What is Saturation Diving? What It’s Like Working Underwater

Last Updated: February 7, 2023

Many people wonder about what it takes to be a deep sea diver. Did you know that there is a huge demand for saturation divers? Many industries, like the oil and gas sector, rely on divers to help them maintain crucial infrastructure.

The world of saturation diving is fascinating because it allows divers to work safely at depths greater than forty meters for extended periods. They can do this by living underwater in pressurized chambers, sort of like underwater astronauts!

If you’re looking for a guide to saturation diving, you’re at the right place. In this article, I’ve covered all the basics of this extreme job and how you can become a saturation diver yourself.

saturation diving

What is the Purpose of Saturation Diving?

Before I get into the purpose, I’m going to cover what it takes to work at depths underwater for extended periods. Divers are usually placed into a pressurized room called a diving bell, which is similar to the ISS (International Space Station) for astronauts. The chamber is then lowered and pressurized, and it maintains a pressure similar to that of the surrounding water.

The job may seem scary, but living in the diving bell is pretty similar to living in an apartment. The chamber has sleeping rooms, a kitchen, and bathrooms. The chambers are stocked with a large supply of food and essentials so the divers can sustain themselves for long missions underwater.

Once the saturation diving bell reaches the desired depth, the divers get to work. Saturation diving is important in various industries, including the oil and communications sectors.

Divers have to maintain and repair oil rigs and other sea infrastructure that runs the global economy. Some divers are also tasked with installing and maintaining underwater cables, while others do research.

History of Saturation Diving

If you’re planning on becoming a saturation diver, I’ll fill you in on some of its history first. Dr George F. Bond, a researcher in the US navy in the 1950s, proposed it. After extensive research, he was behind the Genesis project, which proved that living in a pressurized environment at a similar pressure to the surroundings could help divers stay underwater for a long time.

The first commercial saturation divers emerged in 1965. Divers at the Westinghouse repaired faulty trash tracks on the Smith Mountain Dam. This would change the way we explore our oceans for natural resources.

In the following decades, saturation diving technology continues to improve and evolve. With the development of more advanced saturation habitats, diving bells, and communication systems, divers can stay underwater for longer than ever. Today saturation diving is widely used in the offshore oil and gas industry and scientific research.

Is Saturation Diving Safe?

pressurised chamber for saturation diver
Photo Credit: Soham Banerjee @ commons.wikimedia.org

In the past few years, improvements in technology have made saturation diving safer than ever. While this job may seem extreme, there are very strict protocols to maintain the diver’s safety. However, there is some risk that is associated with this form of diving, and here’s everything you need to know about them.

Decompression sickness (DCS), popularly known as “the bends”, is one of the most serious conditions associated with saturation diving. As the diver ascends to the surface, dissolved gases such as nitrogen come out of the solution in the body’s tissues. If the nitrogen leaves the solution too rapidly, it can produce bubbles in the blood and tissues. This could be a serious health emergency.

While the risk is incredibly low, there is a chance of equipment failure. If a diver’s equipment were to fail, there aren’t a lot of people to help them out at those depths. However, since the industry is heavily regulated, the chances of this occurring are very slim.

Saturation Diving Depth Record

Have you ever wondered who holds the record for the deepest saturation dive? Well, the team from Comex, a French commercial diving company, holds the current world record for the deepest saturation dive at 318 meters (1,043 feet) in 2012. They achieved this incredible feat while working on an oil and gas project in the Gulf of Mexico. Can you imagine living and working in a pressurized habitat at that depth for 22 days?

It’s worth noting that this was a professional diving effort done by trained and experienced divers with the proper equipment and safety measures in place.

How to Become a Saturation Diver?

Becoming a saturation diver isn’t an easy task. You will have to go through extensive training, experience, and dedication, but it isn’t impossible.

Here are the steps you’ll need to follow to become a certified saturation diver:

  • Start with basic training

Becoming a saturation diver requires you to be really good at diving. It would help if you started by obtaining open water diver certification since that will give you basic knowledge and skills to dive safely.

  • Gain experience

Once you’re certified, you will need to gain a lot of experience. Most companies that hire commercial divers look for people who have vast experience diving in many conditions. This means you will need to develop your skills and dive even more often.

  • Obtain certifications

The final step to becoming a commercial diver is obtaining the necessary certifications. To start the transition from recreational to technical diving, you’ll need to have the Advanced Open Water Diver, Enriched Air Diver and Deep Diver certifications, as well as plenty of logged dives under your belt. And you will be required to complete a physical exam.

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