With more than 100 divers currently working on coastal fish farms, the aquaculture industry is now the largest employer of commercial divers in Ireland. Many of these divers qualified as commercial divers through diver training programmes BIM delivered between 1993 and 2000. Based on renewed demand from the sector for more divers, a survey was carried out in early 2017 to ascertain the needs of the industry and respond accordingly.
The survey confirmed that a number of fin fish farms wanted current employees trained as divers to meet their growing demands. As no other facility existed to train divers, BIM committed to developing new courses and establishing a fully equipped Commercial Diver Training facility at the National Fisheries College in Castletownbere, Co. Cork.
BIM worked closely with Quality Qualifications Ireland (QQI) to establish new award standards that would lead to Commercial Scuba and Surface Supplied Diving (Inshore) qualifications. This process took almost two years to complete and required establishing a working group with the requisite knowledge and skills to develop the new awards. The working group included representatives from the Irish Health and Safety Authority (HSA), BIM, the International Diving Schools Association (IDSA), QQI, specialist diver training consultants and representatives from the diving industry. New award standards for both Commercial Scuba and Surface Supplied Diving (Inshore) were created and are now listed as QQI Awards on the National Framework of Qualifications (NFQ) at Level 6.
Divers play an important role on fish farms, they are the eyes of management under the water and report on the condition of fish, nets and mooring systems. Fish farms need divers to remove dead fish from the bottom of the cages to prevent disease and assist in net changing and in-water net cleaning operations. Divers carry out regular mooring surveys and inspections, checking for wear on chains and vital components. The work can be very demanding and divers can spend many hours in the water each day.
While diving conditions during the summer may be slightly more comfortable, working under water during the winter months is very challenging. For this reason, diver training programmes are designed to train the diver for working in the toughest of conditions, while working safely within legislative guidelines. Irish legislation clearly states that divers at work must have relevant training and so divers with recreational qualifications are not qualified for working in the aquaculture industry.
The first step in a career as a commercial diver is to qualify as a QQI Level 6 Commercial Scuba Diver. This training makes the distinction between recreational and commercial diving qualifications and, while scuba equipment limits the range of tasks a diver may undertake, working divers learn to use underwater communication systems, life lines and hand tools. They also learn search and recovery techniques and how to carry out underwater surveys. They will be familiar with a range of tasks, comfortable working in difficult conditions,and abletowork effectively as a team member providing support and back up for the other divers.
The BIM Commercial Scuba Diver course runs over four weeks at the National Fisheries College, Castletownbere, Co. Cork. While it is preferable and recommended that candidates have some previous diving experience, suitable candidates with no previous experience may be accepted to the course. Applicants have to undergo a commercial diver’s medical and an interview prior to acceptance. A typical day in dive school will start at 08:30 with dive theory lectures and workshops up until mid morning followed by scuba training and underwater work tasks. Evening sessions continue after dinner and the day ends around 21:00. Four weeks later, with more than 1000 minutes spent underwater, the students emerge as qualified Commercial Scuba Divers.
BIM’s Level 6 Surface Supplied Diving (Inshore) course trains divers to work with air supplied from the surface via an umbilical. The benefits are significant as the mask typically worn by a scuba diver is replaced with a range of diving helmets which provides superior protection, communication and comfort. This allows the diver to spend longer time and carry out more difficult working tasks underwater.
Many jobs on a fish farm are better performed with the use of surface supplied diving equipment and most marine civil engineering projects such as harbour construction, maintenance and repair, subsea pipe laying inspection, salvage operations, require surface supplied divers. Clearly, once qualified to use surface supplied diving equipment, the employment opportunities are greater.
Divers on the Surface Supplied Diving course learn how to operate a dive control panel and the associated equipment to supply air and communications to the diver. They learn about decompression chambers, make test dives and assist in chamber preparation and operations. They also learn advanced rescue skills should another diver get into difficulty as well as the use of both hand tools and power tools. Surface supplied divers may be required to weld or cut metal underwater, join flanges and spool pieces, replace damaged components on submarine structures and many more complex jobs. Often working in dark water and hazardous environments, these divers need to be well trained, competent and confident.
Fish farms are not the only place such divers can find work. The marine sciences sector often requires divers to carry out seabed surveys and environmental assessments in advance of coastal or inland waterways works, the film industry frequently employs divers for underwater rigging, safety cover and assisting with special effects. With experience and some additional training BIM Surface Supplied Divers can get work in the offshore diving industry as air or saturation divers working on oil rigs and dive vessels in the North Sea and beyond.
For further information on BIM Diver Training Programmes contact the National Fisheries College, Castletownbere on 027 71230.
Dylan Pinder wearing diving equipment with Christian Pinder behind