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Intro to Saturation Diving and Saturation Diving Systems - Monday, March 7, 2016

With the lucrative opportunities that commercial diving offers, it is not a surprise that recreational divers are looking into commercial diving as a viable career.

However, it is important to know the nitty-gritty of the field, including the potential rewards and risks of this underwater profession.

For many commercial divers, the ultimate goal is to be a saturation diver. This is a very specialized area of diving that requires divers to enter depths of up to 500 meters, as opposed to commercial air diving, which typically permits depths of up to 50 meters. Such significant differences in scope make saturation diving ideal for the offshore oil industry, which offers professional divers generous compensation packages.

But how does one get started with a career in saturation diving?

The Early History of Saturation Diving

The idea of saturation diving arrived in the 1950s, when former director of the U.S. Submarine Medical Center Dr. George Bond discovered that animal, and human tissue would eventually become saturated with inert gases after extended exposure to ambient pressures. After developing theories based on this discovery, his department launched the Genesis project to prove that humans could endure prolonged exposure to various gases, and high environmental pressures.

In 1965, Westinghouse initiated the first commercial diving mission using saturation diving systems. The divers dove 61 meters on the Smith Mountain Dam to replace faulty trash racks.

How Does Saturation Diving Work?

A diver is typically required to undergo decompression after a deep dive. This protocol prevents the diver from acquiring decompression sickness (DCS) or "the bends," which is a potentially fatal condition, caused by inert gas bubbles that form in the diver's body following the pressure reduction that occurs as he or she ascends to the surface.

A regular deep dive would normally entail hours of decompression, which is extended the longer the diver remains at a depth of 50 meters or more. Saturation diving addresses this inconvenience. After reaching one's saturation point underwater, decompression time no longer makes any difference. As a result, businesses spend far less money on multiple deep dives, and prolonged recompression therapy, and divers can work at these depths for extended periods of time.

Gearing Up With the Appropriate Saturation Diving Systems

Using the right professional diving equipment is just as important as mastering the skill of saturation diving. There are training courses that teach experienced deep-sea divers the proper procedures to follow when using a saturation diving system.

For 28 days, divers are placed in an enclosed chamber that is pressurized to the same pressure as a deep-sea work environment, using what is called a closed bell. The pressure allows the divers to travel to their underwater worksite quickly, and efficiently, since there is no need for them to make decompression stops.

Saturation Diving: Is It Worth It?

Getting into saturation diving may seem like a major investment, but the financial rewards can make it all worthwhile. Once a commercial diver gains enough experience in this industry, he or she can earn a six-figure salary. The training courses, certifications, and use of commercial diving equipment can be expensive, but the returns far outweigh the cost.

Saturation diving opens up an array of new opportunities for professional divers. If you are healthy and fit, the only substantial risk in saturation diving comes from exposure to pressure, which can be controlled by adopting safe diving measures.


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