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Commercial diving has a reputation for being the realm of tough, hard-working divers performing grueling jobs in the worst of conditions. There’s some truth to that, but there are also many tentacles of commercial diving which extend far away from the oily rags and helium-breathing offshore darkness of films such as Netflix’s “Last Breath”. Fiction though, like Damien Hirst’s “Treasures of the Wreck of the Unbelievable”, shows another, sometimes warmer and vastly different approach to the career; maritime archaeology. Behind-the-scenes footage of the underwater crew for “Blue Planet” showcases what many fun-divers would call a dream job. And there’s so much more

Dom Beverly, commercial diving
With insight From Dom Beverly

In the UK and much of the rest of the world, commercial diving qualifications branch off from four main courses. Prices for these are very high (we’re talking a house deposit for the Saturation course), and the training is long and intense. The below is a very brief primer for those interested in this career path.


This is the first professional course and a requirement for all legal underwater work under HSE regulations beyond cleaning aquariums or swimming pools. Divers use regular scuba gear, though often with the addition of (usually basic) communications. Those filming for nature documentaries, film, print and TV will have this qualification and may never need or want to progress any further. Fishermen specialising in shellfish or fish-farms will also hold this ticket if diving, and archaeologists may find enough work to get by as well.

Surface Supply
Enter the hardhat. The (often) yellow-hatted diver now replaces the classic brass helmet, lead collar and weighted boots of the past, and with it comes direct contact to the surface at all times through an umbilical – through which we receive gas, communications and power, and transmit voice, depth and often video. This is not your holiday diving. There is almost no relation between this and fun diving – your qualifications in basic scuba are not recognised or relevant. It doesn’t matter how good your buoyancy is, how many dives you have or how many fish you can identify by their Latin names – this is a different world and a totally different job. You may find yourself finning through the water wearing a bandmask (stripped-down and much lighter version of a hardhat) on a hull-clean, or just as easily stomping along beside a pipeline in zero visibility at 50 metres with no fins at all. Divers need to be practical and armed with manual skills (welding, burning and grinding are just the primers).

Offshore TU
In-shore diving work is termed Civils in the UK and ranges from jobs in dockyards to sewers, reservoirs, dams and everything in-between. Once we head offshore (7 miles out) we need a new qualification known as the Offshore Top-Up. We now dive primarily from a cage or open bell (essentially a cage with an air pocket). We dive in twos or threes but usually work alone. Because we’re so far from land we need knowledge not only of rescue of our fellow divers on the job, but also in treatment of pressure-related injuries. We’re all trained in the use and operation of recompression chambers and there will be one on the vessel. Due to rough conditions the chamber will sometimes be the only way to decompress and shallow safety-stops are not feasible at all. We need to be able to return to surface, de-kit and enter a chamber to be pressurised back to a safe depth in a couple of minutes. It’s no walk in the park and not for the absent-minded.

Saturation Diving
Here is where things go from serious to… well, some might say ridiculous. First, take the five-figure sum you’ve invested in the above three courses and times it by two. That’s the cost of this course. With that expense also comes the insanely high wages you’ve heard of, and some of the most challenging working conditions you can imagine. The job may be years-long construction projects or something very straight-forward – changing a section of pipeline or even just a couple of bolts or inspecting something – but the depth at which work is conducted means nothing is easy. Divers can spend up to one month living in a recompression chamber, pressurised to the maximum depth of their job breathing a helium-rich gas mixture that means loved ones won’t know who they’re talking to on the phone. And like them or loathe them, you need to share this tiny space with a crew of other divers. Meals are passed through a secure system of pressurised doors and a couple of tiny windows allow divers to watch unpressurised colleagues on the “surface” go about their daily routines. It’s surreal, and unlike any other job, but thankfully (through historical trial and error) relatively safe.

Commercial Diving

Each of these courses is a starting point, and there is a plethora of separate qualifications needed depending on the direction your career takes you: working at heights, in confined spaces, rigging and tethering, inspection tickets, the list is endless. It’s a huge investment of capital and time which can pay very well if the stars align. But it is no easy task.

Whichever path one takes the equipment requirements are largely the same – durable, warm products. Fourth Element supply thousands of commercial divers around the world and the following are the most universally-useful for drysuit diving.

Professional Pieces

Some of our most popular pieces for commercial diving

Argonaut 2.0

An exceptional choice, especially for Pro-Scuba, providing industry-leading flexibility and fit.

J2 Base Layers

Anti-bacterial, meaning that long and maybe sweaty jobs won’t have the same negative dermatological effects on the divers’ skin as prolonged periods of moisture can.

Arctic Undersuit

You will see these undergarments not only at almost every dive site in the UK, but on almost every commercial job as well. Tried and tested, low-bulk, thermal one-piece and two-piece options providing excellent protection under neoprene or membrane suits.

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