Divers in the Port of Montreal


Divers visit the Port of Montreal on a regular basis to inspect and repair the underwater sections of berths. It’s a very special profession.

Pouring concrete under water? Yes, it is possible. On this scorching hot August 19, diver Jonathan Tremblay, of SPG Hydro International, is tasked with this job, 35 feet deep, at the Port of Montreal’s Vickers basin.

He has to redo the concrete in a 1.5-metre-wide space between two sections of a berth. The job is part of a bigger project to secure a berth over a length of 450 metres, in the Viau Street sector.


When we arrive at 8 a.m., Stéphane already is in his diving suit. The helmet alone weighs 30 pounds. He steps into a cage. One of his colleagues, Maxime Riopel, operates the telescopic forklift that lifts the cage and lowers it into the water.

Another colleague, Sébastien Dufresne, unwinds the cable that links the diver to the operations truck and the compressor; it’s called the lifeline. Actually, it’s a number of attached cables: air intake and outtake hoses, a radio and video communications cable, and a cable for lighting.

Divers work in teams of four. They dive in rotation. The three who stay on land assist the diver who works under water. Maxime and Sébastien provide Jonathan with the tools he needs to do his job. They attach them – sledgehammer, welder, drill – to one end of a rope and lower them into the water. They ensure that the compressor is working properly and that air is delivered to the diver. They keep a close watch on the lifeline, prepare all of the material needed to work underwater, etc. These men love their work. “I wouldn’t do anything else,” Sébastien says. “Something good happens every day. We really work as a team. What we do is different, and a lot of it is unexpected.”

Team leader Éric Saint-Onge is in constant communication with the diver. He is a diver, too, and studied at the Institut maritime du Québec, in Rimouski, where most of his colleagues went to school. In the SPG Hydro International truck, which serves as an office, Éric follows the underwater work on his computer through a camera on the diver’s helmet. He maintains an almost non-stop conversation with the diver and guides him as he works.

There is another reason for this continuous conversation. Éric keeps a close tab on Jonathan’s level of consciousness. If ever something were to happen to Jonathan, Maxime, who is working as the diver’s assistant, can suit up and jump into the water within four minutes to help his colleague. “When I first started out, I thought it was strange that the team leader would speak so much to the diver, sometimes just talking about the weather. I quickly understood why,” Éric said. Safety is of the utmost importance in this profession. Everything is anticipated. The diver even wears an air tank on his back that would take over and deliver air to the diver’s helmet if ever the compressor on the berth were to break down.



The diving team’s mobile office is parked on the Port of Montreal berth while the underwater work takes place.

The concrete arrives at 8:30 a.m. A cement mixer and a truck with a long articulated arm – a concrete pump – park in the narrow space between containers and the water. The cement mixer loads the concrete into a truck tank. The concrete is then pushed into the hose of the articulated arm and it exits at the other end, similar to how a pastry chef uses an icing bag to decorate a cake.

The arm needs to be lowered into the water, to the cavity that needs to be filled. The diver manipulates the arm under water.


A sledgehammer is attached to one end of a yellow nylon rope and is lowered slowly into the water. The diver needs it to activate the flap that opens and closes the hose that pours the concrete. The pipe also is lowered, and the diver grabs it. The cement does not “dry”; it hardens. And the humidity enhances solidification. When pouring is carried out under water, a plasticizer and an anti-leaching agent are added to the concrete mix so that the cement powder does not separate from the stone.

Many different people are involved in the berth repair. The Port of Montreal entrusted the work to Construction Sorel. This general contractor hires divers from SPG Hydro International to perform the underwater work.

Another diving firm, Divex Marine, will then verify that the work has been carried out properly.  “We do a lot of supervisory work at the Port of Montreal,” said Michel Birs, president of Divex Marine. “We also help survey the riverbed in port waters to ensure that there are no objects on the bottom of the river that could interfere with a ship.”

Génipur supervised all of the work that went into repairing the berth. Shown in the photo are Marc-André Lortie, civil engineering technician at Génipur and site supervisor for the entire repair project at this section of the berth, and Marc-André Brière, superintendent, and William Théroux, project manager, at Construction Sorel.

In addition to performing maintenance and repairs at the Port of Montreal, divers also inspect underwater facilities.


As the underwater work progresses, everyone gathers around a white table in the mobile office where the next steps are planned.


Maxime Riopel builds a caisson, a watertight chamber used in construction that will be needed to hold the concrete that will be poured into the underwater section of the berth. Here, he is cutting metal. “What I like about my job is that we’re like a one-man band, where we get to do everything: soldering, cutting, carpentry, concrete, casing and steel work,” Maxime says. He learned the basics of these jobs at the Institut maritime du Québec. He perfected his skills on the job with his colleagues.


That’s it! The pouring of the concrete is complete. The entire procedure took about 30 minutes. Previously, the unstable portions of concrete would have been demolished and removed. Measurements would have been taken, heavy metal rods cuts and a new formwork installed. The diver can now get out of the water. The cage is lowered and he gets in. He’s ready to surface!


And here is our hero of the day!


He has no time, however, to get undressed or even remove his helmet. Jonathan moves a few dozen feet down the length of the berth and gets ready to pour concrete at the next section. He returns to the cage for a second dive. This afternoon, Sébastien will wear the diving suit. With this heat, the others are envious. The temperature inside the diving suit is always a comfortable 22 degrees, summer or winter. The hardest part about working in the winter is that the tools freeze!



There are some risks associated with diving, and they must be well managed. In the river, the most difficult element to control is the current. If it’s too strong, work pretty much needs to be halted. Also, visibility can be poor when the water is rough.

Divers are called upon to work in places other than ports. They are trained to work in contaminated waters, such as in water treatment plants, to repair ventilation pipes, for example. After this type of work, a diver must enter two or three decontamination tanks in order to get rid of any pathogen.

On the other hand, divers are sometimes called upon to work in drinking water tanks. In order to not contaminate the water, they wear vulcanized suits and sterilized stainless steel helmets used only for diving in this kind for water.

The course

The diving course requires special training and is longer than a simple diving course. The “Professional Diving” course offered by the Institut maritime du Québec, in Rimouski, lasts one year. Upon completion of the course, students obtain their certification from the Commission de la construction du Québec. Moreover, by showing proof that they have fulfilled the requirements of the Diver Certification Board of Canada, they obtain the DCBC card that is recognized internationally and allows them to work abroad.

Although divers require a certain amount of physical strength to perform certain tasks, such as installing formwork, in addition to carrying all of that equipment on their backs, there are some women divers.

To become a good diver, you must be hard working and humble, according to Sébastien Dufresne. “You cannot take all of the credit for yourself. Someone who does that will be cast aside quickly. It is first and foremost a team effort,” he says.

The course can also lead to jobs in scientific and aquaculture research, salvage operations and the recovery of various objects.
Another important fact: the placement rate is 100 percent!