Commercial diving is a varied and extensive field of endeavour. It occurs in all climates, at all times of the year and in all conditions. Frankly, to try to describe all the equipment used during commercial diving operations would take the better part of a week; and that’d only be about half the list. What it really comes down to is flexibility of purpose, and the ability to do a large number of tasks with the same pieces of equipment. This weeks list is of equipment that you’d need nearly everyday to work in the Pacific Northwest or any of the non-tropical parts of north america. What I’ve assembled here is a list of eight items, some of which you’re already familiar with from your recreational gear, that may be different or have specific reasons for use by commercial divers. Of course, this is based on my experiences, so feel free to chime in with your own! So without further adieu, let’s get this started:
Any sort of professional diving in the colder climates needs to be done in a drysuit, because no one likes a cold casualty. While hazmat level suits are usable for most kinds of commercial diving, they share an issue with trilaminate suits: fragility. Punctures are difficult to quickly and effectively repair, and latex seals require more maintenance than neoprene ones. Additionally, neither suit is as insulating as a compressed/crushed or even regular neoprene suit is, which can reduce your bottom time through good old fashioned human limitations. Hazmat suits are for hazmat dives, not day to day operations.
A good cold water drysuit for a working diver is a 4mm (or more) compressed or crushed neoprene drysuit, with Si-Tech or Poseidon valves and attached arctic boots. Get the drysuit dry glove cuffs, but don’t put them on unless you’re planning to use dry gloves (more on that later). All your seals should be neoprene. End of story. Additionally, get the kevlar kneepads and make sure you zipper is the heavy duty type and has a protective flap over it. A 5mm neoprene suit can work as well (with the same mods and parts) but is slightly less durable. A last option often overlooked is pockets: get them. Two hip/thigh, and a “hand warmer” will do the job nicely.
2.) Diving Harness
Leave your vest style BCD at the door, it can work, but it isn’t required and can’t carry enough weight if you need to be walking instead of finning; especially in heavy current. Plus, a weight belt doesn’t exactly conductive to easy drysuit operation. A quality diving harness will have quick releasing weights, and be rated for at least 2t for attachment to umbilicals or tethers. Many will also have the option of having a wing attached for those who need an external BCD. Generally though, your drysuit will be your buoyancy device. As a side note, if the harness uses fastex style buckles (or plastic ones in general), avoid it. Metal “D” Rings, while less cool looking, are more durable and less susceptible to the degradation from the elements.
5mm neoprene gloves are better than dry gloves, for a few reasons. Yes, your hands are going to be a bit colder, but they take damage better. When a dry glove gets punctured or pinched, it will fill with water and lose all insulating properties. A 5mm wet glove will… stay about the same, except the bit of finger that is now exposed. If you’re working construction, you’re going to be going through gloves in a week or two, and wet gloves are much, much cheaper to regularly replace. Having the cuffs off your drysuit is important here, as it’s much, much more comfortable to have them off with regular gloves.
4.) Redundant Instruments
Combine features on your SPG panel, it cuts down on stuff on your arms/wrists. Air pressure, compass and basic computer or depth gauge will do the job nicely. As redundancy, have a wrist or harness clipped secondary computer. That’s it here, just be sure your computers are tough, but stick to durable ones; they’re there for depth and bottom time.
Knives can border on being fetishistic in the diving world. There’s only one knife you need for commercial diving. A 17cm Victory Green River Dive Knife. That’s it. It’ll saw through an umbilical in seconds, and is as reliable as they come. If that’s not available, any 15cm knife with a sharp serrated edge can stand in… until you can get a Green River.
Not just any set of regulators can do the job for commercial work. You need durability and reliability. I prefer Poseidon myself, but I’ve used Apeks and the older (but tank like) Aqualung Conself regulators in the past with very good results. The point here is not to get some kick-ass sports diving regulators, do the research and pick up some heavy duty regulators designed for hard usage.
Some sports fins can do the business. Most won’t. Turtle Fins and Hollis fins are good bets for commercial work. Some like the (grossly overpriced in my books) Force Fins. I use Turtle Fins, because they’re negatively buoyant and tough as nails. Pretty much any variant of these fins is a good choice. One thing though, for al commercial fins: get the spring straps replacements. For some reason, the fins are nearly indestructible, but the straps… not so much.
8.) Dive Light
Any diver in Canada or the northerly bits of the USA will tell you it can get dark quickly after you leave the surface. Have a reliable, medium sized flashlight. There’s nothing quite as embarrassing as returning to the surface to get a light because it got too dark to see what you were inspecting, or the bottom was too dark to do an effective search.
This is a long one! But there you go, eight essentials for a working diver!