Commercial Diving is Booming

By HERB SEGARS

I was waiting for a ferry to cross the Hudson River from Manhattan, New York to Weehauken, New Jersey when I noticed a barge moored to a pier north of the ferry terminal. It sported a large red and white divers down flag and the logo of a commercial diving company. I wondered what their current project included, until I looked at the pilings that supported the pier and the building that projected out over the water. Many pilings were fragments of their original size and all looked in need of replacement. This scene replayed in my mind the time Tamara Brown, president of Divers Academy of the Eastern Seaboard (DAES), told me pier restoration is one of the many facets of the commercial diving industry that is fueling a need for divers;a need she is finding difficult to fill. She said, ''I cannot fill all the requests I get for divers. I send out a list of our graduates to the dive companies. They get the list and call me to tell me all the people on the list are currently employed.''

There are many reasons commercial diving is booming. These include increased regulations and standards, pier restorations, power plant work and work resulting from natural disasters such as bridge failures after flooding. Bridge damage occurs through scouring;the erosive action of running water excavating and carrying away material around bridge foundations. Depending on the severity, some bridges are closed until an inspection is done. Natural disaster inspections occur in addition to normal bridge inspections, which have tripled in the last few years. Other projects that provide work for the commercial diver include internal and external outfall pipe inspections at waste water treatment plants and renovation and replacement of oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico.

I can''t think of a better time to become a commercial diver than when the demand for divers far exceeds the number available. Changing or beginning a career is a big decision. Ideally, this transition should happen quickly, at a reasonable cost, with an end result of steady work and a better than average salary potential.

Making the decision to become a commercial diver is easy; choosing the right dive school is much more difficult. Some factors to consider are reasonable costs, financial assistance programs, a reasonable training period, the best and most comprehensive training, experienced instructors, state of the art equipment and real life training conditions. A school with all these attributes is Divers Academy of the Eastern Seaboard. For firsthand information, call the school and talk to its staff. They will give you honest information about becoming a commercial diver because they want you to succeed in your new career. You will be told that the waters of the Delaware River are cold in the winter; that their real life in-water training is done in poor visibility and that the river bottom varies from hard to muddy. They will tell you they do not have training tanks and that dive training conditions are not Caribbean-like. Their conditions are real;the kind commercial divers experience on a daily basis.

If you started a class at Divers Academy today, you could be working as a commercial diver in five months. You would have a full range of diving and mechanical skills, the potential for excellent income and be presented with exciting challenges and travel opportunities.

Divers Academy of the Eastern Seaboard is in the Port of Philadelphia in Camden, New Jersey at the South Jersey Port Shipping Terminal. The school was founded in 1977 by Captain William Brown, a commercial diver who knew what it took to turn out quality commercial divers. Captain Brown has turned over the reins of the company to his daughter, Tamara Brown;a commercial diver who started her career on the oilrigs of the Gulf of Mexico. On October 7, 1997, Divers Academy celebrated its 20th anniversary with a renewed vow to maintain the highest standards of commercial dive training.

Not accustomed to resting on their laurels, the management and staff continue to work toward the goal set by Tamara Brown;to turn out the best entry level commercial diver possible. New training instructors have been added and Rich Cortez has been promoted to the position of training director. In his new capacity, Cortez tracks the progress of each student to ensure none falls behind the rest of the class. He acts as a student advisor and coordinates the training program. He provides individual attention to the many details that exist in a growing enterprise.

Course presentation is being streamlined and enhanced with the use of computer technology. The entire staff works as one entity to produce an entry level diver who can work safely and efficiently with a wide array of job skills. The school''s diversity is evident in its curriculum. Students receive a 20 week, 720 hour course. Classes are held Monday to Thursday from 8:00 am to 4:00 pm; and on Friday from 8:00 am to 12:00 pm. The curriculum includes diving physics and physiology, decompression treatment and treatment tables, first aid and CPR, deep sea diving techniques and procedures, commercial scuba, underwater demolition, salvage, dive boat seamanship, bridge inspection, mixed gas diving (both chamber and open water), hot water systems, safety standards, hyperbaric chamber operations, underwater photography and video, employment opportunities, the offshore diving industry, the inland diving industry and the use of underwater tools.

Divers Academy feels that to make a better diver, it must provide training in other important facets of commercial diving. These are not elective courses but a part of the entire package. The school contracts with Krautkramer Branson Inc., a well known and well respected Non Destructive Testing (NDT) educator and NDT aerospace technology center, to provide a Level 1 certification course in NDT. The students use state of the art equipment to learn ultrasonic testing operations, detectability and inspection techniques, alternate inspection techniques and thickness gauging. This is a skill that has solid potential above water as well as below. Remote operated vehicle (ROV) operation and basic troubleshooting procedures are learned using the school''s Sea Otter. The welding and cutting course includes 40 hours of topside welding training before students begin to cut and weld underwater. Added training includes an extended rigging course, additional inland inspection training, an introduction to hazmat (Hazardous Material) training and penetration training projects. The school is accredited by the Academy of Commercial Diving Educators (ACDE), licensed by the State Department of Education, has Federal accreditation from the Accrediting Commission of the Career Schools and Colleges of Technology (ACCSCT) and is a member of the Association of Diving Contractors, Inc. (ADC).

To become a student at Divers Academy, you must be at least 18 years of age, have a high school diploma or GED, pass a medical examination, have good mechanical ability, be able to swim competently and have a desire to succeed. Don''t let your age discourage you from becoming a commercial diver. Divers Academy has students in its current class who are in their middle to late 40s. The key to succeeding as you get older is being in excellent physical condition. You must supply a wet or drysuit, mask, snorkel, fins, weightbelt and safety gear (hardhat, boots and gloves). To ease the financial burden, Divers Academy participates in a number of assistance plans. These include Direct Subsidized and Unsubsidized Federal Loans, Loans to Parents (PLUS), the Pell Grant and Veterans Education Assistance.

Housing for Divers Academy students is arranged at a reasonable cost in private homes in suburban Camden County or in private apartments, depending on each student''s needs. The private residences include fully furnished rooms with full house privileges and all utilities except telephone.

The school''s administrative staff, teaching staff, classrooms, workshops, changing rooms and equipment lockers are in a two story brick building on the waterfront. The workboat, the Bulldog II, a 48 foot long twin screw steel pushboat with a 20 foot beam, is alongside the pier behind the main building. It has three dive stations that can be used as staging centers for underwater projects. A 17 by 22 foot double lock, stationary recompression chamber, a portable double lock recompression chamber, 400 and 500 amp welders and air compressors are dockside. The 36 by 38 foot barge, in a slip adjacent to the main building, adds nine additional training stations. The water depth at all stations ranges between 35 and 45 feet, depending on tidal conditions. Water temperatures vary according to the season. In mid-summer, they can reach the low 70s (F) while winter temperatures can be a bone chilling 35F.

Divers Academy helps each student with job placement upon graduation. The classroom sessions teach them the proper way to prepare resumes and the appropriate methods for contacting prospective employers. Prior to graduation, each student meets one on one with Tamara Brown to reap the benefits of her ''finger on the pulse of the commercial diving field'' expertise. Brown elaborates, ''I educate students about opportunities. I sit down with each and every one of my graduates before they leave Divers Academy and go over job placement and salary situations in the industry. Starting salaries are important but equally important is how quickly a new diver will move from the lower paying tender position to the higher paying diving positions. This varies in different areas of the country.''

Brown continued, ''Students can ask me things during these meetings that they might not ask in class. Divers Academy is here to service our clients and our clients are our students. In order to make them profitable, we have to make sure they have the skills needed for employment.'' This individual treatment is one of the many reasons Divers Academy has a 98 percent placement rate, An important factor for anyone considering a new career is earning potential. In the entry level phase as a commercial diver, you can expect to earn between $18,000 and $35,000 a year. Salary increases afterward should average $10,000 to $15,000 a year. Top salary ranges could be $50,000 to $80,000 or more. Your performance and work attitude will play an important role in advancement and increased income.

Ask the students at the Divers Academy of the Eastern Seaboard for the reasons they chose the school: real life training conditions, a complete program, experienced instructors, the training time frame and the cost. The reputation of Divers Academy is made by its graduates and that is important for a continuing student referral from both graduates and the industry. The school''s referral rate is 35 to 40 percent;an impressive figure.

Remember their motto: If you can do it in the Delaware, you can do it anywhere. To enroll or to receive more information, contact the professionals at the Divers Academy of the Eastern Seaboard, Inc., 2500 Broadway, Camden, New Jersey 08104. Call them at (800) 238-DIVE or fax them at (609) 541-4355. Visit the Web page at diveweb/diversacademy or join them at their open house, where you can meet the staff and the students for a first hand experience in the exciting world of commercial diving.