Most people wouldn’t dream of being in a situation that involved electricity and water, much less chooses a career that combined them. Underwater welding involves both and is done by rugged, quick-thinking welders who have put in hours of training.
Though it might sound too dangerous, these welders are professionals who work efficiently in challenging conditions. Underwater welding is a high-demand skill needed by many of today’s industries.
Maybe you’re just starting welding and wondering what your future may hold, or you’re already a welder and ready to advance your skills and position.
Underwater welding requires specialized diving training and high-risk situations, but the payoff is worth it. It’s one of the highest-paying welding jobs you’ll find.
By now, you’re probably wondering what this involves and how you can be a part of this elite welding force.
Here’s your one-stop guide to this rewarding career.
What is Underwater Welding, and How Does it Work?
As the name implies, underwater welding is performed under the water. Welders complete their tasks while submerged in either shallow or deep water. They are often working at elevated barometric pressures, depending on water depth.
There are two types of underwater welding, each with its pros and cons.
Wet welding takes place directly in the water. The process is similar to ordinary metal arc welding, but the equipment and materials are slightly different.
Wet welding involves an electrode with a waterproof coating, a very simple, well-insulated stinger, and a welding machine.
The machine is above water and run by a control team. Unlike topside welding, communication is critical for wet welding because the unit controls the amperage while the welders make their joints.
Here’s a run-down of the pros and cons:
Pros of Wet Welding
- Fast and cost-effective
- Weld has a high tensile strength
- Work spot is easy to access
- No construction or habitat required
Cons of Wet Welding
- Direct exposure of the diver and electrode to water and elements poses a shock risk.
- Fighting water currents that can affect precision, tangle equipment, or throw a welder off balance
- Risk of decompression sickness for diver
- Less visibility can lead to less precise work
- The strength of the weld is affected by bubbling and deposition rate
In dry welding, a chamber is sealed around a work area and filled with a mixture of gases to push water out and create a dry working environment. The room is then pressurized appropriately. This form is also known as hyperbaric welding.
These chambers are called habitats.
Dry Welding Techniques
Pressure welding is done in a chamber with the same pressure as the air at sea level.
Habitat welding is done in a chamber that is the size of a small room, where the pressure inside is the same as the surrounding pressure at that working depth.
Dry Chamber Welding
Dry chamber welding is done in a small chamber that accommodates the welder’s neck and shoulders and is entered from the bottom.
Dry Spot Welding
Dry spot welding is done in a significant enough habitat to accommodate the welder’s electrode.
The technique chosen depends on the size and nature of the specific job.
Pros of Dry Welding
- Welders can work more safely
- Higher weld quality, more precise
- Multiple welding processes can be used
- Better surface monitoring
- Welds can be tested without destruction risk
- Suitable for extensive jobs that will take longer to complete
- Significant habitats can accommodate two welders for comprehensive welds, allowing them to take turns or “shifts.”
- Good visibility
Cons of Dry Welding
- More expensive for the company
- Longer set-up process
- Working conditions can be cramped
- Surrounding pressurized gases influence electrode arc and can affect the accuracy
The type of underwater welding a company uses will depend on several factors, such as:
- Money available for the project
- Estimated time length of the project
- Welder/diver skill level
- Safety issues
- Location and depth of job site
Work Locations: Inland or Offshore
Underwater welders will either work inland or offshore. The pay, work schedule, and risks are different for each.
Inland underwater welders work in water locations that are not the ocean, such as rivers, lakes, ponds, and tanks. Here’s what they’re usually working on:
- Small vessels
- Intake systems
Inland welders have a more regular schedule, and most go home in the evening. Since you’re not out at sea, you don’t usually have to stay on the job site. Also, there is work available year-round.
These welders are paid slightly less than offshore welders but usually receive constant wages. Inland welders’ salaries range from $40,000 to $80,000 a year.
Offshore welders work in the ocean. Most offshore jobs involve more extensive operations such as:
- Petroleum pipelines
- Large ships, including military ships
- Oil rigs
Offshore welders have a demanding schedule and must be away from home for long periods. Jobs usually last 4-6 weeks, and the workdays are long, with shifts that are 10 hours plus. 80-hour work weeks are pretty standard.
Offshore welding, unlike inland, is seasonal. Operations are shut down, and there isn’t work available during these times. With hurricanes and tsunamis, welding jobs in the ocean are too risky in winter and early spring.
Offshore welders work more overtime, are often away from home for long periods, and face more significant risks than inland welders, so their pay is higher. Salaries for inland welders range from $80,000 to $100,000 a year and up.
Read next – Best Welding Jacket – Guide & Reviews
What Kind of Training is Required?
Underwater welding requires the welder to have intensive training in two areas.
Underwater welders must be able to perform all welding tasks that other welders perform skillfully. Able to accurately accomplish a wide range of tasks, including underwater fitting, cutting, rigging, inspection, testing, and photography. They are certified welders and have underwater welder training.
What sets underwater welders apart is that they must be trained divers who have earned a commercial diving certification in addition to having specific welding skills.
Underwater welders are called welder-divers because that’s precisely what they are. Whether it’s a shallow dive to reach a work spot or a plunge to a more profound job, these professionals are fully trained in all aspects of diving.
Read Next – What To Look For In The Best Welding Helmet
Gearing Up and Getting to Work: Special Underwater Welding Equipment
Since welder divers will be submerged in water, their equipment needs will be markedly different from those of ordinary welders.
Equipment needed will vary from job to job. Wet and dry welding jobs require slightly different equipment to ensure welder safety and weld quality.
Protection is Paramount
Wet welding requires that the welder-diver wear appropriate underwater gear. Most use a drysuit, which provides better climate control and more protection than a typical wetsuit worn by divers.
For additional protection, some welders wear coveralls over their drysuit. This prevents the molten metal from burning through their drysuit if an accident should occur. Thick rubber gloves over several layers of latex cover the hands.
A Breath of Fresh Air Under the Water
A commercial diving helmet is necessary for situations where you’ll dive to reach a site or work beneath the surface of the water.
These keep water out and oxygen-rich air in. They also feature a welding screen that attaches to the front of the helmet and can be flipped up or down while working.
SSA versus SCUBA
Wet welding uses SSA, surface-supplied air, instead of air tanks like SCUBA divers. From their helmets, welders are attached by supply hoses called umbilical cables to a compressor above the water. All air comes from this compressor through the hose, so the supply is steady.
The advantage of SSA in underwater welding is that it can provide air for longer, unlike portable tanks that must be refilled. More work can be done without having to worry about air supply.
Welders also carry a bailout tank in case of emergencies.
Occupational Hazards of Underwater Welding
Underwater welding is not without risks. It’s considered one of the most dangerous jobs in the world.
Of course, the usual safety concerns and measures are involved with welding. But some are unique to working in the water.
Here are the tops safety hazards in this line of work:
- Electric shock
- The underwater explosion from gases produced by welding
- Decompression sickness, or “the bends,” when divers surface too quickly
- Freezing from exposure to cold in a deep-water setting
This is where rigorous training and thorough safety measures pay off. With the right equipment, a solid emergency plan, and superior knowledge and experience, many of the significant risks of underwater welding can be avoided.
A Career for the Best of the Best
Underwater welding is essential in modern industries and valuable for several reasons. There are jobs all over the world in need of professional welder-divers with specialized training.
Timing, attention to detail, and mastery of welding are crucial in the underwater environment. Only the most dedicated, skilled welders can handle the work pressures and dangers that are part of the package with this job.
If you’re ready to take your welding career to the highest level, consider the challenge of underwater welding.
For more information on welding and the best equipment, visit our blog. You’ll find reviews and loads of information on everything from events to techniques to equipment.