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Topside Newlsetter: November-December 2017

In this issue: Maintenance of O2 equipment, hyperbaric chamber support, Alpha flags, SEP safety concerns, SEP fees, Diver Fatigue Workshop report, NDC Classes, next NDCSB meeting, share your photos!

New Maintenance Policy for Oxygen Demand Valves and First Stage Regulators

The Diving Medical Officers have reviewed the safety requirements for maintaining the equipment in the NOAA oxygen kits and have outlined the process by which units can ensure that their kits are in good working order. You can read and download the policy document along with a handy inspection log on the NDP website.

Hyperbaric Chamber Support in Hawaii

The NOAA Diving Control and Safety Board (NDCSB), in partnership with local divers and leadership at the NOAA Inouye Regional Center (IRC) have been successful in providing an alternative location for NOAA Divers to receive hyperbaric treatments in Hawaii since the temporary closure of the University of Hawai’i’s (UH) Hyperbaric Treatment Center at Kuakini Medical Center. The NOAA Diving Center (NDC) chamber, which is normally used on the NOAA Ship Hi’ialakai (the HI chamber), has been temporarily relocated to the IRC and has been fully operational since November 14, 2017.

A container on the parking lot of the NOAA facility in Hawaii

A view of the hyperbaric chamber which is normally used on NOAA Ship Hi'ialakai, inside its container at the Inouye Regional Center in Hawaii.

The successful chamber move was due in great part to the dedicated work of NOAA Divers and Diving Medical Technicians Stephen Matadobra and Kerry Reardon who, in addition to teaming up to plumb the chamber, will be staffing the chamber along with Diving Medical Officer LCDR Kathy Demers, USPHS.

NDC is currently working on refurbishing another modular chamber (formerly used by the NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette) so that it can be available to the field. If the UH Hyperbaric Treatment Center is not up and running by the time the Hi’ialakai needs its chamber back, NDC plans to ship the refurbished chamber to Honolulu to be hooked up at the IRC to provide continued support to NOAA Divers in Hawaii. At this time, NOAA chambers can only be used to treat NOAA Divers or reciprocity divers who are diving on NOAA missions. Members of the public or reciprocity divers on non-NOAA dives cannot be legally treated by NOAA.

A diving medical technician stands next to a hyperbaric chamber

NOAA Diver Stephen Matadobra setting up the hyperbaric chamber, which is normally used aboard NOAA Ship Hi'ialakai, at the Inouye Regional Center.

Alpha Flags sent to Diving Units

In order to ensure that all units comply with U.S. Coast Guard regulations, NOAA Diving Standards and Safety Manual 4.2.9B, and OSHA 29 CFR 1910.421(h) when diving off vessels, NDC has shipped 1m x 1m alpha flags to most units on November 27th via U.S. Postal Service. Units not receiving flags through the mail should have already received flags personally from NDC personnel.

Anyone who has questions regarding the proper use of the Alpha Flag should contact the Diving Safety Officer (DSO), Roger Mays. Guidance for the use of the flag from the DSO was mailed with the flags, and can also be downloaded here.

Safety Concerns with SEP Diving Equipment

NDC Manager Dave Kowalick sent two separate e-mails in the last two weeks to all divers describing two areas of concern with Standardized Equipment Program (SEP) gear. All divers should read the messages (quoted below) and be prepared for any potential failures. NDC continues to investigate both matters and will provide additional information as soon as possible.


Problems with SS1 inflation caps

This email is to inform you of a possible safety issue with the Atomic SS1 alternate air source. Within the past month the NOAA Diving Center has received 3 reports of the inflation cap on the SS1 dislodging after a diver pressed the yellow inflation button. The NOAA Diving Center is currently working with Atomic to determine a root cause and a proper solution. We will keep everyone informed. If the SS1 inflation cap comes off while underwater, divers will still be able to breathe off of the SS1 alternate air source. They will not be able to auto-inflate their Buoyancy Compensation Device (BCD) with the SS1. In the event of failure of the inflation cap, air would escape through the opening left by the missing cap rather than flow through the corrugated inflator hose and into the BCD. Divers will still be able to manually inflate their BCD.

Until we hear back from Atomic, we ask that you always double check all of your equipment prior to diving and specifically your inflation cap by pressing the inflate button several times to make sure that the cap is secure. Please report any failures of Atomic SS1 inflation caps to Lisa Glover. The attached and embedded photo shows an SS1 with the cap in place and one without for your reference. If you have any questions or concerns, please contact Lisa in the Standard Equipment Program office.

inflation caps, installed and removed

Inflation caps on the Atomic SS1 alternate air source.


Problems with Mares Levers

Over the last several months, the NOAA Diving Center has received three separate reports of failures in the Mares Abyss 22 second stage regulators. In each case, the demand lever inside the second stage, which opens the valve to allow air flow through the regulator, became loose and detached resulting in the malfunction.

We are currently looking into all three incidents and consulting with Mares to determine the cause. In the meantime, it is important that divers be aware of this issue and understand that if a failure like this occurs you would not be able to breathe from your regulator. So it is imperative for divers to remember their training should a failure occur.

In at least one incident the diver reported a rattling sound in their second stage immediately prior to the failure. Mares techs believe this may have been due to the lever height adjustment. If you hear any sort of rattling inside your second stage, both on or off air, immediately discontinue use (when safe to do so) and return it to the NDC for inspection and proper adjustment.

If you have any questions or concerns, please contact Lisa Glover in the Standardized Equipment Program office.

SEP Fees

The Office of Marine and Aviation Operations will be mission-funding the assessment and enrollment fees for SEP starting this fiscal year. Line offices will no longer have to pay the annual assessment fee for their divers nor the initial enrollment fee for any new divers.

Diver Fatigue Workshop in Hawaii

The NMFS Science Operations Division at the IRC coordinated a meeting for Hawaii divers November 7 and 8 to discuss concerns about diver fatigue during high tempo operations. Breakout sessions included: symptoms of fatigue; contributing factors; work load; ship factors (food, air conditioning); exercise; and rest days. Workshop leaders collected suggestions and will be preparing a report with recommendations before the next Pacific Reef Assessment and Monitoring Program (RAMP) mission in American Samoa.

workshop attendees sit in a circle

DMO Capt. Joel Dulaigh (left of easel) and NOAA Safety Officer Joe Duran (right of easel) lead a breakout session at the Diver Fatigue Workshop in Hawaii (November 7 & 8, 2017).

NDC Classes

Six students successfully completed the Diving Medical Technician (DMT) class from December 11th through the 15th in Seattle, WA. The class qualifies students to earn NOAA DMT certification and/or to take the National Board of Diving and Hyperbaric Medical Technology exam.

NDC will be offering a variety of classes (already at full enrollment) in January and February in Key West, Florida:

  • January 25: Visual Cylinder Inspection
  • January 29 - February 16: NOAA Diver Modules 1-3 and NOAA Divemaster
  • February 20-23: Tethered Communications

A NOAA Diving Field Trainer course will be offered in Seattle, WA from March 12th through 16th . Please contact your UDS or LODO if you are interested in registering for the course.

Diving Center instructors operating a hyperbaric chamber

From left to right: NOAA Diving Center (NDC) instructors Bill Gordon and Katie Mahaffey operate the 80 inch chamber at NDC while Diving Medical Officer Capt. Joel Dulaigh oversees DMT students practicing skills inside the chamber.

Next NDCSB Meeting

The next NDCSB meeting is scheduled to take place on Thursday December 21. Please contact if you would like to listen in on the meeting.

Share your Photos!

NDP is always interested in your photos and stories of NOAA diving-related activities, which may include interesting ways in which you keep up your proficiency in and out of work. At the Marine Operations Center in Oregon, several divers hone their skills by volunteering at the Oregon Coast Aquarium! 

A child looks at a diver inside an aquarium tank

A child reacts at the sight of NOAA Diver Lt. Cmdr. Carl Rhodes in one of the fish tanks at the Oregon Coast Aquarium. Lt. Cmdr. Rhodes is one of several divers currently volunteering at the aquarium to maintain diving proficiency. 


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