What Is An Underwater Welder?
An Underwater Welder uses many common arc welding processes to weld and cut in a wide range of aquatic environments. They must use their welding know-how and intricate knowledge of diving procedures and protocol to effectively lay down strong welds, often in tight spaces and less-than-forgiving surroundings. Hyperbaric chambers and cofferdams are used for dry welding, while wet welding is performed in open waters up to several hundred feet deep.
Why Is This An Important Role?
It’s easy to forget that not all of the essential machines and structures that allow our society and economy to run smoothly are located on land. Underwater Welders help create and repair dams, pipelines, bridges, commercial and military ships, nuclear power plants and oil rigs, and many other important parts of a modern infrastructure.
What Career Opportunities Are Available to Underwater Welders?
Underwater welders can choose to work in one of several different fields and industries. For example, the oil and gas, marine salvaging, and construction industries regularly require the underwater welder’s unique blend of skills to lay pipe, dismantle vessels, and build bridges. Underwater Welders can also use their wide range of knowledge and skills to transition into dive instruction, consulting, engineering, or hazardous material handling.
Jobs in underwater welding are almost exclusively found in coastal locations. Job seekers will need to consider job location, potential time away from home, and the nature and inherent hazards of the work before choosing to accept a particular offer or opportunity.
How Do I Get Started?
Underwater Welders require certifications as both a welder and a commercial diver. Prospective candidates who lack both can attend one of the various institutions that offer underwater welding training and commercial diving certification to participants of varying skill levels, including those with no experience. Attending one of these institutions may be necessary even if you are certified as a SCUBA diver, as many of the tenets of commercial diving are not covered by a SCUBA certification. Visit AWS Underwater Welding Resources for a list of underwater welding schools and institutions.
Naturally, previous experience in topside welding will provide you with a leg up in this field but ultimately, the ability to operate in the water effectively and safely is extremely important. The welding processes, classes of weld, and qualification tests associated with underwater welding are described in the AWS D3.6 Underwater Welding Code. Use this code as a guide to help you determine the procedures and welds you will need to master in order to succeed in the field.
The AWS D3.6 Underwater Welding Code defines an underwater welder, or welder-diver, as a “certified welder who is also a commercial diver, capable of performing tasks associated with commercial subsea work, weld setup and preparation, and who has the ability to weld in accordance with the AWS D3.6 Specification for Underwater Welding, and other weld-related activities”.
Underwater welders must be able to safely and efficiently accomplish the demands and requirements of a welding project while underwater, in a cofferdam, or other marine environment. An Underwater Welder’s specific role varies because underwater welding is used in many different industries and for many different applications. However, the general duties of an underwater welder can be summarized based on the order in which they are performed: (1) preparation, and (2) performance:
Preparation: Before any work can begin, a team of engineers must assess the nature of the project and ensure that the proper code and specifications are being utilized. An underwater welder can participate in this process in several ways, including fitting and rigging, cutting and cleaning, and performing underwater photography and recording. Additionally, an Underwater Welder must then check and calibrate all materials and equipment for welding and diving (stinger, electrodes, power sources, diving equipment). Underwater Welders need to be alert, focused, and prepared to adapt to their surroundings. Water current, pressure, and visibility can be mercurial, and are just some of the factors that make job preparation an utmost priority.
Performance: An Underwater Welder’s specific tasks vary depending on the exact nature of the job. Duties can include welding, cutting, selecting welding equipment and consumables, identifying weld discontinuities and defects, and performing nondestructive testing. Depending on the particular application or project, an Underwater Welder can use several different welding and cutting processes. For example, they may use the SMAW process to repair the hull of a floating ship and the GTAW process to fuse pieces of pipe for an offshore refinery. An underwater welder may also be tasked with surveying waters of various depths for obstacles, as well as cutting, fitting, and rigging, to salvage sunken equipment. Regardless of the specific task, Underwater Welders must observe all the requirements of the WPS and relevant codes, while also adhering to all diving safety requirements.
The duties of an Underwater Welder may also include:
- Developing and adhering to basic welding procedures
- Monitoring and controlling welding operations
- Adhering to all diving and welding safety requirements
- Determining weldability of materials and identifying common weld defects
- Organized and detail oriented
- Focus under pressure
- Highly motivated and self-directed
- Flexible and able to work in a team environment
- Sound judgment and tact
- Physical strength and superior fitness
IMPORTANT KNOWLEDGE & SKILLS
- Ability to use basic welding equipment and engage in welding and cutting processes
- Ability to perform nondestructive tests
- Ability to detect and measure weld discontinuities
- Knowledge of standard welding and diving safety procedures and protocol
- Knowledge of welder and welding qualification procedures and standards
- Strong analytical thinking and problem solving skills
Underwater Welders do not necessarily call for a conventional post-secondary education, but requirements will vary depending on the employer. The knowledge and skills requirements are those of a welder and a commercial diver. Depending on your current level of experience, you may need to attend a welder training program or an institution that offers commercial diving training and certification. Some training facilities offer both. Visit AWS Underwater Welding Resources Welding Resources for a list of underwater welding schools and institutions. Note that candidates must pass a Welder Performance Qualification to the AWS D3.6 Underwater Welding Code, often administered on-site at many of these same schools and institutions.
Underwater Welders come from all walks of life, and have different educational backgrounds. They run the gamut from young divers right out of high school to middle-aged professionals embarking on a brand new challenge. There is no specific field of study that underwater welders have in common, although educational experience in machining, mechanical engineering, or related engineering fields is helpful, particularly when working on projects that involve turbines, underwater port facilities, nuclear power plants, naval ships, or other highly technical or complex structures.
TRAINING & DEVELOPMENT
Employers may require a fair amount of experience in addition to welder and commercial diver certification. Although modern training facilities can simulate realistic work environments and scenarios, nothing is quite like hands-on experience. On-the-job training exposes welders to a variety of real-life marine jobs, allowing them to hone their craft and advance their career. Upon completing their welding and/or diving training novice divers often seek employment at commercial diving companies that feature underwater welding as a service. New divers can expect to begin their career as a diver’s apprentice, also known as a diver tender. As with any apprenticeship, this is an excellent way to learn valuable information about the trade while also gaining practical work experience.
It is important for underwater welders to become proficient at welding to the AWS D3.6 Underwater Welding Code. With enough experience and acquired knowledge, an underwater welder can move up the proverbial ladder, managing and overseeing projects as a project manager or welding engineer within their organization.
- Association of Diving Contractors
- Underwater Welding Schools
- ANSI Commercial Diver Training Standards
- AWS D3.6 Underwater Welding Code
- Bureau of Labor Statistics – Commercial Diver
- Guide to Underwater Welding
- Hyperbaric Welding
- Taking the Plunge: A Guide to Starting an Underwater Welding Career
- Underwater Welding: Commercial Diving Academy
- Underwater Welding Equipment Overview: Welding in the Wet
- United States Department of Labor / OSHA: Commercial Diving Safety