Students from across Canada and Europe have come to Amherst to learn how to pilot remotely operated underwater vehicles.
AMHERST – Amherst has become a destination for students around the world wishing to learn how to drive and service the remote operated vehicles that work at the deepest depths of the ocean.
“We’re training remotely operated vehicle pilots as the only privately-owned training school in North America and we’re doing it right here in Amherst,” Mike Roberts of Divetech said. “We’re offering a four-week course that includes electronics, hydraulics and practical piloting skills as well as maintenance, offshore inspection and underwater construction.”
ROVs are not new. They were used to find and explore the Titanic in the 1980s and there use has been chronicled on numerous television programs such as on the Discovery Channel. However, Roberts said, the need for trained ROV pilots is growing as oil and gas companies begin working at greater depths in the world’s oceans.
Commercial divers can only go so deep into the ocean, making ROVs important to work at greater depths. The students taking Roberts’ course are all certified commercial divers and the latest course has participants from across Canada and as far away as Ireland.
Roberts said the course is being split between the NSCC Amherst Learning Centre and a lake in the Oxford area, where the students actually put their training to work by piloting the ROVs.
“We don’t use simulators, they actually pilot the ROVs every day they’re here,” Roberts said. “We’re actually putting the ROV in the water and the students are getting practical experience. That’s the only way to learn the skills is to be hands-on.”
Along with piloting the vehicles, Roberts is also training the program participants on how to fix and maintain them, including a substantial course on hydraulics.
“We cover an international training curriculum from the International Marine Contractors Association so it’s a recognized syllabus that we do. At the end of the course, we’ll give the guys some assistance with job placement in the industry,” Roberts said.
Tiernan Gray travelled from the west coast of Ireland to take the course. He’s been a commercial diver since 2001 and has worked in the oil and gas industry in the North Sea and off West Africa.
“I run my own commercial diving operation in Ireland and with legislation you can’t send one diver on a job, you have to send a whole team,” Gray said. “Even for simple inspection jobs, you’re sending three or four guys and charging the customer for every one of them and all the diving equipment. IN many times it could be just a quick visual inspection where you don’t need a team of divers. I’m thinking of buying my own ROV and using it in addition to divers.”
ROVs are also good in that they don’t get cold like divers and can spend an unlimited amount of time on the job site.
“You’ll never replace a diver fully, but an ROV is a great option to have working in tandem is the future,” Gray said.
Gray said there are other ROV courses around the world, but most of them are primarily classroom based. Roberts’ course is better because there’s a good mix of classroom and practical training as well as working out on the lake with the ROVs.
“You don’t learn how to pilot an ROV in the classroom, you have to be out on the lake experiencing the conditions,” Gray said.
Roberts, who runs a commercial diving company in Amherst, has lots of experience piloting ROVs and recently returned from teaching commercial diving course at Holland College in Summerside, P.E.I.
He said ROVs are becoming more important in industry.
“There’s a huge personnel shortage in the industry and it’s only going to get worse,” Roberts said. “Oil and gas exploration is going deeper and we’ve gone as deep as we can with divers. Everything is remote with submersibles.”
Roberts said the biggest issue is that despite the demand for ROV operators, training options in Canada are limited. He’s hoping to work with NSCC to make the course part of its curriculum.
“People will travel if the training is available,” he said. “This is a great facility here at NSCC and it’s very unique to be able to offer this course in Amherst.”
Another course in August is already filled.