Petty Officer 1st Class Charles White
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From salvaging wrecks to building aquatic infrastructure, master divers like Chief Warrant Officer James ­Emerson handle some of the U.S. Navy’s most complex subaqueous projects—­because if something is tricky on dry land, it can be diabolical in the drink. Emerson is in charge of turning Seabees (the name comes from the abbreviation for “Construction ­Battalion”) into underwater experts. Out of 160 Seabee divers, only 2 to 4 percent will ultimately earn the title of “master.”

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Step 1: Join the Seabees

Enlisted sailors learn construction and ­demolition, without the added pressure of doing it underwater.
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Step 2: Become a Seabee Diver

Now to perform those same tasks in scuba gear. Lessons include hydraulic cutting and welding—and avoiding electrocution.
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Step 3: Learn on the Job

One of Emerson’s first tasks was to cut up a ruined Virginia pier in “some of the coldest, darkest water you can imagine.”
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Step 4: Go Back to Dive School

Five or more years later, Seabee divers can try for First Class level, learning project management and how to treat injuries.
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Step 5: Test for Master Diver

After 12 to 20 years, a written test, and rigorous dive simulations in the Gulf of Mexico, you’re certified as one of the Navy’s best.

This article was originally published in the March/April 2017 issue of Popular Science.

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