NAUI Technical Training Operations
NAUI's objective when they hired Tim O'Leary to be their Technical Operations Director: To develop a new set of NAUI Standards and Protocols for their new Technical Certification Program; standards that mirrored the exacting preparation and attention to detail needed in the demanding environments of deep or prolonged diving. To assist, O'Leary brought together a Who's Who list (see list) of technical experts who, like himself, are perfectionists to the extreme. The result of their collaboration is an uncompromising training program committed to producing the best technical divers and instructors possible.
In an uncharacteristic statement for any training organization, O'Leary stated that "NAUI's intent with its new Technical Diver Program is not market share, but quality. The highest quality instruction, the highest quality standards. More like the qualifications of a professional diver.

NAUI is also looking for absolute commitment from its technical certification candidates. "This is not for everyone", says O'Leary. "Technical diving is acute gas management, both inside the body and outside [in cylinders]. It requires tremendous preparation, extreme attention to detail, total commitment, and the prospective technical diver must be a team player.

NAUI's rigorous standards and protocols were finely honed and re-honed from the vast pool of the Advisory Board's experience to "stop the silly accidents of the past" and because "...attitudes of tek divers had become too cavalier".

When asked to describe a prototypical technical diver in one word, O'Leary answered without hesitation: "Meticulous." He goes on to say that "an objective is also necessary for this type of diving-[be that] photography, science, exploration or discovery." In fact, before beginning training in Tri-Mix I or II, NAUI advises its instructors to interview candidates and qualify them on whether or not their need to learn is "mission-based". As O'Leary comments, "This is not a merit badge. If you're just considering the training for the thrill of it, frankly, we will probably not accept you into the program." This unusually candid statement illustrates just how committed and serious NAUI is about producing the very best. The bottom line is NAUI isn't interested in merely certifying a technical diver, but qualifying him/her. Interestingly, on that note, O'Leary has found that female divers have proved the superior candidates because they typically enter the program without machismo or the testosterone-laden need to conquer the world.

NAUI emphasizes several aspects in their training as described by O'Leary:

1) Your responsibility in choosing to be qualified;
2) Understanding your risk;
3) Intensive training in NAUI protocols;
4) Thoroughness.

He adds to that some tough questions potential candidates must ask themselves before embarking into technical dive training, "Are you strong enough for the physical demands that must be met? Mental demands? Are you able to meet the financial commitment? Are you a team player? Why do you want to do this?

The thoroughness of the standards and protocols developed by NAUI has led some heady organizations to its door for technical training. NOAA'S USS Monitor project dive team was recently certified as NAUI Tri-Mix divers and several members of the National Park Service were certified as rebreather divers to monitor such far reaching areas as the Channel Islands National Park off California and Isle Royale in Lake Superior.

The NAUI Technical Diving Program includes courses in Technical EANX, Decompression Techniques, Extended Range, Technical Wreck Penetration, Tri-Mix I and II, Mixed Gas Blender and Oxygen Service Technician, Semi- closed Rebreather UIW Breathing Apparatus (UBAS) and Closed-circuit Rebreather.

If you can pass NAUI's stringent litmus test and have a strong need to explore the fascinating undersea world below 130 feet, the quiet stillness of caves or myriad other abyssal regions of our world's waters, then NAUI's Technical Diving Program may be your best next step. If you're serious, they're serious.

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Technical Training Advisory Board
Captain Timothy R. O'Leary, DMT
President, American Diving and Marine Salvage


Les Joiner President, The Ocean Corporation

Jim Bowden Technical Cave Diver and Explorer

Dr. Ann Kristovitch Cave Explorer, Oral Maxillofacial Surgeon

Terrance Neal Tysall President, The Cambrian Foundation

John Duggan Major, USAF Air Sea Rescue, Retired

Brent Coleman, D.O., M.S. Hyperbaric Medicine

Jeff Bozanic Technical Cave and Ice Diver/Steam Machines

Captain Steve Belinda Technical Charter Boat Owner/Operator-Wahoo

Don Barthelmess Director, Marine Diving Technology, S.B.C.C.

Hal Watts President, PSA, NAUI Technical Workshop Director

Peter Ready President, Steam Machine and Marine Engineer

Jurgen Tillman Draegerwerks, Germany (Atlantis & Dolphin Rebreather)

Bill Hamilton, Ph.D. Hamilton Research

Billy Deans Key West Divers/NAUI Technical Workshop Director

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Rebreather Advisory Board
Captain Timothy R. O'Leary, DMT
President, American Diving and Marine Salvage

Peter Ready President, Steam Machine and Marine Engineer

M.L. Nuckols, Ph.D. PE Professor of Ocean Engineering, U.S. Naval Academy

Dudley Crossen, Ph.D. Delta P

Jack Kellon Rebreather Designer

John Clarke, Ph.D. Scientific Director, NEDU

David Fullerton Fullerton, Sherwood Engineering, Ltd.

James Kirk, MSEE Senior Staff, Johns Hopkins University

Capt. M.E. Knaflac, M.D., Ph.D. Senior Medical Officer, NEDU

Bill Hamilton, Ph.D. Hamilton Research

Jurgen Tillman Draegerwerks, Germany

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NAUI Technical Training Operations – UPDATE

Depending on to whom you spoke in the early days, technical diving had a wide array of definitions and an even greater number of certification levels. In a 1993 article published in AquaCorps magazine, technical diving was defined as a "discipline that uses special methods and equipment to improve diver safety and performance, enabling the user to conduct dives in an environment and perform tasks beyond the scope of traditional recreational diving limits".

The next few years bore fruit for manufacturers, and the newly born specialty technical training agencies became accepted and more and more certification cards were offered.

A wide variety of gear was made available for the technical diver to the extent that the divers’ equipment configuration began to appear more complicated than an astronaut’s on a space mission does.

As dives became more aggressive, unnecessary gas switches became more frequent and solo diving became more common. We had travel mixes, intermediate decompression mixes, 100% oxygen cylinders and bottom mixes. Gear configurations became more complicated and task loading became a major cause for concern as the accident rate within the technical community grew.

NAUI Technical Operations was born from the need to codify and standardize qualifications as well as certification and to analyze previous accidents within the technical community in order to avoid repeating past mistakes.

The most compelling question from the technical diving community was “What is causing the fatalities?” Well, it would appear that we still had much to learn from history. Breathing the wrong gas caused half of the fatalities that occurred within the commercial diving community in the North Sea in the late 1970s. The same problem has been mirrored in the technical community as well. An extremely disturbing number of technical divers have died from inappropriately switching gas at depth or breathing air beyond acceptable narcotic limits. NAUI Technical Operations first response was that there are no acceptable narcosis limits. When the threshold of narcosis begins the diver should be breathing a helium-based mix.

Throughout the history of diving we have constantly witnessed individuals who have exceeded imposed limits, known physiological limits, and technological limits. Some have survived while others have not.

In 1945, Zetterstrom was the first to use trimix on a dive to 153 msw and to use travel mixes, including hyperoxic and hypoxic nitrox blends before switching to a 4% oxygen and 24% helium Trimix. He died on this dive due to an error made by topside support.

In 1959, Hans Keller conducted a heliox dive to 223 msw that only required 45 minutes of decompression. In 1962, Keller and Small reached 305 msw, but both men lost consciousness and Small and a support diver trying to assist died.

In 1981, the three-man team of Atlantis III made a world record chamber dive to 686 msw. Dr. Bennett found that 10% nitrogen in the heliox mix eliminated high-pressure nervous syndrome.

In 1985, Dick Rutkowski, a NAUI instructor and former Director of NOAA diving operations, brought a “new gas mixture” (nitrox) into the recreational community. Actually this was not a new gas at all. In fact nitrox had been used as a breathing gas since the early 1900s.

In the late 1980s, a very experienced and dedicated group of divers began mixing helium in their gas mixtures to alleviate the effects of nitrogen narcosis. ‘They began using gases and techniques that were developed in the commercial and military diving communities. These divers called themselves technical divers and almost concurrently new specialty agencies emerged, ushering in an era of technical diver certifications. In 1990, Trimix certifications became available outside the military and commercial communities.

In 1992, NAUI was the first mainstream training agency to accept nitrox training and certification, and more importantly, in 1996 NAUI was the first agency to endorse technical diver training. It is of some note that the early leaders and record holders such as Jim Bowden, Hal Watts, Billy Deans, Terrence Tysall, Ann Kristovich, Tom Mount and Dick Rutkowski were all NAUI instructors. It would only follow suit that NAUI would form a technical training division.

A secondary cause of the North Sea fatalities was a lack of qualified topside support, and once again, this seems to be the case within the technical diving community as well.

In 1997, NAUI organized a special technical diver and a rebreather diver training advisory board. The advisory boards were made up of notable military, commercial, and technical divers, engineers, hyperbaric physicians, and dive operations managers. Their task was to minimize the risk of technical diver training, provide standards, materials, and other support for technical divers under NAUI auspices. And the revolution of technical diving began.

The solutions would seem to be clear and simple:
  • Stop diving deep on air.
  • Train and qualify topside technical diving support teams.
  • Streamline and standardize gear configurations. Personal choice has no place within a team. The letter “ I ” does not exist within the word “team.”
  • Produce technical training material with substance.
  • Provide a method to decompress with minimal physiological insult.

NAUI Worldwide was the first agency to reduce technical training depth limits on oxygen and nitrogen mixtures. At one time deep air training could be conducted to 7.2 bar by the specialty agencies.
NAUI reduced the training depth on air to 6.5 bar in 1997 and in 1998 further reduced it to 5.5 bar in areas of the world where helium is available.

With the popularization of oxygen enriched air it has become apparent to divers that in many applications 21% oxygen and 79% nitrogen (or air) is not a good breathing mixture for diving beyond 25 meters. In fact, after 4 bar of pressure, NAUI Technical Operations is recommending the use of helium to dilute both the oxygen and nitrogen within the breathing mixture. An example would be the use of helitrox, a 26% oxygen, 17% helium, 57% nitrogen mix, for use in the 30 to 46 meter range thereby reducing the risk of nitrogen narcosis and oxygen toxicity simultaneously. With this type of mixture combined with the use of a phase model algorithm, the diver now has an optimal gas mixture that provides longer NDLs or shorter decompression obligations than with air or nitrox. NAUI is the only agency to have published phase model tables for helitrox diving within the 28 to 46 meter range as well as ranged deep stop phase tables for use with trimix to depths up to 100 msw. These are the only recreational decompression tables in the world with the capability to decompress on back gas in case the oxygen supply is lost.
In order to support deep push teams and technical training operations NAUI developed a Technical Support Leader training curriculum. This course was designed to train knowledgeable NAUI Divemasters and Assistant Instructors who are also technical divers to act as part of a support team for technical diving activities. NAUI Technical Support Leaders will be able to provide assistance to teams of technical divers in any of several operations for which training can be customized. The TSL will be able to shuttle equipment underwater, remove and replace staged decompression gear and equipment underwater, monitor technical dives on ascent, and assist with emergency evacuation. This is a true support team and NAUI is the only agency to have published training protocols for technical support teams within the recreational community.

Now imagine the following technical dive. You are at 70 meters inside a wreck and one of your back mounted cylinders has a catastrophic failure such as an o-ring extrusion.

You close the isolator on your manifold, saving half of your remaining gas supply. But of course as you ascend towards your support team your remaining gas supply is dwindling. Your primary second stage is beginning to pull hard and you know that you will have to share gas on a long hose with one of your support team members. There are three team members waiting for you. The problem begins with each team member having a different gear configuration because of personal choice. Who has which long hose where and which regulators are regulators for decompression gases? Now what do you do as you are quickly running out of gas? Hicks Law states that reaction time increases logarithmically with the number of stimulus response choices. This means that the more ways that you have to deal with a situation, the more time you will take to make a decision.

This is not a good situation underwater. The ideal is to have the fewest possible options necessary to cover all contingencies. Gear configuration within technical diving teams must be standardized in order to streamline and minimize response time. In this case more is not better. Equipment configuration and rigging could arguably be the most controversial aspect of technical diving and training. A good scuba equipment configuration needs to carry through all of your technical training and diving in such a fashion that the addition of items necessary for each dive does not in any way interfere with or change the existing base configuration. Diving with the same configuration allows the same response by all team members at all times while reducing effective task loading due to unfamiliarity. In other words, it not only helps to solve the problems, it prevents them. All NAUI Technical Instructor guides have the same base gear configuration from single cylinders to multiple cylinders and on to multiple stages while using DPV’s.

When looking at training materials, we found that there was an overabundance of certification levels and materials in technical training giving the same information for courses that could easily be combined. The material itself was lacking in both substance and technology. The first thing we did was to ask for and receive information from the Naval Experimental Diving Unit, White Sands Laboratory, and Los Alamos National Laboratory. Now armed with cutting technology and information, NAUI Technical Operations produced unparalleled training materials and instructor guides.

Technical Nitrox, Staged Decompression, and Extended Range is one text and one course that covers all the material necessary for this arena of diving. Two impressive by-products of this text are the technical dive planner and the OCEANX calculator. NAUI Instructors teaching these courses have an instructor guide and PowerPoint presentation.
Mixed Gas Blender and Oxygen Service Technician is one text and one course that covers all aspects of mixed gas blending including nitrox, heliox and trimix. It also includes cleaning, testing, and documentation of testing of equipment used with oxygen. NAUI mixed gas blender instructors use a power point presentation for this course that also has the actual NAVSEA PowerPoint presentation on cleaning equipment for oxygen service.
Trimix and Heliox Student Workbook is also one text and has the phase model decompression tables, team planners, and gas management planners within the workbook, NAUI Instructors also use a PowerPoint presentation, complete with instructor notes and in-water skills check off list.

For a few years now, some of the military special operations teams have been using a revolutionary decompression model known as phase modeling. We knew that dissolved gas models such as Haldane actually appear to work as treatment tables by bringing the diver from depth to as close to the surface as possible within M value constraints. This model allows a much larger bubble radius and requires much longer stop times in the shallow zones.

Phase decompression targets the concept of critical radii and bubble growth as well as cumulative volume within gradient constraints. This has proven to significantly reduce physiological insult as well as decompress the diver faster and also reduce oxygen exposure during the ascent phase of the dive. NAUI, once again, is the only training agency to have published deep stop phase model tables for technical diving. We have chosen the Reduced Gradient Bubble Model (RGBM) by Dr. Bruce Wienke from Los Alamos National Laboratory.

True technical dives are operations, projects or ventures involving planning, preparation, organized structure, and the use of proper equipment, teamwork, competent execution, and effective emergency response. Always dive as a team using surface support personnel and when appropriate, in-water support divers. Designate an operations manager who is responsible for diving safety and record keeping. The team approach based on individual self-sufficiency and competency is required and you must always honor rule number one: ANYONE CAN TERMINATE THE DIVE FOR ANY REASON AT ANY TIME.

NAUI Technical Operations will continue with the revolution of technical diving, technical qualification, and technical training. There will not be any compromises within our qualification process. There will not be any unnecessary manuals or certification levels within our training cycle. We are here to assist any agency, diver, or instructor regardless of agency affiliation. We are continually striving to stay on the cutting edge of technology therefore we are always willing to listen, to learn, and if possible to help.

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