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Utility Navigation

Diving Program

Regulations

Members of the NDCSB sitting at a table facing a conference room

Members of the NOAA Diving Control and Safety Board (NDCSB) during the 2015 Unit Diving Supervisors (UDS) Conference. 

The NOAA Diving Control and Safety Board (NDCSB), the governing body of the NOAA Diving Program, is the ultimate authority in drafting and approving all diving policies and guidelines. 

NOAA Diving Regulations are currently codified in the NOAA Diving Standards and Safety Manual (NDSSM). This manual contains all the information necessary to conduct safe dives at NOAA. All NOAA divers should be familiar with this document and know where to access it when needed, either digitally or as a hard copy.

During dive planning, divers and their supervisors need to pay close attention to the type of diving that will be needed to complete their particular mission. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has determined that there are two types of dives: subject to OSHA regulations or qualifying for the scientific exemption. The NDSSM provides regulatory information on both OSHA-subject and scientific exemption dives and, as of April 5, 2017, replaces the former NOAA Working Diving Standards and Safety Manual and the NOAA Scientific Diving Standards and Safety Manual.

NOAA Diving Regulations

The NOAA Diving Standards and Safety Manual incorporates diving policies from the Office of Marine and Aviation Operations (OMAO) and from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) as they appear in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR). Links to these source materials are available below.

OMAO Diving Policies

Code of Federal Regulations (CFR)

OSHA Commercial Diving Regulations


OSHA's Scientific Exemption

In 1982, OSHA exempted scientific diving from commercial diving regulations. The final guidelines for the exemption became effective in 1985 (Federal Register, Vol. 50, No.6, p.1046 - "guidelines for scientific diving").

Definitions

Any dive that you are doing as part of your job must follow OSHA regulations. However, there may be times when the tasks that you perform fall under OSHA's scientific exemption. In order to qualify for the scientific exemption, dives must be completed by a scientist, are limited to observation and data gathering, and are performed for collection of data used for the advancement of science.

Does a Dive Qualify for the Scientific Exemption?

Criteria to be used to distinguish between an OSHA-subject and OSHA-exempt dive are presented in the OSHA website and in the list below. These questions describe basic elements of a scientific dive. A negative answer to any of the following questions would require the task to be conducted using OSHA regulations.

Diver injecting a crown-of-thorns sea star with ox bile.

NOAA Diving Center (NDC) diver Zach Hileman injecting a crown-of-thorns sea star with ox bile in the National Marine Sanctuary of American Samoa (NMSAS), 2014. NOAA divers were responding to an overabundant population of crown-of-thorns sea stars that posed a threat to hard corals in the area.

  • Can the tasks be accomplished using simple hand tools (e.g., small hammers, pliers, chisels, wrenches, cameras, measuring tapes, nets, collection jars) weighing 25 pounds or less underwater?
  • Do the tasks require the expertise of a scientist or scientist-in-training?
  • Can the tasks be accomplished with minimal physical exertion?
  • Can the tasks be accomplished in short duration (e.g., <1-hour)?
  • Are the tasks limited solely to the observation of natural phenomena or responses of natural systems and/or gathering of data for scientific analysis?
  • If any object is to be lifted or moved, is its weight underwater <100 pounds?
  • Will the tasks result in the advancement of science?

When conducting mixed operations (i.e., dives involving both scientific and working tasks), or when in doubt as to the nature of the dive, the dive shall be conducted as a working dive per the NWDSSM.

For additional information and a more extensive explanation, please refer to the NWDSSM, section 1.1.2 and NSDSSM, sections 1.1.2-1.1.4.

You are here: http://www.omao.noaa.gov/learn/diving-program/diving/regulations
Reviewed: April 12, 2017. Contact us with page issues.

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