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Topside Newsletter: August 2017

August 2017

In this issue: Dr. J. Morgan Wells, SBP Summit, Safety Meeting, Changes to NDSSM, NDP Annual Report, Alpha Flags, Conference Call for Field Trainers, Regulator Maintenance, Next NDCSB Meeting, Stories from the Field.

Dr. J. Morgan Wells (1940-2017)

It is with regret that we announce that Dr. Morgan Wells passed away on July 28, 2017. As many of you may remember, Morgan was the founding director of the NOAA Diving Program and a pioneer in diving technologies. He was best known for developing the NOAA Nitrox I and II mixtures in the late 1970s, which later gained acceptance by the diving community and are now widely used in diving operations. He was employed by NOAA from 1972 until his retirement in 1995, but he continued to be involved with the NDP as recently as last year, teaching an annual course on diving physiology and undersea habitats for the NOAA/UHMS Physicians Training in Diving Medicine program. With his passing, an important portion of NDP history is lost. He will be greatly missed.

Read more about Morgan’s life and his contributions to NOAA and diving here.

Morgan wells posing in front of pressure dials

Dr. Morgan Wells.

Small Boat Program Summit

Since diving safety is closely related to vessel operations, the Small Boat Program and the NOAA Diving Program have increased their level of collaboration during the past couple of years. This collaboration has brought greater clarity to topics that intersect both programs and are reflected in the portions of the new NOAA Small Boat Program Standards and Procedures Manual that relate to diving.

As part of this increased collaboration, NDP representatives LCDR Faith Knighton (NDC XO), Brian Degan (NOS LODO), and Joe Duran (NOAA Safety and Environmental Compliance Office) plan to participate in the next Small Boat Program Summit in Boulder, Colorado, September 12-14. All Vessel Operations Coordinators (VOCs) and Small Boat Program Board members will be attending. NDP plans to offer assistance in integrating a dive support component to future Small Boat Program classes.

Safety Meeting in Honolulu

The Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center, Ecosystems Sciences Division will be hosting a meeting in November to discuss how to mitigate fatigue for divers during high-tempo, multi-month research missions such as the ones conducted for the Reef Assessment and Monitoring Program (RAMP). NDP Manager Greg McFall, Diving Medical Officer CAPT Joel Dulaigh, and NOAA Safety and Compliance Office’s Joe Duran plan to attend the meeting with local divers and division managers.

The NOAA Diving Control and Safety Board (NDCSB) also discussed reaching out to OMAO leadership to relieve issues of ship crew fatigue during these long research missions.

Two people in a small boat help a diver bring up a towboard

NOAA Divers conduct diving operations at Pagan Island, in the Mariana Islands archipelago during this year’s RAMP: Joao Garriques pulls in diver Rhonda Suka after a towboard survey while Kaylyn McCoy remains behind the helm.

Changes to NDSSM Approved by OMAO Director

On August 24, 2017, RADM Score signed a decision memo to change some operational policies in the NOAA Diving Standards and Safety Manual related to

  • Sec 4.2.11 Pre-Dive Procedures, Diver Recall Capability.
  • Secs 8.3.1, 8.3.6, 10.3.1. 10.3.6 ‘Tech Lite’.

You can read the full text of the changes in the decision memo. These changes will be incorporated into the NDSSM when the new revision is released.

NDP Annual Report Distribution

Printed copies of the Annual Report have been distributed to all Unit Diving Supervisors and NOAA leadership. This publication’s main goal is to demonstrate the importance and impact of the work NOAA divers conduct in the field, and why NDP continues to need enhanced support and funding.

A digital copy of the Report is also available online.

Alpha Flags for NOAA Diving Units

The NOAA Diving Center (NDC) has ordered 1 meter rigid Alpha Flags to distribute to all NOAA Diving Units. NOAA Diving Safety Officer Roger Mays had noted that Coast Guard Regulations require the use of a 1 meter rigid Alpha Flag when a vessel is restricted in its maneuverability. In order to help diving units comply with the requirements, NDC will distribute the flags once they receive them.

Conference Call for Field Trainers Certified Before July 2017

There will be an informal conference call with NOAA Diving Center instructors on Friday September 8 for Field Trainers who were certified before July 2017. New requirements for certifying field trainers and divers in the field will take effect on September 6, 2017, and the call will be geared toward bringing all Field Trainers up to date on these changes. Mark your calendar!

NDC Manager Dave Kowalick will be reaching out to those affected by these changes via e-mail. If you have any questions, please contact him at

Regulator Maintenance

NDC will be extremely busy in the next few months and will not be able to maintain regulators at the same pace. The NOAA Diver and Divemaster courses will take place from September 11 to September 29, followed by the Physicians Training in Diving Medicine from October 16 to 27. Regulators sent during these periods will be delayed.

Please be patient as NDC tries to work out a regulator maintenance system that does not rely solely on instructor support. Normal turn-around should continue in November.

diving regulator parts

Regulator parts in the equipment shop of the NOAA Diving Center.

Next NDCSB Meeting

NDCSB members will be meeting on Tuesday August 29 to discuss OSHA’s application of the NOAA alternate diving standards to NOAA contractors. As always, all divers are welcome to listen in. Please contact for conference call information.

Stories from the Field

Find out what your colleagues have been up to in the Topside page of the NDP website! This month, read about research on the archaeological and biological status of shipwrecks in proposed expansion areas of Monitor National Marine Sanctuary, and coral reef monitoring activities in St. Thomas and St. John, in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

You can share your projects and photos with the diving community by sending them to

Dive on. 

divers observe a large school of fish swimming over a shipwreck

Monitor National Marine Sanctuary's archaeologist, Will Sassorossi and NOAA Ship Nancy Foster’s navigation officer, ENS Sara Thompson, explore the shipwreck of the Schurz.



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