Most have heard stories of "Deep Sea Divers" travelling the World earning vast sums of money, but what is the truth behind this almost mythical career? George Gradon, from Commercial Diver Training Ltd in Cornwall explains…

In the UK, legislation is in place covering all "Diving at Work". Minimum safety standards, personnel qualifications etc are clearly defined, however that was not always the case:

Since the invention of the diving helmet, around 180 years ago, commercial divers have worked underwater conducting survey, salvage, construction and demolition operations.

Divers were dressed in copper and brass helmets, hung weights on the front and back, wore heavy boots and a canvas suit. The work was physically hard, uncomfortable and often dangerous.

It was not until the discovery of oil and gas beneath the North Sea in the 1970’s that the diving industry really moved on. Work was required in harsher environments, to greater depths and in colder water. New equipment and techniques had to be developed to cope with the demands.

Improvements in diver safety were slower to take effect, but as a result of continued cooperation between industry and government bodies such as the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), the UK’s system of Approved Codes of Practice (ACOPs) seems to have been adopted as a template virtually worldwide.

The projects that are of most interest to us as "commercial divers" are:

Media, Scientific and Archaeological Diving

During my career I’ve collected dockyard sea bed samples in glass jars, excavated and recorded ancient shipwreck timbers, worked as a camera man’s assistant for the BBC and I’ve doubled as drowning victim on numerous Discovery Channel documentaries! I’ve even worked at Pinewood’s 007 Stage as safety diver and underwater set rigger.

The majority of work was completed on SCUBA equipment, similar to recreational gear, with the addition of underwater communications to allow commentary.Most personnel employed within these areas tend to be qualified Photographers, Videographers, Archaeologists or Marine Biologists already. They are therefore just taking their existing skills underwater.

For those with an appropriate background, CDT’s 4 week HSE Professional SCUBA Diver course (incl First Aid at work) meets the required standard. It is also the pre requisite to proceed onto the more advanced HSE modules.

Inshore/Inland Diving

This generally involves underwater engineering work in support of marine "civils" and "shipping" projects. Inspection and repairs to quay walls, salvage of sunken vessels, pouring concrete footings for new structures, polishing of ship’s propellors and impact damage assessment to a vessel’s hull are all the lot of an Inshore Diver.

I’ve worked under nuclear submarines, up water towers, in yogurt, in raw sewerage and I’ve even dived in beer! Inshore work is truly varied, which is possibly why it appeals to so many divers.

HSE Surface Supplied Diver is an additional 4 week module at CDT, including pneumatic/hydraulic tools, burning and cutting, basic rigging and shipping. Additional skills are learn throughout a career of "on the job" training.

Offshore (Oil and Gas)

"Diving on the rigs" in fact usually involves diving off a vessel positioned adjacent to the platform or over a remote well or manifold that is invisible from the surface. Over the past 15 years working offshore, I’ve probably only stepped onto platforms 3 or 4 times, and that was only for a few mins whilst the chopper re fuelled or picked up additional rig workers heading home!

On projects up to 50 meters, surface divers usually enter the water via a cage which provides a safe route directly to the job, and home again upon completion of the dive. Surface supplied equipment is utilised, plus hot water suits, due the "cool" North Sea temperatures. Tasks include inspection of pipelines and structures, removal/decommissioning of old pipework/replacement with new, swap outs of subsea control modules, installation of repair clamps and new infrastructure. The majority of equipment involves "big nuts and bolts" and contrary to popular myth, hardly ever involves welding subsea.

Much of the offshore diving these days is also in support of the wind farms. An industry that did not exist 10 years ago, now employs an estimated 300-400 divers annually.

CDT’s 1 week HSE Offshore "Top-Up" module is the highest commercial air diving qualification, generally considered to be the a Global Standard.

In the UK, on projects in excess of 50 meters (often shallower) "closed" or "saturation bells" must be used, requiring further training. The divers live in a pressurised chamber complex, breathing a helium/oxygen mix (causing a squeaky voice) usually aboard the Dive Support Vessel (DSV) for up to 28 days. The work scope is the same as for surface diving, just that the water is deeper, and lock outs from the bell in "sat" are 6 hours long whereas surface dives are usually 3 hours Max. Life is fairly comfortable. Access to email, telephones and TV is commonplace.

It should be stressed that careers in diving start with Inshore work, then after a few years move onto offshore and/or renewables. Sat is often regarded as the ultimate prize, however, it’s not for everyone and therefore the decision to train as a diver should be based on air diving wages and living/working conditions.

Diving contractors are fully aware of the strengths associated with former service personnel: The ability to perform individually and as a member of a team, under pressure and often in uncomfortable conditions.

Honesty, reliability and mobility are all critical.

At CDT we are fully aware of what you have to offer, given that the owner/operators as well as the majority of staff members are ex forces. Also, we all still actively work in the diving industry. As I review this piece, I’m in my bunk "living" at 110m, bobbing around the North Sea!

For more information please contact CDT on 01726 817128/07770 598346 or visit the

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