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Topside Newsletter: March-April-May 2018

In this issue: SEP Updates, NOAA Dive Log Goes Live, New UDS, Highlights from the NDCSB Annual Meeting

Lots of things have happened since the last Topside Newsletter! For one thing, the NDCSB held its annual meeting April 9-13 in Key West, Florida. This issue focuses on items discussed during that annual meeting. But first of all, a lot of you have been waiting for details regarding safety concerns with the Mares regulators, so here it goes!

Standardized Equipment Program Updates

Replacing SEP Regulators

The NOAA Diving Program has experienced several incidents with Mares Abyss 22 regulators in the last six months. At least three incidents involved the detachment (topside) of the demand lever in the body of the second stage. Mares has responded by designing a new lever for the Abyss 22 to increase the demand lever height adjustment range, making it easier for the technician to properly adjust the cracking effort and the lever height. In light of the incidents and new developments, after long hours of debate and deliberation, the NDCSB members voted in favor of the following resolutions:

  1. Since Mares cannot guarantee the proper function of the old or the new levers, the NOAA Diving Program will replace the Mares Abyss 22 regulators with different regulators.
  2. The NOAA Diving Program will continue to use the Mares Abyss 22 regulators temporarily (for a maximum of 12 months) while the Program works to replace them.
  3. Any Mares Abyss 22 regulators which are sent for maintenance to the Standardized Equipment Program (SEP) during the interim period will have the lever exchanged for the new one, as recommended in the Mares Technical Bulletin #33, released on March 6, 2018.
  4. NOAA Divers should continue to mitigate the risk of a lever failure under water by 1) shaking the regulator topside, 2) pressing the purge button to ensure that the second stage operates on both the primary and the RASS regulator, 3) going to the SS1 secondary regulator if a failure happens underwater and 4) using the Reserve Air Supply System (RASS) if the primary regulator fails.

Lever replacements have been made for equipment received by SEP on or after April 11th, 2018. At the same time, SEP also started adding quality control blue paint on first and second stage regulators. Regulators with replaced levers can therefore be identified by the presence of the blue paint.

The NDCSB is researching regulator models that will best fit the variety of diving and the heavy operational uses of regulators at NOAA, and has reached out to experts in the field for recommendations.

In addition, based on feedback received in the recent May survey on equipment, The NDCSB decided that once the new regulators are made available, they will come in two different configurations, with divers having a choice of using an octopus or continue using the SS1. More information will be made available once the new regulators are confirmed.

Three men examining the inside of a SCUBA regulator

During the 2018 NDCSB Annual Meeting, NDCSB members (from left to right) Ray Boland, Joe Hoyt, and Andy David examined the new demand levers designed by Mares.

Back-Mounted BCDs Available through SEP

Due to a strong demand from the field, the SEP will be offering a new back-mounted BCD (the Dive Rite TRANSPLATE XT harness with stainless steel back plate and Voyager Wing) alongside the current jacket-style BCD. As part of the selection process for the new BCD, a group of Unit Diving Supervisors volunteered at last year’s UDS Workshop to develop a list of features that are needed by divers. Their list of required features was used to make the final model selection. All back-mounted BCDs will include a back plate, bladder and harness. Any additional features will need to be purchased by the individual units (such as weight pockets).

Unit divers may place their orders through their Unit Diving Supervisors, but filling orders may be dependent on the availability of SEP funds.

NOAA Dive Log Goes Live

On May 11th, the NOAA Diving Program (NDP) launched the new NOAA Dive Log (NDL). The database had to be migrated from the NOAA Dive Management System (NDMS) to the NDL because MS Silverlight is no longer supported by Microsoft, and the old system relied on this software to function. The new NDL is based in HTML and, unlike the NDMS, it can be accessed through any browser or platform, including tablets and mobile phones.

As many of you have noticed, there are still a few bugs to work out, and NDP hopes that the OMAO Marine and Aviation Cyber Center will be able to provide the support needed to make the site fully functional in the coming weeks. In the meantime, please refer to the e-mail which was sent out by NDC’s Executive Officer on May 21st titled “NOAA Dive Log Update” for a list of known issues, and how to navigate pages which have changed slightly from the old site. If you have any questions or need to report a bug which was not mentioned in the May 21st e-mail, please contact the NDC staff at

The log in page of the NOAA Dive Log website

The home page of the NOAA Dive Log. It was launched on May 11, 2018 to replace the NOAA Dive Management System.

New UDS in the NMFS Silver Spring Unit

As of May 11, 2018, LT Kelsey Jeffers will take over the position of Unit Diving Supervisor of the NMFS Silver Spring, MD unit from LCDR Ryan Wattam, who had served in that position since June of 2017. The unit is comprised of divers from a wide range of line offices, from NESDIS’s Ice Center to OMAO’s Commissioned Personnel Center (and yes, NMFS and NOS offices too!). LT Jeffers already has some experience as UDS, having served as an interim UDS for the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary in the past. We welcome her as UDS!

Highlights from the NDCSB Annual Meeting in April

NOAA Diving Control and Safety Board members

The members of the NOAA Diving Control and Safety Board during their 2018 Annual Meeting.

Inter-annual UDS Meetings

The NDCSB determined that it may be beneficial to hold virtual meetings in the interim years between UDS Workshops. This will allow for improved communication between the field and the NDCSB. UDS workshops are currently held biennially. The next one is taking place in 2019.

The NDCSB will hold the first inter-annual meeting this year in October. Additional information will be provided as the date of the meeting approaches.

For now, Unit Diving Supervisors should HOLD THE DATE:

OCTOBER 10, 2018
11am- 2pm Pacific Time
Meeting via web/teleconference

Diver Recognition

The NDCSB would like to find a mechanism to acknowledge the great contributions from divers across the NOAA Diving Program. To get the ball rolling, the NOAA Diving Center will be proposing a new award policy for review by the Office of Marine and Aviation Operations to recognize divers for their years of service in the program, length of time in leadership roles, and for special diving activities and accomplishments.

In the meantime, UDSs should remember to notify LODOs of divers they want to recommend as “NOAA Advanced Divers” and “NOAA Master Divers”. Once approved, these designations can be conferred upon divers in their NOAA Dive Log profiles. Requirements to achieve these diver levels can be found in the NOAA Diving Safety and Standards Manual (NDSSM) and are as follows:

NDSSM 2.14.3 - Qualifications.

A. NOAA Advanced Divers, in addition to requirements for a NOAA Diver, shall:

  1. Complete a minimum of 150 logged dives as a NOAA Diver;
  2. Successfully complete a NOAA DM course;
  3. Complete two (2) or more checkout dives with UDS;
  4. Have obtained experience in a variety of diving conditions and demonstrated competent supervision of a range of diving operations; and
  5. Receive certification based upon review of the candidate’s dive resume by the divers’ UDS, LODO, and the NDPM.

B. Master Divers, in addition to requirements listed above, shall:

  1. Be certified as a NOAA Advanced Diver;
  2. Complete a minimum of 150 logged dives as a NOAA Advanced Diver;
  3. Possess special expertise in several areas of diving; and
  4. Receive certification based upon review of the candidate’s dive resume by the divers’ UDS and LODO as well as one (1) other LODO, and by the NDPM.

Off-duty use of NOAA-Owned Equipment

General Off-duty Dives

Divers using their NOAA-Owned Equipment off-duty should remember that such dives are only allowed to maintain proficiency during non-commercial (not-for-profit) dives, for example, diving recreationally or volunteering with a non-profit group. The form NF 57-03-69, 70 (03-17) NOAA-Owned Diving Equipment Off-Duty User Agreement needs to be completed and submitted to the NOAA Diving Center at before proceeding with off-duty dives using the equipment.

Technical CCR Off-duty Dives

Units currently conducting operations on Closed Circuit Rebreathers (CCRs) are working to develop a series of recommendations for the NDCSB to consider regarding Standard Operating Procedures for technical dives using CCRs when using NOAA-owned equipment off-duty. The on-duty requirements do not fit the operational needs for safety during off-duty dives, and are currently preventing technical CCR divers from making proficiency dives that could greatly enhance their familiarity with the equipment and processes for their on-duty dives.

Drug Testing

The Office of Marine and Aviation Operations is working with the Department of Commerce to develop a new drug testing policy which would include the NOAA Diving Program. Currently, NOAA Corps Officers are under random drug testing policy, while CAPS employees can only be tested if there is a reasonable suspicion of drug use (unless they operate in a testing-designated position – divers are not currently in this category).

Divers should be aware that both legal and illegal substances can cause impairment underwater, and may lead to severe consequences, not just for the diver in question, but for dive buddies, diving team members, and those who are relying on the mission’s success. Divers experiencing any medical changes (use of new medicines not previously reported, or any change in medical history) should submit the information confidentially to the Diving Medical Officers (DMOs) before proceeding with diving operations. DMOs can be reached at: CAPT Joel Dulaigh (206-526-6474), LCDR Gary Montgomery (206-526-6430) or by e-mail at

Unexploded Ordnance STE

It was brought to the NDCSB’s attention that maritime archaeologists sometimes need to approach unexploded Ordnance (UXO) in order to complete archaeological surveys. To ensure that trained divers conduct safe operations near UXO, the NDCSB tasked two maritime archeologists, NOS Deputy LODO Joe Hoyt and NOS UDS for the Pacific Island Region Hans Van Tilburg, to draft a new Special Task Endorsement (STE) to describe the conditions in which this would be allowed and the necessary technical skills to conduct the activity safely.

Unless a UXO STE is granted to a diver, the NDSSM (section 4.14) requires divers to maintain a minimum distance of at least 10 feet from unexploded ordnance with non-explosive projectiles (i.e., pistol, rifle, or machine gun ammunition) and a minimum distance of at least 100 feet from all known unexploded ordnance with explosive projectiles.

LODOs will be reaching out to divers for photos or videos of sites with UXOs in order to present divers with ways to identify UXOs when in the field. When at all possible, please stay away from them!

Diving in Overhead Environments

The NDCSB is also developing a training pilot program to enable archeologists in the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries who are currently restricted by NOAA policies to access the interior spaces of shipwrecks. The pilot program will be restricted to CCRs, involve 4-5 highly skilled technical NOAA divers, and take about 2-3 years to become operational. The new standards will help NOAA to fulfill its mandates under the National Historic Preservation Act and the National Marine Sanctuaries Act.


The NDCSB chair serves a term of two years, but in order to prepare the new chair for his/her upcoming duties, a chair is elected in the middle term of the current chair. Currently NMFS Deputy LODO Ray Boland is serving his second year as chair of the Board. This year, the Board selected NOS LODO Brian Degan as the new chair for the following year. His tenure will begin at the conclusion of the 2019 NDCSB Annual Meeting.

Next NDCSB Meeting

The NOAA Diving Control and Safety Board will be meeting again on June 21 at 11 am Pacific Time. NOAA Divers can contact to sign up to listen to the call.

In the Field

NOAA Divers from the National Marine Fisheries Service (SEFSC-Galveston) recently returned from St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands to monitor the status of queen conch as part of a project funded by the Coral Reef Conservation Program which was performed in cooperation with the National Park Service. The data collected during this study will inform resource managers on the current status of the queen conch population around St. Croix.

Two divers measure and document the size of queen conches on the sea floor
Caroline Pott/East End Marine Park

NOAA divers Dr. Ron Hill (left) and Dr. Jennifer Leo measure queen conch while diving in Buck Island Reef National Monument off St. Croix, US Virgin Islands. 

On April 4, Divers on the NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer conducted a blue water dive to inspect the ship’s hull. Once the second team was ready to splash, sharks were observed so the dive was aborted! We are proud the divers made the right choice to call the dive off. Safety first!

Five divers sit inside an inflatable boat in preparation for their dive
Lt. Cmdr. Fionna Matheson/NOAA

Ensign Brian Caldwell provides a pre-dive brief to Ensign Anna Hallingstad, Lt. Rosemary Abbitt and James Scott while Ensign Brianna Pacheco rests after her last dive.

Share with us your pictures, videos and stories from the field! (Send them to



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