I wear a 50 cu ft bailout on my back instead of an 80 to reduce weight and improve drag.

Our main air is supplied through an umbilical. In the umbilical, there is an air hose, a communication line, a camera, a light line and a pneumofathometer (depth gauge). Most of the umbilicals I’ve used are between 200 and 600 ft (60-182m) long.

For a drysuit, I wear a Brooks crushed neoprene, with kevlar coating. On the occasional SCUBA job that we get, I choose to wear my Divator Aga instead of a classic second stage and mask simply because of how warm it is. For fins, I use Scubapro Jet Fins.

Helmet and umbilical cord used in commercial diving.
Helmet and umbilical cord used in commercial diving. Photo courtesy of Aiden

What other jobs are there for commercial divers?

There are a ton of different jobs that commercial divers can have. You can work in aquaculture which can be quite lucrative but is very tough both mentally and physically just because of the hours. When I worked aquaculture I averaged about 70 hours a week with most shifts being 10-14 days with 1-2 days off.

You can work on the inland side of things which is what I do now. Most of this work is on large ships, but there’s also a lot of concrete work and welding as well. Lots of divers go offshore to work on oil rigs and drillships. Personally I don’t know a ton about that side of things as I haven’t had the chance to work out there yet. There are also some people who go into scientific diving with their surface supplied certification.

Enjoying this Q&A? Read more stories and interviews with divers at Down to Scuba.

How did you get into commercial diving?

I started diving at 14 and instantly fell in love with it. I finished my Divemaster course at 18 and when I graduated high school I attended the Commercial Diving Institute of Canada where I got my Unrestricted Surface Supplied (50m), Unrestricted Scuba (40m) and Dive Medical Technician certifications. This took about 5 months to complete. After finishing those courses I began my career with aquaculture diving.

What are the commercial diver education requirements?

The only prerequisites required to do the commercial diving course is an open water certification and being 18 years old. It is not a very difficult process for most, though some people may struggle with how physical it is.

What are the dangers of commercial diving?

There are your classic scuba diving dangers; DCS, out of air, and animals. But there is a ton of added dangers when you add working into the mix.

There are overhead hazards and often no clear line to the surface. There are massive entanglement hazards especially in aquaculture due to being in between nets all day. There’s often crane movements involved and when the crane operator can’t see the load when it’s underwater things can get hairy.

When welding and burning there is also a possibility for potentially large explosions. The thing is we will take every precaution possible to avoid any of these accidents and even if an accident were to happen we have a standby diver ready to jump at a moment’s notice.

What medical support do you have on the job?

We have a massive first aid kit with artificial airways and intravenous (IV) and chest decompression needles.

Most of the divers in our crew are Dive Medical technicians so we are trained to deal with any type of injury related to diving as well as chamber operations. On any site where we’re doing decompression dives, we have a chamber with us.

Is commercial diving mostly for men, or are there women in the industry too?

Personally I have only ever worked with 1 female diver as it is not common in the commercial diving industry. The reason for that I believe is just purely the lack of women interested in it. Speaking with co-workers who went to 5 different schools across Canada, there were 5-15 people in each class though only 3 women in total across all 5 schools last year… Continue reading

Read Part 2 of Aiden’s Interview

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Emma was terrified of the ocean but dove into her Open Water 7 years ago and hasn't looked back since! She worked as an underwater videographer for several years and is now a PADI Master Scuba Diver Trainer. She currently runs a dive shop on the island of Koh Tao in Thailand and is the founder of Down To Scuba.

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