Divers and Diving Technicians

Divers and diving technicians inspect structures or equipment using visual, photographic, or video-recording methods; operate hand or power tools in mechanical construction or repair; clean marine growth from structures; weld or cutting in salvage, repair, or construction functions; and survey for geological or biological research teams. The work is frequently dirty, exhausting, and dangerous, and the duties vary greatly. 

Diving technicians do not always work below the water. Sometimes they work at the surface, as experts in the life-support system for divers and in the management of the equipment. These technicians work with the controls that supply the proper mixture of gases for the diver to breathe, maintain the correct pressures in the hoses leading to the underwater worker, and act as the communicator and life-support partner of the diver. They also monitor water depth, conditions inside diving bells and chambers, and decompression schedules for divers. This is a highly skilled position involving many responsibilities, and it is vital to the success of all deepwater diving operations.

It is possible in the future that the scientific and technological demands made on the life-support team may cause the development of a group of specialists who do not dive. However, the usual practice now is for divers to work both underwater and on deck.

Oceanographic research is another important employment specialty for divers and diving technicians. Diving professionals in this field help oceanographers and other marine scientists conduct research. They may operate underwater video, sonar, or other equipment to record marine life, underwater volcanoes, and other ocean phenomena. Some may repair or set up equipment on the ocean floor. Others may help construct underwater facilities used by marine scientists. Divers and diving technicians are also employed in undersea mining, oil and gas exploration, and underwater military engineering.

Some marine science diving professionals work as diving safety officers. These workers are employed by educational institutions such as the Scripps Institution of Oceanography to ensure that safety measures are observed by divers and diving technicians during scientific research expeditions. The diving safety officer trains divers and ensures that equipment is in good condition (and repairs it if it is not), that divers have regular physical examinations, and that dives follow the safety guidelines of the American Academy of Underwater Sciences. They often accompany scientists and the divers they supervise on expeditions that are conducted around the world. SanDiegoDiving.com estimates that there are only about 50 diving safety officers in the United States. 

Divers and diving technicians also work as recreation specialists. Dive resorts, dive charter boats, municipal recreation departments, dive stores, and postsecondary institutions may employ them. The work performed will vary depending on the employer's specific business, but it frequently includes teaching the general public about recreational diving, supervising and coordinating recreational dives at resorts and on cruise ships, teaching diving lessons and selling equipment at a retail dive store, and repairing equipment for customers of a dive store.

Newly hired technicians are normally assigned to organize the shop and care for and maintain all types of company equipment. Soon, they will be assigned a similar job on a diving boat or platform. When on a diving operation, technicians help maintain a safe and efficient operation by providing topside or surface support for the divers: They assist them with equipment, supply hoses, communications, necessary tools, and lines. As a diver's tender, technicians may monitor and control diving descent and ascent rates, breathing gas supplies, and decompression schedules. They must also be able to assist in an emergency and help treat a diver injured in an accident or suffering from the bends.

As technicians gain experience in company procedures and jobs, they are given more responsibility. Technicians usually can start underwater work within a few months to two years after being hired, depending on the technician's skills and the company's needs.

Technicians' first dives are shallow and relatively easy; subsequent dives match their ability and competence. With time and experience, they may advance to work deep-dive bell and saturation diving systems. Saturation divers are gradually compressed in an on-deck chamber, as they would be when diving, then transferred to and from the work site inside a pressurized bell. These divers stay in a pressure-controlled environment for extended periods.

All of the personnel on a diving crew should know how to care for and use a wide variety of equipment. Some of the commonly used diving equipment includes air compressors, decompression chambers, high-pressure breathing-gas storage tanks, pressure regulators and gas regulating systems, hoses and fittings for handling air and gas, and communications equipment.

A diver's personal equipment ranges from simple scuba, now seldom used, to full face masks; lightweight and heavy helmets for both air and helium/oxygen use; diving bells; and diving suits, from wet suits to the heavy dry suits that can be bolted to a breastplate to which the heavy helmet is attached. For cold water and deep or long-duration dives, a hot-water suit may be used. This allows a flow of warm water supplied from the surface to be passed through a loose-fitting wet suit on the diver's body, protecting the diver from loss of body heat.

Commercial diving crews use simple hand tools, including hammers, crescent wrenches, screwdrivers, and pliers. Items such as wire cutters and volt/ohm meters are often needed. Divers should be versatile and may also be expected to use many types of power tools, as well as sophisticated and often delicate instruments, such as video and camera equipment, measuring instruments, ultrasonic probes, and metal detection devices. Knowledge of arc welding equipment and underwater arc or other metal-cutting equipment is very important for many kinds of work, such as salvage, construction, or repair and modification of underwater structures. These needs are often associated with underwater petroleum explorations, well drilling, or management of piping systems.

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