Divers work underwater in rivers, canals, lakes, reservoirs and the sea. The work they carry out varies greatly depending on the sector in which they are employed.
The different types of diving work include:
Offshore diving - mainly on oil and gas installations in deep water, helping to build and maintain offshore platforms, underwater equipment and pipelines. Some divers help to build and maintain offshore wind farms.
Inland and inshore diving - in shallow and fresh waters for civil engineering or marine projects, fish farms and aquariums. Tasks could include building, inspecting and repairing harbours, piers, ships, outfalls, locks and bridges, demolition and salvage, renewing pipelines, assessing fishing equipment and conducting marine surveys.
Shellfish diving - cultivating and harvesting shellfish in inshore and inland waters.
Scientific and archaeological diving - recording and surveying sites of historical interest, recovering articles and conducting scientific research, educational classes or environmental impact assessments on the seabed.
Media diving - for film and television productions. Divers work as stunt performers, journalists, presenters, photographers, camera operators, and sound and lighting technicians.
Recreational or sports diving - training people to dive for enjoyment, and leading groups of recreational divers.
Police and military diving - police divers search for missing persons and recover stolen property and evidence. Royal Navy mine clearance divers identify and dispose of underwater mines and explosives. They also conduct underwater engineering operations such as ship repair. Army Royal Engineers may work as divers, undertaking reconnaissance, construction and demolition tasks.
Many commercial divers use engineering or scientific skills in their work, including underwater inspection, non-destructive testing, welding, cutting and burning, and operating tools and remote equipment.
Working hours vary between jobs, but divers often work unsocial hours. Most divers work full time when employed, but police and army divers have additional roles.
The amount of time divers spend underwater is strictly controlled.
Working underwater can be cold, dark and often dirty. Divers wear protective clothing, consisting of wetsuits, drysuits or 'hot water' suits, helmets or masks, fins and breathing apparatus. Divers working on some offshore jobs ('saturation diving') may have to live for up to 28 days in diving bells that simulate undersea pressure.
Divers may have to move around the country to find work. Many only work between 120 and 180 diving days a year.
Diving is strenuous and hazardous. Apart from accidents, there is a risk of illnesses, including decompression sickness and gas contamination.
Diving instructors and guides in the tourist industry may start on around £16,000 a year.
Experienced commercial, armed forces or police divers may earn between £22,500 and £40,000 a year.
Top saturation divers working in the North Sea could earn as much as £150,000 a year.
Many commercial divers are paid on a daily rate.
There are around 5,000 divers working in the UK. Most are employed on short-term contracts by firms of diving contractors. Other employers include:
- Civil engineering companies
- Oceanography centres and marine laboratories
- Government agencies, such as the Environment Agency
- Port authorities
- Archaeological research organisations
- TV/film production companies
- Commercial diving schools
- Holiday companies
- Police services
- The Royal Navy and the army
There is currently a worldwide shortage of offshore divers due to expansion in the oil and gas sector, and new developments such as offshore wind farms. Employers tend to give preference to experienced applicants, so finding work may be difficult for newly qualified divers. There is also a shortage of skilled archaeological divers.
Divers generally approach employers directly for work. Some vacancies are advertised on www.diversjobs.com or www.oilcareers.com The International Marine Contractors Association (IMCA) and the Association of Diving Contractors (ADC) websites provide lists of approved offshore and inshore contractors.
To become any form of working diver, it is necessary to gain a qualification approved by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). There are different levels of certification according to the work to be undertaken, covering the following main areas:
- Inshore air diving
- Offshore air diving
- Offshore bell/saturation diving
There are no minimum qualifications for entry to diver training courses, although basic maths and English skills may be tested. Recreational diving experience is useful, but qualifications gained are not recognised for commercial diving purposes.
Divers must pass a thorough medical examination before training and every 12 months once qualified. Offshore divers must also complete a basic offshore safety induction and emergency training (BOSIET) course and hold current first aid certificates.
Most opportunities are for commercial divers with engineering, construction or scientific skills. It is advisable to gain relevant technical or academic qualifications before training to dive. Examples include NVQ's in welding or non-destructive testing, or degrees in engineering, archaeology or marine biology.
Some higher education courses, such as offshore or coastal engineering and marine science degrees, enable students to learn to dive.
Police divers need to have been police officers for at least two years before applying to become a diver. Divers are only required by police forces with an underwater search unit. They must pass fitness, medical and swimming tests.
Royal Navy applicants must pass entry tests, strength and fitness tests, security checks and a medical. It helps to have GCSE's (A*-C) in English and maths. It is possible to apply for a pre-entry suitability test.
Army divers are selected from applicants who have served with the Royal Engineers for at least four years. Opportunities only exist in specific army units.
Training takes place at an HSE-approved diving school. Training varies according to the qualification, but includes theory, practical exercises, and first aid and safety training. Courses usually last between one week and thirteen weeks.
Diver training and equipment is expensive. Grants may be available to help fund training. Diving schools may be able to provide more information.
Police, Army and Royal Navy divers undergo courses at dedicated training schools. Basic training lasts between eight weeks (Army and police) and twenty weeks (Royal Navy).
Oil Drilling Roustabouts and Roughnecks work as part of a small team on offshore oil or gas drilling rigs or production platforms. Roustabouts do unskilled manual labouring jobs on rigs and platforms, and Roughneck is a promotion from roustabout.
Roustabouts do basic tasks to help keep the rig and platform working efficiently and Roughnecks do practical tasks involved in the drilling operation, under the supervision of the driller.
A diver should be:
Divers can extend their range of diving work by training for different levels of certification. Many begin with inshore diving work before moving to higher paid jobs offshore. With experience, it is possible to become a dive supervisor or a shore-based operations manager.
Recreational diving instructors can specialise (e.g. wreck diving, night diving) or start their own diving school or shop.
There are good opportunities to work overseas.
The Association of Diving Contractors (ADC)
The British Sub Aqua Club (BSAC),
Telford's Quay, South Pier Road,
Ellesmere Port, Cheshire CH65 4FL
Tel: 0151 350 6200
Health and Safety Executive (HSE),
Diving Operations Strategy Team
HID OSD 4.4 Wren House, Hedgerows Business Park,
Colchester Road, Springfield, Chelmsford CM2 5PF
Tel: 01245 706256
The International Marine Contractors
52 Grosvenor Gardens, London SW1W 0AU
Tel: 020 7824 5520
Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI),
Unit 7, St Philips Central, Albert Road,
St Philips, Bristol BS2 0PD
Tel: 0117 300 7234
Royal Navy Careers
Tel: 08456 075555
Society for Underwater Technology (SUT),
80 Coleman Street, London EC2R 5BJ
Tel: 020 7382 2601
Additional resources for job seekers and those already in a job.