As the name implies, underwater welders work under the water and provide welding services on structures. Most work for an oil service companies which supply diving services for offshore oil fields around the world. They might be sent to international locations ranging from West Africa to Vietnam, though most are in the in the Gulf of Mexico. Training requires at least 20 weeks. Underwater welding is part of the training of a commercial diver. Commercial diving schools include this training to give the student a better chance of finding work after graduation.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics groups underwater welders under the job category of commercial divers. These dive work below the surface of water, using scuba gear to inspect, repair, remove, or install equipment and structures. They use a variety of power and hand tools, including welding equipment. The average pay for a commercial diver was $58,640 a year as of May 2011. The median pay, or midway point, was $52,550 a year. The highest-paid 10 percent averaged $45.50 an hour or $94,630 a year.
Workers engaged in what the Bureau of Labor Statistics calls "other heavy and civil engineering construction" form the largest group of commercial divers. The average pay here was $66,520 per year. Divers in Florida, Louisiana and Texas have the highest average annual salaries, ranging from $76,990 to $85,870 a year as of May, 2011.
Many underwater welders are engaged in surface-supplied air or mixed-gas diving. In this type of diving, either air or a mixture of oxygen and a gas such as helium or nitrogen are pumped down to the welder. Other types of diving include saturation diving, which means the welder works at a depth below 500 feet. Because of the amount of time a diver/welder must spend in surfacing from that depth to prevent decompression sickness, he lives in specially constructed chambers until the job is complete. These diver/welders can earn more than twice as much as other divers because they also receive a premium, called depth pay, for each foot they descend below 50 feet.
Mike Brown, president of the Association of Diving Contractors International, said in the June 2012 issue of "Underwater Magazine" that opportunities for divers -- and, consequently, underwater welders -- are increasing in the Gulf of Mexico and the North Sea.