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The Hidden World of Commercial Diving


Humans have been venturing into the Earth’s oceans and seas since ancient times for many reasons. These days, the word “apnea” has become synonymous with freediving. However, it originates from the Greek word “a-pnoia,” translating to “not breathing,” also known as diving on a single breath. The few minutes of air that can be held in a person’s lungs and the limited depths that can be reached proved to be insufficient. The need to go deeper and remain at depth longer ultimately lead to the invention of the Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus or SCUBA system in 1942. This system has seen a lot of development over the years since then, but it is largely still the same today as it was when Emile Gagnan and Jacques Cousteau invented it in 1942.

The 3 Disciplines of Scuba Diving

Today there are 3 commonly practiced diving disciplines with the first and most well-known one being recreational diving. This form of diving can be considered a sport as it is all about exploring and experiencing the underwater world with leisure purposes.

Secondly, there is technical diving, which is done for recreational purposes but requires extra advanced training and comes with a substantial amount of additional risk. Technical diving is an umbrella term for diving in enclosed spaces like shipwrecks, hardhat diving in tunnels, diving with special breathing-gas mixtures, diving with very specialized equipment and diving at depths that go beyond the recreational limits. Thirdly, there is a discipline that often swims below the radar, which is commercial diving. This type of diving could be defined as professional work that is carried out in an underwater environment. It is this third discipline that this article will try to bring to light and explain in some detail.

Commercial Diving Disciplines

Within the commercial diving world there are 6 fields in which divers operate; offshore diving, onshore diving, navy diving, HAZMAT diving, scientific diving and media diving.

Something that all commercial diving disciplines have in common is the fact that they all deal with elevated risks compared to recreational and technical diving. Like recreational divers, commercial divers deal with the ordinary risks of the underwater world and the specific risks that come with diving in a certain environment. Recreational divers often avoid high-risk situations, but for commercial divers there is often no way around certain risks and risk mitigation is the only option, not risk avoidance.

One of the least risky forms of commercial diving is scientific diving, a discipline that is not that hard to explain because it is all about collecting samples and making findings that can propel a research project forward. The divers are often scientists themselves who work for governmental organizations or universities. Together with media diving, this discipline can be seen as the mildest and easiest form of commercial diving, and unlike most of the other forms these two are not as competitive and difficult to get into.

Media diving also does not involve a whole lot of risk but it requires the ability to multitask because a media diver is responsible for planning the dive, preparing equipment and then capturing the shot. It is diving with a large camera and capturing footage for television and cinema purposes.

Onshore and Offshore diving are the two most commonly seen forms of commercial diving, and they are very similar to each other except for the environment in which the diver works. It is pretty much in the name, onshore diving means that once the diver is done working he or she gets to go home. An offshore diver is often stationed at a location away from home and closer to their worksite, which are generally not close to land. Examples of offshore work environments are drilling platforms and transoceanic pipe-laying operations. Both offshore diver and onshore diver jobs consist of surveying submerged structures, equipment, doing maintenance, exploring new areas for operations and construction of structures.

Offshore is considered to be more extreme because once out of the water the diver can still find him or herself in a hazardous nautical environment aboard a ship with high waves and storms from which you cannot take shelter. When it comes to onshore diving, the diver can often find himself diving in fresh and calmer water near a dam or at a construction site where they are often involved in working on the foundation of buildings or working on tunnels.

Navy divers fall under the military command of a nation and carry out ship maintenance as well as search harbours for obstacles that could hinder sea vessels. They also recover sunken ships and planes, and are tasked with getting astronauts out of their space capsules once they return to earth. The work carried out by navy divers is probably the most diverse across all disciplines because it is work that can be carried out in both fresh and salt water, it is maintenance work one day and salvage work the next.

Lastly, there are those that are tasked with venturing into sewers, contaminated bodies of water and radioactive environments. These divers are called hazardous material (HAZMAT) divers, and their job is about as dangerous as offshore wet work, because they are at risk of contracting diseases and other forms of bodily harm in their work environment more so than other divers. Besides the ordinary underwater risks and dive site specific risks HAZMAT divers also have to deal with hazardous contaminants which can pose a threat to the diver. Unlike most other forms of commercial diving, getting out of the water as a HAZMAT diver does not necessarily mark the end of the job, decontamination of the diver and the equipment, as well as constant health monitoring is also part of the job and the risk. Beyond surveying and maintaining sewers and working in radioactive environments HAZMAT divers are also tasked with body recovery, lost item recovery and pollution control work.

Some tasks cannot be carried out by machines and robots yet, that is why there will still be commercial divers for the foreseeable future. The work these brave individuals do could be considered integral to our way of life, because they are involved in the movies we watch, the buildings in which we live, the production of the gasoline we require and the tunnels through which we travel. It is demanding and rewarding work that does not get the recognition it deserves.

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