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Oil & Gas
Derrick Hand

Career Guide: How to become a Derrick Hand


Welcome to our comprehensive guide on becoming a Derrick Hand, a pivotal position within the oil and gas industry. Often overlooked in discussions about oilfield operations, Derrick Hands play a crucial role in the extraction and production processes, directly impacting efficiency and safety. This career guide is designed to deliver essential information and insights for anyone interested in stepping into this dynamic field.

Whether you're just starting your career or considering a shift from another industry, understanding the responsibilities, requirements, and prospects of a Derrick Hand is vital. We will walk you through every facet of this career, from what exactly a Derrick Hand does, to how you can become one, and even prospects for future growth in the field. By the end of this guide, you'll be equipped with all the information you need to embark on a rewarding career as a Derrick Hand.

Prepare to dive into the world of oil rigs, where each day is filled with challenging tasks and exciting opportunities for professional growth. Let this guide be your first step towards a fulfilling career in the oil and gas industry as a Derrick Hand.

What Is a Derrick Hand?

A Derrick Hand is a critical role in the oil and gas industry, primarily involved with the operation and maintenance of the derrick, a tall structure used for moving and securing the drill pipe and other equipment. Derrick Hands are part of a drilling crew and play an essential role in extracting oil and gas from underground reserves.

Derrick Hand's Positioning: Typically positioned high above the rig floor on a platform attached to the derrick, Derrick Hands have a bird's-eye view of the rig operations. Their main duty is to guide and stabilize the upper ends of the pipe as they are inserted into or removed from the wellbore.

Working Environment: This role is known for its physically demanding and often hazardous nature, requiring a great deal of manual dexterity, strength, and stamina. Derrick Hands must also be comfortable with heights and able to perform under the stressful and sometimes harsh conditions of a live drilling site.

The exact duties of a Derrick Hand can vary depending on the size and type of the drilling rig, but they almost invariably involve a mix of technical skill, precise coordination, and safety management. The position is pivotal not only for the operational phase of drilling but also plays a significant role in ensuring the safety of the rig operations, making it a highly respected job in the field.

Key Responsibilities of a Derrick Hand

The role of a Derrick Hand is critical in the operations of oil and gas drilling rigs. Named after the 'derrick' structure they predominantly work on, these professionals undertake a broad range of tasks aimed at keeping the rig operating efficiently and safely. Understanding these responsibilities is essential for anyone considering this career path.

Main duties include:

  • Rig Maintenance: Derrick Hands are responsible for the maintenance and repair of the derrick and other rig equipment. This ensures all components remain in good working condition, minimizing downtime and potential hazards.
  • Handling Drilling Equipment: One of the primary tasks is managing the drill and associated tools. This involves setting up and disassembling equipment, as well as ensuring it operates correctly during the drilling process.
  • Monitoring Well Operations: They closely monitor the well's condition and the drilling fluid systems. Derrick Hands need to be vigilant, quickly identifying any signs of operational issues or safety concerns. They also manage the mud systems and ensure that mud mixing and mud properties are maintained to optimize drilling.
  • Trip Pipe: An essential duty during drilling operations involves 'tripping' the pipe in and out of the wellbore. This task is critical and requires precision to avoid delays or accidents.
  • Supervising Crew: Derrick Hands often oversee the activities of other crew members, such as the Floor Hands. They guide them in their tasks, ensure adherence to safety protocols, and assist in training new personnel.
  • Emergency Response: They play a pivotal role in the emergency response team. In the event of a rig accident or other emergency, Derrick Hands must quickly and efficiently enact safety procedures and help manage the situation.

The job of a Derrick Hand is physically demanding and requires a high level of alertness and precision. Individuals in this role are typically positioned high on the derrick during drilling operations, which requires a strong sense of balance and a tolerance for heights. Effective communication and teamwork are also crucial, as the safety and efficiency of operations heavily rely on coordinated actions and clear instructions.

This dynamic role is suited for individuals who thrive in challenging environments and are keen to take on a variety of responsibilities within the oil and gas industry.

How Long Does it Take to Become a Derrick Hand?

Embarking on a career as a Derrick Hand involves a combination of on-the-job training and formal education, though the timeline can vary considerably based on several factors. Typically, the journey to becoming a skilled Derrick Hand can span anywhere from a few months to several years. Understanding the phases involved will help align expectations for prospective Derrick Hands.

Initial Training: The first step towards becoming a Derrick Hand often starts with entry-level positions on a drilling crew, such as a roustabout or floorhand. During this stage, which can last a few weeks to several months, new hires receive basic safety and operational training directly on site.

Progressive Experience: Advancement to the position of a Derrick Hand necessitates gaining substantial hands-on experience, which typically takes between 1 to 2 years. Individuals must demonstrate proficiency in various drilling operations and show capabilities in handling responsibilities such as managing equipment and supervising junior staff.

Certifications: In parallel with practical experience, pursuing relevant certifications can be crucial. For instance, certification for specific drilling equipment and safety protocols will enhance a candidate's qualifications and can potentially accelerate career progression. Training programs and certifications may last from a few days to several weeks, depending on the subject and depth of the course.

Mentorship and Continual Learning: Moreover, ongoing learning and mentorship are essential components for career development in this field. Seasoned Derrick Hands often undergo periodic training to update their skills and adhere to new industry standards and technologies.

In summary, moving from an entry-level position to a competent Derrick Hand is not instantaneous. It is a career path marked by continual learning, hands-on experience, and progression through various roles within a drilling crew. The timeline to achieve this can typically range from 1 to several years, heavily dependent on individual performance, learning opportunities, and the availability of positions within the company.

What are the Qualifications Required to Become a Derrick Hand?

To embark on a career as a Derrick Hand, certain foundational qualifications are essential. These qualifications not only ensure proper job performance but also adherence to safety regulations which are critical in the oil and gas sector. Below is a comprehensive breakdown of the necessary qualifications:

  • Educational Background: Typically, a high school diploma or equivalent is required to become a Derrick Hand. Some employers may prefer candidates who have completed specific vocational training or courses related to the oil and gas industry.
  • Industry Certifications: Possessing industry-specific certifications can greatly enhance a candidate's prospects. Certifications such as the IADC (International Association of Drilling Contractors) RigPass or well control certification are highly regarded. Such certifications demonstrate a thorough understanding of industry standards and safety procedures.
  • Physical Fitness: Due to the physically demanding nature of the work, candidates need to be in good physical condition. Employers often require medical checks or fitness tests as part of the hiring process.
  • Experience: Experience in lower-level positions on a rig, like Floorhand or Roustabout, is commonly required. These initial roles provide essential on-the-job training and exposure to the rig operations and safety protocols, preparing candidates for the more advanced position of a Derrick Hand.
  • Legal and Safety Compliance: A Derrick Hand must possess valid safety certificates and potentially hazardous material handling licenses, depending on the job location and specific employer requirements. Additionally, passing drug and alcohol tests is often mandatory, given the safety-sensitive nature of the role.

While formal education in a related field isn’t mandatory, possessing technical knowledge of mechanical systems, hydraulics, and other related disciplines can be a significant advantage. This background can often be the difference between quickly advancing within a team or remaining at an entry-level for an extended period.

For those seriously considering a career as a Derrick Hand, actively seeking opportunities for training, certification, and real-world experience within the industry will lay a robust foundation for achieving and excelling in this challenging role.

Skills and Knowledge Required to Become a Derrick Hand

Becoming a derrick hand in the oil and gas industry involves more than just the ability to perform hard labor; it requires a specific set of skills and knowledge that ensure efficiency and safety on the job. Here are essential competencies every aspiring derrick hand should aim to develop:

Technical Proficiency

  • Mechanical Skills: Derrick hands must understand and manage the operation of complex drilling machinery. They need to be capable of performing maintenance and troubleshooting common mechanical issues.
  • Rig Operation Knowledge: Familiarity with the setup and breakdown of drill rigs and equipment is crucial. This includes knowledge of hydraulic systems and other technical aspects of the rig operations.

Physical Abilities

  • Physical Strength and Stamina: The role demands lifting heavy equipment, handling tools, and performing physically taxing tasks for extended periods, often under harsh weather conditions.
  • Coordination and Dexterity: Handling tools, connecting pipes, and working with fast-moving parts requires excellent hand-eye coordination and manual dexterity.

Safety and Compliance Knowledge

  • Safety Protocols: Derrick hands must adhere to strict safety regulations to prevent accidents, including proper use of personal protective equipment (PPE) and emergency response strategies.
  • Environmental Compliance: Understanding and complying with environmental guidelines and laws is essential to prevent hazardous spills or other ecological impacts.

Critical Thinking and Problem-Solving

When equipment fails or sudden issues arise, a derrick hand must quickly assess the situation and make decisions that could affect the safety and success of the operation. Effective problem-solving and swift decision-making are important assets in high-stress scenarios.

Communication Skills

Effective communication is vital in ensuring that all team members are aware of operational statuses and safety procedures. Derrick hands must be able to relay complex information clearly and concisely, both verbally and in written form.

Teamwork and Leadership

Working on a rig involves collaboration with a diverse team. Derrick hands often guide and supervise other crew members, requiring strong leadership and teamwork skills to maintain harmony and efficiency on site.

Developing these skills and knowledge areas significantly enhances a derrick hand’s efficacy and safety in the field, paving the way for career advancement and success in the energy sector.

How Much Does a Derrick Hand Make?

The compensation for a Derrick Hand can vary based on numerous factors, including geographical location, the employing company, experience level, and prevailing industry economic conditions. Generally, Derrick Hands are compensated well due to the demanding and hazardous nature of their job.

Salary Overview

  • Entry-Level: For those just starting out, salaries can range from approximately $33,000 to $45,000 annually. Entry-level positions typically offer lower pay, which increases as employees gain experience and demonstrate proficiency.
  • Mid-Level: With several years of experience, Derrick Hands can expect to earn between $45,000 and $60,000. The increased pay reflects the higher responsibilities and the skills developed over time.
  • Experienced: Highly experienced Derrick Hands can command salaries of $60,000 to $75,000 or more. At this level, workers are often seen supervising newer employees and managing critical operations, commanding a premium for their advanced expertise and leadership abilities.

Additional Income Sources

Beyond base salary, Derrick Hands often have access to various forms of additional compensation. These can include:

  • Overtime Pay: Considering the extensive work hours and the on-call nature of oil rig operations, overtime is common, which can significantly boost overall earnings.
  • Bonuses: Many oil and gas companies offer performance-related bonuses, which can be substantial. These are typically linked to personal and company performance metrics.
  • Hazard Pay: Given the risky environment in which they work, Derrick Hands might receive hazard pay, further augmenting their income.
  • Per Diem: When assigned to remote locations, workers might receive per diem payments to cover daily expenses, in addition to their regular wages.

Factors Influencing Earnings

The earnings of a Derrick Hand can fluctuate with the oil and gas industry's cyclical nature, which is driven by global oil prices, technological advancements, and geopolitical events. Regions abundant in oil and gas reserves like Texas, North Dakota, and Alberta in Canada typically offer higher wages due to a greater demand for skilled workers.

In conclusion, while the role of a Derrick Hand is physically demanding and potentially hazardous, it is also financially rewarding, with opportunities for significant income growth as one advances in their career.

Career Outlook for Derrick Hand

The career outlook for a Derrick Hand is generally positive and is closely tied to the fluctuations within the oil and gas industry. As global demand for oil and natural gas continues to rise, so does the need for skilled workers to operate and manage the drilling operations that extract these vital resources. However, prospective Derrick Hands should be aware of the industry's susceptibility to economic cycles and geopolitical events which can impact job stability.

Future Trends and Projections

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) categorizes Derrick Hands under the broader employment group of "Derrick Operators, Oil and Gas". While specific data for Derrick Hands can be elusive, the growth for this sector is often reflective of overall trends in oil and gas extraction. According to the BLS, employment in oil and gas extraction is expected to grow 3% from 2019 to 2029, which is about as fast as the average for all occupations.

The increasing adoption of technology and automated processes in drilling operations can affect the demand for manual labor, including Derrick Hands. However, despite the technological advancements, the operational expertise and hands-on experience of Derrick Hands remain critical, solidifying their role within the industry.

Geographical Factors

The demand for Derrick Hands can vary significantly by region, depending on the presence of oil and gas industries. Major oil-producing states in the U.S., such as Texas, Oklahoma, North Dakota, and Alaska, consistently have a higher need for Derrick Hands. Being willing to relocate can significantly enhance one's job prospects and potential earnings in this field.

The Impact of Renewable Energy

Another factor impacting the career outlook for Derrick Hands is the global shift towards renewable energy sources. As countries and corporations invest more in sustainable energy, the oil and gas sector may face a transformative phase, potentially reducing its workforce. However, the expertise of Derrick Hands might still be necessary, adapting to operations that integrate more environmentally-friendly practices or transitioning into roles within the renewable energy sector.

Given these points, individuals aiming to pursue a career as a Derrick Hand should stay informed about industry trends, technologies, and economic factors that could influence their career longevity and progress. Networking within the industry and continuous skill development can enhance job security and career advancement opportunities in this dynamic and demanding field.


  • Is a career as a Derrick Hand a good long-term choice?
    The viability of a career as a Derrick Hand largely depends on the state of the oil and gas industry. While currently stable, it is advisable for one to monitor industry trends closely.
  • What are the best states to work as a Derrick Hand?
    States with robust oil and gas operations such as Texas, Alaska, North Dakota, and Oklahoma offer better opportunities and potentially higher earnings for Derrick Hands.
  • How can Derrick Hands prepare for industry changes?
    Continuous learning and adaptation to new technologies and methods are critical. Also, considering training in other areas such as renewable energy can be beneficial.

Finding Jobs as a Derrick Hand

Finding a position as a Derrick Hand requires a strategic approach, leveraging both industry connections and various job search platforms. Below are detailed strategies and resources to help aspiring Derrick Hands secure employment in this specialized field.

Utilizing Online Job Portals

Many companies post Derrick Hand positions on popular online job boards such as Indeed, Monster, and LinkedIn. These platforms allow you to filter search results by location, experience level, and other pertinent criteria making them a convenient tool for job seekers:

  • Create a tailored resume: Highlight your relevant experience and skills specific to the role of a Derrick Hand.
  • Set up job alerts: Receive notifications for new job postings to ensure you’re one of the first to apply.
  • Engage with company pages: Follow the pages of companies in the oil and gas industry to get updates on job openings and company news.

Networking within the Industry

Building relationships with professionals in the oil and gas sector can markedly increase your chances of finding work as a Derrick Hand:

  • Attend industry conferences and workshops: These gatherings are great opportunities for networking, learning industry trends, and possibly meeting future employers.
  • Join professional associations: Organizations such as the Society of Petroleum Engineers offer resources, events, and networking opportunities beneficial to your career growth.
  • Utilize LinkedIn: Connect with industry professionals and participate in relevant groups to enhance your visibility and credibility in the field.

Apprenticeships and Internships

Gaining practical experience through apprenticeships or internships is invaluable. Many oil and gas companies offer these programs that not only provide hands-on training but also pathway to full-time positions:

  • Check company career pages: Visit the career sections of company websites to find information about apprenticeship and internship opportunities.
  • Apply even if slightly underqualified: Some programs are willing to train enthusiastic candidates who show potential and dedication.

Contacting Recruitment Agencies

Recruitment agencies that specialize in the oil and gas industry can be instrumental in helping find a Derrick Hand role:

  • Energize your job search: These agencies often have exclusive listings and can advocate on your behalf, increasing your chances of landing a job.
  • Prepare for the process: Be ready with a professional resume and be open to attend interviews arranged by the agency.

In conclusion, while the role of a Derrick Hand can be challenging to secure, using a combined approach of online job hunting, networking, participating in apprenticeships, and engaging with recruitment agencies can significantly enhance your job prospects in this competitive field.


Embarking on a career as a Derrick Hand can open up numerous opportunities within the oil and gas industry. This role not only offers a promising salary but also provides scope for advancement into supervisory and higher technical positions. Let's recap some crucial points:

  • Essential Role: Derrick Hands are vital for the operation and efficiency of oil rigs. They ensure the safety and functionality of the rig’s machinery and are a critical part of the drilling crew.
  • Technical and Physical Demands: The job is physically demanding and requires a robust technical understanding of drilling operations. Candidates must be prepared for physically strenuous work in various environmental conditions.
  • Educational Path: While formal education requirements are minimal, and training is primarily on-the-job, pursuing certifications in areas such as rig safety and operation can enhance job prospects and prepare candidates for advanced roles.
  • Career Growth: Starting as a Derrick Hand offers a practical route into the industry with potential for upward mobility. Many Derrick Hands progress to roles like Driller, Rig Manager, or even into specialized operational positions with additional training and experience.
  • Financial Reward: With competitive salaries and potential for overtime, the financial compensation in this field is an attractive aspect, considering the entry-level nature of the position.

If you are seeking a dynamic and engaging career that offers both challenges and rewards, becoming a Derrick Hand might be the right path. The role demands dedication and resilience but offers significant rewards, including competitive pay, job security, and the satisfaction of playing a critical role in the energy sector.

By understanding the responsibilities, requirements, and prospects of this position, you can make an informed decision about whether this is the right career path for you. For those motivated by the prospect of working in a hands-on, high-energy environment, the position of a Derrick Hand offers a fulfilling career trajectory.


Here are some frequently asked questions about becoming and working as a Derrick Hand to help provide deeper insights into the career:

What is the primary role of a Derrick Hand?

A Derrick Hand works on oil and gas rigs, primarily responsible for managing the uppermost section of the drilling apparatus. They handle the machinery used for drilling, oversee the addition of pipes to the drilling shaft, and ensure the stability and functionality of the rig's derrick structure.

Do I need any specific certification to become a Derrick Hand?

While not always mandatory, obtaining certifications such as a Well Control Certificate or safety certifications can enhance employment prospects and demonstrate competence in overseeing complex and potentially hazardous operations.

How physically demanding is the job of a Derrick Hand?

  • High Physical Demand: The role requires considerable physical strength and stamina, as Derrick Hands must handle heavy equipment and perform most of their duties standing or moving.
  • Variability in Weather Conditions: Derrick Hands work outdoors and are often subject to various weather conditions, which can add to the physical challenges of the job.

What are the typical working hours for a Derrick Hand?

Derrick Hands generally work in shifts, which can be long and extend over weekends and public holidays. The nature of the work often requires round-the-clock operations, especially when deadlines are tight or during emergencies.

Is there a career progression for a Derrick Hand?

Yes, experienced Derrick Hands can progress to supervisory roles, such as Rig Managers or Drill Leaders. With further education and experience, some move into more specialized technical roles or into corporate management within the energy sector.

What is the average salary for a Derrick Hand?

Salaries can vary significantly based on factors like location, employer, experience, and prevailing economic conditions. Generally, Derrick Hands earn a competitive wage, often supplemented with bonuses and benefits due to the demanding nature of the work.

What skills are crucial for Derrick Hands?

  • Mechanical Skills: To operate and maintain drilling equipment efficiently.
  • Physical Stamina: Necessary for long hours and hard physical labor.
  • Teamwork: Ability to work collaboratively in high-risk environments.
  • Problem-Solving Abilities: Essential for quickly addressing issues that may arise during drilling.

Can women work as Derrick Hands?

While historically dominated by men, the field is increasingly open to women who are capable of meeting the physical and technical requirements of the role. Diversity in the workplace is growing, and companies are actively working to support inclusion in all roles within the oil and gas industry.

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