Saturation divers work hundreds of feet below the ocean’s surface doing construction and demolition work. At Atlas Obscura, Jen Banbury takes us inside their dangerous, cramped world, a world where the strain of adapting to — and recovering from — the extraordinary pressure of existing at depth means you can simultaneously be both just a few feet and days away from the rest of the world.
When it’s time to enter the chamber (Hovey calls it the “house”), the divers pass through a tight, circular hatch at one end, like one might see on an old submarine, that closes with a “tunk.” The hatch is sealed, and even though they’re on a boat, just feet from support crew and fresh air, the divers might as well be on the International Space Station. Even farther actually: It takes about 3.5 hours for an astronaut to make it back from space. Saturation divers have to decompress for days at minimum. On a dive early in his career, when Hovey was on a job at a depth of 700 feet, he learned that his wife had miscarried. It would have taken him 11 days of decompression to exit the chamber. They needed his salary (not surprisingly, saturation divers are well-compensated, up to $1,400 per day), so his wife told him to finish the job.