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Identifying suitable commercial diving qualifications

Published on 9 October 2022

Commercial divers are required to carry out a wide range of industrial tasks in a broad range of water depths and subsea conditions using an assortment of specalised industrial tools, often in remote locations. To do so safely and effectively, they must understand the hazards and risks they will face during the course of their work, both those associated with the diving itself and those connected with the marine construction and maintenance tasks they will be expected to complete underwater.

Around the world, there is a plethora of commercial diver training courses available to would-be commercial divers.  However, they vary widely in quality and suitability. It is essential that individuals who are willing to train as commercial divers are able to attend high quality, safe, and professionally run training courses that deliver an appropriate syllabus, and allow those attending the training courses to experience and be prepared for the water depths and working conditions they will encounter, once qualified. 

IMCA Contact

Bryan McGlinchy
Diving Consultant

Although those holding sports diving qualifications have some knowledge of diving, they certainly do not understand the world of commercial diving, with its unfamiliar industrial hazards and risks, radically different diving techniques, and specalised diving plant and equipment. This is why individuals who only hold sports diving qualifications must never be permitted to participate in commercial diving projects.  They are likely to be a danger to themselves and others.

Ideally, there would be a single commercial surface orientated diving qualification and a single closed bell saturation diving qualification. Courses leading to the award of these certificates would be taught to globally recognised syllabuses, and both qualifications would be accepted universally. Unfortunately, that is far from reality. 

Governments of many countries have not put any arrangements in place for the appropriate training of commercial divers, while others have set up commercial diver training and certification programmes to serve their own national needs, but not necessarily the wider needs of the global commercial diving industry.

In countries where specific diving at work legislation has been enacted, a list of diving qualifications approved for diving at work in the waters of that country have been introduced by the regulatory authorities. One example is the British Health and Safety Executive’s List of Approved Diving Qualifications. Where national legislative requirements for commercial diving qualifications are in place, they must always be observed.   

All this is perfectly understandable, but it does leave us in a situation where the harmonised cross border training and certification of commercial divers has not been achieved. There is no single air or closed bell saturation commercial diving qualification taught to a globally recognised standard that is universally recognised in all countries and by all industry stakeholders, and no single body has accepted responsibility for assessing the quality and suitability of commercial diver training courses on behalf of the international commercial diving industry.   

So, in the present circumstances, how can diving contractors and their clients working internationally identify suitably qualified commercial divers capable of diving safely and efficiently wherever their services are required? What diving qualifications should commercial divers hold?

At IMCA, we have compiled our own list of basic diver training certificates (surface supplied and closed bell) that we recommend to our members as suitable for demonstrating the basic competence of marine energy industry commercial divers (available from IMCA). 

The diver training certificates on IMCA’s list are issued by national governments or government appointed agencies. In the vast majority of cases they are issued by members of the International Diving Regulators and Certifiers Forum (IDRCF), which is an organisation representing a group of national regulatory bodies for occupational diving with the shared objective of harmonising cross-border diver training. 

At IMCA, we believe members of the IDRCF are almost the only certifying bodies providing credible oversight of the training regimes for the diver training qualifications they issue. IDRCF members are the only certifying bodies undertaking reliable regular inspections/audits of all the commercial diver training schools, facilities, and courses they approve. No single certifying body can do this globally, but collectively IDRCF members provide an important service to IMCA and the international commercial diving industry as a whole. Thanks to the activities of the IDRCF members, IMCA can sort the wheat from the chaff and have confidence in the quality and suitability of the diver training qualifications it recognises.