Professional diving

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Diver wearing a diving helmet is sanding a repair patch on a submarine
A US Navy diver at work. The umbilical supplying air from the surface is clearly visible.

Professional diving is diving where the divers are paid for their work. There are several branches of professional diving, the best known of which is probably commercial diving and its specialised applications, offshore diving, inshore civil engineering diving, marine salvage diving, HAZMAT diving, and ships husbandry diving. There are also applications in scientific research, Marine archaeology, fishing and aquaculture, public service and law enforcement and military service. Any person wishing to become a professional diver normally requires specific training that satisfies any regulatory agencies which have regional or national authority, such as US Occupational Safety and Health Administration, United Kingdom Health and Safety Executive or South African Department of Labour.[1][2] Due to the dangerous nature of some professional diving operations, specialized equipment such as an on-site hyperbaric chamber and diver-to-surface communication system is often required by law.

Procedural aspects[edit]

The primary procedural distinction between professional and recreational diving is that the recreational diver is responsible primarily for his/her own actions and safety but may voluntarily accept limited responsibility for dive buddies, whereas the professional diver is part of a team of people with extensive responsibilities and obligations to each other and usually to an employer or client, and these responsibilities and obligations are formally defined in contracts, legislation, regulations, operations manuals, standing orders and compulsory or voluntary codes of practice. In many cases a statutory national occupational health and safety legislation constrains their activities.[2][1] The purpose of recreational diving is basically for personal entertainment, while the professional diver has a job to do, and diving is necessary to get that job done.

Diving team[edit]

A dive team listens to a safety brief from their dive supervisor
Minimal professional diving team, with standby diver, supervisor and working diver entering the water

A characteristic of professional diving is the specification for minimum personnel for the diving support team. This typically specifies the minimum number of support team members and their appointed responsibilities in the team based on the circumstances and mode of diving, and the minimum qualifications for specified members of the diving support team. The minimum team requirements may be specified by regulation or code of practice. Specific appointments within a dive team for which competences are specified and registration may be required are listed below. [2][3][4][5]

Diving supervisor
The diving supervisor is the professional diving team member who is directly responsible for the diving operation's safety and the management of any incidents or accidents that may occur during the operation; the supervisor is required to be available at the control point of the diving operation for the diving operation's duration, and to manage the planned dive and any contingencies that may occur.[6][2][3][7]
Details of competence, requirements, qualifications, registration and formal appointment differ depending on jurisdiction and relevant codes of practice. Diving supervisors are used in commercial diving, military diving, public safety diving and scientific diving operations. A diving supervisor is required for every diving operation.[2][3][4]
Working diver
Also referred to as the diver, this is the person who does the underwater work planned for the dive. There may be more than one working diver, and the working diver and bellman may alternate during a dive. Diving skills required depend on the mode of diving and equipment used, and work skills required depend on the job to be done. A working diver is by default necessary for a diving operation. Without the diver there is no diving operation.[2][3][4]
Standby diver
The diver who is at all times during the dive ready to go to the assistance of the working diver and perform a rescue to recover the diver to the surface if necessary. Diving competence requirements are identical to those of the working diver, but underwater work skills are not relevant while acting as standby diver. In surface oriented diving the standby diver may wait at the diving operation control point, and in saturation diving the bellman is the standby diver, though an additional surface standby diver may be required to assist with technical problems at shallow depths. A standby diver is required for every diving operation, though in some circumstances two working divers may act as standby to each other when working in close proximity, in an arrangement similar to the buddy system.[2][3][4]
Diver's tender
The diver's tender, or dive attendant is a person who may or may not be a qualified diver who assists the diver or standby diver to dress in and out, assists them entering and exiting the water, boarding the stage or wet bell, and manages the diver's umbilical at the surface where applicable. The bellman acts as the working diver's umbilical attendant from a wet or closed bell.[2][3][4]
The bellman is a diver who acts as standby diver and diver's attendant from a wet or closed bell during the dive, and may alternate as working diver during the dive if appropriately competent for the diving task. The bellman may be required to leave the bell to go to the assistance of the working diver, recover a disabled diver to the bell and provide first aid in the bell. Diving competence requirements are identical to those of the working diver, but underwater work skills are not relevant while acting as the bellman.[2][3][4]
Chamber operator
The chamber operator is a person competent to operate a hyperbaric chamber with a compressed air atmosphere. This is not a diving post, but the chamber operator may also be a diver, and many surface supplied air divers are also qualified as chamber operators.[2][8]
Diving medical technician
A diver medic or diving medical technician (DMT) is a member of a dive team who is trained in advanced first aid.[9] A Diver Medic recognised by IMCA must be capable of administering First Aid and emergency treatment, and carrying out the directions of a doctor pending the arrival of more skilled medical aid, and therefore must be able to effectively communicate with a doctor who is not on site, and be familiar with diving procedures and compression chamber operation. The Diver Medic must also be able to assist the diving supervisor with decompression procedures provide advice as to when more specialised medical help should be requested, and must be fit to provide treatment in a hyperbaric chamber in an emergency, and must therefore hold a valid certificate of medical fitness to dive. The diver medic may also be a diver, but this is not a diving appointment. Training standards for Diver Medic are described in the IMCA Scheme for Recognition of Diver Medic Training.[10] A diving medical technician is necessary where the diving operation is remote from hospital facilities, such as in offshore work.
Diving medical practitioner
A registered diving medical practitioner competent to manage diving injuries may be required to be available on standby off-site during diving operations. The DMP should have certified skills and basic practical experience in assessment of medical fitness to dive, management of diving accidents, safety planning for professional diving operations, advanced life support, acute trauma care and general wound care.[11] Depending on jurisdiction, a DMP may be required on telephonic standby for all commercial diving operations.[2]
Systems technician
A person competent to maintain, repair and test the function of the diving and support systems and components for which they are appointed as systems technician. This is not a diving appointment.[2]
Life support technician
A life support technician is a person registered as competent to operate the life-support systems of a mixed gas saturation diving system. Divers living in saturation conditions must be continuously monitored and the pressure, oxygen and carbon dioxide content of their breathing gas, and temperature and humidity of the environment must be monitored and controlled. Functions such as feeding and sewage disposal and locking stores and equipment into and out of the chambers are also controlled from outside by life support personnel. Responsibilities include communication with the divers in saturation, supervising transfer of personnel into and out of the accommodation chambers, maintaining the hyberbaric rescue craft and hyperbaric evacuation of the divers in an emergency. This is a non-diving post.[12][13]
Life support supervisor
The life support supervisor is a senior life support technician appointed by the diving contractor to supervise operation of the saturation life support systems. This is a non-diving post.[2]
Diving superintendent
The diving superintendent is the management position covering diving operations. The superintendent is usually a qualified supervisor, but depending on the organisation, may not be required to supervise dives. The superintendent may oversee saturation and surface oriented diving operations on air or mixed gases, develop and implement dive plans and diving related company procedures and manage diving related activities to minimise health, safety and environmental risks and impacts. This is not a diving appointment and the superintendent may not be directly involved in the actual diving operations.[14]
ROV team
Whenever a remotely operated vehicle is operated at a dive site when a diving operation is taking place, competent personnel are required to run the ROV, and as the safety of the divers is influenced, the ROV team is under the authority of the diving supervisor.[2] The ROV can be both a hazard because of its mass, power and moving parts, and a benefit to diver safety, as it can monitor the divers on closed circuit video, and give some kinds of assistance in contingencies. There are a range of tasks where a ROV is more suitable than a diver, and others which a diver can do better. The ROV team are not necessarily divers, though it is possible. ROV operation requires a different set of skills and knowledge to diving.
ROV pilot
A person trained and competent to operate a remotely controlled underwater vehicle with divers in the water. ROV pilots are usually also trained in routine maintenance and minor repair of the ROV.
ROV supervisor
A senior ROV pilot appointed to supervise the ROV team. The ROV supervisor is under the authority of the diving supervisor when divers are in the water, but may work autonomously when there is no diving taking place.
Gas man
Also called rack operator, this person controls the gas supply to the diver and may also handle communications as a direct assistant to the supervisor. The gas man may also be a diver, but the specific activity is not a diving post.
Winch man
A competent person responsible for operating the bell or stage lifting winch and launch and recovery system (LARS).

Regulation of activities[edit]

Professional diving activities are generally regulated by health and safety legislation, but in some cases may be exempted from the national or state diving regulations for specific diving applications, such as scientific diving or public safety diving, when they operate under a recognised code of practice for that application.

Codes of practice[edit]

A code of practice for professional diving is a document that complements occupational health and safety laws and regulations to provide detailed practical guidance on how to comply with legal obligations, and should be followed unless another solution with the same or better health and safety standard is in place,[15] or may be a document for the same purpose published by a self-regulating body to be followed by member organisations.[16][4]

Codes of practice published by governments do not replace the occupational health and safety laws and regulations, and are generally issued in terms of those laws and regulations. They are intended to help understand how to comply with the requirements of regulations. A workplace inspector can refer to a code of practice when issuing an improvement or prohibition notice, and they may be admissible in court proceedings. A court may use a code of practice to establish what is reasonably practicable action to manage a specific risk. Equivalent or better ways of achieving the required work health and safety may be possible, so compliance with codes of practice is not usually mandatory, providing that any alternative systems used provide a standard of health and safety equal to or better than those recommended by the code of practice.[17]

Operations manual[edit]

The operations manual is the diving contractor's in-house documentation specifying the procedures authorised for diving operations conducted by the company. It will refer to relevant legislation and codes of practice and will specify the organisation of the company and the chain of responsibility. Standard operating procedures for the activities normally conducted by the company may be described in sufficient detail that all affected parties can understand how the organisation operates.[2]

Branches of professional diving[edit]

Commercial diving[edit]

Surface supplied commercial diving equipment on display at a trade show

Offshore diving[edit]

Offshore diving is a well known branch of commercial diving, with divers working in support of the exploration and production sector of the oil and gas industry in places such as the Gulf of Mexico in the United States, the North Sea in the United Kingdom, and Norway and along the coast of Brazil. The work in this area of the industry includes maintenance of oil platforms and the building of underwater structures used in the production process.[18]

Equipment used for offshore diving tends to be surface supplied equipment but this does vary depending on the nature of the work and location.[19] For instance Gulf of Mexico-based divers may use wetsuits whilst North Sea divers need drysuits or even hot water suits due to the temperature of the water.[20]

Inland and inshore diving[edit]

Inshore diving commonly includes underwater work in support of construction projects

Inland or onshore diving is very similar to offshore diving in terms of the nature of work and the equipment used, the work often being in support of land based civil engineering projects, with the majority of the work either underwater survey or engineering work. The types of dive sites this covers is varied, however, and divers can be found working in harbours and lakes, on hydroelectric dams, in rivers and around bridges and pontoons, with the bulk of this work being undertaken in freshwater. They are often required to inspect and repair outfalls which require at times up to 600 ft. plus penetrations, which require a multitude of safety requirements.[citation needed] Onshore divers typically can be at home every night and earn more per hour than their colleagues who work offshore. However, depth pay and minimum 12-hour shifts offshore must be taken into consideration.[citation needed]

The equipment used does depend on the nature of the work and location, but normally a mixture of SCUBA and surface-supplied diving equipment is used by divers and their employers.[citation needed]

HAZMAT diving[edit]

US Navy Diver being decontaminated after a dive. If the contamination was serious, the decontamination team would have been wearing hazmat gear

HAZMAT diving is one of the most dangerous branches of the commercial diving industry, employing highly skilled and experienced staff.

Typical work involves diving into raw sewage or dangerous chemicals, such as paper pulp, liquid cement, or oil sludge. This leads to special requirements:[21]

  • The divers need to be vaccinated against diseases such as hepatitis and tetanus.
  • Suitable equipment and competent personnel are required for decontamination of the diver and diving equipment after a dive.
  • Emergency procedures must be planned and equipment and personnel in place to safely recover the diver if something goes wrong.

The tasks a diver may be required to do in a contaminated environment include:[citation needed]

  • Essential maintenance of underwater valves and sluice gates.
  • Repairing damaged pipelines.
  • Pollution control work to contain, control and clean up after a pollution incident.
  • Sampling activities, such as those performed by United States Environmental Protection Agency.[22] units specializing in polluted water diving, and the Environmental Response Team dive units.[23]
  • Diving in landfill sites to maintain the pumping equipment, vital in preventing landfill sites from filling up with rainwater and contaminating the water table.
  • Welding inside functioning sewers or working in septic tanks.
  • Miscellaneous repairs and finding lost objects.
  • Finding bodies.

Sewer diving is one of the most dangerous of all the HAZMAT jobs due to the disease vectors carried by raw sewage and because hypodermic needles and broken glass may contaminate the raw sewage, creating risks of contracting diseases through cuts and punctures.

Divers working in a dangerously contaminated environment wear a full drysuit with integral boots. Cut-resistant dry-gloves and helmet will seal directly to the drysuit, leaving no skin exposed to the environment. The diver will generally use a free flow diving helmet which continually supplies more air than the diver needs to breathe so that there is a constant outflow through the exhaust valve, as the internal pressure must be slightly higher than ambient to maintain the flow. A free flow helmet has a significantly lower risk of leakage back through the exhaust valve compared to a standard demand helmet where the exhaust valve must maintain a watertight seal against a slightly higher external pressure during inhalation. The risk of leakage through the exhaust valve of a demand system can be reduced in three ways. A series system of valves can be used - the exhaust gases must pass through two sets of exhaust valves before reaching the contaminated environment, and therefore contaminated water would have to leak back through both sets of valves to get to the diver. Positive pressure systems maintain a slightly higher pressure inside the mask or helmet than the ambient pressure on the outside, ensuring that any leaks flow from inside to outside, and reclaim type systems duct the exhaled breathing gas back to the control panel on the surface, but do not necessarily reclaim the exhaust gas. Combinations of these methods are possible depending on the assessed risk.[citation needed]

The drysuit will be made from a material resistant to the hazardous materials at the site: normally the diver wears a vulcanized rubber drysuit, which is relatively easy to decontaminate as it has a slick outer surface, but occasionally a neoprene or tri-laminate suit is needed. Often, a diver will wear extra protection over the drysuit to reduce the risk of a puncture: leather, PVC and nylon coveralls are used for this purpose.[citation needed]

In such diving, light levels are often very low and the water is usually very turbid, so divers may rely on touch to guide them, and they are connected via the umbilical to the surface. The umbilical serves as a supply of breathing gas, for communications, and as a lifeline to find and retrieve the diver in an emergency. It is also used as a guide to find the way back to the surface.[citation needed]

Nuclear diving[edit]

Nuclear diving is similar to HAZMAT diving; the difference is the exposure to radiation instead of a water borne contaminant. To this end, different precautions are required for nuclear diving, mainly, equipment which will not absorb radioactive contamination and pose a disposal problem after several dives. Moreover, exhaustive briefing of the group or diver for the specific environment he is going to work, depth, water temperature and potential radioactive sources.[24] Heat stress can also be a danger for the diver, in which case a cold water suit may be used: the cold water suit is a special canvas coverall which floods the outside of the diver's drysuit with chilled water, countering the dangerously high ambient water temperature. A dosimeter is used to ensure that the diver does not receive a dangerous dose of radiation during the dive, assisting in calculating the maximum length of the dive. In addition the dosimeter can also be used to find radiation hot spots, which can indicate areas in need of repair.[24]

Scientific diving[edit]

A scientific diver at work

Scientific diving is the use of diving techniques by scientists to study underwater what would normally be studied by scientists on land. Scientific divers are normally qualified scientists first and divers second, who use diving equipment and techniques as their way to get to the location of their fieldwork. The direct observation and manipulation of marine habitats afforded to scuba-equipped scientists have transformed the marine sciences generally, and marine biology and marine chemistry in particular.[25] Underwater archeology and geology are other examples of sciences pursued underwater. Some scientific diving is carried out by universities in support of undergraduate or postgraduate research programs.

Government bodies such as the United States Environmental Protection Agency and the UK Environment Agency carry out scientific diving to recover samples of water, marine organisms and sea, lake or riverbed material to examine for signs of pollution.[citation needed]

Equipment used varies widely in this field, but surface supplied equipment though quite uncommon in the UK is growing in popularity in the U.S. The short number of dives made by scientific divers in normally quite shallow water, and the UK governmental regulations that make surface supplied equipment cumbersome, when combined with a need for easy transportation make surface supplied gear uneconomic and undesirable for UK scientists to use.[citation needed]

Scientific diving organizations include:

Three standard references for Scientific Diving Operations are:

  • Code of Practice for Scientific Diving: Principles for the Safe Practice of Scientific Diving in Different Environments.[5]
  • Joiner James T. (ed), NOAA Diving Manual: Diving for Science and Technology, Fourth Edition, 2001, U.S.Department of Commerce, National Technical Information Service, (ISBN 0941332705)
  • Haddock, Steven H. D. & John N. Heine, 2005. Scientific Blue-water Diving California Sea Grant College Program [1]


Although the first scientific diving expedition in Australia was carried out by Sir Maurice Yonge to the Great Barrier Reef in 1928, most scientific diving did not start until 1952 when the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation began work to understand the pearl beds of northern Australia in 1957.[28] Commercial divers worked under Australian Standard CZ18 "Work in Compressed Air" in 1972. This standard applied to caisson workers and divers so the underwater work was drafted into AS 2299 "Underwater Air Breathing Operations" in 1979. In 1987, a re-write of AS 2299 included scientific diving in the regulations even though the divers had been self-regulating under the Australian Marine Sciences Association (AMSA). At that time, the AMSA and the Australian Institute for Maritime Archaeology (AIMA) began a collaboration to draft a new standard for scientific diving.[28]

South Africa[edit]

In South Africa, scientific diving is considered a form of commercial diving and is within the scope of the Diving Regulations 2009 and the Code of Practice for Scientific Diving published by the Chief Inspector of the department of Labour,[2] Under DR 2009 the Codes of Practice are guidance and not compulsory practice. They are provided as recommended good practice, and in theory need not be followed providing an acceptable level of safety is achieved in terms of the Occupational Health and Safety Act #85 of 1993. However, in this case the onus is on the diving contractor to ensure acceptable safety during the diving operation. The level of safety required is specified in the OHS act as "reasonably practicable" taking into account a number of factors, including cost effectiveness, availability of technology for mitigation and available knowledge of hazards. Use of the relatively flexible scientific code is restricted to clients which are registered as organisations engaged in either scientific research or higher education.[29]

United States[edit]

In the United States scientific diving is permitted by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to operate under an alternative consensual standard of practice that is maintained by the American Academy of Underwater Sciences.[30]

To be able to avail itself of the Scientific Diving Exemption the institution under whose auspices the work is carried out must meet four tests:

  1. The Diving Control Board consisting of a majority of active scientific divers must have autonomous and absolute authority over the scientific diving program's operations.
  2. The purpose of all projects using scientific diving is the advancement of science; therefore, information and data resulting from the project are non-proprietary.
  3. The tasks of a scientific diver are those of an observer and data gatherer. Construction and trouble-shooting tasks traditionally associated with commercial diving are not included within scientific diving.
  4. Scientific divers, based on the nature of their activities, must use scientific expertise in studying the underwater environment and, therefore, are scientists or scientists in training.[31]

Media diving[edit]

Media diving is a term used to describe divers engaged in underwater photography and underwater cinematography outside of normal recreational interests.[32] Media Diving is often carried out in support of television documentaries, such as the BBC series Planet Earth or Hollywood blockbusters, with feature films such as Titanic and The Perfect Storm featuring underwater photography or footage. Media divers are normally highly trained camera operators who use diving as a method to reach their workplace, although some underwater photographers may start as recreational divers and move on to make a living from their hobby.

Equipment in this field is varied with scuba and surface supplied equipment used, depending on requirements, but rebreathers are often used for wildlife related work as they are normally quiet, release few or no bubbles and allow the diver a lengthy bottom time with a reduced risk of frightening off the subject at hand.[33]

Military and naval diving[edit]

US Navy Clearance Divers defusing a MK17 Buoyant Mine

Military diving covers all types of diving carried out by military personnel.[34] There are a number of different specialisations for a military diver to choose; some depend on which branch of the military they have joined or where the military needs more divers. Typical offensive activities include underwater demolition, infiltration and sabotage, this being the type of work elite regiments such as the UK Special Boat Service or the USA Navy SEALs carry out. Defensive activities are centered around countering the threat of enemy special forces and enemy anti-shipping measures, and typically involve defusing mines, searching for explosive devices attached to the hulls of ships, and locating enemy frogmen in the water.

Military divers need equipment which hides their position and prevents explosives from being set-off, and to this end, they use rebreathers which produce less noise due to bubbles emitted from the equipment, and few or no bubbles on the surface, and which contain no magnetic components. This continues down to the design of their diving suit, which will normally have a non-magnetic zipper, and the face-mask may be fitted with special anti-reflective glass. Some navies have gone further and given their divers special contact lenses instead of large face-masks to cut down on the risk of a reflection.

Naval diving is the military term for commercial diving, and is drastically different from military diving. Naval divers work to support maintenance and repair operations on ships and military installations. Their equipment is derived from commercially available equipment, with the US Navy using versions of the Kirby Morgan helmets and full-face masks amongst other equipment. Typical tasks include:

  • boat and ship inspection, cleaning and maintenance
  • demolition of ship wreck and unexploded ordnance
  • ship, submarine, downed aircraft, and other military hardware salvage or recovery
  • underwater mine clearance
  • investigating unidentified submerged divers

The United States Army has its own organic assets. These are the Army engineer divers.

Experimental diving, is conducted by the US Navy's Experimental Diving Unit (NEDU) and involves meeting military needs through the research and development of diving practices and diving equipment, testing new types equipment and finding new and safer ways to perform dives and related activities. The US NEDU was responsible for much of the early experimental diving work to calculate decompression tables and has since worked on such developments as heated diving suits powered by radioactive isotopes and mixed gas diving equipment, while the British equivalent (The Admiralty Experimental Diving Unit) perfected the Mark 10 submarine escape suits utilized by both the Royal Navy and the US Navy.[35][36]

Police diving[edit]

Police divers are normally police officers who have been trained in the use of diving techniques to recover evidence and occasionally bodies from rivers, canals and the sea.[37] They may also be employed in searching shipping for contraband substances fitted to the outside of hulls to avoid detection. The equipment they use depends on requirements, but the requirement for communications at some sites does often require the use of full-face masks with communication equipment, either with SCUBA or surface supplied equipment.

Diving instructors[edit]

Instructors for each of the above modes of diving are highly qualified individuals operating under the auspices of a governmental agency. Standards for instruction are authorized by agencies to ensure safety.

Recreational dive instructors differ from other types of professional divers as they normally don't require a professional level qualification, but a relevant recreational qualification from a recognised training agency such as GUE, SDI, TDI, NAUI, PADI, SSI, ANDI or BSAC, which permits them to teach. Dive instructors teach a wide variety of skills from entry-level diver training for beginners, to diver rescue for intermediate level divers and technical diving for more experienced divers. They often operate from dedicated dive centres at coastal sites or through hotels in popular holiday resorts or simply from local swimming pools. Initial training is carried out mainly on conventional SCUBA equipment[38][39][40] but with the increasing use of rebreathers, their use is also taught.[41][42][43][44][45][46] Not all recreational diving instructors are professionals; many are amateurs with careers outside the diving industry.

Commercial diving instructors normally require professional diving qualifications. They typically teach trainee commercial divers how to operate types of diving equipment and typical underwater tools they will use in the course of their work as well as the skills required for diving safely with the relevant equipment. Commercial diving instructors use similar equipment to commercial divers in the course of their work.[47]

Aquarium diving[edit]

Aquarium divers normally hold some form of professional qualification, either as a Diving Instructor or in the UK a HSE Part 4 qualification. The larger aquariums can have considerable size and depth, in the UK 35 by 25 metres and 5 metres deep with 3.8 million litres of water. The jobs are varied but are centred around the maintenance of the tank and livestock and public entertainment. They include:

  • Feeding of the livestock
  • Tank cleaning
  • Shows
  • Taking members of the public into the tank


US Navy Diver using Kirby Morgan diving helmet
Argentine Diver using Kirby Morgan 57 diving helmet fitted with underwater camera and light

Diving suit[edit]

Depending on the water temperature, depth and duration of the planned dive, the diver will either use a wetsuit, drysuit or hot water suit. A wetsuit provides thermal insulation by layers of foam neoprene but the diver gets wet. Hot water diving suits are similar to a wetsuit but are flooded with warm water from a surface water heater that is then pumped to the diver via an umbilical. A drysuit is another method of insulation, operating by keeping the diver dry under the suit, and relies on either the suit material or the air trapped in thermal undergarments to insulate the diver, and also provides better isolation from environmental contamination. Certain applications require a specific type of dive suit; long dives into deep, cold water normally require a hot water suit or drysuit, whilst diving into potentially contaminated environments requires a drysuit, dryhood, and drygloves at a minimum, thereby keeping the diver completely isolated from the diving environment.[21][48][49]

Breathing apparatus[edit]

A number of factors dictate the type of breathing apparatus used by the diver.[34] Typical considerations include the length of the dive, water contamination, space constraints and vehicle access for support vehicles.[21] Some disciplines will very rarely use surface supplied diving, such as scientific divers or military clearance divers, whilst commercial divers will rarely use SCUBA equipment.

Scuba diving[edit]

Scuba equipment is not commonly used in civilian commercial diving, but is often employed by scientific, media and military divers, sometimes as specialized equipment such as rebreathers, which are closed circuit SCUBA equipment that recycles breathing gas instead of releasing it into the water. It is the "re-breathing" of gas that makes rebreathers ideal for long duration dives, efficient decompression when the gas mix is adjustable, and for the observation of animals in the wild due to the lack of noisy bubbles. These characteristics also make rebreathers ideal for military use, such as when military divers are engaged in covert action or when performing mine clearance where bubbles could potentially set off an explosion.

Open circuit scuba equipment is occasionally used by commercial divers working on sites where surface supplied equipment is unsuitable, such as around raised structures like a water tower, or in remote locations where it is necessary to carry equipment to the dive site. Normally, for comfort and for practicality, a full face mask such as those manufactured by Kirby Morgan will be used to allow torches and video cameras to be mounted onto the mask. The benefit of full-face masks is that they can normally be used with surface supplied equipment as well, removing the need for the diver or the company to have two sets of expensive equipment.[50][51]

Surface-supplied diving[edit]

Surface-supplied divers from 1873 (Illustrated London News, February 8th)
US Navy tender with umbilical - A typical surface supplied diving situation

This is, perhaps, the most common type of equipment used in professional diving, and the one most recognised by the public, made familiar through films such as The Abyss. Surface-supplied equipment can be used with full face masks or diving helmets.[50] Helmets are normally to be found fitted with diver to surface communication equipment, and often with light sources and video equipment. The decision between wearing a full-face mask or a full diving helmet comes down to job requirements and personal preference, however the impact protection and warmth offered by a full diving helmet makes it popular for underwater construction sites and cold water work.

Breathing gas for the diver is piped down from the surface, through a long, flexible hose, called an umbilical.[20][52] In addition to breathing gas, the umbilical may have additional hoses and cables for such things as communications equipment, a pneumofathometer for measuring depth, or hot water should the diver be using a hot water suit. The umbilical must be strong enough to support the diver's weight, with a significant safety margin, because it may be used by surface personnel to pull the diver out of the water. The diver's breathing gas is pumped down from either high pressure tanks or through a gas compressor.

Saturation diving[edit]

If the diver is to be working at extreme depths for a long period, the diver may live in a special underwater habitat or a pressurised surface habitat called a saturation system.[20] This type of surface supplied diving is known as saturation diving.[20] The same technique for supplying breathing gas as regular surface supplied diving is used, with the diving bell receiving breathing gas and electricity from a diving support vessel on the surface.[20] Due to the often extreme depths the diver is working at, specialised helium-based breathing gas mixtures are often used to prevent both nitrogen narcosis and oxygen toxicity which occurs at these extreme depths.[53]

Training and registration[edit]

Regional requirements[edit]


The Diver Certification Board of Canada[54] certifies occupational divers, accredits schools which train occupational divers.

The Diver Certification Board of Canada (DCBC) is a federally incorporated not-for-profit body which was originally set up to replace the offshore diver certification regime of the National Energy Board and the offshore petroleum boards. DCBC is the only national body which certifies offshore and inshore commercial divers in Canada.

The DCBC offers certification to commercial divers and supervisors who can demonstrate that they have sufficient training and experience to enable them to meet the competency requirements of the appropriate section of the Canadian Standards Association (CSA) Competency Standard for Diving Operations (CSA Standard Z275.4).

Certificates issued by the DCBC are recognized by Australia (ADAS), France, Norway, South Africa, the United Kingdom (HSE) and the International Marine Contractors Association (IMCA).

The Diver Certification Board of Canada accredits commercial diver training organizations which train to the competency levels described in CSA Standard Z275.4. Accredited commercial diver training organizations can also assess the competency of experienced commercial divers who were not trained at an accredited school.

South Africa[edit]

In South Africa the Department of Labour regulates the activities of people who dive as part of their employment, except for those involved in diving connected to minerals and energy, who are nominally controlled by the Department of Minerals and Energy. Military diving is also officially within the jurisdiction of the Department of Labour, but provided the diving is conducted within the requirements of SA Naval Operations Publication 96 it is deemed to comply with the Diving Regulations of the Occupational Health and Safety Act 1993.[citation needed]

All commercial diver training is within the scope of the Diving Regulations, but recreational diver training and dive leading (divemasters) are specifically excluded from the regulations, though still subject to general provisions of the Occupational Health and Safety Act [2]

Commercial divers are registered with the Department of Labour after completing their training and assessment at registered commercial diving schools. The standard of training is officially specified in the Commercial Diver Training Standards for each class of diver, but the precise definitions for many of the specified items is unclear. However this is not unlike the standards for training in several other countries, as the SA standards are remarkably similar to the standards published by the International Diving Regulators and Certifiers Forum (IDRCF) of which the SA Department of Labour is a member.[citation needed]

United Kingdom[edit]

In the UK, any person diving at work is required to hold a relevant qualification approved by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). In the UK, diving schools work towards a standard HSE approved qualification, whilst divers who have trained overseas may find their existing qualifications meet the necessary HSE standards, if not, additional training may be required. HSE approved qualifications are well known around the world and due to the stringent requirements of HSE qualifications, most diving qualifications around the world are designed to meet HSE standards, allowing any diver certified to a standard recognised by the HSE to work in the UK, an important location due to the North Sea oil industry. HSE commercial diver qualifications are recognized by Australia (ADAS), Canada (DCBC), France, Norway, South Africa (SADoL) and in part by the International Marine Contractors Association (IMCA).[citation needed]

There are several different HSE qualifications, each focusing on a different type of equipment or type of diving activity, for instance the HSE Scuba qualification allows the holder to use only SCUBA equipment. Training usually takes place at a residential school, with courses taking anything between 9 and 13 weeks although divers with existing qualifications, such as former military divers can take courses which build on their existing knowledge and experience. During training, divers will be taught how to use common types of diving equipment (nearly every school trains divers to use the Kirby Morgan equipment) and how to carry out underwater construction techniques such as welding and cutting.[citation needed]

In addition to physical training, there is a large amount of classroom work, with divers being trained subjects such as basic gas laws and decompression tables. First Aid courses are normally also a requirement for trainee divers, with the emphasis placed on dealing with decompression and other diving related injuries.[citation needed]

Engineer diver[edit]

A Masters degree titled Engineer Diver, for a professional who has the capacities, skills and knowledge needed to plan, manage and successfully execute an underwater operation concerning engineering practice, was proposed in 2007. The proposal does not appear to have been taken up.[55] Examples of businesses that might benefit from the proposed qualification are civil infrastructures contractors (above and below water) where inspections, and maintenance projects are carried out periodically. That is the case of underwater inspections of ports, offshore platforms, vessels, bridges and dams.[56]

International commercial diving co-ordination and regulatory organisations[edit]

Association of Diving Contractors International (ADCI)[edit]

International Marine Contractors Association (IMCA)[edit]

The International Marine Contractors Association (IMCA) is the international trade association representing offshore, marine, and underwater engineering companies. Contractors, suppliers, training establishments, personnel agencies and non-voting corresponding (oil companies, governmental and regulatory bodies) can become members in one or more of the four divisions (Diving, Marine, Offshore Survey, Remote Systems & ROV).[citation needed]

International Diving Schools Association (IDSA)[edit]

IDSA[57] was formed in 1982 with the primary purpose of developing common international standards for commercial diver training

The Association is concerned with offshore, inshore and inland commercial diving and some specialist non-diving qualifications such as diving supervisors, diving medical technicians and life support technicians. It has published international diver training standards[58] based on the consensus opinion of members which provide a basic standard of comparison for commercial diver training standards, with the stated intention of:-

  • Improving safety
  • Providing contractors with a direct input to the diver training syllabus
  • Enabling contractors to bid across national borders on a more even playing field
  • Improving diver quality
  • Providing divers with greater job opportunities

IDSA provides a Table of Equivalence of various national commercial diver training standards.[59]

International Diving Regulators and Certifiers Forum (IDRCF)[edit]

The International Diving Regulators and Certifiers Forum (IDRCF) confirmed its principals and purpose at their meeting in London in September 2009. The statement of principals and purpose states “The forum has agreed to work together towards mutual recognition to identify and implement best practice in diver training and assessment with the objective of harmonising cross-border diver training outside Europe.” Members of the IDRCF include ADAS (Australia), DCBC (Canada), HSE (UK), PSA (Norway), and the Secretariat General to the Sea Progress Committee (France).[citation needed]

European Diving Technology Committee[edit]

The European Diving Technology Committee (EDTC) is tasked with promoting good standards for diving within Europe and where practicable, coordinating differing standards. As part of this work they publish high level minimum competence standards for inshore and offshore diving industry personnel as guidance for member states to encourage harmonisation of standards and facilitate international recognition of commercial diver qualifications.[60]

Safety record[edit]

Commercial diving remains a relatively dangerous occupation, but the rate of fatal accidents has decreased over the years.

Statistics of fatal commercial diving accidents in the UK between 1996 and 2010 compiled by the HSE UK[61]

Fatal accidents per 100,000 workers per year
All workers in UK      0.5
Service sector 0.3
Construction 2
Extractive industries 4
Agriculture 8
Offshore diving 20 to 30
Inshore diving 30 to 60

See also[edit]

For scientific and archaeological applications for which diving is needed see:


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External links[edit]

Nuclear diving articles

Scientific diving articles