CA General Engineering "A" License # 530-816-0019

Humans do not exist naturally underwater.  We only visit the underwater world.  Divers work in an environment that is not natural for a human to occupy without equipment to support life spending time underwater.  It is an unfriendly environment typically with no visibility, uncomfortable temperatures, and where the density of the water fatigues the human body many times faster than when working in air.

A Diver while at the underwater workpoint, even though supported from the surface, is operating by themselves.  The Diver is down working in the dark.  And, while they are in constant voice communication with the surface and describing what they are doing as they carry out their tasks, the Diver is essentially alone with their own integrity and honor.

The Diver enjoys making the living that the wages of commercial diving provide and is motivated to keep momentum by finishing one project then securing employment on the next one.  Like a professional athlete that consistently scores points, skill and talent should be what builds the Diver’s professional reputation and causes a company to consider the Diver valuable and thus invite them on the next job.

But it is supply and demand, and when the cycles of demand take a dip and the supply goes up, being the Diver that gets on the next job gets more competitive.  Even on each job, Divers are competitive.  If one Diver installs six widgets on his dive, the next Diver is working hard to accomplish seven.  That allows both bragging rights, but also means that those bragging rights could very well be the decider for a job in the future whether one Diver gets the employment invitation to get on the next Project, or not.

A Diver is only as good as his or her last dive, and only as employable as his or her last job performance.  For the Diver, depth and time is a ticking stopwatch measuring the diver’s value literally on every dive.

When a Diver is working down in the Dark-and-Scary and comes up against a hiccup or a small problem, there is no time-out.  The clock doesn’t stop ticking.  This is when ethics, honor and personal integrity of professionalism are tested.

As my mother and father made very clear to me, “integrity is how you act when no one is looking”.

Consider the following scenario:

A diving project in 100 feet of water.   At this depth, the individual diver profile is 45 minutes of working dive time.  By allowing roughly half an hour for the Diver to get dressed into their gear, then another fifteen minutes to get one Diver back up on deck and the next Diver swapped out and ready to dive, and we can call it approximately 90 minutes for each dive cycle unit.  1-½ hours.  Allowing for setup at the beginning, a safety and planning meeting, and then breaking down at the end, it is safe to say that you would have 4 dives per 8-hour shift for that Project, or multiple Divers in rotation to accomplish the Project.  Diver One, Diver Two, Diver Three and Diver Four.

A “dive rotation” means that as the work progresses each Diver is inheriting what the last Diver has left for them.  This could be that Diver Three leaves a messy and disorganized work site with tools in haphazard positions whereby Diver Four has to spend a few extra minutes of his time feeling around in the dark trying to lay hands on the wrench or the hammer.  The importance of housekeeping is obvious and normally sorted out by peer pressure, but what about production?

Let’s say that the phase of Project activity requires that 100 anchor bolts be drilled and installed into the concrete.  Diver One accomplishes the installation of 5 anchors on his or her 45-minute dive.  Diver Two gets 6, Diver Three gets 5, and Diver Four gets 4 and is almost done with No 5 but runs out of time.  The next day all four divers have it figured out and by the end of the second shift a full 50 anchor bolts have been installed.  Now the production can be charted and tracked, both for the individual divers as well as the crew as a whole by shift, bid item or other metric.

Production in units.  But, what about production that isn’t clearly defined units?  What if it is excavating rock and soil with a jackhammer?  Or, what if it is grinding out the corner of a concrete wall in preparation for forming and placing a new section of concrete?

The dive company bids the work for a price estimate developed using a knowledge of past times the activity took and applying it to what the dive company thinks this Project will require.  In this example, let’s say that the activity for this Project has been bid for two weeks.  The dive company will make a profit if the activity takes 10 shifts, using 4 divers.  At 12 shifts the budget will break even, and if it takes 14 days to complete the company will be losing money.

The Project starts and the four divers are on the job, working and making money.   Diver One gets down to the workpoint and spends their allotted 45 minutes, then comes up.  Then Diver Two, Diver Three, and Diver Four.   The next day’s shift rotates back through Diver One, Two, Three, Four.

This goes on for ten shifts, or 40 dives over two weeks performed by 4 individual divers.  Is the activity complete?  Maybe it is.  But, what if the ten shifts from the budget are expended and there is still some work to be done.  Is it because the company estimate failed to allow enough time to achieve the production?  Is it because the diver’s skill accomplished at a rate that wasn’t enough to meet the budgeted production?   How do we know?  The company wants to know, learn from it, and use the information on production for this type of activity to apply to the next bid opportunity where this kind of work will show up.  Even more critical is the client with the meter running on a time and materials payment structure.

How does the company determine the reason the production fell short of the budget?

The four divers are doing the work.  Each diver has been hired for the Project to accomplish production.  One after another they perform their individual dives, rotating through each shift.  Is Diver One producing as much as Diver Three?  Is Diver Four accomplishing as much as Diver One?

In a rotation, each Diver has no idea how much the other divers are producing or where each is on the scale of amount of achievement.  Each diver only knows what the worksite was like when he or she left it on their last dive, and what it is like when they return.  They only know that three dives have occurred since they were there last, but have no idea which diver did what percentage of what that has changed.

Let’s say that one of those three divers is performing only 50 percent of what each of the other three are doing individually on each of their dives.  Diver One sets the curve at 100 percent, Diver Two is consistent at almost the same production and thus is also a 100 percent production unit.  And Diver Three, while a bit less consistent is more on some dives and a bit less on others yet over the two weeks can be said to also be 90 or 95 percent.  But….. Diver Four is running at 50 percent on every dive.

Diver One has no idea how much Diver Four is producing.  Diver One only knows that “X” amount of production has been done since Diver One was there last, four dives ago.  Maybe Diver One feels like what has been done could have been more, but Diver One has no idea if the other three divers are each doing 80 percent of what he is doing, or if only one of the other three divers is doing 50 percent.

Four divers.  Three 100 percent units of production, and one 50 percent production unit.  That is 87.5 percent of four units each producing at full expected capacity, or 12.5 percent less production overall.

While the work is taking place, the Supervisor is responsible for meeting the budget goals so the company makes the expected profit.  If the job was bid with a 15 percent profit, a job running at the steady production slip of more than 12 percent with every shift, becomes a delay from something that otherwise would be considered a minor glitch and factored in, and now the company is losing money.

If an otherwise minor hiccup is compounded by a daily loss of estimated production, then the company is about to lose money and the Supervisor is expected to answer for it.

Divers work down and alone.  The Supervisor needs communication to properly monitor the status of the job.  With work that takes place in the deep and dark of an underwater worksite, the communication of the divers is critical to the cohesiveness of the dive crew and the accurate tracking of production.  Each diver must articulate and describe their activity at the worksite.   Diver Three needs to communicate what is going on, and specifically needs to give a summary synopsis at the end of his or her dive, right before they leave and start back to the surface, so that Diver Four has some idea what to expect and the Supervisor can continue to understand and envision the production and project status as it moves along.

Good divers are good communicators.  As important a talent as any other, the ability to articulate and convey information to paint a picture with words of what is taking place on bottom is part of the skillset that causes one Diver to be considered more valuable than another, and thus communication skills are a large part of what gets a Diver on one job after another and keep working.  In fact, when hired by engineering firms, divers are many times called upon to be the organ-grinder monkey to run around and gather information as the eyes, ears and touch for the engineering inspection or survey.

Sadly, the ability to paint a picture with words and descriptive narrative is a talent that can be abused when utilized to cover one’s shortcomings.  In other words, if Diver Four has a good line of ‘bull’, the production status in a four-diver rotation operating at the 87 percent described above can realistically be impossible to determine where the handicap is happening before the job is over.

The diving business has a fairly significant portion of the total pool that are average or even less than average divers but who have enjoyed lucrative annual incomes with highly polished self-marketing and consmanship skills.

The temptation is there for even the sincerest Diver if things are going poorly and the dive is going badly.  But that is exactly when honor and integrity is the most important.

Remember that the Diver is working down in the deep and dark.  If dive time is running short and one’s reputation might be negatively impacted, the temptation to cut a corner, not fully and thoroughly complete a task, but still talk it up and play your dive as a huge success, is a very real test of personal integrity, ethics and honor.

The diving industry is filled with this.  We run across it frequently enough that good Supervisors and managers try to hone the skills necessary to sniff it out.  But there are plenty of good conman Divers that learn to get even better at it, especially if they can spend their careers getting on larger projects with larger rotations.  Be charming and get on the job.  Get into rotation and start getting those diver wages.

Exploit the deep and dark to allow you to have a lucrative career as a mediocre diver, but a top-notch liar and exaggerator.

Sadly, we come across this far more frequently in civil construction than in offshore oilfield diving.  The offshore diver is not in a Union governed pay and receives a wage that has been earned and increased over time on merit and talent.  The better the diver, the higher the paygrade.

In civil construction, one Union diver is paid the same as the next Union diver.  And compounding this is that the Diver wage rate doubles when the Diver goes diving for the shift from the Stand-By Diver rate.  Thus, the need to “get in the water” and get “dive pay” creates an incentive to do whatever and say whatever will get the Diver on the next dive and the next job.

The Integrity of The Diving Business

Diving companies are founded and run by former Divers.  And sadly that unfortunate ethics flaw found in so many divers evolves into the culture of many diving businesses.

A clever conman Diver that had a good line of gab and salesmanship using the distance of the jobsite from the inspector, can readily adapt it right into a business culture.    Using the deep and dark to his advantage as a diver is a short entrepreneurial hop to using the same mindset to make a small diving business profitable.

Consider, a diving company goes in cheap and lands a job with the low bid.  The company has work on the books and the divers are happy because they are working.  The company gets on the project and the divers get down there in the deep and dark and start working.  The Supervisor is encouraged to find something that can be spun into an exaggerated claim or change order.  The client or owner has only the dive company’s articulate description that the conditions are different than the original specifications and that change order is justified.  The company has the job.  But they may have won it for cheap and need that change order to plump up the revenue.  But they got the work, just like that diver that did whatever it took to stay working and getting himself on job after job.

Alternatively, let’s say the same company as in the previous production example finds that they are steadily falling behind at roughly 87 percent of actual production from what was estimated and used for the bid to win the job.  The field Supervisor must answer for the production shortcoming.  Again, like a Diver, the Supervisor wants to be employed on future jobs.

Just as a field Supervisor must rely on the communication and description from the Diver(s) of what is happening on the bottom, so too the diving company relies on the communication from the Supervisor coming back to the office.

The diver that has covered his butt to help get through his career, might have evolved into a Supervisor that can spin a tale using and conspiring with the Diver(s) in the field to create a good story to make excuses, make more money, or compensate for shortcomings.  Then the former Diver, now a Supervisor might have used the same compromised honor skillset to help compensate or profit when he becomes the owner of his own dive company.

Commercial diving takes hard work and talent in a competitive market.  The dive company must present either the best service price or the lowest bid.  Dive companies are competing against each other, but still must rely on the Divers to accomplish the work and meet the margins.

It is an embarrassing fact that our commercial diving industry is populated by a surprisingly large percentage of diving companies whose ownership and management cultures rely on some level of deception; from alternative reality descriptions of the underwater work, all the way to outright dishonesty for financial gain.  And, once again due to merit being second behind fixed wages it is more prevalent in the Union civil market than the offshore oil sector.

Divers move between many companies depending on who has the work, and over a career may have experienced employment with dozens of different companies.  CDCI Principals Ron Null, Steve Nicosia and Dave Rosenberg have seen a wide variety of company cultures, ethics, and management styles.

Our original CDCI business concept that brought us together as founding partners came out of a mutual distaste for the negative and embarrassing element of the ethics of our industry that all three Principals shared.

We made a conscious decision to focus on setting up shop in the heart of the hydropower dam region of the Sierras of California.  This low overhead allows us not have to compete with the typical Bay Area diving companies that need to “get the work” and keep the revenue stream (no matter what it takes).

Our CDCI business model is not intended to be a one-size-fits-all marine contractor.  We are not a salvage company, nor a harbor and waterfront maintenance company.  We are not a pop-up local front division of an out-of-State business but are headquartered right here in California as a small group of professionals with heavy emphasis on marine construction in the Western hydro and water management markets for private agencies, special districts, and State and Federal entities such as the Bureau of Reclamation and USACE.

Rather than crank out by volume, as we grow our intentions are to establish a limited list of intimate and solid partnerships and alliances with a short-list of quality and ethical general contracting firms, honest and responsible small-business subcontractors and suppliers to complement our specialty services with the strengths of working relationships with our clients while we as company owners stay engaged, hands-on and remain close to the action.

Successful dives can be done by solid and talented Divers.  And successful dive projects can be bid and won and carried out with clever and better mousetraps, and by using the known quantity of solid and talented Divers.

We’re proud that we focus on one Project at a time and have a very limited list of talent.  It’s a very small industry and everyone knows everyone in the diving business.  And for this reason there are a lot of divers in Northern California that will never be on our payroll simply because we need a certain size crew and “the client won’t know the difference”.  Because we will.

At CDCI we have seen it and are firm in the belief that the long game can be won by a diving company that doesn’t compromise ethics and honor but cultivates a level of integrity from management to the field personnel that becomes reputation.  This recipe of these principles have served the Principals of CDCI throughout our respective careers and we are confident that this intentional culture of ethics will prevail.

“Integrity is what you do when no one can see you”