The Complete Guide
to Commercial Diving School
Your commercial diving career begins here.
Maybe you’re interested in becoming an offshore diver, repairing energy infrastructure and keeping the nation’s lights on. Or you may prefer to become an inland diver, where contracts to fix bridges, dams, and water treatment facilities never run dry. Whichever path you end up taking, your journey starts at the same place: commercial diving school.
Plenty of careers begin with an expensive four-year degree that may or may not lead to gainful employment after graduation. By contrast, it often takes less than a year to earn your commercial diving certifications, and skilled, certified divers are in constant demand.
How much does a commercial diver earn?
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average salary for a commercial diver in the Philadelphia metro region is $91,840, so you can get a quick return on your educational investment.
Is Commercial Diving School Right For Me?
Plenty of successful divers have gone straight to commercial diving school after graduating high school — as long as you’re ready to work hard, committed to learning, and in good health (more on that later!), you’re qualified to become a commercial diving student. Don’t feel like you need to delay your dream job any longer with additional training, because a quality, all-inclusive commercial diving education will give you everything you need to launch into your career.
With that said, if you’re transitioning from another trade into commercial diving, many of the skills you’ve learned on the job can help you succeed both in school and throughout your diving career. Let’s look at a few examples of work and recreational experience that can help you decide whether commercial diving school is right for you.
Do I need to be a great swimmer before going to commercial diving school?
Being a competent swimmer is absolutely vital to your safety as a commercial diver. While you don’t have to be Michael Phelps or Diana Nyad (the first person to swim from Cuba to Florida without the use of a protective cage — at 64 years old), it is important to know how to swim before entering commercial diving school.
Divers don’t swim laps while they’re performing underwater welding or salvage work, but much of your time as a commercial diver will be spent on a barge or pier. If you fall overboard, will you be able to get back to the ship or dry land safely? Will you be able to tread water confidently, or will you be panicking?
I have a passion for Scuba diving. Should I go into commercial diving?
You should definitely consider it! Sometimes, commercial diving students determine that this field is right for them after falling in love with SCUBA diving. There are several major differences between diving as a hobby and diving as a profession — for example, with SCUBA, you breathe via an air tank on your back, while commercial divers practice surface-supplied air diving — but SCUBA can be a great way to get a feel for how much you enjoy being in the water.
OSHA (the Occupational Safety and Health Administration) doesn’t allow SCUBA divers to work as commercial divers. For that, you’ll need the certification you earn in a commercial diving school, and to learn a completely different way to dive. But if diving is your passion, why not turn it into a profession? You’ll be able to do what you love every day while earning a great living.
If I’m switching careers, what other skills can help me get a job in commercial diving?
Almost any type of industrial background can help prepare you for the rigors of commercial diving. This is a highly technical skilled labor field, so if you have the proven ability to do hard labor, operate heavy machines, and repair equipment, that’s a great indicator that you have what it takes to succeed in commercial diving.
That means that not only top-side welders, but plumbers, electricians, small engine technicians, auto and diesel mechanics, forklift operators, and anyone with industrial labor experience has something valuable to bring to the barge. Again, it’s not a requirement, but a great way to add value!
Is commercial diving a good career for military veterans?
Veterans make amazing commercial divers. The skills you master in uniform — independent thinking, dynamic problem solving, physical endurance, and teamwork — are vital in a commercial diving context, where you must always be in command and in control of your dive. Contractors know that vets are uniquely skilled and hardworking, and many accredited commercial diving schools (including Divers Academy International) accept Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits.
What A Veteran Army Diver Has to Say
"It’s a really smooth transition — especially coming from the military, especially the Army side — coming to Divers Academy. A lot of the work transfers over… I get to spread the knowledge that I was able to get in the military."
- Norman Bogiel
Instructor, Divers Academy International Graduate
HOW OLD IS TOO OLD TO GO INTO COMMERCIAL DIVING?
One question we get a lot at Divers Academy International is, “How old is too old to dive?” That depends on a lot of factors. There’s no concrete number that applies to everyone, but the truth is that like any job that involves physical labor, commercial diving does get more difficult as your body ages. As divers advance through their careers, they often prefer to take the less physically demanding roles of supervisor, manager, or foreman.
Again, Diana Nyad did swim from Cuba to Florida in her sixties, but she’s a one-of-a-kind athletic talent. To evaluate whether you can take on the physical rigors of commercial diving year after year, you need to know your own body and the level of fitness required to dive professionally.
What does it mean to be “fit to dive?”
The physical requirements of commercial diving are valuable to know before entering diving school, because unfortunately, some medical conditions make it impossible even for some young adults to pursue the career. That doesn’t mean you need to hit the gym every day and get your squat above 250, but you do need to be physically cleared to dive safely and move heavy equipment.
How Heavy is Commercial Diving Equipment?
Commercial Diver's Helmet
= ~ 30 lbs
Diver's Weight Belt
= ~ 40 lbs
Emergency Air Tank
= ~ 30 lbs
Every year, commercial divers must undergo a hyperbaric physical, conducted and signed off on by a specialized physician. This examination includes blood work, urinalysis, chest X-rays, an EKG (electrocardiogram), and other tests of heart and lung function.
Commercial divers must be medicine-free for safety reasons — if your life-saving medication wears off while you’re underwater, you can quickly enter a dangerous situation. This means that diabetes, high blood pressure, and other cardiac conditions can disqualify you from diving.
The good news is that commercial diving has never been shown in studies to cause long-term health consequences. If you clear your physicals each year, you can enjoy a long, healthy career in the water!
Top 5 QUALITIES OF THE BEST COMMERCIAL DIVING SCHOOLS
Once you’ve decided that diving is the right career for you, your next step is to find a commercial diving school with an excellent track record for getting students employed. Look for a program that allows you to:
Can you land a great commercial diving job right out of school? Absolutely — provided you have the right certifications! While scoping out commercial diving schools in the United States, the following two certs are the most important to look for:
ANSI/ACDE Commercial Diver Certification
ANSI/ACDE stands for The American National Standards Institute/ Association of Commercial Diving Educators. Issued by accredited commercial diving school and required by most employers in the U.S., ANSI/ACDE is the leading commercial diving certification in America.
ADCI Entry Level Diver/Tender Certification
ADCI stands for The Association of Diving Contractors International. This certification is required by most American diving contractors hiring entry-level divers. With this certification, you can gain employment as a dive tender, performing tasks on the surface to assist submerged divers. From there, you can work your way up from dive tender to air diver to supervisor.
Additional Certifications Commercial Diving Schools Offer
While the ANSI/ACDE Commercial Diver Certification and ACDI Entry Level Diver/Tender Certification are the two most important certifications your program should offer, several additional commercial diving certifications may be required by your future employer, or could give you a competitive edge over other candidates. These can include:
- NDT-Mag Particle, Liquid Penetrant Level I Certification
- KMDSI Hat Inspector Certification
- HAZWOPER 40 hour Hazardous Site Worker Training
- American Petroleum Institute RP2D Rigger Qualification
- Red Cross First Aid, CPR, and AED Cards
- Oxygen Provider and Neurological Certificate
As an entry-level commercial diver, the more certifications you earn, the greater your advantage in the job hunt. If you’re competing with a more experienced diver, having a certification your competition doesn’t can level the playing field.
So how long does commercial diving school take? That depends on how the commercial diving program is designed.
For example, Divers Academy International students train for eight hours per day Monday–Thursday, and four hours each Friday, graduating in 25 weeks (about six months). This allows future divers to learn, practice, and retain their skills on an optimal schedule without burning out.
Most accredited programs require 900 clock hours of training. Some commercial diving schools mandate six-hour days, some up to ten hours. Some only train students three days per week, which can extend the program several weeks.
Remember that an extra month of training on a lighter schedule is a month you could be earning income as a commercial diver, so the length of your program can make a huge difference in your wallet!
National accreditations don’t just validate the quality of your education — they also enable schools to offer financial aid to students. One of the most important accreditations to look for is through the ACCSC (Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges), which requires that programs demonstrate longevity and financial stability while meeting professional educational compliance standards.
The best commercial diving programs train you on the same equipment you would use on the job. You wouldn’t learn to drive in a Model T, so why would you train for your career using outdated diving equipment? This can tie directly into the types of certifications you earn — for example, a KMDSI dive helmet and repair technician program allows you to earn the KMDSI Hat Inspector Certification, which can give you an advantage in your job search.
Getting a great entry-level job in commercial diving is part skill, part networking. Your school’s relationships with contracting companies and trade organizations provide a rapid on-ramp to employment upon graduating. Employers often help schools shape their curricula to prepare students for the specific job demands of the industry.