Saturation divers are commercial divers who work at least 50 meters, or 164 feet, below sea level for days and even weeks at a time. Rather than using air tanks carried on their backs, deep-sea, or saturation (SAT), divers breath a combination of oxygen and helium through an air hose or umbilical cord attached to a diving support vehicle. This career enables you to perform jobs doing tasks such as salvaging items, welding and cutting underwater, repairing lines and operating underwater vehicles.
SAT divers have extensive training certified by the Association of Commercial Diving Educators and hundreds of hours of diving experience. In addition, they have training and experience in various types of construction, such as building, surveying, welding, inspections and repair of underwater structures; search and rescue; salvage and recovery. SAT divers travel to and from the dive site in a pressurized vehicle or saturation system, which includes a rest area, a transfer chamber and dry bell. All three sections are pressured to the depth at which the divers will be working. When it is time to return the divers to the surface, they go through a slow decompression process in which they are brought to sea level at a rate of 15 meters or 49.2 feet per day. For example, after working at 300 feet below sea level, the decompression process requires six days to complete.
Although much of the work these divers do is basic construction and repair, they earn more than land-based construction workers because of the working conditions. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the 2017 average annual income for commercial divers, including SAT divers, was $55,270, with a range of $30,130 to $96,850. However, like other construction jobs, the work assignments may be short-term contracts. However, many divers choose this career because of the sense of adventure; the freedom of a flexible schedule; and the ability to work in faraway places, such as the North Sea, the Indian Ocean or the South Pacific.
A college degree is not necessary to be a SAT diver. However, the training is extensive and can take a minimum of 600 hours, including courses on diving fundamentals, underwater cutting and welding, types of diving equipment, hyperbaric chamber operations, navigation and seamanship and other related topics. In addition, divers must be physically fit. They must also be able to work well as part of a team and do mechanical work. Some commercial divers receive their training and initial experience in the U.S. Navy or Coast Guard.
Most commercial divers, including SAT divers, begin their careers as diver's helpers and work their way to diver and eventually to dive planner or supervisor. According to BLS, many jobs for SAT divers are available in support services as well as heavy and civil engineering construction, while fewer jobs are available in nonresidential building construction, architectural services and water transportation support activities. In the United States, most commercial diver jobs are available in Washington, California, Texas, Louisiana, Michigan, Florida, Connecticut and New Jersey.
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: 49-9092 Commercial Divers
- Divers Institute of Technology: A Commercial Diving Career - Take the Plunge
- Divers Academy International: Commercial Diving Careers
- ONET OnLine: Summary Report for 49-9092.00 - Commercial Divers
- 10 Things No One Tells You Before You Become a Deep Sea Diver
Diane Chinn is a freelance writer with more than 15 years experience in many areas, including business and technical communications. She has a Bachelor of Arts in psychology from California State University and a Master of Arts in human resources and industrial relations from the University of Minnesota. She is a Six Sigma Green Belt .