Three years ago when the NOAA Diving Program implemented new diving regulations following the dive fatality, our unit faced the dilemma of how to meet the new manning requirements for conducting working dives. Prior to the new requirements our unit used two divers and one tender to complete water level stations in Puerto Rico, VI's, and along the east coast.
At the UDS conference in 2009, the NDC presented information on "tethered" scuba diving. This method utilizes one tethered scuba diver equipped with hard-wire communications, a standby diver, and a designated PIC who also functions as a tender. This seemed like a good solution to our staffing problem.
Working with the staff at the NDC, we purchased five sets of the tethered
equipment. Each set consisted of:
- Two 200' communication umbilical's with integrated D-ring and spinnaker snap shackles
- Two Kirby Morgan M48 full-face masks with integrated two-way OTS microphone assemblies
- One MK 7 portable communication set providing two-way communications between supervisor and divers
- Two fully adjustable Miller Diving harnesses
- One Pelican Series 1690 storage case
- Two 5 gallon buckets w/lids modified to hold COM cables.
Training in the use of this equipment was conducted by Bill Gordon and Greg McFall at the Field Operation Division for AOB in Chesapeake, VA in 2009. Since that time the AOB has purchased seven additional sets - enough to cover divers at the Atlantic office as well as divers at the Pacific Operations Branch (POB), our sister office in Seattle, WA.
With the exception of a few new additions to our unit, all of our divers have been trained in tethered scuba diving procedures and all of our diving operations are now conducted using this system. Tethered diving has allowed our unit to meet the OSHA and NOAA manning requirements for diving.
Though necessary to overcome our manning limitations, the new system was not initially embraced by the dive team because of the additional equipment requirements of having the hardwired COMS line attached to the diver's safety harness. However, most of the Units divers, including myself, have now accepted the practice. By having COMs, divers can communicate with the topside tenders concerning problems or to request tools, equipment or hardware be sent down without having to surface. Being tethered to the surface also allows diver to dive in current greater than 1-knot, which is an OSHA requirement.
I was asked to write this article to share our unit's experience with the tethered scuba diving system. Our experience has been very positive and I would encourage other NOAA units who are faced with the same manning limitations to consider it. My crew and I have been using the COMs now for 3 ½ years and haven't experience any problems with getting tangled or snagged. I hope this article helps other NOAA units learn how tethered COMs diving can help your dive team meet its operational objectives. Without the option of tethered scuba, our office would likely not be diving today.
Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions about the operational use of tethered scuba diving techniques and equipment.
Senior Crew Chief and UDS
Atlantic Operations Branch (AOB), Chesapeake, VA.