NOAA divers often work with other partners during diving missions to increase the scope and impact of their efforts.
NOAA divers may only work with partners that have “reciprocity” agreements in place with the NOAA Diving Program. Before an agency or group of individuals can become a reciprocity partner, appropriate checks must be made beforehand to make sure all reciprocity divers understand and are following the NOAA safety standards and are properly equipped. In this way, all divers dive using the same standards and procedures, and can work safely as a team.
NOAA reciprocity agreements:
- Allow non-NOAA divers to participate in NOAA diving activities, and vice-versa, with minimal administrative requirements.
- Are established with other organizations only after it is determined their diving programs are equivalent to NOAA’s.
- Are only applicable to personnel employed and covered for medical treatment and Workers Compensation by reciprocity organizations.
- Are not transferable to other agencies or institutions that have separate reciprocity agreements with NOAA’s reciprocity partners.
- Expire on December 31st, 10 years after the year they were established. They must be re-established every 10 years.
Establishing Reciprocity With a Non-NOAA Organization
A NOAA Unit Diving Supervisor (UDS) may request to establish a formal diving reciprocity agreement with non-NOAA organizations when no such agreement exists. Such requests, along with a copy of the organization’s diving standards and safety manual, must be forwarded through the appropriate Line Office Diving Officer (LODO) to the NOAA Diving Control and Safety Board (NDCSB) for review. If deemed equivalent to NOAA’s diving standards, reciprocity may be established for the current calendar year.
Reciprocity agreements are reviewed by the NOAA Diving Program Manager (NDPM) at the end of the calendar year and may be renewed at the request of the sponsoring Unit Diving Supervisor (UDS).
Establishing Reciprocity With NOAA
An organization may request to establish a formal diving reciprocity agreement with NOAA when no such agreement exists.
Letters of Reciprocity for NOAA Divers
In accordance with the terms of the reciprocity agreements, any NOAA diver wanting to dive with a reciprocity organization must request that their UDS send a Letter of Reciprocity (LOR) – Verification of Diving Certification and Liability Coverage to the Diving Safety Officer (DSO) of the receiving organization verifying they are an authorized NOAA diver. A copy of this letter must be forwarded to ndp.LOR@noaa.gov and the NOAA diver. Another copy must also be kept at the diver’s unit location and this information is entered into the Unit Logbook. LORs shall only be forwarded if the NOAA diver is currently in an authorized diving status.
Prior to filling out the LOR template, the UDS should confirm if the organization is currently a reciprocity partner with the NOAA Diving Program. For affiliates of a larger host organization, the host organization will need to be contacted to establish whether the affiliate is still a current member (e.g., for an American Academy of Underwater Sciences (AAUS) affiliate, check membership status at www.aaus.org.
Letters of Reciprocity for Non-NOAA Divers
Reciprocity divers wanting to dive with NOAA must present a signed LOR from their organization’s Diving Safety Officer (DSO) to the appropriate UDS or designee, verifying that the divers are in an authorized status with their organization. The LOR must indicate the divers are covered for medical treatment and covered under their organization’s Workers Compensation policy. The LOR must be received from a DSO at an institution with which NOAA currently has a reciprocity agreement.
- LORs for NOAA, federal, full-time employees will state the diver is covered under the Federal Employee Compensation Act (FECA), United States Code (USC) 5 USC § 8101 et seq., for injuries that may be sustained as the result of an accident occurring during the scope of any official dive, as well as by the provisions of the Federal Tort Claims Act, 28 USC §§ 1346, 2671 et seq.
- LORs for NOAA contract employees or other divers not employed through the federal government will state the diver is not a federal employee and, therefore, not covered by FECA for injuries that may be sustained as the result of an accident occurring during the scope of any official dive. Therefore, contract employees must be covered by workers compensation through their own employer.
LORs only address a diver’s credentials and status within the NDP. It is the diver’s Line Office Program Office’s responsibility to determine if the specific work to be performed with a reciprocity partner is authorized from a programmatic standpoint.
Non-NOAA Reciprocity Divers shall be outfitted with personally-supplied diving equipment equivalent to that of NOAA divers, as determined by the on-site Divemaster or Lead Diver.
A UDS (or designee) will inspect the Reciprocity Diver’s personally-supplied diving equipment for proper operating condition and replace items not considered serviceable with other equipment provided by the diver or NOAA.
When not provided by the Reciprocity Diver, and with verification of having received the appropriate training, NOAA shall provide (when required) a diver-carried Reserve Air Supply System (RASS) to the diver.