Marie, a female commercial diver in her work suit
Marie on a break during a job in a sewer system / Photo courtesy of Marie

Marie Vandenbosch is a 23-year old commercial diver from Belgium. She is the first female commercial diver from her country and currently works full-time with Submar.

What is your current job title?

My current job title is a Commercial diver in the company Submar. We do underwater work in shipping, salvage, in-water construction inshore and off-shore.

Inshore diving is more engineering or marine-related projects. Off-shore diving supports offshore oil and gas industries.

What does a typical workday look like?

Every day in the commercial diving industry is different. I am on call 24/7. I never know when I have to start work or when the workday will end. I have had days where I worked for 17 hours and I have had days where I worked for 4 hours. So no day is the same. We also never know how long a job can take. For example; when we get a call that there is something wrong with the propeller of a ship it could be a job that takes just an hour or it could take the whole day. I have cleaned and fixed swimming pools, worked in sewers, lakes, and ships.

What do you do as a commercial diver?

My experiences as a working commercial diver is mainly welding (I am a welder in water and on land), and in shipping and construction inshore.

The life of a commercial diver can involve dirty jobs and I have worked in a sewer. The jobs in the sewers are like every other dive job but just with different suits, zero visibility and no light on the helmet. In the basins we are replacing the mixers or just inspecting bolts because the vibrations of the mixers can loosen the bolts.

Sometimes we place barriers so the “water” can be first removed and we can work in a dry environment. We just use normal tools like what construction workers use but instead of electricity driven tools we use pneumatic (air-powered) or hydraulic tools.

Working in the sewers, you can’t smell anything through the helmet (thankfully!) and we rinse and disinfect everything when the diver comes out the water and when we get back in the workplace we rinse and disinfect everything again!

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How did you get into commercial diving?

I was already a certified welder before I became a diver and I went to a presentation about subwater welding and that is when I just knew that I wanted to become a commercial diver.

In 2019 I travelled to Fort William in Scotland for 13 weeks to get all my licenses. First I studied HSE surface supplied diving and then HSE Professional scuba. After that there was welding, burning, inspection and top up (Wet bell diving with hot water suits).

What is it like being a female commercial diver?

During the course in Scotland, I asked someone who had worked there for a long time how many girls had trained at that school and graduated. Apparently I was only the 5th female. I am also the first female commercial diver from Belgium. Because I am the first I didn’t know what I was walking into. I initially thought it would be a very masculine and tough world. But I am constantly surprised by how good the other divers treat me, no sexism experienced so far.

I know I can’t lift as much as a guy but Submar, the company I work for, provides ways to do the same job with less force. So the toughest thing about commercial diving isn’t the heavy lifting, but the fact that we sometimes have to work in very cold or very hot surroundings. In the winter it is very cold and the visibility is low so we can’t see while we are working. 10cm is considered good visibility!

Marie, a female commercial diver in her suit with a wrench in the bathtub
Marie during lockdown / Photo courtesy of Marie

What’s the coolest part of your job?

As a commercial diver, I had my coolest experience and my worst experience on the same day, on the same vessel. It was a fishing ship that had its fishing net stuck in the propeller. It was hell getting it out, hard work and physically very demanding. But it was also the first job where I felt that I had chosen the right career; commercial diving.

Any scary experiences underwater?

Just once, with a tidal change. I was on a dive to get to know the equipment in greater depth at 45 meters. I was in the middle of my 1st deco stop at 40 meters. When the tide changed, I was unexpectedly pulled away very quickly, which was scary. Luckily, they held my umbilical cord very close and I was still hanging on a shotline for safety. It felt like the worst thing because at that moment I could not go up to surface as I had to finish my deco stop.

How much can commercial divers make?

How much commercial divers can make money wise really depends on the country, which company, if they are full-time or a freelancer.

Are you a scuba diver?

I have scuba dived for fun once with my family in Greece. I liked it then but I think now that I am used to working I wouldn’t enjoy it as much anymore.

What advice would you give to someone interested in commercial diving?

As advice I would say just go for it, check out the certifying schools. Some schools also offer a “test dive” in their school to see if it is what you really want to do.

Follow Marie on her career as a commercial diver on her Instagram!

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