The following article is from the old National Association of Commercial Divers (NAOCD) website. Author unknown. Some of the information is outdated but all and all its a good read for those thinking about becoming a commercial diver.
So...You Want to be a Commercial Diver?*
Revised, April 2001
So...you're thinking about being a commercial diver?
Did you see suggestive pictures, or catchy captions in one of the scuba magazines? "Excitement, Adventure, and Money" ring a bell? Have you assumed that because of the inherit risk commercial divers work with, that they must earn great salaries? Perhaps you like scuba diving and thinking about taking it a step further and making it a profession of some sort? A lot of commercial divers started out with those same thoughts. But before you shell out your money or make a major career change, here are some in-depth facts, without the hype, that you need to consider.
WHAT IS COMMERCIAL DIVING?
You often hear in the commercial diving industry, things like "a commercial diver is really only a construction worker that is also a diver", or "diving is just a mode of transportation to get down to the job site". This is very true. Essentially, everything that is done on a land based construction site is done underwater, from welding, to pile driving, and everything with patching, maintaining and replacing. The key for anyone that is thinking about becoming a commercial diver to remember is that it doesn't matter how good a diver you are as a main concern, but how good you are on the construction site. Employers are looking for divers that can put it together, build it, fix it, better, faster, and with less problems, and not that you necessarily swim 4 miles a day. This means you will be doing labor intensive work, just like your counterpart on the surface. Except you will have the added bonus of doing it in cold water, with little to no viability, often in layers of mud and sludge, and under the pressure of an already hostile underwater environment.
Commercial divers are apart from the mainstream and most take great pride and satisfaction on being able to do a job that few other individuals can. Often having to do more with less than their counterpart on dry land, because at 140ft, you can't run down the hardware store and get a different wrench without a major break and time loss on the job. They are resourceful, good at working alone and making decisions and developing solutions. Most commercial divers truly love what they do and look at the rough conditions that they have to work in as just another challenge to their abilities.
Commercial diving is also a very hazardous occupation. The CDC reported in 1998 that commercial diving fatalities are 40 times higher than any other industry.
THE COMMERCIAL DIVING INDUSTRY.
Most commercial diving work is usually defined in two different areas, Off-shore and Inland. Off-shore commercial diving consists of diving in the oceans and usually the work is in support of the oil and gas industry, working on wells and pipelines. In the United States, the majority of off-shore work is in the Gulf of Mexico with most companies located in the Louisiana and Texas coastal areas. Inland commercial diving consists of diving in lakes, rivers, and other inland waterways in support of industries like power plants, bridge maintenance, and ship building. Inland diving companies are small and are located across the united states.
Commercial diving work, like most construction type work, is seasonal, weather dependent, and, off-shore, it is also dependent on the oil and gas market. Lay-offs are common in the bigger commercial diving companies. You can be going on all cylinders during the summer months and twiddling your thumbs during the winter months. When your not working, you do not get paid. If weather is bad, same thing. If you are sick, with the exception of some of the larger companies that will pay sick days at shop pay level, you don't get paid.
Working off-shore in the Gulf of Mexico (60% of divers), you can expect to start out as a tender making about $8.00/hour shop pay, and $9.00/hour when working off-shore. You will start your career as a tender for the first 18-36 months, no matter what your experience, training, or educational level is. Working conditions in the Gulf can truly be deplorable, especially for a tender. Consequently, the industry has a 70% attrition rate of tenders before the end of their first year in the industry. To cover this problem, most of the larger commercial diving companies over hire new tenders. This means that in most cases, newly hired tenders get less of the off-shore jobs where they can make more money.
How quickly you break-out as a diver, will be dependent on how well you do your job as a tender and not how long or how fancy your diving training has been. Divers can start around $11.00/hr, off-shore. Experienced divers with 5+ years experience with backgrounds in different areas of diving and construction can make a relatively decent salary of between $35-70k a year. Saturation diving pays more, at about $850 per 24-day. Saturation work is about 5-10% of the industry work so if you do it, it will be infrequent.
Inland work can be better paying to start and it takes less time to break-out. Many inland companies will have you in the water within a month or two, depending on the work they do. Diving in the inland environment can be more difficult and more dangerous because those jobs are usually done in extreme cold waters, no viability, and confined areas, not to mention the unknown debris that might be around. Despite those conditions, many divers prefer inland work, as opposed to working off-shore, because the companies are smaller with less politics, conditions are less demoralizing, they can earn more an hour, and they get to know the abilities of other divers they work with much better.
Union scale wages for commercial divers are far more realistic in respect that it takes into consideration the risk divers take and the technical knowledge they have to have. Unions start divers at about $34/hour. There are no union jobs in the Gulf of Mexico and few in the inland industry making these jobs few and hard to get into.
Getting a job after graduating from diving school is not usually a problem. Most schools have good relationships with company recruiters and can place most of their graduates. Getting a job initially will not be the problem. Getting and keeping steady work will be. The industry as a wh*** looses about 7 out of 10 divers their first year working after graduation, and only 1 out of 20 are still working as divers after five years. Don't let high statistics on job placement blind you to the problems of finding enough work year around and the actual retention rate.
$Thirty-five thousand dollars your first year seems to be the magic number that the diving schools like to use while recruiting. This is the extreme end, however. You have to figure that you need to make about $17 @ hour full time to make that money. Chances are that you will not work more than half the year and most companies hire divers at around 11-14 an hour. some even pay as little as 9@hour. Making 35k your first year isn't impossible, but it is unrealistic on the average. If you start working offshore, tenders make even less. What increases salaries for divers is the overtime. Most divers don't mind doing the overtime because it gives them the extra money and gets the job done quicker. So it isn't a bad thing, however, it still takes a lot of work hours to make that $35k. Also keep in mind that most diving companies are small and privately owned and can't afford benefits to their employees. Consequently, they rarely pay for things like employee medical, life, or pensions. Which means the real value of your total salary is even less.
Commercial diving is an excellent career if you keep in mind that you will probably not be making more than a laborer your first 2-4 years, and once you start making a decent salary, you will have to be a good money manager to know when to put some away during times of plenty for those times when there may not be much work.
COMMERCIAL DIVING, INTERNATIONALLY.
This is probably the most misunderstood - and most often, inaccurately discussed by dive school recruiters - areas of commercial diving. "Can I work anywhere around the world with my American commercial diving training?" The answer is absolutely....NO! No one in the developed world, such as Europe or Australia, recognize commercial diving training received through any school within the United States. The international standard that is followed in the global marked, with the exception of the United States, is the UK's HSE standard. Most international markets will ask that divers be "HSE" or "North Sea" qualified before they hire them. The HSE does not recognize American training because the United States has no national commercial diving standard. That is, here in the United States we do not have a governing body that has set down minimal hours of training in different areas or levels of training and consequently, no regulatory control over them. The closest standard we have in the United States is the ANSI standard. That standard is a private accreditation based on standard submitted by the private sector. There is no governing agency in the united states that mandates those standards as law, such as the FAA does for commercial pilots.
Where the disinformation comes from in working internationally, is the work done in undeveloped countries. Most of the big off-shore diving companies do jobs around the world. In underdeveloped countries, such as in West Africa, there are no diving regulations or standards. Consequently, American companies can send in American trained divers in those areas to do work.
The diving schools will tell you that they are recognized by IMCA (International Marine Contractor Association), and that is certainly true. But that recognition is really baseless on a job site. What happens when big oil companies are writing a contract to do certain work with a commercial diving company, the contract will read that divers must be "HSE" qualified. Whether or not IMCA recognizes the US schools or not is immaterial. There are efforts to change this problem, but so far there is nothing in place.
The only thing American divers have that works internationally within the developed world, is they can work in Canada with a 100ft maximum depth.
Age should be a major factor in any decision you make on a diving career. It often never comes to mind, and the schools will certainly never mention it. In a era when it is common to find individuals in their 40s embarking on a second career, it is rare to find anyone that age still working as a diver in this industry. The major reason is the stress of working in an underwater environment has on the body while doing hard, laborious work. Studies have indicated that there is a significant relationship between one's age and how quickly their bodies can expel nitrogen which can pose a greater risk for the bends. Insurers of major diving and oil companies take this seriously and they are often the ones that will pose age restrictions on some of the more strenuous field of diving, such as saturation diving. Lloyds, one of the major insurers, has an age limit of 45 years old.
Keep a few facts in mind when you are thinking about commercial diving. Commercial diving is a relatively small profession where everyone knows everyone, and reputation means everything. It usually takes five to seven years to establish a reputation as a diver (some even say ten years). The rule of thumb in saturation diving (the area that pays the highest salaries), is that you have to be younger than 40. Off-shore work can be a bit higher, mid and even in some occasions later 40s. Inland work is the more forgiving to age, because the work is much shallower and at the same time tends to demand a higher level of expertise in the construction and mechanical areas, i.e. experience. Inland, you can probably work into your early 50s. Of course, there are exceptions to all these rules, and the critical shortage of divers in the industry can cause the age curve to move a bit upward.
TRAINING. The first thing you need to consider is how to attain the right training to become an entry level diver, or tender, in the industry. A tender, essentially handles all the topside aspects of a dive operation and diver support. They maintain communications with the diver, watching his depth, time, air consumption, pa**** tools, keeps the logs, and run the compressors and other equipment that may be in use. The most acceptable way to receive training, is through one of the commercial diving training programs offered by vocational schools, diving schools, and the US Navy. It is also common that some inland companies will train you directly on the job (OJT - On the Job Training), but that will soon be less and less if the industry pa**** some of the regulations it wants. You will have to be school trained to work off-shore, unless you have been diving for many years and your reputation and log books precede your request for employment (don't hold your breath).
WHAT IS AN ADC MEMBER SCHOOL? All ACDE schools are members of the Association of Diving Contractors (ADC). The ADC maintains a minimal training standard for commercial diving that is exceedingly low and has no real basis on the number of hours that need to be maintained by ANSI or HSE standards. However, fly-by-night commerical diving schools come and go, and when they cannot meet the ACDE commercial diving standard or just want to chug out divers like a puppy mill, they will advertise that they are "ADC member" schools and maintain "ADC standard". ADC membership is as easy to obtain and making an application and writing the check, so anyone can open a school in their garage and give them basic scuba diving lessons and make them commercial divers by the "ADC standard". So be careful when choosing a school that has that label.
WHAT IS THE ACDE? The Association of Commercial Diver Educators (ACDE) is a small organization who's membership consists of the owners of each of the major diving schools that have dominated the industry for many years. Presidential tasks of the organization are rotated around each of the 5 individual owner/managers of the member schools on a periodic basis. Their purpose is to establish uniform and minimal standards of training and education for its member schools, through consultations with the diving companies, and other experts in the industry.
WHAT IS ACDE ACCREDITATION? The ACDE registers its educational standards with the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and is accredited by that agency. While that standard is an excellent gage of knowing that you are receiving the right training demanded by the diving companies and the basics you will need when you start working, it is only an 'accreditation' and not a national standard. All ACDE member schools abide by the ANSI training standard.
THE ACDE MEMBER SCHOOLS.
Even though the ACDE members work together for uniform standards, they are still in major competition with each other for students. Consequently, when you make inquires to them, you will hear things like "the biggest school", "the oldest", "best instructors" "state-of-the-art equipment", etc. All vocational schools and colleges bring out all their brag when they are trying to sell themselves to students. That's just good business. All of it sounds good, but is really meaningless. In reality, all of the ACDE schools are essentially equal in their training and reputation within the industry. What considerations you make should be dependent on which school meets your particular needs best, in things such as cost, location, method of training, accessibility, etc.
Each of the ACDE schools have at least 25 years experience in training commercial divers. They are solid and you will find their graduates working throughout industry. Their student services programs are top notch. All the schools have good relationships with the communities around them and have access to affordable, decent places for lodging and part-time jobs to help out during the time your training. They will work with students directly to meet individual needs. They have good contacts within the industry and some give lifetime job placement for their alumni.
Most of these schools are also privately owned and in the business of making a profit. Consequently, they tend to be very expensive, packed full of a lot of fluff courses and training that may not really necessary for an entry level diver, and lots of peripheral money-making ventures such as offering credit cards, and having shops to sell everything from paper and pencils to diving gear. They have heavy marketing programs and are experts at sweet-talking prospective students. All schools can be misleading with information on diving and the diving industry. So be alert when you talk with them and make sure you ask direct questions and get exacting answers. Don't settle for a good tap dance.
COLLEGE OF OCEANEERING (COO)
272 South Fries Avenue
Wilmington, CA 90744 Schd: M,W or T.TH/8:00-4:00
COO is an accredited college but its curriculum focuses on commercial diving training. You can receive enough college credits during your training to receive an associates degree (2-year degree) if you already have at least 20 college hours from another school, or if you receive those 20 hours after your COO graduation. COO is also fashioned like a college with everything from cap and gown graduations, to a student supply store. They even have a small school newsletter (kind of a pseudo school newspaper), with all the latest news. Their program is 50 weeks long, but they only meet two days a week. They say that they gear their programs that way to help facilitate their students ability to work part time for living expenses, and that may be a major consideration for some students that do not want to have to cram 40 hours of training along with another 20-30 hours of part-time work into the same week. Admission folks are not paid by commission (% for each body they admit) as with some of the other diving schools, but that does not mean that they are any less likely to recruit any differently. AT $16,000 for training, it is the most expensive diving training available, as well as the longest training duration, but in hours, is not much different from other ACDE schools. COO's consists of programs that are geared to teaching on one of three specialties that off-shore entry level divers may not use until they break-out, some 2-3 years after graduating. Those speciality courses consist of 20 weeks of the total 50 weeks. By making the speciality training part of the total commercial diving training, it forces the student to study areas that they may not need right away, and/or could recieve in other ways for a fraction of what is costs at COO. However, if you are planning other career directions, such as diver support, hyperbarics, or public safety, then having the speciality training as well as the diver training may be very beneficial.
DIVERS ACADEMY OF EASTERN SEABOARD
2500 S. Broadway
Camden, New Jersey 08104 Schd: M-F/8:00-4:00
Divers Academy is the least expensive of the ACDE schools. Their underwater training facility is in a controlled environment of the Delaware River and they boast that it teaches their students under "real" diving conditions. This could be considered a major plus, because the closer you can get to the actual environment that you will be working in, with all its inherit problems, the better prepared you will be for the real thing, as well and learning how to adapt to them sooner. Training in the middle of January in the Delaware River might not be as appealing as working on your tan in a more southern state, and I'm sure you can tell that to your first dive supervisor when he tells you to put on a cold and clammy wet suit to get to work. Getting use to it now, can only be a benefit. Their admission folks are very knowledgeable, easily accessible, and willing to answer all questions and help with specific individual needs.
DIVERS INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY (DIT)
4315 11th Avenue, NW
Seattle, WA 90107 Schd: M-F/8:00-15:00
DIT has come a long way in the last 18 months. Under new management, they have, by far, become the most progressive of the diving schools. They are trying to do what other schools have been complacant in for too long, and that is to build a training standard in the United States that can be accepted internationally. Since the US does not have a national standard, they have been working with the Canadian commercial diving standard, and have received standards recognition from British Columbia. They are putting much energy in building programs that will facilitate divers to not only be more internationally competetive but also to dive safer. DIT can be a benefit if your looking to learn cold water diving. Just recently they had a visit from Mike Cocks, the British commercial diving trade union representative and he had very good things to say about DIT in a recently international magazine.
he Ocean Corporation (TOC)
10840 Rockley Road
Houston, Texas 77272 Schedule: M-Th/8:00-16:00
Ocean Corp is also under new management and they are focusing on correcting some of the past problems. Management is far easier to access. They have replaced their admissions folks that were in the past, difficult to access and trying to help their poor overworked, but dedicated receptionist. TOC tell me that all their registration fees, while they are expensive, will be refunded if you choose not to attend their school and give them reasonable notice. They have reviewed their marketing and working in a more professional direction. They assure me that they are addressing some of the problems that were brought to our attention by past students and follow-ups seem to support that. They have received, over the past few years, quite a nice batch of new equipment. Giving them a little more up-to-date training facility.
Santa Barbara City College
Marine Technology Department
721 Cliff Drive Schd: various
Santa Barbara, CA 93109
(805) 965-0581 ex 2427
FAX (805) 963-7222
SANTA BARBARA CITY COLLEGE (SBCC). SBCC is a state college that teaches commercial diving as part of the Marine Technology curriculum. You can be trained as a commercial diver with the minimal course load of two semesters, at which time you can simply go out and work. Or you can stay for two more semesters and also receive a AS degree when completed. Cost for two semesters for California students is 1,820 ($5,810 for out of state students). The AS degree program of four semesters costs $2,405 for California students, $11,525 for out of state students. Although taking the two year program maybe longer in duration than some may want to participate in, there is the advantage of having several areas of knowledge under your belt to help you in job placement in other diving areas, when there may not be a lot of underwater work to be done.
In the last few years, the diving companies have been working to find solutions to the high cost of commercial diving training, the length of time it takes to train them. One of the solutions is to cut out all the 'fluff' from most diving training programs and teach students just what they will need as an entry level commercial diver. The diving companies explained that graduates with specialty training such in DMT, NDT, welding and others, don't use the the knowledge the first 2-4 years while they are tenders and forget most of what they learned before they start working it. It is their reasoning, that it is better to cut these things out, and train the divers with the basics, first, and then train them in special areas when they break-out as divers. This makes sense as lots of diving companies usually offer these extra courses periodically to their employees (divers) which is usually free, and you end up taking them on company time. This also gives you an opportunity to become familiar with the different fields of commercial diving first hand before you have to make a decision on which one is best for you. But this is only true in the off-shore industry. Inland divers may use their new skills right away. And not all offshore companies abide by this philosophy but rather the idea that if they spend the money to do in-house training, employees will leave and go somewhere else.
The concern here should not be that some schools cut out the fluff, but that in return, they are not offering a substitute for more indepth training or concentrating more hours in the basic diving training itself as a trade off. Thier training hours are rediculously small when compared to the international market and in the quality of diver that they churn out. Even with the minmum 660 hours required for ACDE accreditation, American commercial diving schools still don't meet the level of hours that most other western-developed countries train at. Consequently, reducing those hours even more, only makes our commercial diving programs here in the United States look worse, to the international market. Be watchful for non-accrediated schools that cut training hours for the sake of getting as many warm bodies out to the industry as possible without the benefit of being properly trained.
Be extremely watchful to those schools that say they are members of the ADC when you ask them if they are accredited. All the schools are members of the ADC and it really is meaningless as far as understanding a standard of training. The ADC sets down a list of training hours that is almost rediculas in its development and numbers. Those that would have you believe they follow those numbers instead of the ACDE's ANSI standard for some higher purpose should be looked at cautiously. The ADC is a trade organization for diving companies and not a training or education organization.
Lousiana Technical College
Young Memorial Campus
900 Youngs Road Schedule
Morgan City, LA 70380
Young Memorial is, hands down, the best training program currently in the industry in almost all categories, and gives far more bang for the buck. I cannot say enough good things here. This program is relatively new, and was developed by the major diving companies in the industry in cooperation with the technical school. The training is a no frills, and gets down to business. The school is located in center of commercial diving activity and is perfect place to get hands-on experience. Students can work part time at one of the major diving companies that are all located in this area. This means that you get experience in exactly what you will be doing when you complete your training. You can see first hand how the industry works and have a golden opportunity to talk with working divers and dive supervisors about what it means to be in this career. The companies monitor your training and if you do well, you can be almost certain of continued work with the same company, only on a full time basis. If you decide that Young Memorial is not the school for you, I suggest that you at least talk with one of the instructors there (they are available in the afternoons to talk with prospective students by phone). They will give you a 'real' insight on the industry and what you need for training. The cost is excessively low, and even the school admits that they could not actually teach students for $250. You will have to also have your own wetsuit/drysuit upon admission which will add a little to the cost. The hours are lower than the ACDE standard, but there are two reasons for that. 1) they do not offer basic scuba diving training (you have to have your scuba card upon admission), which reduces the need for some of the training hours. 2) If you manage to be able to work part-time with one of the local area diving companies at the same time as you are a student, you can gain a tremendous amount of experience and insight that could be a trade-off for training hours.
GULF COAST COMMERCIAL DIVING ACADEMY
P.O. Box 5492 D
Gulf shores, AL 36547 Schd: M-Th/10 hrs days
Gulf Coast has most of the regular speciality courses as the other schools, but not included as a basic dive training course. This gives you the choice in what you want to do, either the basic course, or one with all the 'extras'. There training is in a 4-day period instead of, say, six, so that students can also work part-time if they need to. Gulf Coast has a preference for a more minimum training standard to please the companies and does not meet ACDE standards. You should keep this in mind when selecting a school if you are looking for good standards of training and good safety considerations. Training facilities are questionable, by reports that have been received from past students, and student services is very limited. Gulf Coast was unavailable for follow-up questions on the status of the school for our revised report. Management and admissions were impossible to get a hold of.
INLAND COMMERCIAL DIVER TRAINING CTR
712 Washington Street D
Brainerd, MN 56401 Schd: 6 days/10-hr days
If you looking to do work in the inland field of diving, this is a good start. This is a no frills, fast paced course geared to the specific needs of the inland industry, with all the deep-sea 'stuff' left out. Their course is listed with Central Lakes College even though you do the training at the dive training center. So you have an education institution backing it directly. You could take college courses hand-in-hand with the level of dive training you decide on. Most inland work is in relatively shallow water but have their own specific problems with things like sever cold, confined spaces, and lack of visibility. These folks have all those environments to train you in. The draw back is that your certification will limit you to working in 80 feet of water. But if that's where you are looking to work, then you won't need anything else. There are many inland divers that have never been deeper than 50 feet or have never dove in sea water. They will work with you to try and gear further training to specific needs that you plan to work, such as inspections and welding. That will, of course, extend the course time and costs (burning course is an extra $975 and one week longer).
DIVING SCHOOLS OUTSIDE THE UNITED STATES. The choice of a diving school does not have to be limited to the United States. There are many fine diving schools in other western countries that offer far more extensive training, certify you to work world-wide, include room and board and are still often cheaper in cost than the US diving schools. Schools outside the US usually get a lot of foreign students and are geared to assist them with travel, immigration, and other special arrangements that may need to be made. Most of the English speaking countries such as Canada and the UK are usually no problem to enter in as a student. But each country has its own immigration laws and you should double check any restrictions or special needs when you inquire to any school outside the US. None of the US diving schools are qualified to offer HSE (UK) diving certifications which will allow you to work world-wide. So if you are looking to work in that capacity, you will have to attend a school outside the US. Financial aid may be a consideration as well, since countries that have grant or loan programs generally reserve them for their own citizens. Schools that admit a lot of foreign students may have arrangements with local financial institutions to assist their students, and some US financial institutions and federal programs will allow you to use the money to pay for education in another country. Talk to the institution you are interested in attending, they generally have all the details on this subject because they deal with it on a daily basis.
CANADIAN WORKING DIVERS INSTITUTE
Box 125, RR #1
Buckhorn, Ontario K0L 1J0 Schd: 6 days/wk/12 hrs per day
FAX: (705) 657-2766 HSE Certification
CWDI offers a wonderful alternative to US diving schools. The school is on an island which gives you the opportunity to concentrate on training with no outside interferences. Room and board are furnished and included in the cost of tuition. Accommodations are 2 per room and three meals a day, seven days a week. I find having room and board included can be a plus for students in many ways. It eliminates the need to hunt down places to live and part-time jobs in order to pay for living expenses while your trying to train. Having everything furnished for you on site, allows you to concentrate on nothing but your studies. I had very productive conversations with two of CWDI's instructors who were very informative, knowledgeable and accessible. You will need a basic SCUBA certificate and CPR card to enroll. Canada has a Free Trade Agreement with the US, but I'm not sure how this will work for financial aid from either country. I'm sure the school will be able to get you that information and assist you in that area if you are interested. The course is entensive, with 12-hour days, so be prepared to buckle down hard if you decide to attend CWDI.
NAVY DIVERS. If you have training and experience as a "hard-hat" diver in the Navy, grab your log books and your certifications and go directly the the dive companies. Off-shore companies will start you out as a tender like everyone else, no matter your experience, but you do not have to attend a commercial diving school, even though the ACDE schools will tell you that. A nice resume' will help make you look good.
SCHOOL TOURS. All the schools offer tours to the prospective student. If you live near the area of one, then by all means take them up on it. However, don't waste your money on a major trip to see the training facility. A diving tank, is a diving tank. Facilities are all more or less the same and knowing what they look like before hand is of little significance unless you want to know something about the area for working or living conditions. School visits are usually great pressure sessions to get you signed up and your paperwork started. If you want to see what your getting into before you make a decision, spend your money on a trip to one of the larger dive companies. They will give you a tour just as readily if you call them in advance, and you can get a far, far better picture of what you will be getting into.
STUDENT CANDIDATE REQUIREMENTS. To apply for one of the commercial diving schools you need to be at least 18 years of age at the time of enrollment, and have a High School Diploma or GED equivalent. Most schools start training from the ground, so you do not have to have any previous diving experience. Only, Young Memorial require you to have a basic scuba certification before starting their diving training. This is required so that they can keep the their courses short and training costs down. Assistance is available to obtain your c-card in the local area, if you need that, for an extra fee. As a commercial diver, it will be rare that you have to swim in water unattended so you don't have to swim like Mark Spitz. Most divers simple drop down to the job site and usually don't even wear fins unless they are doing inspection work or rolling video that requires them to move around. You at least feel 'comfortable' in and around water. Any added abilities is just gravy. If you apply and meet these simple requirements, you will get admitted to any of the schools. Some of the ACDE schools have some sort of selection board to approve admission, but it is rare that anyone is refused unless they do not meet the minimal standards mentioned above.
BASIC SCUBA DIVING. Most of the diving schools will start your training from the bottom as if you have no diving experience at all. The training usually starts with SCUBA basics, and you will get a recreational scuba diving certification along with your commercial certification upon graduating as an added bonus. If you already have some level of SCUBA certification from one of the recognized recreational associations, then you are ahead of the game and have a good background on the two more difficult areas most students have the hardest time in, physics and physiology. If you plan on going to Young Memorial, who require you to have a scuba certification first, my advice would be to try and get it locally rather than at the location of the commercial diving school. Any local dive shop can instruct you in basic scuba and it will more than likely be much cheaper and easier for them to work around your present work schedule. Certification from any of the major recreational diving associations will be acceptable.
COLLEGE CREDIT. Most of the diving schools have agreements with secondary education institutions or are accreditated colleges themselves, and give college credits for a lot of their course work. Ask the training facility what kind of college credits they offer for their courses.
DIVING EQUIPMENT. If you are already a certified scuba diver, you probably already own most of the diving gear you will need. If you have not been diving, you will need the basics-mask, snorkel, and Fins. You will also need a wet suit. If your going to Young Memorial, all you will need is the wet suit because they do no scuba diving, you start right off in a hard-hat. Get a 6mil wet suit for the colder states. You can get by with a 3 mil in CA and TX schools. The schools will love to sell you everything you need at much inflated prices, so get your diving gear before you leave for dive school. You can go to your local dive shop and probably get a much better price and not be in a rush to make a selection. You don't need a c-card to purchase things like fins and masks. Even better prices can be found in mail order catalogs. They often advertise in a lot of the scuba magazines, and on the internet. Don't spend great gobs of money on this stuff either. You don't need anything fancy to train in. Once your certified and working, you will have a chance to talk with experienced divers, and test other types of gear to make a more informed decision on what you like best. $100 should more than enough for a mask, snorkel, fins. The same goes for a wet suit. Get a used one, because they are only going to get messed up during training. Lots of shops sell off their rentals after a while, and you can get some good deals. If your an experienced scuba diver and have lots of gadgets and gizmos, leave 'em at home. You won't need them unless you plan on diving during your time off. But that will be limited and you have to fit in studies and sleeping and probably working. So think practically.
MEDICAL. Once you decide on a commercial diving school, you will have to have a major physical. If you're still on your parents insurance, or have your own work medical insurance, have it done by a local physician that you know before you leave. The schools will send you the physical forms when you register. If you don't have insurance, you might wait till you go to the dive school. All the dive schools have a local physician they use regularly for dive physicals and they can get it done for you at a decent rate, usually between $200-$300. Schools will waive the physical part of the application until you get there and take it with their doctor. If you have had a physical in the last 12 months, you should be okay.
TRAINING HOURS: This may only be important to those individuals that hope to get as much training as they pay for. When talking with a lot of divers about their training, one of the most common issues mentioned is the lack of actual training hours received vs the training hours the schools advertise. It seems a common practice in some schools is to finish cla**** early on a consistant basis. For instance, if your class schedule says you have class from 8-4, but the instructor says you don't have to return to class after lunch, two and three times a week, then you are loosing anywhere between 6 and 12 hours of training per week. That is a substantial amount of training. Reducing hours with this practice, limits your training and could cause serious safety issues and reduction to your diving abilities when you are out in the field, as well as not meeting accredited hours or getting the amount of training you paid for. Getting out of a class a bit early on occasion is not an issues, as most circuliums pad the time a little to cover for unforeseen situations like bad weather. However, when it becomes a constant situation, you should complain!
FINANCIAL AID. All the schools can help you pay your tuition with things like grants, loans, and scholarships. Anywhere from 70-90% of the divers that go to school, have some sort of financial aid. Grants and scholarships will generally only pay a part, and not everyone will be eligible for that. Most end up taking out a loan, either through a government program, or with a financial institution that the school has an agreement with. These loans are usually at low interests rates, BUT YOU WILL HAVE TO PAY THEM BACK! Remember that! You will have 6 months grace time before they start demanding some payments for your education loan, but they will come knocking. School loan payments can often times be more than your car payment. Remember that your first couple of years working as a diver/tender, you will probably not be making enough to put gas in your car, much less a big loan. Think that through when you make your decisions. Talk with the schools. The ACDE schools are very good at doing all that they can to insure the least financial burden on you as possible. Find out what your payments will be, your interest rate, and how long it will take to pay off, etc. Don't go in it blind and wait for the heart attack to come when you get the first bill. If you do find yourself with a much higher loan burdon than you anticipated, talk with the loan institutions. They know you are just starting out and will almost always work out something that is less difficult for you to manage.
ADVICE. The very best advice I can give to a prospective commercial diver, who has little knowledge about the industry, is to visit a work site. All states have, at the very least, inland commercial diving companies. Check your local yellow pages or the closest large city's yellow pages under "divers". If you can't find any, look at the list of ADC member companies on their website and find one that is near you. Call them, and explain your situation and ask if it would be possible to tag along on a job to see what is happening. This is not as uncommon a request as you might think. At the very least, ask them if you can visit the shop and talk with some of the divers (or even the owner as he is usually a diver himself). Seeing the industry first hand and talking to working divers directly will give you best information and answers to your questions than any other single factor. Don't be afraid to ask!
If you have never been scuba diving before, go to your local dive shop and sign up for a basic course. They are usually relatively inexpensive, and it will go a long way in giving you a feel of what the underwater environment is like and a gage on how well you will do with the math and sciences part of the studies. Local dive shop owners and managers usually know where the commercial divers are in the area, as well. The local dive shop is a great place for information in the field overall. Start there.
Take your time to make a decision. You are not in hurry. Don't fall into the used car dealer's gimmicks such as "our prices are going up next month", "our cla**** are filling up quick", "What class date can I sign you up for", etc. If your interested in attending their school, they will find you a seat, I assure you.
When talking with diving companies about a job, ask specific wages for shop pay as well as off-shore pay, by the hour. The industry likes to use annual salary figures that are grossly inflated because of over-time pay, depth pay, penetration pay, and traveling extras, all of which should not be considered as a base salary. Getting salaries at an hourly rate shows you the bottom line so you can do the math yourself based on what you need to make in order to pay your bills. Ask how much time you will be working off-shore (where you can make more money). Have realistic expectations on what you will really earn to start out. Remember in the beginning you will probably see more shop time than off-shore time. That will increase as you stay longer with the company.
BOTTOM LINE. This report is based on one person's opinion and interpretation, intended to give an outsider some insight into the industry. You need to do your own research and make your own informed decisions based on what is right for YOU.**