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Underwater Welder

Career Guide: How to become an Underwater Welder


Welcome to the comprehensive career guide for aspiring underwater welders. This specialized field combines the skills of welding with the challenges and adventures of underwater work, offering unique opportunities and substantial rewards. Whether you are considering entering this exciting profession or simply curious about what it entails, this guide aims to provide detailed insights into the world of underwater welding.

Underwater welding, also known as hyperbaric welding, involves performing welding tasks under water, usually in oceanic or other water-bound environments. It is a career that requires not only proficient welding skills but also strong diving capabilities. This guide will walk you through what an underwater welder does, the skills and qualifications required, how long it takes to become one, potential earnings, and the career outlook for those entering this field.

Additionally, we'll discuss how to find job opportunities and answer some frequently asked questions about the profession. By the end of this guide, you'll have a thorough understanding of the underwater welding career and the steps you need to take to embark on this adventurous and rewarding profession.

What Is an Underwater Welder?

Underwater welding, often referred to as hyperbaric welding, is a specialized profession that combines welding and diving skills to conduct repairs and construction on submerged structures. This role is crucial in industries such as offshore oil drilling, ship repair, and underwater pipeline projects.

There are two primary types of underwater welding: wet welding and dry welding. Wet welding is performed directly in the water, using specific equipment that functions effectively in a submerged environment. In contrast, dry welding involves the use of a hyperbaric chamber, which excludes water from the work environment and simulates atmospheric pressure conditions.

Underwater welders often work in challenging and hazardous conditions, facing the dual risks associated with both deep-sea diving and welding. This career is not only physically demanding but also requires a high level of technical skill and mental fortitude. The stakes are high, as each project carries significant risks, but also substantial rewards, making this field both exciting and lucrative for those with the necessary qualifications.

Key Responsibilities of an Underwater Welder

The job of an underwater welder is both demanding and exhilarating, combining the skills of welding with the complexities of diving deep into the marine environment. An underwater welder assumes numerous responsibilities that are critical for various underwater structures in industries such as oil and gas extraction, ship maintenance and repair, and construction. Here are the primary responsibilities they undertake:

  • Inspection and Assessment: Before any welding process begins, underwater welders must evaluate and inspect the structure or equipment to ensure that it is stable, and assess any risks associated with the task. This includes checking for damage or material degradation that may affect the integrity of the weld.
  • Weld Preparation: Underwater welders are responsible for preparing the material surfaces to be joined, which can involve cleaning, cutting, and fitting. This initial preparation is critical as it affects the strength and quality of the weld.
  • Welding Execution: Employing various techniques, underwater welders perform welds according to specified standards and procedures. This requires a high level of skill and knowledge of welding technologies, particularly as they must operate hand and power tools while submerged.
  • Underwater Cutting: Besides welding, these professionals are often required to cut through metal using specialized equipment. This task is essential during salvage operations or when removing damaged parts of a structure.
  • Safety Compliance: Safety is paramount in underwater welding. Welders must adhere to diving and welding safety protocols to prevent accidents and ensure their health and the well-being of their team members.
  • Post-Welding Evaluation and Testing: After the welding job, underwater welders must check the integrity of the welds through non-destructive testing methods. They ensure that the welds are secure and meet all required specifications and safety standards.

Underwater welders often work in challenging and unpredictable environments, facing factors like varying water currents and visibility issues. Such conditions require them to be adaptable, precise, and always vigilant about their surroundings and safety procedures. Despite the challenges, the role of an underwater welder is critical in maintaining the functionality and safety of underwater operations and installations. This profession demands not only technical skills in welding but also competencies in commercial diving.

How Long Does it Take to Become an Underwater Welder?

Becoming an underwater welder requires a specific set of skills and certifications that typically involve several stages of training. The timeline to enter this career can vary based on prior experience, the intensity of the training programs, and the individual’s aptitude. Here, we’ll explore the typical path and timelines associated with becoming a professional underwater welder.

Step 1: Basic Education

The journey typically begins with obtaining a high school diploma or equivalent. Fundamental subjects such as mathematics and physical science form a good base. This basic education is crucial as it ensures that candidates have the minimum academic skills needed for the advanced training to come.

Step 2: Professional Diving Training

Next, aspiring underwater welders must become certified divers. A commercial diving course, which typically can be completed in about six months to a year, covers diving physics, diving medicine, blueprint reading, and underwater cutting. Schools offering these courses usually require students to complete a specified number of dives under supervised conditions.

Step 3: Welding Certification

Simultaneously or subsequently, candidates must acquire welding certifications. This training can vary widely in duration, often requiring several months to a year depending on the type of welding one chooses to specialize in. The American Welding Society (AWS) and other similar entities offer certification courses that ensure a welder meets industry standards.

Step 4: Specialty Skills and Certifications

Specialized training for underwater welding specifically bridges the gap between scuba diving proficiency and expert welding capability. This part of the training usually involves rigorous physical and technical challenges and can last from a few weeks to several months.

Total Time Investment

Combining these steps, the whole process can typically take from about 2 to 3 years from start to finish. This estimation might vary based on whether training courses are taken full-time or part-time, the individual’s ability to pass certification tests, and the length of time taken to gain necessary experience.

Continuing Education and Experience

Becoming an underwater welder doesn’t end with the initial certifications. Continuous learning through additional certifications, updating old ones, and accumulating on-the-job experience are essential for career advancement. Many welders continue to learn throughout their career to keep up with new technologies and methods.

In conclusion, the path to becoming an underwater welder is intensive and requires a significant commitment of time and energy. However, for those passionate about merging the skills of welding with the adventure of diving, the investment can be highly rewarding.

What Are the Qualifications Required to Become an Underwater Welder?

Becoming an underwater welder requires a combination of formal training, certification, and practical experience. The road to entering this niche and demanding field includes several key educational and professional steps that ensure both safety and proficiency.

Educational Requirements

The first step towards a career in underwater welding is completing a high school diploma or equivalent. Post-secondary education, though not mandatory, can significantly improve a candidate’s prospects. Degrees or courses in fields related to welding, commercial diving, marine engineering, or metallurgy are particularly beneficial.

Professional Diving Certification

Prospective underwater welders must become certified divers. The most recognized certification is from the Commercial Diving Academy which provides training in underwater skills, use of diving equipment, and safety procedures. Training typically covers:

  • Scuba diving
  • Surface-supplied diving
  • Dive medicine
  • Underwater cutting and welding

Welding Certification

After acquiring diving skills, the next step is obtaining a welding certification. Recognized institutions like the American Welding Society (AWS) offer Certified Welder (CW) programs. This certification involves training in various welding techniques and materials, ensuring welders meet industry standards.

Specialized Underwater Welding Training

While some commercial diving programs include basic underwater welding as part of their curriculum, specializing requires further training specifically focused on underwater welding. This training often involves rigorous courses on wet and dry welding techniques and may be conducted in realistic underwater environments.

Work Experience

Gaining work experience in above-water welding or surface-supplied diving operations can be invaluable. Experience helps in building proficiency with equipment and techniques which are crucial when transitioning to underwater operations.

Licensure and Medical Fitness

Underwater welders must pass a diving physical examination to ensure they are medically fit for the demands of underwater work. Additionally, various regions or employers may require specific licenses or adherence to certain safety regulations.

In summary, becoming an underwater welder involves a combination of educational achievements, certifications in diving and welding, specialized training in underwater welding techniques, and relevant work experience. Ensuring physical fitness and obtaining necessary licenses are also critical steps in preparing for this challenging career.

What are the Skills and Knowledge Required to Become an Underwater Welder?

An underwater welder must possess a unique blend of skills and knowledge that not only includes proficiency in welding but also expertise in diving. This field requires a candidate to be highly competent in both domains to ensure safety and quality in the challenging underwater environment.

Technical Welding Skills

Underwater welders must have advanced welding skills, which typically include expertise in various welding techniques such as:

  • Shielded Metal Arc Welding (SMAW)
  • Gas Tungsten Arc Welding (GTAW)
  • Flux-Cored Arc Welding (FCAW)

Knowledge of metallurgy and the ability to interpret blueprints and technical drawings is also essential. The environment underwater can affect welding, so understanding the peculiarities of different metals and how they react under water pressure and temperature is crucial.

Diving Skills

Since the core of their job is performed underwater, professional diving skills are equally essential. Underwater welders should be trained commercial divers, familiar with:

  • Scuba and surface-supplied diving
  • Underwater safety and emergency procedures
  • Dive medicine and physics

Handling hyperbaric chambers and understanding decompression principles are also critical for maintaining health and safety during and after dives.

Physical and Mental Fitness

The physical demands of diving and underwater welding are immense. Underwater welders need to maintain excellent physical fitness to manage the heavy equipment and endure the labor-intensive nature of their work underwater. Mental resilience is necessary to cope with the isolated, and sometimes high-stress environments, especially in deep water or inclement weather conditions.

Problem-solving and Communication Skills

Underwater welders must possess strong problem-solving skills to troubleshoot issues that may arise during a welding job. Innovating solutions on the fly is crucial given that the underwater environment can present unexpected challenges. Effective communication is also vital, particularly in terms of using hand signals and other non-verbal cues for underwater operations.

Becoming proficient in both domains of welding and diving, coupled with a robust set of soft skills, makes for a skilled underwater welder capable of managing the multifarious aspects of this demanding profession.

How Much Does an Underwater Welder Make?

The compensation for underwater welders can vary significantly based on a range of factors including experience, location, the nature of the job, and the level of risk involved. However, this career is often noted for its potential to offer high earnings, especially for those willing to take on more challenging projects.

Entry-Level Salaries: Starting salaries for newly certified underwater welders generally begin around $40,000 annually. Entry-level positions often involve lesser risk tasks and are crucial for gaining practical experience in the field.

Mid-Career Salaries: As underwater welders gain experience and hone their skills, their earnings potential increases. Mid-career professionals can expect to earn between $50,000 and $80,000 annually. Those specializing in deeper or more hazardous dives, or who have developed rare skills, can earn even more.

Top Earners: The top earners in underwater welding often perform hyperbaric welding on offshore facilities or in sub-sea environments. These high-risk environments command salaries that can exceed $100,000 annually, with some reports of earnings up to $300,000 for highly specialized projects under extreme conditions.

It's important to note that many underwater welders are paid per project or on a contract basis, which means that annual earnings can fluctuate based on the number and type of jobs undertaken. Additionally, underwater welders often receive additional hazard pay on top of their base salary, which can significantly increase their total income.

  • Additional Benefits: Apart from the salary, underwater welders might also receive benefits such as health insurance, retirement plans, and paid leave. These benefits can vary by employer.
  • Freelance Work: Some underwater welders work on a freelance basis, which might offer higher pay per project but lacks the security and benefits of full-time employment.

A career in underwater welding not only demands technical skills and physical endurance but also offers the lure of lucrative pay, especially for those skilled in complex, high-risk projects. As with any high-paying job that involves physical risks, the rewards come in tandem with the extent of the risks and demands faced by the professionals in the field.

Career Outlook for Underwater Welders

The future looks promising for underwater welders, though it is a niche field with several unique factors affecting job availability and demand. The construction and maintenance of offshore oil platforms, underwater pipelines, and ships continue to require skilled underwater welders, making it a relevant career choice. Furthermore, as the infrastructural needs expand with advances in technology and global economic growth, the need for repair and construction in underwater settings is bound to increase.

However, the career outlook for underwater welders can also be influenced by economic cycles, particularly in industries like oil and gas extraction which can be volatile. When prices of oil and gas are high, there might be increased activity in offshore exploration and production, potentially leading to more job opportunities. Conversely, downturns in these sectors can lead to fewer contracts available for underwater welders.

Moreover, the advancement in robotics and automated technology may pose a challenge as more companies begin exploring these options to ensure safety and reduce human risk in highly dangerous underwater environments. Despite this, the specialized skills and expertise of underwater welders cannot be fully replaced by machines, emphasizing the ongoing need for human operators particularly in complex or sensitive tasks.

  • Global Opportunities: As shipping industries and marine infrastructure continue to grow internationally, the demand for underwater welders is not just limited to any single region. This offers potential global mobility for those in the profession seeking to work in different parts of the world.
  • Job Diversification: Experienced underwater welders have the opportunity to advance into higher positions such as supervisors, consultants, or instructors in diving schools, thereby diversifying their career paths.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics does not specifically track job outlook for underwater welders, but includes them under commercial divers, where employment is expected to grow. As per their latest data, employment of commercial divers, including underwater welders, is projected to grow 5 percent from 2019 to 2029, faster than the average for all occupations. This growth rate suggests a moderately positive outlook for those looking to enter the field in the coming years.

Finding Jobs as an Underwater Welder

Finding employment as an underwater welder involves a strategic mix of networking, the right qualifications, and an understanding of the industries that hire these professionals. As this career is highly specialized, job openings may not be as regular or as numerous as in other fields. Below are effective strategies that can guide you in securing a position as an underwater welder.

Industry-Specific Job Boards

Begin your job search by looking at job boards that specialize in underwater or marine positions. Websites such as and regularly list opportunities for underwater welders. These platforms are tailored to the niche needs of the marine industry and can be a valuable resource.


Networking remains a potent tool in any job search, particularly in specialized fields. Engage with professional diving organizations, attend industry conferences, and participate in forums and online groups related to underwater welding. Connections made through these channels can often lead to job opportunities. Becoming an active member of the Association of Diving Contractors International (ADCI) can also enhance your visibility in the industry.

Recruitment Agencies

Register with recruitment agencies that specialize in marine and underwater roles. These agencies have direct contacts within the industry and can significantly ease the job hunting process. They also often have access to jobs that aren't advertised publicly.

Direct Application

Identify companies that frequently undertake underwater construction and maintenance projects such as oil companies, shipyards, and marine construction firms. Visiting the careers section of their websites allows you to apply directly for any listed openings. Don't hesitate to send a speculative application; it shows initiative and interest.

Federal and Government Positions

Underwater welders are sometimes needed for government projects, including bridge repair, water treatment, and maintenance of naval vessels. Regularly check the respective government job portals for these positions.

Internships and Apprenticeships

If you're new to the industry, consider internships or apprenticeships. These positions offer on-the-job training and are a productive way to gain real-world experience while establishing important industry contacts.

In your pursuit of a position as an underwater welder, persistence and continuous skill development are crucial. The market is competitive, and roles are highly demanding, but with the right approach, finding a job in this intriguing field is entirely feasible.


In conclusion, a career as an underwater welder offers both exhilarating challenges and rewarding opportunities. It’s a profession that demands not only technical skills and expertise but also a high degree of physical fitness and mental resilience. While the path to becoming an underwater welder is rigorous, involving both diving certification and welding expertise, the rewards can be substantial, including high pay and the chance to work in unique environments around the globe.

Underwater welders play a critical role in a variety of industries, from oil and gas extraction to underwater infrastructure maintenance and repair. The job includes a mix of adventure and rigorous physical work, often under demanding conditions. For those who thrive in less conventional settings, and are eager for a career that breaks the mold of a typical 9-to-5 job, underwater welding might be the perfect fit.

If you are drawn to formidable, dynamic work environments and possess an interest in both diving and welding, pursuing a career in underwater welding could be a deeply fulfilling path. Thus, continuous learning and adherence to safety norms are pivotal to not only advancing in this field but also ensuring long-term wellbeing and success. With the right preparation and mindset, a promising and exciting career as an underwater welder awaits.


What education is needed to become an underwater welder?

To become an underwater welder, you typically need a high school diploma followed by specialized training in welding and commercial diving. Many pursue a certificate or degree from a commercial diving school accredited by the Association of Commercial Diving Educators (ACDE).

Is underwater welding dangerous?

Yes, underwater welding is considered one of the more dangerous jobs due to risks such as electric shock, decompression sickness, and potential hazards from working underwater in varying environments.

How long do underwater welding careers typically last?

Underwater welding careers can vary widely depending on physical ability and the demanding nature of the work. Many divers transition into less physically demanding roles within commercial diving after about 5 to 10 years.

What tools does an underwater welder use?

  • Welding equipment designed for underwater use
  • Hydraulic or pneumatic power tools
  • Diving gears such as wet suits, helmets with communications systems, and breathing apparatus

Can underwater welders work internationally?

Yes, underwater welders often have opportunities to work abroad, especially on offshore oil rigs and in underwater construction projects around the world.

What is the most challenging aspect of underwater welding?

The most challenging aspects often include the hostile underwater environment, the need for meticulous safety precautions, and managing complex tasks with precision under pressure.

Are there opportunities for advancement in the underwater welding career?

Yes, experienced underwater welders can advance to supervisory roles, diving operation managers, or shift into related fields like underwater inspection and salvage operations.

What kind of certification is required for an underwater welder?

Certifications from accredited bodies like the American Welding Society (AWS) and training in diving from institutions certified by the Divers Certification Board of Canada (DCBC) or similar are generally required.

How often do underwater welders need to renew their skills or certifications?

Certifications such as those for diving and welding require regular renewal, often every few years, alongside continuous practice and upskilling to stay current with technological advancements and safety protocols.

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