Underwater Sparks Fly

Often, little to no notice is given when repairs are needed on locks and dams. In many cases, divers are dispatched underwater to assess the situation and attempt repairs, to the best of their abilities. However, no formal training has been available or provided to the divers on how to properly cut and weld while working underwater.

The mere thought of working underwater is perilous. The addition of electricity, gases, water pressure, and weather conditions easily categorizes this job as one of the most hazardous. When employees attend diving school, they receive no training on using machinery underwater, especially welding equipment.


Six members of the Rock Island District dive team were encouraged to attend underwater welding and exothermic cutting training at Commercial Diving Technologies in Hudson, Florida. Each diver received 80 hours of training in underwater welding and cutting from the accredited commercial diving school. The aim of sending the employees was to gain experience, learn best practices, build confidence, and bring knowledge back to the District.

“Being able to make repairs in-house opens up many opportunities within our District,” said Mike Barry, Rock Island District Dive Coordinator. “It also saves a lot of money instead of contracting this type of work out.”

Previously, underwater repairs to the locks and dams were only carried out during scheduled dewaters, where operations could openly weld and cut to make repairs. Having this expertise in the District will greatly benefit engineers who continuously plan and meticulously design anticipated repairs, fostering working relationships with the divers who will execute the work.

“This training is a benefit to our employees, dive team, and our District,” said Nate Gorham, Rock Island District Safety Manager. “It will allow us to establish relationships with other Districts that may need our expertise and assistance with maintenance projects.”

The primary purpose of sending divers to the accredited school was to receive additional training to create a safer workplace. As a bonus, all the divers were given the opportunity to take the International Oil & Gas Producers test to become certified in underwater cutting and the American Welding Society test for underwater welding. Those who passed now hold the highest industry credentials to demonstrate their proficiency in underwater cutting and welding.

Keeping employees safe at the workplace is a top priority of the District. By providing this training to members of the dive team, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers demonstrates its dedication to safety. Diving is inherently dangerous, and it is crucial to keep divers trained by industry professionals.

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