Read Part 1 of Aiden’s Interview

How physically fit would you need to be a commercial diver?

You don’t need to be an Olympic athlete but you do need to have a decent amount of strength and a lot of endurance. There is a lot of heavy lifting and a lot of swimming. When you are doing a 4-hour longship inspection you essentially need to be swimming and talking non-stop so you need to be able to control your breathing and if you are out of shape that’s a very difficult task.

How much do commercial divers make?

Commercial diving definitely can be lucrative if you do it right and get into the right sector.

Working on the fish farms on the west coast can make you anywhere from 60-100k CAD starting.

Inland diving can get you up to that point after a few years or if you have a busy season but it is usually slightly lower.

Working offshore has the most potential for a higher income. Saturation divers and very experienced divers can make up to 200-250k though that is becoming rarer. 

How do you do your decompression stops?

As a commercial diver, if we go past our NDL (No Decompression Limits) and the table calls for decompression stops then yes we absolutely do our stops. I have done many 10 minute stops at 10 feet (3 meters). Why not when you have unlimited air?

If we are on a deep job that requires long bottom time then we do what is called a SurD O2. or a surface decompression on oxygen. This is where we do our stops at 50, 40, and 30 ft but when we have completed the stop at 30 ft, instead of doing the last two stops, we go straight to the surface and jump in a chamber for 40ish minutes and breathe 100% O2 at 40 ft. Then we are brought back up to surface from 40 ft at 1ft/sec.

We do this to avoid long hours of in-water deco where you could freeze to death. It is really not hard on your body as long as it’s done correctly.

Do you dive in contaminated water?

Contaminated water is a situation we see sometimes. In that case, we use special hazmat dry suits that have a special neck seal that locks into the helmet so that there is no way for any water to get in. There is also an extra set of exhaust valves over the top of the original ones to stop anything from coming in that way. We also have specific washing/decontaminating zones for when the diver gets out.

What has been the most stressful moment underwater?

The most stressful moment for me would have been when I was removing an uplift hat from a salmon pen. The hat weighs about 800lbs and we were using air to float it up while pulling with a winch. When the hat finally started to float upwards I cut the last piece of rope holding it down and it floated out of sight very quickly then somehow the air was released and the 800lbs of concrete came crashing back down on my head. I wasn’t wearing a helmet at that time either I was wearing an Aga.

I was very lucky that day. I really only ended up with a goose egg and I was back in the water 2 hours later.

A commercial diver giving the thumbs up. He is wearing his full equipment.
Ready for the job. Photo courtesy of Aiden

How do you cope with low visiblity?

When the vis is less than say 1-2 feet almost everything is done by touch which can be very difficult depending on the task but you do get used to seeing with your fingers.

As for dealing with disorientation you really just have to pay very close attention to where you are going and have a mental map of the worksite. One thing that helps though is having the umbilical attached to your hip. If you get lost sometimes having the topside go tight on your umbilical gives you a reference to where you entered and which direction is which.

What is your favourite memory? 

My favourite memory would probably be rigging a pen on a fish farm in the pitch black at midnight. Both of my flashlights had died in the first five minutes so I had to rig the last 30 minutes using only the bioluminescence in the water as my light source. It was amazing.

What was the coolest thing you’ve experienced as a commercial diver?

Some of the coolest things I have experienced in the water are agressive sea lions. Working on the fish farms the sea lions that hang around are huge 900-pound beasts and when you are sewing up one of their holes in the nets that they steal salmon through they can get pretty aggressive. They lunge at you blowing bubbles in your face and show their teeth trying to intimidate you.

What marine life do you see on your job?

I have come across hundreds of sea lions both friendly and aggressive. I have rescued a few flounders and wolf eels from nets and swam in a school of dogfish. I’ve seen a lot of bioluminescence. I have seen quite a few Orcas while on deck but never in the water.

Do you dive recreationally? And where is your favourite place to dive?

Yes, absolutely. Any chance I get I will go somewhere warm to dive. I was a divemaster before I went commercial so I still love recreational diving. It is a nice change of pace to be able to just float around not thinking or working.

My favourite place is probably the Great Barrier Reef but that was my first dive after my open water course so it really stuck with me. Especially since my open water course was in a quarry in Ohio.

How has commercial diving benefited or changed your recreational diving?

Definitely my stamina and air consumption. Because of my work on the fish farms I can swim at full speed for 40 minutes straight at 60 feet (18 m) and come up with 1200 PSI (~ 80 bar) in my tank.

So now my recreational dives are mostly limited by no-deco times instead of my air consumption.

The equipment of a Commercial Diver
Aiden’s equipment. Photo courtesy of Aiden

What is the deepest you’ve gone to?

The deepest i’ve gone was 165 ft (50 meters) for 30 min. Which meant doing a bunch of decompression stops and surface deco in a chamber on oxygen.

It didn’t feel any different other than being narked. We were just on air (21% oxygen) so it was really high nitrogen so we were pretty spacey. Soon as you get back up above 90 ft (27 m) again though you feel fine. We were climbing the wall up to 90 ft then jumping and free-falling down to 165ft and superhero landing on the bottom it was awesome.

Would you recommend commercial diving to a recreational diver?

This all depends on how serious of a diver you are. Commercial diving is not easy work and a lot of it can be pretty sketchy so you have to be completely comfortable in the water. My class started with 8 people and finished with 6 and only 3 are still diving commercially. My recommendation to anyone who is thinking about it is to do as much research into it as possible.

To read more about Aiden’s experiences as a commercial diver, head over to his Reddit ‘Ask Me Anything’ post. Some of the answers were first posted on reddit. If you have more questions for a commercial diver, let us know in the comments below.

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

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Emma was initially terrified of the deep ocean but dived into scuba diving in 2013, 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.