What Does a Dragline Operator Do?

Research what it takes to become a dragline operator. Learn about training, licensure, job duties, and salary information to find out if this is the right career for you. Schools offering Heavy Equipment degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Does a Dragline Operator Do?

Dragline operators control dragline excavators at construction sites. They are experts in controlling the equipment and coordinating activities with other construction workers on the site using hand and audio signals, in order to ensure safety and keep the project moving forward at an efficient pace. In addition to directly operating dragline excavators, they also perform routine cleaning and maintenance tasks.

The following chart gives an overview about what you need to know before entering this field.

Degree Required High school diploma preferred but not required; associate's degree is available
Training Required On-the-job training
Education Field of Study Heavy equipment operation
Key Responsibilities Manage levers that control dragline excavation, maintain machines
Licensure and Certification Licensure regulations vary by state; commercial driver's license required; certification available
Job Growth (2014-2024) 6% all excavating and loading machine and dragline operators*
Mean Annual Wage (2015) $44,520 all excavating and loading machine and dragline operators*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Is a Dragline Operator?

A dragline excavator is a large machine used to unearth dirt and other materials from construction sites and mining areas. The machine uses a large bucket strung between two towers with a wire rope. The bucket can be maneuvered and lowered down to collect earth and other materials from the ground.

A dragline operator's main responsibility is to manage the levers that control the dragline excavator. You use controls to lower the bucket down to the ground and then drag it along in a straight path to gather materials. You're also responsible for emptying the bucket of its materials in a dump operation. You may also be responsible for providing light maintenance or adjustments to a dragline machine.

What Education and Training Might I Need?

Many contractors may choose to hire you as a dragline operator and then provide you with training on-the-job. In such a case, you'd learn from supervisors and coworkers how to operate the controls of a dragline and use the machine to excavate materials from the ground. You'd also learn how to read construction markings, follow hand signals and safely move materials around in small or confined spaces.

You might also consider completing a certificate or associate's degree program in heavy equipment operation at a community college or vocational school. Such a program should teach you how to follow safety regulations, use manual controls and read construction site markings.

Will I Need Licensure?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, (BLS) you need a commercial driver's license (CDL) before you can legally operate a dragline excavator or similar type of heavy construction machinery. Each state has its own regulations for licensure. You typically need to have a clean driving record and be in relatively good physical condition.

What Salary Could I Expect to Make?

In May 2015, the BLS found that excavating and loading machine and dragline operators earned an average of $44,520 per year.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Instead of specializing in operating dragline equipment, you could get a job controlling another type of machine on a construction site, you could get a job as a paving equipment operator, where you would run machines that lay down and spread asphalt or concrete for road-building projects. Another option is to specialize in the operation of cranes, which lift and move heavy objects. Crane operators can work on construction sites, as well as ports, iron and steel mills. In order to become any kind of equipment operator, you need to have a high school diploma.

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