A deep dive into maritime engineering


Joe Finora talks about his underwater work.

Joe Finora, 30, is a marine engineer diver at Jacobs, New York.

Question: You spend a lot of time working underwater. What does your job involve?

A: I have inspected structures that include the passenger terminal of a cruise line, the floating dock system of a private marina, a passenger ferry terminal and the unloading structure of an oil terminal.

I dive a lot in New York, but I’ve been around the world.

Question: Have you always wanted to work in this field?

A: I grew up in Mattituck on the North Fork of Long Island and always fished and swam as a kid, but didn’t consider diving until college. I obtained a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering and a master’s degree in maritime systems from Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken.

During my masters program I worked as a structural engineer alongside a diving group in a marine engineering company and was drawn to what the divers were doing. So I switched to this group and got a license to dive.

Jacobs bought CH2M, the company I worked for, last year.

Question: Do your friends think your work is glamorous?

A: Some people think I’m lucky, but on a cold winter morning when it’s dark outside, I don’t like to get out of bed and go to work. We have extremely hot wetsuits for cold water, but the water can be rough and the weather can be stormy. It’s like any job, it has its ups and downs.

Question: Do you see a lot of marine life up close?

A: I was a few yards from the whales and dolphins. At the start of a day in Southern California, I had just entered the water and was about 20 feet deep when a small shark passed between my legs.

I also encountered a few unexploded bombs and the United States Coast Guard pointed a gun at me on the East River in New York City in preparation for a Pope’s visit.

Security has increased everywhere since September 11, even in the water.

Question: Do you dive alone?

A: We work in teams that have a minimum of three.

An engineer dives; a person we call for tenders takes care of the equipment, such as the air supply and the communication cable; and a third person communicates with the diver by radio and takes notes while the diver relays information on piles or a retaining wall, for example.

We usually rotate shifts throughout the day.

Question: Do you remember your first dive?

A: Very clearly. I was in a dark area under a jetty in New York Harbor and could barely see a foot in front of me. Suddenly, something hit me between the eyes. It hit me so hard that my head was thrown back.

When I was able to concentrate I was looking in the eyes at this disgusting, brown, slimy fish that was so close I saw teeth. He looked as stunned as I did. I screamed that I was so scared.

When I surfaced, I told my team it was about five or six feet long. A colleague familiar with the fish in the area showed me a photo on his cell phone and asked if it was the fish. It was, and was only the size of a soccer ball.

I lost my credibility that day.

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