Not for the faint of heart; Remotely Operated Vehicle operator one of few women in her field!

The Chronicle-herald

This is the first in a series of stories about Nova Scotians who have unusual occupations.

When people ask LaRae Davies what she does for a living, she usually responds by asking them if they have ever seen the movie Titanic.
That’s because the beginning of the movie shows an underwater remotely operated vehicle (ROV) – the kind Davies operates for a living.
She’s one of the few women doing this in her industry, and the only woman with those duties at Dominion Diving in Dartmouth, a company owned by her uncles, Matt and Robin Lohnes. She started at the firm as a teenager.

“I started at 16 painting boats – that’s where we all start. I ruined my mother’s bathtub. I got Dominion green stuck to the bottom of the bathtub,” she says with a laugh, referring to the bright minty green that distinguishes Dominion Diving boats.

After painting boats and doing other tasks on the waterfront, she realized this was a career she wanted for life, so she took a hydraulics course. She then went to the Philippines for fibre-optic and high-voltage training – a kind of ROV basic training. She started going offshore when she was 21, starting with operating the winch and adding up enough hours to start driving the ROV.
Davies’ work has taken her to Thailand for training multiple times, to offshore natural gas beds, and she has even been a guest on the History Channel’s Oak Island TV show, as an ROV driver exploring caverns off the shores that treasure hunters have been lurking around for years.
She says there are two sides to her job – offshore underwater ROV operation and in-house duties, mainly ROV maintenance and upgrading.
A typical day offshore, which is where she spends close to six months each year, involves a lot of time in the “control shack” where the ROV is controlled. Searching platforms at underwater fields where natural gas occurs, the team is looking for any type of anomaly in the pipes, structures or on the sea bed.
Offshore life is not for the faint of heart. It includes severe weather conditions and separation from loved ones for weeks, sometimes months, at a time. Davies says you have to really enjoy what you do, and the people you work with.

“It’s like (the movie) Groundhog Day. It’s the same place, and the same people. We have Internet but it’s slow. You can communicate back home, but as far as Facebook goes it’s useless,” says Davies.

She also says being on the boat for extended periods with a job to do creates a certain amount of pressure.

“Working under pressure sometimes is a challenge. If something happens out there, it’s on us; we’re on a timeline. We’re limited to what we have out there, we’re on a boat in the middle of the ocean, sometimes you have to make do with what we have. We normally have what we need but sometimes you run into certain problems, so you have to think outside the box.”

When Davies is back on land there is a great deal of mechanical work to be performed on the ROVs. These skills have transferred to other parts of her life.

“I wouldn’t have had the confidence to take things apart before but I understand how things work now, better than I have before.”

Davies says the industry may not have a lot of women in the ranks, but she would recommend it to any female thinking about getting involved with ROVs. Although a lot of her time is spent away, she enjoys it, and they are paid well for what they do.
“It’s not typical for what women want. It’s kind of dirty and there are a lot of men, but I would say go for it,” she says, adding she loves the work and the people she works with.
Like many Dominion Diving employees, she plans on staying there for the duration. It’s the type of career that ensures a never-ending stream of training, something she enjoys.
She has come a long way since painting boats on the Dartmouth waterfront, and will head out for another long stretch offshore once warmer weather appears.