Hyperbaric Welding: Extreme Work for Adventurous Humans

Last Updated/Verified: Apr 6, 2024

underwater weldingSomething about deep water inspires hybrid monsters in the human mind – mermaids, sharktopusses, frankenfish, piranhacondas. While none of these creatures actually exist (that we know of), the welder-diver is a real-life hybrid. They aren't monsters but they do use electricity underwater, which makes them pretty intense creatures. The process of welding underwater can be performed wet or dry. Today, we're going to look at the dry method, otherwise known as hyperbaric welding. If being a hybrid underwater creature sounds appealing to you, read on to discover how hyperbaric welding works and how you can become a welder-diver.

Hyperbaric welding: the set-up

Dry underwater welding is done in a hyperbaric chamber. This is known as your "habitat". A fitting name for the workspace of a hybrid creature. Your habitat is set to have pressure close to, but higher than, that of the surface. Air is constantly cycled through to keep your environment breathable and prevent toxic fumes from building up. This also sucks out any gasses that could cause an explosion.

You'll be breathing a special concoction (usually a combo of oxygen, helium and argon) that keeps your cabin pressurised just right so you don't end up getting nitrogen narcosis (drowsiness resulting from breathing air under pressure), or completely blacking out.

The type of habitat you work in will depend on the company you're working for and the size of your project. Some habitats can fit a couple of workers in them at a time. Others just enclose your upper body and some only enclose the electrode.

Hyperbaric welding: the process

Dry welding, since it is done in an enclosure, can be completed with any welding process you would use on dry land (if you're a beginner, click here to learn more about the various welding techniques). Gas Tungsten Arc Welding (GTAW) tends to be the most common. As you are working at an air pressure higher to that of the surface, the arc voltage will increase. The welding process also becomes more difficult at higher pressures, so a great level of skill is required from the operator.

Jobs will come in from all sorts of industries, including marine salvaging, pipelines, shipbuilding and cruise ship repair, dam repair, bridge construction, and the armed forces. You'll usually be limited to work at a depth of 1300 feet (400 meters) or less.

Underwater welding: dry vs wet

Both types of underwater welding require you to have diving skills. Wet welding, however, has no habitat at all. Not even for the electrode. The process is made safe and possible through special electrode design. DC current is always used as AC would not be safe underwater and would make it difficult to maintain an arc.

Wet welding is cheaper and faster than dry welding and requires no habitat construction. However, it involves more danger for the welder. Hyperbaric welding allows for more surface monitoring, nondestructive testing and is preferred when you need a higher quality weld as it allow you more environmental control.

How to become an underwater welder

You will need training and certification before anyone will let you loose on their underwater projects. The good news is, wherever you are in the world, and whatever your current skill level, there is a school that can give you the training you need to become an underwater welder (click here for a list of underwater welding schools from all over the world).

If you're already a certified land-dwelling welder, there are training facilities and diving schools that can teach you the skills necessary to take your welding into the deep. Skilled and certified divers can take welding training and newbies to both fields can train in educational facilities with courses designed to make you an expert in both sides of the welder-diver equation.

Your training will take a minimum of two and a half years, depending on your current experience level and the school you go with. For a complete beginner, you'd be looking at more like four to six years.

Once you're fully qualified, underwater welding is one of those professions that opens up the world to you. Welders can find work wherever there is water – so two thirds of the planet. That's a lot of places to explore. So if you love the water, travel and challenging work, then becoming a highly skilled, hybrid creature of the deep may just be the future you're looking for.