As the maritime industry continues to evolve, the debate of deploying human divers or cutting-edge ROVs (Remotely Operated Vehicles) for underwater tasks gains significance. The complex decision-making process often revolves around factors like task complexity, environmental conditions, and safety concerns.
While the question may be simple, the answer is often not so straightforward and depends on a multitude of factors, such as the scope of a task, operating environment/conditions, and project complexity, to name a few. The safety of the team and cost are two common factors that professionals consider when making such decisions.
Ultimately, the key to improving all underwater work is typically the use of ROVs in conjunction with divers. Both methods can be the right choice in any given situation, but the main goal is to find a cost-effective and safe method for each task at hand, and to make an informed decision by understanding the capabilities of each method and harnessing the synergy of their collaborative potential.
Diving is inherently a dangerous job, no matter what the situation may be. Sending a human underwater comes with a number of risks every time - from the lack of situational awareness in unknown or murky water, to the dangers of entanglement, decompression sickness, or exhaustion, divers put their lives on the line every time they splash into the water.
Divers play an important role in ocean exploration, infrastructure, aquaculture, military, and salvage operations - from performing inspections, to item retrieval, or specimen collection, divers are invaluable in the marine and industrial industries.
Nuclear power plants, for example, require consistent inspection to ensure structural integrity on submerged components. Structures such as cooling tanks require regular inspection and cannot be drained for routine inspection. These types of diving operations can be incredibly dangerous and can benefit from the use of ROVs to complement the divers.
Commercial divers offer several unique benefits in underwater operations. Factors such as human adaptability and problem solving, and a higher degree of flexibility with using various tools and completing some manual tasks are some of the main advantages of commercial divers when compared with the capabilities of ROVs.
Divers allow for more precise and delicate interaction with the marine environment, leveraging their ability to physically interact with objects and perform complex manual tasks underwater. Commercial divers can use specialized tools, inspect structures, perform repairs, and carry out maintenance activities, and this hands-on manipulation allows for greater flexibility and adaptability in challenging underwater environments.
Commercial divers are also trained to think critically and problem-solve quickly, since they can often encounter unexpected situations, such as tangled cables, debris, or equipment malfunctions, and need to devise solutions on the spot. Their ability to adapt, troubleshoot, and implement solutions efficiently contributes to the successful completion of tasks.
Additionally, divers can make immediate decisions and adjustments based on the real-time information they gather during their dives. They can assess the conditions, identify potential hazards, and modify their approach accordingly. This on-the-spot decision-making ability is particularly valuable in dynamic situations or emergency scenarios where quick action is required.
Any time a diver goes underwater, they run the risk of decompression sickness, hypothermia, physical exhaustion, or the danger of entanglement. They are also limited in the amount of time they can spend underwater, as well as the depths they are able to reach.
Diving to deeper depths requires a specialized suit and extensive training to ensure the safety of the diver. The deeper they descend, the less time they can use for operations due to the danger of decompression sickness; and the necessity of longer ascent times to ensure a safe resurfacing only adds to increased periods of downtime. This limited time also requires extensive multi-tasking and can result in searches that may not be as accurate, time-efficient, and thorough as what can be achieved with ROVs.
Visibility can also be an obstacle in murky water where they have limited or zero visibility, which can be incredibly dangerous for the divers. Without clear visuals of the environment they are diving in, the risk of entanglement and getting caught underwater becomes a serious concern.
ROVs have proven to be extremely beneficial tools for conducting underwater operations. Operators can control them from the surface and safely search deeper and more dangerous areas without putting divers at risk. They can also be equipped with a range of modular tools, such as sonar and other sensors, manipulators, laser scanners, and ultra high-definition cameras that can capture and record information in real time.
Safety is typically the first and most important factor that comes to mind when considering the advantages of ROVs in underwater operations. However, the utilization of ROVs to complement dive teams has proven to have many more benefits beyond enhancing the safety of the crew.
Time is a valuable commodity for any team or operation, and that is another one of the primary benefits of utilizing ROVs: time-efficiency. Traditional methods are often quite time-consuming and involve the coordination of schedules for multiple parties. Underwater robots can be deployed in minutes by a single operator, with very little prep time needed, and can remain underwater for far longer than divers.
With the hybrid options of long lasting batteries or direct power, ROVs have virtually unlimited bottom time, and with less depth limitations than divers, can explore hard to reach areas that may not have been possible for the dive teams to search, allowing for more thorough and accurate searches and inspections.
Cost-effectiveness is another important factor to consider. Utilizing ROVs eliminates the need for extensive diver training, specialized equipment, and the associated logistical expenses. They can be operated remotely from the surface, further reducing the number of personnel required on-site and minimizing travel and accommodation costs.
Some other considerable benefits include:
Although ROVs have many advantages in underwater operations, they do have some limitations, as well. Lack of human judgment, limited battery life, and reduced dexterity are some of the prominent challenges.
ROVs have potential limitations when compared to human divers in terms of adaptability. They are purpose-built for specific tasks and come equipped with specialized tools and sensors that may not be versatile enough to handle unexpected or unique situations. Unlike divers, ROVs lack the ability to make on-the-spot adjustments or creatively problem-solve in response to unforeseen challenges.
Dexterity and lack of tactile feedback can also be barriers when using ROVs in underwater operations. While they can be equipped with robotic arms, the fine motor skills and flexibility of human hands are difficult to replicate. This can impact the ROV's ability to perform intricate tasks that require precise manipulation or handling of objects. They also cannot assess texture or weight, which can make it challenging to perform tasks that require precise manual manipulation or delicate repairs.
High initial investment can also be a barrier, most notably for smaller organizations with limited budgets. However, over the long term, the upfront investment is generally much lower than the long term costs of performing regular inspections through traditional methods, with most owners seeing quite substantial savings in the first year of use.
Underwater operations are ultimately dangerous for human personnel. No matter the situation, there is always an inherent risk when sending divers underwater. This makes safety a key component in marine operations. ROVs can help mitigate these risks, since they can operate in conditions that may be dangerous or inaccessible for divers, such as extreme depths, toxic environments, or areas with high currents, without the risk of any safety concerns.
Let’s take a look at some of the most common dangers of underwater operations:
Ship hull inspections can be hazardous undertakings for divers due to a multitude of factors, primarily the bustling nature of busy ports. These maritime environments are characterized by constant activity, with numerous vessels maneuvering in close proximity. Consequently, the inherent danger lies in the high risk of collisions between the divers and other ships. Limited visibility underwater can further complicate matters, as murky water or sediment stirred up during vessel operations can obscure their vision. These conditions can make it difficult for divers to anticipate the movements of other vessels and avoid potentially dangerous encounters.
Working in strong currents presents an exceptionally perilous situation that can lead to the risk of drowning. Strong currents possess a tremendous amount of kinetic energy, capable of dragging individuals underwater, sweeping them away from their intended path or safety zones and support systems, and can cause them to collide with underwater obstacles or be trapped against structures. The force exerted by these currents can be deceivingly powerful, making it difficult for even the strongest swimmers to maintain control and stability.
Diving at deeper levels introduces the risk of decompression sickness, a potentially serious and life-threatening condition. Decompression sickness, also known as "the bends" or "diver's disease," occurs when dissolved gases (primarily nitrogen) form bubbles within the body as a result of rapid ascent from increased pressure underwater. Symptoms of decompression sickness can vary in severity and may include joint and muscle pain, fatigue, dizziness, nausea, shortness of breath, chest pain, numbness, tingling, and even paralysis. In severe cases, decompression sickness can lead to central nervous system involvement, resulting in neurological symptoms such as confusion, memory loss, loss of coordination, seizures, or unconsciousness. If left untreated, decompression sickness can be fatal.
Furthermore, the risk of equipment malfunctioning poses a significant threat to commercial divers. Diving equipment, such as breathing apparatus, communication devices, diving suits, and umbilicals (connecting the diver to the surface), must be meticulously maintained and regularly inspected for functionality and integrity.
Malfunctions in diving equipment can compromise the diver's ability to breathe, communicate, or maintain control underwater. For example, a failure in the breathing apparatus can lead to a loss of air supply, putting the diver at risk of asphyxiation. Similarly, a malfunction in the communication system can hinder the diver's ability to relay vital information or receive instructions, impeding their coordination with the support team on the surface.
The choice between using a diver or ROV in different industries depends on several factors, including the nature of the operation, the environment, safety considerations, cost-effectiveness, and efficiency.
Let's consider the aquaculture industry as an example, where the cost advantage of utilizing a Deep Trekker ROV becomes unquestionable. Operators in this industry can rely on the ROV for daily operations, allowing them to maintain a sustainable and environmentally safe farm. Regular inspections, ideally conducted on a daily basis, are critical in ensuring the farm's integrity and minimizing risks.
Utilizing ROVs, operators can effectively monitor their farms and perform preventative maintenance, such as inspecting mooring systems, performing minor maintenance, or net cleaning and repair. The ROV can be equipped with specialized attachments like the laser scaler, manipulators, and mort retrieval system, enabling them to closely monitor and maintain the cleanliness of their environments. This proactive approach aids in preventing potential issues and addressing them promptly.
The financial implications of hiring a diver for these daily tasks can be exorbitant in comparison. The cost of employing a diver to carry out the same inspections and maintenance routines on a daily basis can quickly accumulate. In contrast, ROVs provide a cost-effective alternative that allows operators to conduct their required tasks efficiently and economically.
The utilization of ROVs in the aquaculture industry not only offers a practical solution for daily inspections and maintenance but also presents a clear cost advantage over employing divers. By choosing this technology, operators can ensure the sustainable operation of their farms while effectively managing their resources and minimizing expenses.
This frees up diver resources and reduces their time underwater, making operations much safer. It also allows the dive teams to focus on more delicate tasks that require greater precision and dexterity, such as fish feeding, extensive equipment maintenance, complex repairs, and health assessments.
First responders and search and recovery (SAR) teams often encounter particularly harsh conditions and demanding water environments, such as strong water currents, extreme temperatures, ice cover, and limited accessibility. These factors significantly impede search and recovery efforts.
Traditionally, SAR teams arrive at the scene and begin the process by surveying the area to identify a safe location for deployment. Next, they establish command control and evaluate whether conditions permit a diver to enter the water. If feasible, a diver gears up, enters the water cautiously, and relies on their dive team for support to ensure their safety and facilitate search and recovery operations. This entire process can consume valuable hours.
By contrast, when utilizing ROVs, the operator arrives on site, swiftly locates an entry point or creates an opening in the ice, and promptly initiates operations. This rapid deployment can occur within minutes, which is critical during SAR operations where time is vitally important.
In this context, the ROV does not replace the need for divers; instead, it enables first responders to swiftly commence sweeping the area, while working in tandem with divers to form an effective man-and-machine team. It allows for the immediate elimination of areas that do not require diving or precise identification of those that do. In these tactically challenging scenarios, the value of a Deep Trekker ROV becomes immediately apparent. Its quick deployment capability and the low risk it poses to the operator make it an advantageous choice.
By employing a Deep Trekker ROV, first responders benefit from its rapid response capabilities, enabling them to initiate search and recovery operations promptly. The ROV complements the efforts of divers by facilitating initial assessments and augmenting their subsequent underwater activities. This collaborative approach optimizes efficiency and enhances overall effectiveness during SAR missions. The ROVs ability to swiftly cover large areas and gather valuable visual data reduces operational time and minimizes risks associated with diving in challenging environments, while divers can be more careful when locating missing or submerged objects.
Ultimately, when operating in demanding search and recovery situations, the utilization of ROVs proves invaluable for first responders. Its quick deployment, ability to operate in challenging conditions, and collaboration with divers make it an essential tool in ensuring effective search and recovery operations. The combination of human expertise and technological support enhances safety and efficiency, making the ROV an advantageous asset in SAR missions.
The use of underwater robots, even in less risky commercial diving operations, offers significant advantages in terms of cost and safety. While the cost of hiring commercial divers is well-known and expensive, underwater ROVs provide a cost-effective alternative. Training an in-house staff member as a diver can cost over $25,000 USD, not including equipment expenses and insurance bills, which can amount to tens of thousands more. Hiring a commercial diver for a small job typically ranges between $1,500 to $5,000 USD per day, with higher costs for more complex tasks. By comparison, the investment in a Deep Trekker ROV can be recovered in as few as two days, making it a financially sound choice.
Moreover, commercial diving often requires a substantial team, including a commercial diver, a standby diver, and a diving supervisor who communicates with the diver from the surface. As the project's scope increases, so does the team's size and roles. In contrast, using an ROV significantly reduces the personnel required. With a Deep Trekker ROV, you can achieve cost savings and operational efficiency by reducing the reliance on a large diving team.
While it's important to acknowledge that certain repairs and tasks necessitate the expertise of a commercial diver, utilizing an ROV for inspections can save highly trained divers for their specialized roles. By assigning the simpler inspection jobs to an ROV, diving costs are reduced, and projects become safer and more straightforward. Pre-inspections conducted by an ROV allow for better utilization of bottom time and enable close monitoring of the diver to enhance safety while they focus on their specific tasks.
This versatility and cost-effectiveness of underwater ROVs makes them a valuable asset in the commercial diving industry. While underwater robots do not replace all commercial diving jobs, their use offers significant benefits in terms of cost, safety, and efficiency. By leveraging ROVs for inspections, organizations can save on diving expenses, allocate highly trained divers for specialized tasks, such extensive cleaning and welding tasks, and inspections that require the dexterity and human intelligence of a diver.
When comparing divers and ROVs, it's important to recognize that it's not a matter of choosing one over the other. Both divers and ROVs have their own unique strengths and applications, and they can complement each other in most scenarios. The key lies in understanding the specific requirements of the task at hand and leveraging the capabilities of both divers and ROVs to maximize efficiency, safety, and effectiveness.
Divers bring a human touch and adaptability to underwater operations. Their ability to directly interact with the environment, conduct hands-on tasks, and make real-time decisions based on their expertise is invaluable. Divers excel in situations that demand intricate manual dexterity, close observation, and problem-solving skills. Their presence allows for immediate response and flexibility in dynamic underwater environments.
Comparatively, ROVs offer distinct advantages in terms of reach, endurance, and data collection. ROVs can operate at greater depths and in hazardous environments with unlimited bottom time, where human divers may face risks to their safety. Equipped with advanced imaging systems, sensors, and manipulators, ROVs can provide high-quality visual data, perform precise tasks, and gather valuable information without the limitations of human physiology. They are also especially useful for long-duration inspections, repetitive operations, and operations in extreme conditions.
By combining the strengths of both divers and ROVs, organizations can achieve optimal results. For example, during an underwater inspection, an ROV can be deployed first to conduct a preliminary survey, identify potential risks or areas of interest, and provide a comprehensive overview of the site. This data can then be used to inform decisions regarding the deployment of divers for closer examination or specific tasks that require their expertise. In this way, the ROV acts as a valuable reconnaissance tool, saving time and minimizing risks for the divers.
In complex operations, divers and ROVs can work collaboratively, with the ROV assisting the divers by providing real-time video feeds, additional lighting, or support with heavy lifting. The divers can focus on critical tasks while leveraging the ROV's capabilities to enhance their efficiency and safety. This combination of human skills and technological support creates a powerful synergy, maximizing the overall effectiveness of the operation.
Ultimately, the decision to use divers, ROVs, or a combination of both depends on factors such as the nature of the task, depth, environmental conditions, safety considerations, and cost-effectiveness. By recognizing the unique strengths of divers and ROVs and employing them strategically, organizations can harness the benefits of both approaches and achieve optimal results in underwater operations. It's not about choosing one or the other, but rather utilizing the right tool for the right job to ensure the best possible outcomes.
Deep Trekker ROVs are purpose built for versatility, making them excellent tools to complement divers in a broad range of applications and industries. Built with industrial-grade materials such as stainless steel, anodized machined aluminum, and carbon fiber, they can withstand even the harshest environments.
Our Deep Trekker ROVs embody navigational excellence, empowered by cutting-edge stability and positioning systems. Equipped with advanced stabilization and positioning systems, our NAV packages interpret live positional data, enabling seamless autonomous navigation. Effortlessly set the inspection path with our Mission Planner, and watch as the ROV navigates precisely, allowing operators to focus on capturing critical data and ensuring the integrity of underwater structures.
Leveraging the combined strengths of Deep Trekker ROVs and divers creates the ultimate team to tackle underwater missions effectively. Rather than debating the choice between ROVs or a diver, the focus should be on exploring how they can work in synergy, reducing costs, enhancing safety, and improving underwater work methodologies.
Mike Fletcher, a professional commercial diver and renowned wreck diver, states that “there is always the risk of injury or threat to the person diving”. He explains that whenever there is the chance to use something other than a person to perform a task, the risk of injury to the diver is eliminated.
Our team of industry professionals is always available to offer expert guidance and address any questions you may have regarding the integration of submersible robots into your next project.
Whether you are exploring underwater inspection, search and recovery, aquaculture, environmental monitoring, or any other marine application, we are here to assist you in understanding how our ROVs can benefit your specific needs.
When you are ready to acquire your own Deep Trekker vehicle, reach out to us for a customized quote tailored to your requirements.
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