What is a Derrick Operator?

A Derrick Operator is a job that is closely related to that of a rigger, or rig technician. The job is defined as a worker who erects, operates, and positions a derrick, and inspects, maintains, and services all the derrick components. The Derrick Operator works on drilling rigs for the oil and gas industry. An oil derrick manages the drilling rigs, first digging an initial hole for an oil or gas well, then forcing the drill pipe deep into the earth, creating a bore hole. Pumps are then operated by the rig derrick to circulate mud and extract oil and gas.

The operator manages all aspects of derrick machinery. This includes guiding the pipe lengths, controlling drilling fluid, monitoring operation of the drill system, and ensuring the pumps are working correctly. He or she operates the electric or gas-powered components of the derrick, moves the cables and pulleys and levers necessary to move products, equipment or materials onto and around the site. The operator also must read and monitor console readings.

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What does a Derrick Operator do?

The Derrick Operator must understand how the derrick is designed and know how to operate and maintain it. The operator must know how to position the derrick properly to ensure that drilling is done in the right location. In managing the derrick, many tasks are required of the operator. This includes positioning the pipes, guiding them into the elevators, making sure they remain steady, and keeping all elements of the derrick aligned. They must set up the pumps to remove drilling sediment, and monitor pumping circulation.

A key component of the drilling process is drilling mud, which is pumped into the bore hole. The Derrick Operator must know how to mix the mud and water and chemicals to create the proper mud viscosity. He or she listens to the pumps and must recognize the signs that they are operating properly and vibrating correctly. Mud reports must be prepared and chemical additives balanced. Mud flow must be monitored and logged.

The Derrick Operator also inspects the derrick, using climbing devices and harnesses, and must check for any flaws or potential problems. Inspections may need to be done from the derrick platform and the operator must handle sections of the drill string assembly during drilling. The operator keeps the derrick clean and the machinery properly lubricated. Often he or she serves as the crew boss, directing others in keeping the operations of the oil derrick running smoothly and safely. Good record keeping is an important part of the job, since all derrick activities must be carefully recorded.

What does it take to be a Derrick Operator?

Generally a high school diploma is required at minimum, with a focus on several specific skills such as Math, Mechanics, and English. Many companies will train workers in specific courses required. Most operators learn on the job, but must have a good understanding of things like of physics and electronics, the operation of hydraulic equipment, and concepts of machining and fabricating. In some countries, the process requires technical training or an apprenticeship, which includes classroom sessions as well as supervision under an expert operator. Depending on the regulations of each country, an operator must earn and maintain a variety of safety certifications and machine operation certificates. Rig workers are generally required to undergo regular alcohol and drug testing.

A Derrick Operator should enjoy working with machinery and equipment, and should be comfortable working at heights and in potentially dangerous environments. Derrick Operators have a higher than average rate of injury, so particular attention must be paid to personal care and obeying safety regulations.

Other personal characteristics important for a Derrick Operator include:

  • good depth perception and eye-hand coordination

  • good teamwork and interpersonal skills

  • leadership and management abilities

  • attention to detail

  • physical strength and stamina

  • mechanical aptitude and precision measuring

  • good vision and hearing

  • understanding of safety regulations

What is the workplace of a Derrick Operator like?

Derrick Operators work around the world in many locations, and travel is often part of the job. The workplace can include offshore oil platforms where you are responsible for drilling deep under the ocean into the ocean floor. Many oil derricks are in remote Northern locations, or places in the Middle East. Work is generally outdoors and sometimes means dealing with extreme weather conditions, such as heat or cold. The noise from machinery is extremely loud and constant, and communication often is done by means of hand signals or technology. Offshore operations often require a greater level of experience than land work.

Safety is essential and the workplace safety rules must be understood and followed at all times. Work may be seasonal and involve extensive shiftwork, split shifts, or working around the clock. Workers often are required to live onsite for long periods of time in work camps, and work long shifts followed by extended leave periods.

How much does a Derrick Operator earn?

Salary depends on location and skill level. Earnings in the U.S. range from $36,000 to $46,000, and averaged $44,000 in 2010, depending on education and experience. In Canada Derrick Operators can earn from $30 to $45 an hour plus premiums and cost of living. As it is a specialized job limited to oil and gas drilling derricks around the world, wages tend to be fairly consistent across all locations.

Learn more about being a Derrick Operator

Employment Stats

No education required

Growing by 18.8% over the next 8 years

$49K Average annual salary