While on a dive job at a nuclear plant in the Chicago-land area years ago the lead diver told me that this profession is anything but glamorous. He went on to say that the dive schools will lure you in with stories of travel, hordes of money and the benefits of not working a 9 to 5 job. There were also the divers who romanticized the industry with tales of all the aforementioned attributes while conveniently leaving out the mostly day to day unpleasantries that is the commercial diving industry. As with everything in life, the truth is always somewhere in the middle. That being said, everyone on the internet seems to tell everyone why they should be a professional diver; I am going to discuss why this might not be for you.
REASON 1. START UP COSTS
Try not to have a heart attack when looking at the costs of dive schools and the student loans associated with them. A prospective commercial diver will incur a cost of anywhere between $10k to $30k in tuition costs at their school of choice. Want a cost comparison? Click HERE to see how the dive schools compare. And to put things into perspective, the average public university, in state tuition, is around $10k per year. You might just want to get a formal education that does not involve a job with a high mortality rate. Don’t want a college degree? Then you can always enroll in some technical training at a vocational college and become something like a plumber. You will get wet and make a decent wage, just like a commercial diver. Something else to consider is the dive equipment you will need. Many divers own there own dive gear and this stuff is not cheap. Dive hats, wetsuits, drysuits, booties, boots, tools and it goes on and on. This can and probably will be well over $10k over time.
REASON 2. TRAVEL
Someone is always spouting off about the great travel and adventure opportunities in the commercial diving industry. Well…they’re right, in a weird way. You will travel but there is a downside to this. Many divers experiences involve that of cheap motels, RVs and the occasional apartment included on some dive jobs by their employer. If this is something that does not bother you, you will all right, if not there is always the plumber route. Another reason traveling around can be bad is because a lot of commercial divers have families. This can be very hard for wives and kids (not to mention husbands, there are female divers too). There is a reason a lot of commercial divers are divorced. This is an industry and a lifestyle best suited for the single.
REASON 3. GETTING STEADY WORK
There are plenty of divers out there with steady dive gigs at big companies with big fat contracts in the oil, nuclear or other giant infrastructure industries. But there are plenty of divers who don’t and have to travel around cleaning city intakes, waters towers or what ever else they can muster up as free lancers. Some people say that these guys are paying there dues over time until they get their break. Just keep in mind that this is where you may wind up out of dive school.
REASON 4. LOW ENTRY WAGE
Are there some divers making $70k-$150 a year? Yes, there are. Did they start out making this salary from dive school and is this industry average? No. I wish it was. A diver fresh out of school will earn anywhere from $15 an hour and up. There are the horror stories of new divers making less than that, but that seems to be slowly going away.
REASON 5. DEBT LOAD
This runs parallel to REASON 1 above but I feel it needs to stated again, but from the perspective of the massive student loans that are being taken out to attend a dive school. When I attended dive school in the early 1990s, I paid around $4k in tuition, I’m not joking. All of that in the form of Federal loans. Today you might have to pay close to $35k to attend a commercial diving school! That is a 775% increase in tuition. A loan of this magnitude will take decades to pay off…if you are lucky.
REASON 6. HIGHLY DANGEROUS
You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to know that putting a helmet on your head and working underwater isn’t exactly the safest thing to do for a buck. It seems like everyday I see someone on Facebook, twitter or some other social media site saying a commercial diver got hurt or killed. A person needs to have ice water running through their veins to do something like this an old diver told me once. He was right. This is a job for the young and fearless or just plain fearless. The fact is I have never known a diver who hasn’t gotten a diving related injury. Back problems, broken limbs, lost digits from who knows what and not to mention the ear problems a lot of divers succumb to. (Me included) So remember, diving is not safe, I don’t care what anyone says. People just aren’t supposed to be underwater, it’s just that simple.
So, with all that being said, becoming a commercial diver is a choice that needs to be carefully studied and researched. I am by no means trying to talk anyone out of doing what they feel is their dream, but remember like anything else you get back what you put in. This is not a job for the weak minded or faint of heart. There will be days when you are wondering just why in the hell you chose this way of life, and make no mistakes…it is a way of life. So whatever you choose, good luck. A little of that goes a long way as a commercial diver.