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    IMCA publication reviews North Sea diving market

    Publications // February 10, 2006

    The number of surface supplied divers is remaining fairly static but the number of saturation is divers steadily dropping each year according to a four-year overview of the North Sea diving industry Experience and Employment Profile of North Sea Diving Personnel published by the International Marine Contractors Association (IMCA).

    “Back in 2001 we decided to carry out a large scale survey of offshore divers and diving supervisors, looking at their ages and their work patterns for the previous year (2000),” explained IMCA’s technical director, Jane Bugler. “There were a number of theories and opinions circulating at the time such as ‘the average age of divers is rising by one year as each year passes’ or ‘there is going to be a major problem soon as everyone is going to retire at once’ or ‘there are no young divers entering the industry’. Similarly, opinions were expressed about the typical number of days spent offshore by divers and in saturation."

    “The results of research IMCA conducted on the issue were published in January 2003. For the North Sea area, where there is a limited number of employers, there is a degree of stability among the workforce and record keeping is to an extremely high standard so we knew that the survey was highly accurate. However, the results were for one year only and the industry has been changing rapidly in the past few years so there was every possibility that 2000 might not reflect the position in subsequent years. We therefore decided to repeat the survey for just the North Sea area for the years 2001, 2002 and 2003. Taken along with the year 2000 figures we now have a fascinating 34-page four-year overview that reflects the trends in the industry even more accurately than its one-year predecessor.”

    The results of the survey over the four complete years show a number of apparent trends:

    • The age and employment profile of divers who have been in saturation in any year is very different to the profile of those divers who have not been in saturation at any time in that year.
    • For surface supplied divers, the total number of men employed each year has stayed fairly static overall.  However, the figures for saturation divers (bell diving) show a steady drop each year – from a high of 519 in 2000 to a low of 407 in 2003 – a drop of 21.6 per cent.
    • The saturation diving workforce is getting older each year, while the non-saturation diving workforce’s age profile remains fairly constant.
    • Younger supervisors are entering the offshore arena and, although it rose in 2003, the average age of supervisors has remained fairly constant. It does seem, however, that an increasing number of men are continuing to work late in to their fifties, with the first supervisors aged 60 appearing in 2003.
    • Having said that, the youngest divers were typically aged 20 and 21.
    • The figures show a sharp decline in average days offshore for the saturation diver group and a less sharp decline for days in saturation over these four years. This seems to apply even to the highest earning and most employed divers.
    • The average days offshore for the surface supplied diving group do not show any clear pattern either upwards or downwards over the four years.
    • Diving supervisors show a pattern of average work offshore that is similar to the saturation diver group, which is a sharp decline over the four years.
    • For both saturation divers and supervisors the average person has seen a steady decline in their offshore utilisation and therefore, in their earning capacity.
    • The total amount of work carried out by surface supplied divers over the four years of the survey varied but remained relatively level, allowing for the inevitable fluctuations year to year.
    • In contrast the figures for saturation divers show a steady decline year on year.  The total number of man days offshore dropped from 68,200 in 2000 to 43,661 in 2003, which is a drop over over 35 per cent.
    • The number of days in saturation did remain almost the same in 2000 and 2001 at around 36,000 man days but then dropped to 28,273 in 2002 and 26,297 in 2003 which reflects a reduction of over 25 per cent.
    •  As the survey cannot separate bell diving supervisors from surface supplied diving supervisors the results for supervisors need to be treated with some caution, but even in the combined group it can be seen that there was a decline in total man days offshore each year from a 24,630 high in 2000 to 15,918 in 2003, which is a reduction of over 35 per cent.
    • In relation to the overall diving supervisor labour force, a significant percentage (between 10 and 20 per cent) were also paid as a diver at some time during the year
    • And – on a light hearted note, the survey showed that there are at least two sets of twins working as divers in the North Sea.

    Because the North Sea is a heavily regulated area with only a relatively small number of offshore diving contractors operating, it was a simple matter to identify all of the companies that had employed divers offshore at any time in the years surveyed.  IMCA approached all of these companies, almost all of whom were IMCA members, and asked them to provide the raw data for the survey. All of them did so (including the non-member companies) and it is thus considered that the survey represents a complete picture of diving activity offshore in the North Sea during the years 2000 to 2003 inclusive. The work that was undergone in carefully checking names and ensuring there was no duplication is described in the report.

    “We are confident this research gives a very clear picture of the industry in the first four years of this century,” said Bugler. “However, we must remember that the apparent trends are based on historical information and may not accurately predict the future.”

    Copies of Experience and Employment Profile of North Sea Diving Personnel (IMCA D 038) are available at £15 to IMCA members (members can also download it free of charge from the members-only website) and £30 to non-members and can be ordered from or from IMCA at 5 Lower Belgrave Street, London SW1W 0NR, UK.  Tel: +44 (0)20 7824 5520; Fax: +44 (0)20 7824 5521; Email:

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