How Can I Become a Life Support Technician (LST)?

Explore the career requirements for a life support technician. Find out about training, certification, and salary information to discover if this is the right career for you. Schools offering Medical Assisting degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a Life Support Technician?

Life support technicians (LSTs) are certified professionals who ensure the safety of divers working in offshore drilling operations or under saturation conditions. They monitor the oxygen content of the gas in the diver's breathing container, as well as environmental conditions such as depth and pressure. In addition, they assist with tasks such as eating and sewage disposal. Usually, life support technicians perform their duties under the supervision of life support supervisors.

The following table can help answer questions about what you need to know before entering this field.

Training Required International Marine Contractors Association (IMCA)-approved training; on-the-job training as an assistant LST
Key Responsibilities Manage oxygen and carbon dioxide levels and eating and waste removal systems for divers
Certification IMCA LST certification required after completing necessary hours as an assistant LST
Job Growth (2014-2024) 37% (all commercial divers)*
Mean Annual Wage (2015) $49,720 (all respiratory therapy technicians)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Would I Do as a Life Support Technician?

As a life support technician (LST), your primary responsibility would be to work with divers in saturation conditions. Under those conditions, divers live in a saturated or a compressed state for extended periods of time, even when they are above water. They are typically unable to increase or decrease pressure at different underwater depths just by performing diving tactics. Your job as an LST would involve monitoring and maintaining the conditions of the saturation for the divers in your care. You must control the oxygen and carbon dioxide levels in the diver's environment as well as the feeding and sewage removal systems. Saturating diving is increasingly used by offshore oil and gas drilling companies, so you would be on location for extended periods of time.

What Education or Training Do I Need?

Because the work of an LST is technically challenging, you will need some formal training in the field. The International Marine Contractors Association (IMCA) approves training facilities around the world, many of which are located in the United Kingdom, where much of the offshore contracting takes place (www.imca-int.com). The IMCA has also developed a certification scheme to ensure that you are properly trained for the high-risk, detail-dependent LST position. In an assistant LST training program, you may study anatomy and physiology as well as gas handling, life support systems and hygiene. You will also learn how to react in emergency and high-pressure situations.

Do I Need to Be Certified?

You do need to be certified, though you may begin work as an assistant LST after you have completed your IMCA-approved training. In this position, you will gain on-the-job training while working with an experienced team. Before becoming LST certified, you must log at least 2,400 hours in your offshore assistant LST position. When you have logged the required hours, your employer can recommend you to the IMCA to take your certification examination. The exam is multiple-choice and tests your knowledge of diving supervision and life support.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Instead of working as a life support technician, you could consider becoming a commercial diver yourself. The job usually involves installing, maintaining or repairing equipment in underwater settings, as well as running tests and documenting the state of the equipment with photographs. For this job, you would need to complete a professional training program, including scuba diver certification. Alternatively, if you are interested in a respiration-related medical job, you could consider becoming a respiratory therapist, where you would provide care for patients who are having trouble breathing for a wide range of reasons, including chronic disease and acute injury. Respiratory therapists usually need to have an associate's degree.

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