What It’s Really Like To Weld On An Oil Rig

What It’s Really Like To Weld On An Oil Rig

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Nothing is normal about living on a man-made island of steel. It’s a world of its own. Everything and everyone you know is stacked on top of each other in the same 250 ft by 400 ft space. Like the pre-Columbus era, the edge of the world has returned. Beyond your metal floating planet is nothing but salty, blue ocean. However, on your metal island, you’ll have everything you need. Off-shore oil rigs are built to be self-sufficient for long periods of time. They house their own power generators and water filter plants. Crew quarters and dining is built right into these massive floating structures as well.

Even the economy on an oil rig takes on its own form. When oil prices are up, the average crew member makes around $80,000 a year. Experienced welders on board can easily make 6 figures. But the biggest luxury while living on an oil rig isn’t cash, its space. The room you have to breathe and walk around is severely limited because every foot of your floating island cost millions to build.

Time runs differently as well out on the ocean. The mechanical floating city never sleeps. Most crew members on board work 12-hour shifts for 2 weeks straight. After that, they get 2 weeks off on the mainland. However, as a welder, your hours can vary depending on how many other welders are aboard and what needs to be done. Unlike some roles on the rig, a welder’s day-to-day routine tends to vary significantly depending on what’s needed.
Some welding jobs on an oil rig require special skills such as underwater welding experience. Technically, underwater welding is actually referred to as hyperbaric, or a type of welding that’s performed at elevated pressures. But this usually means the welder is underwater, since pressure magnifies the further down in the water you get—especially on an oil rig that goes down anywhere from 80 to 12,000 ft.


There are 2 types of hyperbaric welds: dry and wet. A dry weld is performed when the structure being welded is enclosed in a chamber filled with pressurized gas. While the welder is probably underwater, equipped with scuba gear, the weld itself is performed in a pressurized chamber. Having the structure enclosed in pressurized gas allows for a more precise weld. However, the problem with this is that it’s difficult to go any deeper than 1,300 ft because both the welder and the pressurized chamber have a harder time functioning at any greater pressure.
A wet weld is performed when the welder and the electrode are both exposed to water. This means that the welder has to use a special electrode holder that is constructed for use underwater; if it’s used in the air, it will overheat. This also means that the welding cable is installed with a heavy-duty isolation switch, which is controlled by a surface operator. Together, the welder and surface operator work to make and break contact. A wet weld is usually less precise than a dry weld (because it’s harder to detect defects and because the water causes the weld to rapidly cool), but sometimes this type of weld is necessary.

If you’re still interested in welding underwater or what life is like in different industries, check out the 3 posts below:

What’s The Deal With Underwater Welding?

Could You Be A Military Welder?

Welding in the Entertainment Industry