Everything You Need to Know About Underwater Welding
20th July 2022
The concept of underwater welding has been a confusing yet intriguing topic to a lot of welders and welding enthusiasts. Most people keep asking these questions; how does underwater welding work? How dangerous is underwater welding? What does underwater welding pay? And so on. These questions are relevant because we know from the basic knowledge that the mixture of water and electricity is most dangerous. However, underwater welding is a lucrative profession for commercial divers.
History of underwater welding
Underwater welding operation was first conducted in the 1930s by the British Navy to fix their leaking ship. In 1946, unique waterproof electrodes were discovered in the Netherland by ‘Vander Willingen’. Since then, underwater welding has been employed in various onshore and offshore facilities such as pipelines, oil rigs, drills, ships, etc. These components are installed regularly, and as well experience failures that require being fixed through underwater welding.
What is Underwater Welding?
The underwater welding process is similar to on-land welding, they both utilize similar equipment. Therefore, the majority of underwater welders are first trained to be professional welders on land before being trained to become professional divers.
Underwater welding indeed presents its dangers. However, with the right precautions and safety standards in place, these dangers have been greatly minimized.
For welding enthusiasts who are fascinated by underwater welding and want to acquire the skill, it is highly advised that you enroll in renowned welding schools where you learn from professionals about the rudiments of the profession.
Different Types of Underwater Welding
Underwater welding can be categorized into 2, namely:
- Dry welding
- Wet welding
Most people indeed think underwater welding is all about welding a wet joint submerged in water. However, this is not always the case, underwater welding can also occur in dry conditions. This happens when the area to be welded is encompassed by a physical barrier or a weld chamber that keeps the water out. The weld chamber is custom designed and it considers the geometry of the area to be welded as well as the number of welders it can contain. The welding chamber consists of a mixture of suitable gases and buoyance is also offset by ballast.
But the cost of procuring a weld chamber is high, and in cases where it cannot be afforded, wet welding will be employed.
Hyperbaric chamber underwater welding
Hyperbaric welding is a dry welding method that occurs in a chamber enclosed in a structure to be welded. The hyperbaric chamber is filled with a breathable mixture of helium and oxygen gases. The welds produced using this method are of high quality and often pass the X-ray and other quality assurance tests. Although this form of welding is carried out in dry conditions, the hyperbaric chamber is under the influence of hydrostatic pressure exerted by the surrounding seawater habitat.
Wet welding, just as the name reflects, is the form of underwater welding which is performed with the electrode and weld chamber directly exposed to the wet environment. A special electrode is used and welding is carried out manually just as normal on-land welding. However, the power supply is located above the water surface and connections are made through cables and hoses to the underwater welder/diver.
To successfully carry out a wet welding exercise, the workpiece to be welded is connected to the first end of the electric circuit, while the electrode is connected to the second end. The electrode comes in contact with the workpiece and is slightly separated, causing a spark that is sustained as charges jump from the tip of the electrode to the surface of the workpiece. The flux melts to produce gases that protect the weld pool and also stabilize the arc column.
Wet welding can be applied in several cases, but it is mostly considered a last resort and is performed in cases of emergency where there is no access to a weld chamber.
Risks and Safety Precautions of Underwater Welding
It is common knowledge that salt water is a good conductor of electricity and most underwater welding operations occur in salt water, which presents the risk of electrocution. Therefore, it is of great importance to avoid the contact of wet surfaces with the electricity source through the use of waterproof coverings. The equipment must also be properly tested before they are deployed for use.
During underwater welding operations, pockets of hydrogen and oxygen gases can be created which could lead to explosions if not properly channeled.
Just like the risks related to ordinary professional diving, if the scuba gears fail during an underwater welding operation, it could lead to drowning.
This is also called decompression sickness; it occurs when divers inhale poisonous gases when gliding between zones of varying pressures. In severe cases, it can be life-threatening.
Damage to Body Organs:
When underwater welders spend a lot of time in high-pressure waters, it can lead to permanent damage to body organs such as the ear, lung, and nose.
Marine Wildlife Attacks:
Although this does not commonly occur, underwater welders have to be aware of deadly aquatic creatures such as sharks.
To avoid accidents, certified underwater welders have to be fully aware of the dangers they are about to face, and also be very conversant with all the safety protocols before they embark on an underwater welding job.
Benefits of Underwater Welding
Now to the part, you are itching to hear about, underwater welding is a very lucrative profession. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average annual income of undersea welders and commercial divers is about $59,470.
The average pay is about $28.59 per hour which is quite rewarding. The employment opportunity for underwater welders is also growing at a rate of 9.5% yearly, and it shows there is constant growth. Underwater welders also experience a yearly wage increase of about 3.5%.
Depending on how quickly you can develop your skills and expertise, you can experience a significant pay rise in a really short time. The top ten percent of underwater welders earn up to $150,000 annually. This makes it one of the best-paid jobs which require no college degree.
Underwater welding has become a mainstay in the oil and gas sector and other industries due to its importance. Underwater welding requires caution and expertise, but it is a very viable profession that virtually every welding professional or enthusiast can venture into. Being abreast with all the safety protocols attached to the profession can never be overemphasized. The pay for underwater welding is attractive once you can get certified by a recognized underwater water welding school.