A day in the life of a commercial diver

Freezing temperatures, dangerous wildlife and hostile environments make up just some of the pressure commercial diver Kate Pritchard deals with on the daily to make sure our piers and jetties are safe. The managing director of Southern Diver agrees it’s not a career for the faint-hearted, but she wouldn’t swap it for the world. We caught up with Kate to find out why she believes it’s a dream job and one she takes very seriously.

Commercial diver

What role do commercial divers play in the safe operation of structure such as piers and jetties?

Commercial divers are integral to all underwater structures because they play a critical role in building them and inspecting them to assess ongoing maintenance needs. I have worked on nearly all of Victoria’s piers and jetties, as well as many assets for the Port of Melbourne, Port of Portland, Port of Geelong and Port of Hastings to name a few. 

Last year, we completed a rehabilitation project at Gem Pier in Williamstown that involved installing pile protection systems on 132 timber piles, encasing 34 timber piles and filling them with grout to reinstate their strength, and undertaking complete replacement pile splices to eight timber piles. So next time you’re taking a stroll on that pier, you’ll now have a different appreciation for all the work you can’t see when you’re taking in the city views.

What does a typical day look like for a commercial diver?

The work is quite varied because we operate across a wide range of environments and projects, which keeps things interesting. We are set up to work in any liquid medium, so we could be diving in the sea one day and wading through sewerage another. Talk about a crap day at work!

We do everything from inspecting and repairing the hulls of ships and inspecting and fixing reservoirs, to surveying, constructing and rehabilitating marine infrastructure such as piers and jetties.

Regardless of the job, we have very consistent, well-defined ways of working, specialised systems and strict protocols and procedures that are consistently applied to manage the high risks of commercial diving.

Commercial diver

What’s the strangest item you’ve found at the bottom of the sea? 

We are often asked to assist with finding items people have lost. For example, it’s not unusual for people to throw engagement rings off piers and then ask for them to be recovered when the regret sets in!

However, one of the strangest things my husband was paid to recover was a prosthetic arm that was lost during a jet ski incident. It was a large area to cover, but he eventually found it floating near some reeds.

Have there been any experiences where you’ve been genuinely scared or pushed beyond your comfort zone? 

Early in my diving career, we were kitting up and one of the boat operators started telling a story about the only great white shark attack within the region being around the dive location.

I was really annoyed he was sharing this prior to me jumping in the water in the middle of nowhere! It was an overcast day and with the kelp moving in the swell there were shadows everywhere. I finished my work quickly that day!

Commercial diver

So, have you ever had any run in with sharks?

Luckily, no. We know they’re around and they’re probably aware of us, but we’ve never been threatened by any. 

Generally, our wildlife encounters are positive. For example, I’ve been lucky enough to share the water with whales and time with a very friendly dolphin who loved to follow us out to our job and hang out with us. I would be working away with my head down and when I turned his head would be near mine and he’d be looking over my shoulder. He took his supervisor role very seriously.  

What’s the deepest dive you’ve done?

I have completed my part 2 Australian Diver Accreditation Scheme (ADAS) ticket that allows me to dive to 30 metres in a commercial capacity. Most of our staff have minimum Part 2 tickets that enable them to complete most onshore civil work.

Outside of work, I love to dive recreationally, and my passion has taken me overseas to check out some beautiful dives down to 50 metres plus.

What makes a good commercial diver in your opinion? 

Commercial diving is a physical job and you must be fit and happy to take on hard work. We work in close teams that demand trust and good communication skills, so people must have excellent interpersonal skills and be able to work well in a group.

Most importantly, you’ve got to love the water, be hands on, eager to learn and have a good sense of humour too. 

Learn about our $24.4 million program to upgrade Victoria's piers and jetties.

Commercial diver