COMMERCIAL DIVING Diver training and health

Thanks to Warren 'Sal' Salliss from Commercial Diver Training for working with us at Aquamarine Medicals. We hope this blog gives you a real world insight into commercial dive training and medical problems that more commonly occur.

What HSE Commercial Diving training involves

To become a HSE Commercial Diver you have to undergo an average of 9 weeks intensive training diving daily throughout in various conditions. The training is designed to give the trainee a broad experience of environmental conditions such as tide, current, visibility and depth. Add to this the ever-increasing complexity of various types of equipment and procedures, along with lots of rescue drills and scenarios. By the conclusion of the training process the trainee diver must be able to act effectively as a diver and member of a dive team able to dive and work using air as the main breathing gas, to depths of up to 50m.

The entire programme is broken down as follows:

Professional SCUBA – This phase is typically 4 weeks and starts with basic theory and legislation presentations. A First Aid at Work and Emergency O2 modules are carried out and then the diving starts. The trainees will start on basic SCUBA using lifelines and then progress to Full Face Masks with communications. This will be hard wire and through water communications, emergency drills will be conducted starting with basic mask removal, switching regulators progressing to gas switching blocks and flood drills. Depth progression is continuous throughout the course and divers will dive to a maximum of 30m during this phase.

Surface Supplied – This phase is again 4 weeks long and immediately the trainees start diving with the Kirby Morgan Band-mask, bell jacket and umbilical. It’s a big jump from SCUBA and as well as getting used to the equipment, rescue drills are added. By day 3 the trainees progress to the Kirby Morgan Supalite Helmet and underwater tools are added, for the next two weeks multiple rescues and various tool training is conducted (pneumatic, hydraulic, thermic lance). The divers’ task loading increases so that all the drills become second nature. During week 3 they learn surface decompression techniques, Recompression Chamber procedures, Launch and Recovery Systems (LARS), Cage diving and depth progression. Week for is further depth progression to 50m with in-water decompression procedures.

Offshore Top-Up – This final phase is 1 week long and teaches the use of Wet Bell diving, Hot water Suits and Offshore procedures. It’s fairly arduous with 2 dives per day (bell runs and surface rescues) as well as a final exam.

Once the trainee has completed all the necessary assessments and exams they are issued with their well-deserved qualifications.

With all of the above in mind it’s immediately clear that you not only have to make the mark assessment wise, you have to be injury/illness free so as not to miss any dives or assessments.

So what are the common medical issues experienced whilst on course?


You are diving most days in sometimes less than clean water (fish poo in it!) making sure you never force an equalization during descent or ascent is important, it’s better to abort a dive and catch it up than be forced to miss a week due to injury. Some people can equalize easily, some can’t, but never force it. If you do perforate or burst an ear drum you will end up leaving the course until you heal and this could take weeks if not months. Diving with a cold or blocked sinus is never advisable, some divers take lozenges or nasal decongestants before diving, be careful as they can wear off before the ascent resulting in a rather painful reverse block. The best remedy is look after yourself and don’t catch a chill by inadequate clothing and unhealthy lifestyle!

Fitness levels

You don’t have to be super fit to be a good diver, I have known very fit military guys and Olympians who might look fit but are real air guzzlers! You simply need a good level of all round cardiovascular fitness. Gym Bunnies can find it harder than the skinny guy who can walk up and down mountains all day without getting out of breath! Eat healthy, stay in good shape, don’t kick the arse out of the fags and booze, everything in moderation. Remember, the most valuable piece of dive kit you have is….You! If you’re broken you can’t dive, if you can’t dive you can’t work to earn money, and so the downward spiral goes. Look after yourself and be sensible with your out of work activities, I had a friend who had a well-paid, regular dive job until he went to a roller disco with the lads during his time off…. Needless to say, firstly, it hurt, secondly it ended his diving career.

Mental Health

The only real pressure to affect you during your training will be ….Self Imposed! Yes, we want you to experience some situations that me be stressful, but they are planned and managed. Anyone who does not admit to feeling scared at some point in their career as a diver is lying. We have all been there whether it be because of the depth, excessive current/tide, lack of visibility, entanglement or all of these factors. It’s how we manage these problems that sets us apart as professionals, not everyone can do our job…and I am absolutely fine with that. Our job at CDT is to teach you how to handle it to do your job. All situations can be compartmentalized, work through them one box at a time until the solution is clear and the situation is resolved, whilst you are doing this the wheels are already in motion topside to help you. We teach you how to use stress to help you focus not impair judgement. The biggest overriding self-imposed stress that we see is from the ‘experienced’ divers (Instructors, technical divers, I’ve done this for years divers) on the course. They have further to fall (in their eyes) if they get even the slightest thing wrong. Why is this? Simple, they just need to grasp the fact that they are here to learn, we are not there to ridicule their experience or qualifications, just teach them the safe and legal way to use different equipment to do their job. So if this maybe applies to you can I make a suggestion? Take onboard what you didn’t know, use what you do, get the job done…but let’s not waste time talking about what you already can do, there isn’t time, save it for the bar!

In conclusion, I hope this has helped answer any areas of concern and give you an insight to how we plan to train you for your future role as a commercial diver.

Try to lead a healthy lifestyle, stay fit, don’t take unnecessary risks (in and out of the water) and don’t mentally overload yourself. Stress accounts for lots of physical health issues, the CDT team can help you manage this. It does take a special type of person to do this job and they come in all shapes and sizes, if you’re reading this and you want to try but have some self doubt…don’t, you may surprise yourself.