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Aquanaut Josef Schmid working outside the Aquarius underwater laboratory in 2007.

An aquanaut is any person who remains underwater, breathing at the ambient pressure for long enough for the concentration of the inert components of the breathing gas dissolved in the body tissues to reach equilibrium, in a state known as saturation. Usually this is done in an underwater habitat on the seafloor for a period equal to or greater than 24 continuous hours without returning to the surface. The term is often restricted to scientists and academics, though there were a group of military aquanauts during the SEALAB program. Commercial divers in similar circumstances are referred to as saturation divers. An aquanaut is distinct from a submariner, in that a submariner is confined to a moving underwater vehicle such as a submarine that holds the water pressure out. Aquanaut derives from the Latin word aqua ("water") plus the Greek nautes ("sailor"), by analogy to the similar construction "astronaut".

The first human aquanaut was Robert Sténuit, who spent 24 hours on board a tiny one-man cylinder at 200 feet (61 m) in September 1962 off Villefranche-sur-Mer on the French Riviera.[1][2][3] Military aquanauts include Robert Sheats, author Robin Cook, and astronauts Scott Carpenter and Alan Shepard. Civilian aquanaut Berry L. Cannon died of carbon dioxide poisoning during the U.S. Navy's SEALAB III project.[4][5][6]

Scientific aquanauts include Sylvia Earle, Jonathan Helfgott, Joseph B. MacInnis,[7] Dick Rutkowski, Phil Nuytten, and about 700 others, including the crew members (many of them astronauts) of NASA's NEEMO missions at the Aquarius underwater laboratory.

Russian military program


A unit of the Russian Navy has developed an aquanaut program that has deployed divers more than 300 metres (980 ft) deep. An ocean vessel has been developed and is based in Vladivostok that is specialized for submarine and other deep sea rescue and that is equipped with a diving complex and a 120-seat deep sea diving craft.[8]

Accidental aquanaut


A Nigerian ship's cook, Harrison Odjegba Okene, survived for 60 hours in a sunken tugboat, the Jascon-4. The vessel, which capsized on 26 May 2013 due to strong ocean swells, had been performing tension tow operations and stabilising an oil tanker at a Chevron platform in the Gulf of Guinea[9] (in the Atlantic Ocean), about 32 km (20 mi) off the Nigerian coast.

After sinking, the boat came to rest, upside-down, on the sea floor at a depth of 30 m (98 ft). Eleven crew members perished. However, in total darkness, Okene felt his way into the engineer's office, where an air pocket about 1.2 m (3 ft 11 in) in height contained enough oxygen to keep him alive. There, he fabricated a platform from a mattress and other floating objects, keeping his upper body above the water to help reduce heat loss.[10][11][12][13] According to Okene, prawns were nibbling on his feet and legs as he sat in the water, praying.

Three days after the accident, with authorities already en route to investigate, Okene was discovered by South African divers Nicolaas “Nico” van Heerden, Darryl Oosthuizen and Andre Erasmus, employed to investigate the scene and recover what they presumed would be twelve bodies. Upon entering the engineer’s office, van Heerden saw a human hand, belonging to Okene, which he assumed to be a corpse. As he pulled on Okene’s hand, van Heerden realised the hand was grasping onto his. Immediately, the diver surfaced within the small space to speak with and devise a survival plan with Okene. The rescuing divers determined the only option was to bring Okene the proper dive equipment, outfitting him with a diving helmet so he could breathe; after swimming out of the shipwreck, Okene was transferred into an enclosed diving bell and safely returned to the surface for decompression from saturation. Nonetheless, the stressful experience combined with the decompression transfer caused Okene to pass out; however, he was revived, and immediately taken to hospital by helicopter. Experts determined that given the amount of space Okene was living in underwater, he possibly had two or three days’ worth of oxygen remaining.[9]

See also



  1. ^ Sténuit, Robert (1966). The Deepest Days. Trans. Morris Kemp. New York: Coward-McCann.
  2. ^ Ecott, Tim (2001). Neutral Buoyancy: Adventures in a Liquid World. New York: Atlantic Monthly Press. pp. 249–250. ISBN 0-87113-794-1. LCCN 2001018840.
  3. ^ Norton, Trevor (2006). Underwater to Get Out of the Rain: a love affair with the sea. Da Capo Press. p. 191. ISBN 0-306-81487-0.
  4. ^ Ecott, Tim (2002). Neutral Buoyancy: Adventures in a Liquid World. London: Penguin. pp. 264–266. ISBN 9780802139078.
  5. ^ "Oceanography: Death in the Depths". Time. 28 February 1969. Archived from the original on 14 December 2008. Retrieved 14 April 2013.
  6. ^ Davis, Michael (1979). "Immersion hypothermia in scuba diving". South Pacific Underwater Medicine Society Journal. 9 (2). Archived from the original on 13 January 2013. Retrieved 14 April 2013.{{cite journal}}: CS1 maint: unfit URL (link)
  7. ^ "Dr. Joe MacInnis". www.drjoemacinnis.com. Retrieved 29 December 2011.
  8. ^ "Russian Military Set for A Record-Breaking Deep Dive, Russia's Specially Trained 'Aquanauts' Are Getting Ready for A Very Unusual, Taxing and Highly Dangerous Operation in The Depths of the Ocean". Asia Times. 11 March 2018.
  9. ^ a b Top Ten Weather Disasters. The Weather Channel. 27 August 2016.
  10. ^ Sifferlin, Alexandra (3 December 2013). "Man Survives 60 Hours Under Water In Sunken Ship". Time. Retrieved 23 June 2016.
  11. ^ "Nigerian survives two days at sea, in underwater air pocket". Africa. BBC News. British Broadcasting Corporation. 13 June 2013. Retrieved 23 June 2016.
  12. ^ Moran, Terry (3 December 2013). "Cook Survives 3 Days in Air Pocket of Sunken Ship Off Nigerian Coast". ABC News. Retrieved 23 June 2016.
  13. ^ Lallanilla, Marc (4 December 2013). "Undersea Miracle: How Man in Sunken Ship Survived 3 Days". LiveScience.com. Retrieved 23 June 2016.