Underwater Welding and Why It’s So Important

person in submarine looking underwater

Underwater welding is an extreme career; it’s dangerous, exhilarating, it pays well, and sometimes it’s a vital aspect of maintaining a ship’s health, but it takes a long time for an individual to train as an underwater welder. In this blog you can learn about underwater welding, its uses and how one might become a welder.

welding and cutting underwater

Hyperbaric Welding

This is the more official name for the act of underwater welding, and It refers to the fact that welding underwater is equivalent to welding at elevated pressures. It’s a scary job which requires workers to control an electric current in the water where fear of death by electrocution isn’t even the top priority.

It works by using a special electric arc welding rod which delivers a precise electric current to the area in need of repair. This is aided by shielding gases (like surface welding) which ensure that as little oxygen as possible can get in to disrupt the welding process.

The appearance of oxygen in a weld can cause numerous problems, but one of the most obvious is an inconsistent bead with cracks caused by pockets of air. There is a lot of oxygen in the ocean, so shielding gases are very important for protecting the hot metal filling and electric arc.

One of the biggest issues currently faced by underwater welding projects is rapid cooling. If a weld cools too rapidly, it is going to be less secure. The cold temperatures underwater can easily cause rapid cooling. One method a wet welder might use to combat rapid cooling is to deposit hot metallic slag onto their weld. This helps to protect the weld from external factors, but it isn’t a complete solution.

To protect the welder from electric shocks, they wear heavily insulated diving suits. Their welding equipment is also more heavily insulated than the average welding torch.

The Dangers of Wet Welding

Underwater welders have a fairly high mortality rate in their career; an American study carried out between the years 1989 and 1997 reported that ‘welder-divers die at a rate 40 times America’s national average’. Essentially, 5 out of every 3,000 full-time welders die as a result of their occupation.

While the concept of attempting to control an electric current whilst surrounded by a highly conductive body of water would scare most individuals away from the idea of working as a wet welder, the number one cause of death amongst hyperbaric welders is actually drowning.

Another study carried out over the seventies also considered the dangers of hyperbaric welding and what can be done to reduce these occurrences (if not prevent these tragedies entirely). This study came to the conclusion that many deaths could have been prevented if the appropriate supervision was carried out before the welders entered the water. Lack of experience and thorough equipment supervision were cited as reasons which led to the death of welders underwater.

An alternative, more recent, study cited that the age group of welders most likely to die underwater were in the 35-40 range. Most welders start diving school at age 20, so those welders who are encountering issues likely have had a lot of experience in the field. The issue, then, could actually be down to complacency in those who have grown a little too comfortable in the environment.

Boat on sea ocean

The Importance of Underwater Welding

Underwater welding is incredibly important – it allows for emergency repairs to be carried out on ships, pipes and rigging. While the cost of hiring an underwater welder is very expensive – as a result of the threat to life and high-level of skill required – it is often cheaper than removing the broken object from the water to repair on dry land and reinstall at a later date.

Often, an underwater welder will use a diving bell, which is also known as a hyperbaric chamber. This allows the welder to work in environments like those on land, but these chambers are also quite expensive to use and not always suitable for the job in question.

offshore oil rig sunset

Offshore Supply

Underwater welders are one example of the many aspects of maintenance needed to ensure that offshore operations continue to run smoothly. Ensuring that you have easy access to marine engine spares and marine welding supplies in the event of an emergency is also important, and all businesses should have a ship chandler they can trust for sourcing all the important high-quality materials for maintenance at competitive prices. Therefore, take a look at our marine supplies online to ensure you’re getting the best supplies for your vessel.