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ROV Pilot 101: All You Need To Know

Alexander Gold   |   June 8, 2020

You may have always known you want to work in or around the water. You may already be a scuba diver, joined the Navy, or just liked to find the unknown in the depths of the sea. There is a job you may have never heard about that will satisfy your craving for adventure while also challenging your intellectual skills and steady strength when dealing with unknowns.

Becoming a Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) pilot allows you to be in charge of a complex and challenging piece of robotic equipment. The ROV is a submersible craft that helps various industries, from search and salvage, oil, and gas to scientific exploration. As an ROV pilot, you can perform data collection that monitors invasive species for scientific endeavors or detect underwater environments from topside until safety determinations are made.

Read on if the thrill of the unknown intrigues and challenges you. The informational guide below will tell you all you need to know so you can have the future you always wanted but never knew you could have.

Front face DTG3 Underwater ROV

What's an ROV Pilot?

There no one degree or route to becoming an ROV pilot technician. Most ROV pilot technicians do have degrees in mechanical, electrical, or electronic engineering, but not all of them do. Some ROV pilot technicians have Bachelor Degrees in Earth Science or Biology. Other ROV pilot technicians have military service qualifications with the appropriate levels of vocational qualifications.

If you want to work offshore, you do have to complete a necessary offshore safety induction and emergency training (BOSIET) course, STCW-95, or courses that are equivalent. There are times when ROV's like Deep Trekker is used for identifying targets of interest, including a victim and evidence recovery or deployed in a rapid search response. In both cases, it's the versatility of the ROV and ROV pilot technicians that are so beneficial to the search team process.

The Center for Ocean Sciences Education Excellence (COSEE) provides training for ROV pilots. Other titles COSEE says are used by those who work as ROV pilots are:

  • Pilot technician
  • Pilot
  • Co-Pilot
  • Electronic Technician
  • Handling System Operator
  • ROV Maintenance Operator
  • ROV Technician

Many times ROV pilots are called System Technicians and more.

ROV Pilots performing underwater inpection in a lake

There are eight core ROV pilot job duties that comprise the job description of every ROV pilot.

1 Operator of ROV equipment

The ROV pilot will operate ROV equipment as needed, and many times this includes things like videos and still cameras. ROV equipment also features acoustic positioning systems and SONAR. What that means is an ROV's submersible-mounted transducer is an acoustic positioning system that will be able to calculate range from an ROV to other transducers at known locations giving the known spacing. As an operator of ROV equipment, once you know the accurate range calculation, you can adjust for tangibles like water temperature, the density of water, salinity, etc. by computing the one-way or both way timing. It's the bearing that gives the triangulation of the timing difference across the transducer array.

2 ROV Supervision of Launch and Recovery

As an ROV pilot, you can be called upon to deploy, recover, and safely operate ROV equipment. That means you need to perform efficient ROV Launch and Recovery Systems (LARS) and the Tether Management System for the ROV (TMS). Both LARS and TMS are how ROVs are deployed from the surface by support vessels.

The preferred method using LARS in an ROV launch is composed of an A-frame. Almost all work class ROVs are used by the oil and gas industries for deepwater operations and have at least one video camera and light you're in charge of managing. TMS is used when ROV pilots need to deploy the ROV to a depth that uses a strong and heavy umbilical cable due to the depth or varying intensity of the currents.

3 Preventative Maintenance on ROV Associated Equipment and Actual Vessel

Every ROV pilot needs to know how to perform diligent preventative maintenance on their ROV associated equipment and on the ROV itself. You should always have fresh water supplies ready to go and close by when you're at an ROV landing point. Every landing point gives you an opportunity to wash the ROV equipment and the ROV after you use it, which is considered part of the planned preventative maintenance needed for this vehicle.

4 Ensure You Perform and Utilize Test and Calibration Equipment

As an ROV pilot, you need to prepare and test your ROV and related equipment for any mobilization or demobilization. You will be monitoring the R&M of the ROVs as well as determining your damage repair or modifications that are needed. Often you're in charge of arranging or performing the life-extending repairs so certification can be uninterrupted. It's essential you're confident in performing workshop repairs that include but aren't limited to the testing and calibration of the ROV equipment.

ROV Pilot performin Underwater ROV Calibration and Maintenance

5 Perform Basic Rigging and Be Able to Operate Small Boats

ROV pilots can carry out technical tasks like rigging and operating small boats and then write the technical reports that detail their log activities. This is rigging as you've never seen before because you have to be able to knot, gear, and use the rigging equipment properly. Then you have to be able to use rigging in a safe and timely manner while providing the correct hand signals and keeping all items you're moving secure and without damage.

6 - Perform Basic Electronic and Hydraulic Construction

ROV pilots should be able to perform basic electronic and hydraulic construction repairs and order spare parts when needed. This means you work with engineers when needed to perform modification to an ROV system. You must also be able to build and design the mechanical, electrical, and hydraulic construction systems for ROV use.

7 Maintain ROV Technical Documentation

As an ROV pilot, you maintain any technical documentation needed. But the technical documentation you keep as an ROV pilot includes detailed reports on mission accomplishment, mission training, technical issues, and technical solution reports. Your logs and reports have to be current and be recorded with legible accuracy.

8 Post-Mission ROV Flight Reports

It's not always the case, but sometimes you need to write ROV reports post-mission when needed. This includes writing mission success or failure as well as if you accomplished mission objectives. Try to keep your reporting at a high baseline standard.

9 Environmental Safety Condition Interpretation

Evaluating and interpreting the environmental conditions and then interpreting them is one of the most complex and challenging tasks any ROV pilot has to be able to perform. The safe deployment and recovery of an ROV depend on interrelated factors you must be able to read. This includes things like determining the vessel heading, wind speed, wave direction, surface current, visibility, and being able to understand basic weather forecasting models.

ROV Been deployed for a tactical mission

Training and Work Activities in Becoming an ROV Pilot

Every ROV pilot will have training in the below areas. Each area targets a percentage of time it is expected you will have to work within the work activity category.

82% of your time is spent documenting and recording information as an ROV pilot. This includes maintaining your technical documentation related to your test results, procedures, or inspection data.

79% of your time is spent on average collecting scientific or technical data. As an ROV pilot, you then take the statistical data and provide calibration information along with the statistical report.

Approximately 73% of your time is spent in communicating with your supervisors, team members, peers, or subordinates. You will have to feel at ease coordinated and communicating with crew members as well. Equal to your communicating percentage, you also will spend 73% of your time on average, maintaining very dependent interpersonal relationships with your peers and customers of your employer.

72% of your time is working on computer models that you're inputting, accessing, reading, retrieving, or maintaining. This means you have to be comfortable when using spreadsheet software and desktop publishing software that your employer uses.

69% of your time is spent compiling statistical data so you can better interpret calibration data as well as craft performance data. You will also have to be able to make decisions based on scientific or statistical information regarding problems with the ROV or troubleshooting ROV mission concerns.

In addition, your ROV time percentage performing tasks include also being able to communicate effectively and efficiently with people like scientists and engineers that don't work for your ROV employer. More importantly, you have to be able to evaluate information to determine ROV compliance based on industry standards.

Two ROV pilots training for Search and Resuce operations

ROV Pilot Salary and Job Outlook

ROV pilots can work in civil engineering fields, the defense industry, environmental sciences, marine archaeology, oil and gas industries, academic scientific endeavors, and more. Depending on what industry you choose to work for and what specific ROV job you want to embark on, your future can be filled with adventure, challenges, good salary, healthy growth, and international travel. Some ROV pilots love the experience of operating the robotic arm while others want to learn and use the video and sonar displays to calculate positioning and SONAR capabilities.

The ROV pilot salary ranges from $91,920 to over $110,020 to start, although some industries pay more or less than the average mean salary. The national employment estimate for an ROV pilot is only about 11,360 people. That is the reason the average salary range is a bit higher than the national average.

Plus, becoming an ROV pilot is no easy task to undertake with the training and skills needed regardless of what your degree is in or what military or vocational training you have. If you want to work offshore as an ROV pilot, you must pass a medical exam at least every two years and take a Minimum Safety Training course (MIST) no matter what degree or training you already have completed.

Trainee ROV Pilot

You don't start out as an ROV pilot no matter what skills or education you have, so when you're a trainee ROV pilot, there are certain skills and tasks you must perform. You will start at the bottom rung of the ladder as an ROV Technician level 3 (which is the trainee designation). You will progress through to an ROV Pilot and even beyond, but you must meet every ROV trainee goal and objective before that happens.

The International Marine Contractors Association has guidelines for the ROV operational objectives, and most companies want to ensure you have the training and development competency you need before you ever can work with or around an ROV as an ROV pilot. There may be nothing more exciting than a search and rescue mission, but to get there, you have to prove you can be an asset to the mission, the team members, and the objective of the employer.

Your shifts can be as many as 12 hours long, and you have no way of knowing what the conditions or weather environment will be if you're operating offshore. You usually have to work off the deck of a ship regardless of weather in cold weather gear or thermal boiler suits. There is almost always heavy lifting involved at some point during your day to day operations.

The Way Forward in Becoming an ROV Pilot

There's actually no other job quite like it, and there's not another vocation that gives you an opportunity to do so much for so many different industries. That is by itself one of the greatest reasons for becoming an ROV pilot. But the training is rigorous, and the job tasks are never easy because each day will be different than the last one.

If you want to learn more about becoming an ROV pilot, reach out to DeepTrekker. DeepTrekker provides some of the best ROV equipment to some of the biggest corporations in the world. They offer the most innovative and affordable underwater ROV, which has made them a favorite of industries looking to develop innovative solutions for their submersible needs.

DeepTreeker knows where the industries are that need your skills and what's more, they offer the equipment that most of those industries are using. There's never been a better merger between what you seek and what's being offered by DeepTrekker.

As Deep Trekker’s resident Technical Trainer Alexander Gold is dedicated to helping people achieve their goals. Trained as a high school teacher at the University of Western Ontario, Alexander brings his experience as a teacher in Thailand, England and Ontario to his Deep Trekker clients.