What is a Rigger?

The term "rigger" originated in the days of sailing ships when sailors were responsible for raising and maintaining a complex system of sails and rigging. In modern usage, it generally refers to someone who sets equipment up and prepares it for use. According to the U.S. legal worker definition, a rigger is anyone who attaches or detaches lifting equipment to loads or lifting devices.

There are a number of different categories of riggers working in several industries. In the military, riggers are responsible for maintaining and setting up things like parachutes or airdrop equipment. In the theater industry, riggers manage pieces of a stage set, moving props and changing production scenes. Riggers in the marine industry are involved with setting up the pieces of equipment necessary to keep the ship functioning: ropes, pulleys, winches, cables.

Most commonly, however, jobs are found within heavy construction, often in the oil or mining industry. This type of rigger is also referred to as a Rig Technician. In the oil industry there are several levels of Rig Technicians, ranging from motorhands to derrickhands to drillers, depending on skill level and job duties. Riggers in this industry are responsible for attaching pieces of heavy machinery, connecting the parts together and anchoring pieces to fixed structures with bolts and clamps. They also control and manage all the movement of the machinery while it is operational, and then take it all apart when the job is finished.

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What does a Rigger do?

A rigger in the oil extraction industry usually works on drilling rigs. Equipment on the rig is used to bore a hole deep into the earth with the drill pipe. The rigger manages all aspects of the machinery used and monitors the rig operation. He or she is responsible to ensure the oil is being pumped out at a safe level so pipes do not burst. When oil is transported to a tanker, the rigger fits and links all the pipes together.

Some other specific job duties include:

  • maintain drilling rig engines and motors, including the fluid systems

  • manage hydraulic and mechanical systems for the whole drilling assembly

  • ensure proper fluid and fuel balance and make sure pressure is always maintained at a safe level

  • control and monitor the safe movement of heavy equipment

  • mobilize the rig by setting it up

  • tearing the rig down when the job is finished

  • make sure all safety regulations are followed

Heavy construction riggers also work with cranes, and are responsible for setting up all the pulleys and cable systems that are used to move large and heavy objects. They must communicate with crane operators to guide them in moving objects and depositing them in the correct location. This can involve hand signals, radio operation or other communication. Working in a mine might involve setting up scaffolding and assembling equipment. Riggers are in particular demand during the shutdown and mobilization period, assisting with the safe tear-down of all the equipment and making sure it is all safely put back together again when operation resumes.

What does it take to be a Rigger?

Riggers usually must have at least high school education. Many start out as helpers and learn through on-the-job training. In most countries, including the U.S. and Canada, riggers and rig technicians working in the oil, mining or heavy manufacturing industries must have a combination of technical training and apprenticeship. They usually start as a registered apprentice or hold a trade certificate, and once a certain number of apprenticeship years have been completed, become a journeyman. The apprenticeship program involves technical training in the classroom, but most of the training is done under the guidance of a journeyman technician.

Other important personal characteristics include:

  • ability to communicate effectively and work well with others as part of a team

  • good organizational and management skills

  • physical strength and stamina

  • mechanical aptitude and manual dexterity

  • enjoys working with machinery and equipment

  • patience, good judgement, attention to detail

  • good vision and hearing, and spatial relationship skills

  • ability to follow directions and obey safety rules

Riggers who have good management skills can often go on to own and operate their own companies, or move into management positions within the industry.

What is the workplace of a Rigger like?

Riggers work around the world in many locations, and travel is often part of the job. Oil riggers may work on offshore oil platforms, setting up equipment to extract oil from deep beneath the ocean. Marine riggers may work on military ships. Riggers frequently work outdoors and may be exposed to extreme weather in remote locations. Drilling rigs are loud, dirty, and workers may be exposed to hazardous chemicals. Safety is paramount and the workplace will generally have precise and detailed safety rules that must be followed. Rig work is often seasonal, with certain times of year busier than others, and workers may work shifts around the clock.

How much does a Rigger earn?

Riggers earn good money in general, but the actual wage will depend on the skill level achieved, type of industry, location worked, and the worker's country. In the U.S. riggers made an average of $40,000 a year in 2010. Offshore riggers or those working in the Middle East can earn much more. Specialized rigging jobs generally start higher, anywhere from $50,000 to $60,000, with supervisors earning significantly higher wages. In Canada, an oil rigger usually earns an average of $30-$40 an hour, plus a living or subsistence allowance.

Learn more about being a Rigger