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How Much Do Underwater Welders Make a Year?

Welders often start their careers with the goal of entering one of the highest paying fields in the industry: water welding. The dangers of the field and the special welding techniques require a skilled welder to be considered for the position.

Due to the conditions when underwater welding, the risks and specialized skills, an underwater welder salary is often higher than other welding incomes.

Underwater Welder Pay Scale

Data shows that an underwater welder can earn as much as $300,000 per year, but this is not the salary that most welders will be able to reach. Instead, PayScale provides a robust salary scale that shows:

  • Lower 10% earn $39,000
  • Median salary of $64,000
  • Top 10% earn $125,000+

Bonuses are offered in some circumstances, with bonuses being between $55 and $850.

Reaching the $300,000 salary range is one that all underwater welders strive to reach. A lot of factors go into this salary, including:

  • Depth of the work being performed
  • Distance offshore
  • Overtime requirements
  • Welding equipment used
  • Experience and certification

A standard salary progression for an underwater welder that works offshore is:

  • Starting salary of $40,000 to $60,000
  • 3-5 years of experience earn $75,000 to $100,000

Salary progression is slightly different for onshore underwater welders. An onshore welder doesn’t need to go deep into the ocean and can enjoy a steadier home life versus their offshore counterparts.

The salary of an onshore welder will be:

  • Starting salary of $25,000 to $40,000
  • 3-5 years of experience earn $50,000 to $80,000

If you want to reach the $300,000 range, you’ll need to become a saturation diver. As a saturation diver, you can earn $300,000 to $500,000 per year. The main difference is that you’ll be paid depth pay.

What Onshore Welders Do

An onshore welder will focus on local welding and will be responsible for working in the following areas:

  • Docks
  • Bridges
  • Dams

You’ll have a lower workload than your counterpart and can enjoy a 40-hour work week. Lack of salt ions makes the environment more unstable. You’ll be working a standard schedule which makes this position ideal for a welder that needs home time.

What Offshore Welders Do

Offshore welders make a lot of money with the sacrifice of a rigorous schedule and little home time. It’s not uncommon to be out in the sea for an entire month before coming back to shore. You’ll want to be prepared to work 80+ hours per week.

You’ll be working on major platforms, and your job will include:

  • Installation
  • Pipe welding
  • Cleaning

Large machinery repair will be required, and you’ll need to know how to make key repairs. One bonus of working as an offshore welder is that you’ll be home the entire winter. The cold waters and rough seas make underwater welding far too risky.

Some welders will take the season off, while others will opt to work seasonal positions to fill in the work gap during the winter.

For every four to six weeks out on the water, you’ll come back to shore for 7 to 10 days. The time you’re away from home will be intense, but you’ll have the benefit of having December to March off of work.

A typical work day is 10+ hours.

What is Depth Pay?

Depth pay is additional pay that you earn for going an extra foot deeper in the water. If you have to go 0 to 100 feet deeper, you’ll be paid $1 extra per foot. After the 100-foot mark, you’ll be paid $2 per additional foot.

You’ll be working in the most dangerous waters and pose the greatest risk to the diver.

The time that you’re out in the water will add to your salary. Diving is intense on the body and can cause physical strain.

In extreme waters and depths, you may be able to demand $4 extra per foot that you dive.

Bonuses are far higher when performing saturation welding.

Depth pay is where a lot of welders make their most money, but the risk increases drastically with each additional foot that you have to dive.

It’s important to note that while the hours can be long and the days very difficult, you will not be welding the entire day. You will have a lot of planning and other responsibilities on top of welding. The welding is only part of the process, not the entire process.

How to Become an Underwater Welder

Becoming an underwater welder requires more training than a standard welder will have to undergo. You won’t need more than a high school degree or GED, but this is one field niche in the industry where on-the-job training may not be enough.

You’ll need to become a certified commercial diver, and this alone requires a lot of practice and experience to obtain.

On top of this, you’ll need to learn how to wet and dry weld, and which options are best in which situation. Schooling can be intense, but the perils of being an offshore welder does come with the benefit of a substantially high salary.

Underwater Welding Training

You’ll need to learn how to scuba dive and perform specialized welding techniques. You may have to weld in chambers or special tubes that allows you to properly weld in the water. Training is required to ensure that not only can you weld properly but that you can also dive properly.

Formal training is required, and you’ll need to maintain the following:

  • Commercial diving certification
  • AWS certified welding training

Swimming is an obvious requirement, but you will need to have a high school diploma or a GED.

Commercial diving certifications require significantly more training than a standard SCUBA certification. You’ll be trained to dive in commercial areas where heavy equipment and dangerous working conditions are common.

Your commercial diving certification will allow you to work on:

  • Bridges
  • Dams
  • Oil rigs
  • Offshore pipelines

All applicants for a commercial diving certification will be required to pass an advanced physical to ensure that they’re physically fit and safe to dive. The physical will occur on the first day of training, so you’ll know if you’re able to enter this field or not.

Formal training allows welding incomes to be high from the start of your career.

Underwater welding will require you to master two main methods of welding:

Wet Welding

Wet welding is one of the two main techniques you’ll need to master if you’re an underwater welder. The technique requires you to weld while diving underwater and directly in the water. You’ll need to learn how to use a specialized welding rod.

The technique is fast and cheap with high tensile strength.

Dry Welding

Dry welding, or hyperbaric welding, is an additional welding technique that you’ll need to master before becoming an underwater welder. The technique requires you to weld in a sealed chamber that wraps around the structure.

The sphere uses a mixture of gases to pull the water out of the chamber.

One of the key benefits of dry welding is:

  • Enhanced safety and less risk to the welder
  • Welds are high quality
  • Monitoring is performed from the surface

Training is comprehensive and will require you to learn about the environments that you work on. You’ll find that there are several underwater environments that you’ll be working in, including:

  • Pipeline construction
  • Rigging
  • Underwater salvage

You’ll also become proficient in the use of chainsaws, hydraulic drills and jack hammers, which all may be required to work in some of the environments you’ll work in. The skills you learn in the initial stages of your career as a welder will have to be applied in different, unique ways as an underwater welder.

The risk of diving and working in dangerous environments makes the underwater welder salary one of the most lucrative for a welder to consider when choosing a niche to specialize in.

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