Navy diver (United States Navy)

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Navy Diver
Rating Badge ND.jpg
U.S. Navy enlisted rating insignia
Issued byUnited States Navy
TypeEnlisted rating
Seabee divers at Gavutu, Solomon Islands, Nov. 8, 1943 installing a marine railway.
A Japanese two-man sub salvaged by 6th CB divers off Tassafaronga Point. They attached hawsers for bulldozers to pull the sub ashore after placing dynimite to break the mud suction force holding it.

A United States Navy diver refers to a volunteer that may be a restricted fleet line (Engineering Duty) officer, civil engineer corps (CEC) officer, Medical Corps officer, or an enlisted (ND or HM rating) who is qualified in underwater diving and salvage. Navy divers serve with fleet diving detachments and in research and development. Some of the mission areas of the Navy diver include: marine salvage, harbor clearance, underwater ship husbandry and repair, submarine rescue, saturation diving, experimental diving, underwater construction and welding, as well as serving as technical experts to the Navy SEALs, Marine Corps, and Navy EOD diving commands.

The U.S. Navy is the lead agency in military diving technology and training within the U.S. Department of Defense. The foundation of the Navy diving program consists of the Navy Diver (ND) rating for enlisted personnel who perform diving as their occupational specialty in the Navy.[1]


The US Navy began employing divers in the middle of the 1800s; these were mostly were swimmers and skin divers using techniques that had not been altered for hundreds of years. Duties included the salvage and repair of ships, construction work and military operations, including the Battle of Mobile Bay during the American Civil War. Preparations for the battle included the sending of swimmers to clear mines from the path of Admiral Farragut's ships, that had been planted by Confederate States forces to prevent entrance to the bay.[2]

In 1898, Navy divers were briefly involved in an international crisis when the second-class armored battleship USS Maine was sunk by a mysterious explosion while anchored in the harbor at Havana, Cuba. Navy divers were sent from Key West to study and report on the wreck. Although a Court of Inquiry was convened, the reason for the sinking was not found.

As American technology expanded in the early 1900s the US Navy developed an interest in submarine warfare. However, throughout the period of 1912–1939, the development of the Navy's F-class, H-class and S-class submarines was marred by a series of accidents, collisions, and sinkings. As a result of these submarine disasters a corresponding growth in the Navy's diving capability was developed.

Until 1912, US Navy divers rarely went below 60 FSW (feet of seawater). There is little documentation that the Navy had a diving program prior to 1912.[3] In that year, Chief Gunner George D. Stillson set up a program to test Haldane's diving tables and methods of stage decompression. A companion goal of the program was to develop improvements in Navy diving equipment. Throughout a three-year period, first diving in tanks ashore and then in open water in Long Island Sound from the USS Walke,[3] Navy divers went progressively deeper.

The publication of the first US Navy Diving Manual[4] in 1916 and the establishment of a Navy Diving School at Newport, Rhode Island were the direct outgrowth of experience gained in the test program and the USS F-4 salvage. When the United States entered World War I, the staff and graduates of the school were sent to Europe, where they conducted a number of salvage operations along the French coast.[5]

On 24 May 1939 four divers would earn the Medal of Honor rescuing 33 men off the sunken USS Squalus SS-192.

WWII brought with it an expanded need for divers that began immediately after the December 7, 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. There the focus was on salvage with USN divers logging over 16,000 hours submerged. The creation of Naval Construction Battalions to build advance bases in the Pacific Theater put more diving assignments in front of the Navy, enough that the Seabees had a school of their own to qualify 2nd class divers. CBs would put men in the water from the tropics to the Arctic circle. In the Aleutian Islands Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 4 had divers doing salvage on the Russian freighter SS Turksib in 42°F water.[6] In the tropics Seabee divers would be sent close to an enemy airfield to retrieve a downed Japanese aircraft. At Halavo on Florida Island, divers from the 27th CB recovered a Disburser's safe full of money plus changed 160 props on vessels of all sizes.[7] The Seabees of the 27th CB alone logged 2,550 diving hours, with 1,345 classified as "extra hazardous".[7] Seabees would also blur the definition of diver with the development of the Underwater Demolition Teams. Another historic note to the Seabees is that they had African American divers in the 34th CB. Those men fabricated their diving gear in the field as instructed at diving school. For depths less than 60' a modified USN Mk III gas mask was considered acceptable and preferred by the men of the 27th CB.[3][7] Twice, while at Milne Bay, the 105th CB sent special diving details on undisclosed missions. Divers in the 301st CB placed as much as 50 tons of explosives a day to keep their dredges productive.[8] However, the divers of CB 96 used 1,727,250 lbs of dynamite to blast 423,300 cubic yards of coral for the ship repair facility on Manicani Island, as an element of the Naval Operating Base Leyte-Samar.[9] Their primary diving gear was modified Navy Mk III and Navy Mk IV gas masks.[9]

The war itself produced an unending demand for underwater ship repair and salvage. In New York, the SS Normandie capsized at the dock leading to the Navy creating a Salvage school right there to deal with the issue.[3] Each of the fleet's repair ships had divers. Six of them from the USS Vestal were put to the test using the new technology of underwater cutting and welding. The stern was nearly completely blown off the USS Pensacola. They removed three propellers and stabilized ship structure enough so that she could be towed to a drydock. Divers from the USS Navajo (AT-64) were there too with their underwater cutters working on the USS New Orleans. Their salvage work in combat zones got a fleet tug a Battle Star. Each of the submarine rescue ships had divers assigned too. Nearby earlier in the year, at Kamimbo Bay, USS Ortilan (ASR-5) divers recovered a pile of documents off the partially sunk Japanese sub I-1 that had intelligence busy very quickly. The clearance of Manila harbor was a huge project where divers led by master diver Joseph S. Karneke from USS Chanticleer (ASR-7) repeated the action. There they salvaged code books, maps of Japanese fortifications on Luzon plus 500,000 yen; it was a major intelligence coup.[10][11] When Chanticleer first left the States part of it mission was to provide diving training to the fleet based out of Freemantle, Australia.

During WWII, "diver" was a qualification not a rate. First class divers could work 300' depths while salvage and second class divers were qualified down to 150'.[3] Diving was considered "hazardous" by the Navy and the Navy adjusted pay for both the qualification as well as time and depth under water: $5 an hour or fraction of an hour for hazardous salvage work. Adjusted for inflation that converts to $72/hr in 2020. The qualification diver 2nd class paid $10 per month, salvage diver paid $12 per month, 1st class paid $15 per month. First class divers also drew "footage" of $15 plus $.05/ft @120'. Master divers drew $20 plus up to $10 "footage".[3]

At Operation Crossroads the Navy had divers in the water off the USS Coucal (ASR-8).

Tektite I assembled by Amphibious Construction Battalion 2 (ACB 2)
SEALAB III, artist's drawing

During the 1960s the Navy had divers involved in two submersed projects, Tektite and SEALAB I, II, and III. On 28 January 1969 a detachment of 50 men[12] from Amphibious Construction Battalion 2 plus 17 Seabee divers began installation of the Tektite habitat in Great Lameshur Bay at Lameshur, U.S. Virgin Islands.[13] The Tektite program was funded by NASA and was the first scientists-in-the-sea program sponsored by the US government.[14] The Tektite project was a product of the Cold War. It caused the US Navy to realize the need for a permanent Underwater Construction capability that led to the formation the Seabee Underwater Construction Teams".[15]

SEALAB was led by Captain George F. Bond with divers from the fleet. SEALAB I, II, and III were experimental underwater habitats developed by the United States Navy in the 1960s to prove the viability of saturation diving and humans living in isolation for extended periods of time. The knowledge gained from the SEALAB expeditions helped advance the science of deep sea diving and rescue, and contributed to the understanding of the psychological and physiological strains humans can endure.

Still in service, the USS Chanticleer was involved with RVN diving operations at Nha Trang during the Vietnam war. Her divers were tasked with a number of salvage assignments. At Chu Lai in 1967 MCB 71 had a Under Water Construction Team search the Tra Bong River for a missing Squad of Marines that the Marines wanted back no matter what.[16]

In the 1970s Navy divers took part in Operation Ivy Bells. It was a joint Navy CIA operation. Since the divers did not have the security clearances needed they were given a story for the mission.

In 1975 the first female hard hat diver to be qualified was Donna Tobias. Ten years later Seabee diver Robert Dean Stethem was killed by hijackers at Beirut International Airport on 1 June 1985. The Navy named the USS Stethem DDG-63 in his honor.

In 2006, the US Navy established the rating, Navy Diver (ND). Marine salvage remains a primary task of Navy divers, but they also may be involved in special operations. Special operations come in unpredictable forms and 2018 gave one to the divers of Mobile Diving Salvage Unit 1. The task was the clearance of 250,000 gallons of fuel from the wreck of the WWII German cruiser Prinz Eugen that the United States sank in the atomic tests of Operation Crossroads.[17]

Distinguished list: USN Diver

Training and ratings[edit]

The Schools[edit]

After completion of recruit training or acceptance in the Navy diver program from the Fleet, individuals will go to Naval Training Center, Great Lakes, for Diver Preparation Course (32 training days, including 20 days of basic electrical and engineering courses). Upon completion of the training, candidates will go to Naval Diving and Salvage Training Center (NDSTC) in Panama City, Florida, for Second Class Dive School, which is 70 training days long.[18]

The center has 22 different courses of instruction for roughly 1300 students annually. On average, there are 300 students in training at any given time. The training center conducts approximately ten thousand dives each year.[18]

The NDSTC is divided into Fleet and specialized sections. Regardless of their section, all candidates receive instruction in:

Fleet Training[edit]

Upon completion of Second Class Dive School service personnel are assigned to one of the Navy Diver Units to develop their diving and salvage skills. Underwater ship repair, salvage, or construction can be done using either SCUBA equipment or a surface-supplied diving system. Training for Diving Medical Officers and diving medical technicians is also part of Fleet training.

Advanced Training[edit]

Many experienced divers return to NDSTC for further course work so they can qualify as First Class divers or as Master divers. The first-class dive school is approximately 12 weeks in length. During training, students are subjected to numerous drills and tests. Some of the subjects include: Hyperbaric Chamber, SCUBA, MK-16 Rebreather, Surface Supplied Air, and Mixed Gas Supervisor. Students are taught how to diagnose diving-related illnesses as well as handling system emergencies. While attending First Class Dive School students are put through Master Diver Evaluations. The evaluations consist of a number of challenging scenarios. Only a select few will qualify. Master diver is a qualification that is difficult to achieve.

Specialized Training[edit]

A Navy diver gets specialized training in demolition and mixed-gas diving.[18]

Navy divers work in extreme conditions, performing various underwater tasks ranging from underwater ship repair, underwater salvage and special operations/special warfare type diving. Because their area of operations are so varied, they can be required to utilize any type of diving equipment for use in any depth or temperature in any part of the world. Certain diving qualification allows NDs to live and work at extreme depths for days or weeks at a time, a discipline known as saturation diving.

Navy enlisted personnel that graduate from second class or first class dive school; and ultimately master diver comprise the Navy Diver rating. NDs are the in-water operators and supervisors for the various mission areas mentioned previously as their primary day to day mission is that of in-water operator and/or supervisor. There are three enlisted diving badges/qualifications in the ND rating:

  • Second class diver - E-4 to E-5 personnel. This is the basic diving qualification in the ND rating, awarded upon completion of ND 'A' School (pin awarded upon warfare qualification). Primary duties are to serve as in-water operators during various missions.
  • First class diver - E-6 to E-8 personnel. Advanced diving qualification awarded upon completion of ND 'C' School. In addition to duties as a second class diver, first class divers serve as diving and chamber treatment supervisors.
  • Master diver - The highest enlisted diving position in the Navy. Awarded upon successful completion of the master diver course which includes exceptionally demanding diving operational problems and acceptance by a master diver board. Oversees diving operations and train/qualify diving supervisors.
Seabee Underwater Construction Technicians Insignia
Master diver badge
Master Diver
First class diver badge
1st Class Diver
Second class diver badge
2nd Class Diver
Diving officer badge
Diving Officer

Personnel in the CEC Seabee ratings can qualify as underwater construction technician (UCT). Like other Navy divers, UCTs are primary in-water operators that conduct underwater construction and demolitions. The three qualification that the various rate can obtain with are as follows: Basic Underwater Construction Technician/ NEC 5932 (2nd Class Diver), Advanced Underwater Construction Technician/ NEC 5931 (1st Class Diver), and Master Underwater Construction Technician/ NEC 5933 (Master diver).[19]

Navy hospital corpsmen can qualify as a diving medical technician (DMT), where they are given training in medical aspects of diving. Primary responsibilities are to provide medical advice and treatment to diving personnel. They also instruct members of the diving team in first aid procedures when the presence of diving medical personnel is indicated.

Additionally, there is a scuba diver qualification primarily for those stationed on submarines to serve as sub divers in a limited capacity. Navy scuba divers are also trained at NDSTC at a 5-week course. Their duties consist primarily of conducting occasional inspections on the submarine they are stationed on. Scuba divers maintain their traditional Navy rating such as ET or MM; their diving Navy Enlisted Classification (NEC) is a collateral duty, not their primary one.

U.S. navy diver physical fitness test[edit]

Diving medical personnel evaluate the fitness of divers before operations begin and are prepared to handle any emergencies which might arise. They also observe the condition of other support personnel and are alert for signs of fatigue, overexposure, and heat exhaustion. The physical fitness test has been shown to be a poor predictor of job task performance.[20]

The test consists of the following carried out in the order given:[21]

  1. Swim 500 yards (or 450 m) utilizing only combat side stroke or breast stroke within 12 minutes 30 seconds (candidates are allowed to push off the sides when turning. However, if the candidate uses the bottom to stand or rest, they will fail the test).
  2. 10-minute rest period.
  3. Perform 50 push-ups within 2 minutes (Upper arms must parallel deck at dip and arms locked out at the top of the rep).
  4. 2-minute rest period.
  5. Perform 50 sit-ups within 2 minutes (Bent knees. Candidates hands must stay on the collarbone and the elbows must touch the knees).
  6. 2-minute rest period.
  7. Perform 6 pull-ups within 2 minutes (no kipping or swinging is allowed and the chin must clear the top of the bar on each repetition).
  8. 10-minute rest period.
  9. Run 1.5 miles (2.414 km) within 12 minutes 30 seconds.

Note: The times and quantities listed are for passing the screening test only. Each candidate's scores are submitted and the candidates with the top scores along with ASVAB exam scores will be selected and given a navy diver contract. Passing the physical fitness test is necessary but by no means guarantees the candidate a contract.

Health impact[edit]

A study published in 2011 by the Navy Experimental Diving Unit reviewed the long term health impact on the U.S. Navy diving population.[22] The divers surveyed participated as divers for an average of 18 years out of their average 24 active duty years.[22] Sixty percent of the divers surveyed were receiving disability compensation.[22] One in seven of the divers had experienced neurologic symptoms of decompression sickness, with 41% of the divers experiencing one or more of the nine diving injuries surveyed.[22] Seven percent of the surveyed divers had undergone a joint replacement.[22] Eighty-six percent of the divers rated their health as "Excellent, Very Good, or Good".[22] When compared to the general population, the divers showed better mental health but poorer physical health.[22]

Ratings and enlisted designators[edit]

The navy diver rating was announced in Naval Administration Message 003/06 and consists of sailors with the following NECs:

  • NEC 5341 — master diver[23]
  • NEC 5342 — first class diver[23]
  • NEC 5343 — second class diver[23]

The effective date of the ND rating was June 1, 2006 for E6-E9 sailors (petty officer 1st class and above), and October 1, 2006 for E1-E5 sailors.

  • E4 (ND3) — Navy diver third class
  • E5 (ND2) — Navy diver second class
  • E6 (ND1) — Navy diver first class
  • E7 (NDC) — Chief Navy diver
  • E8 (NDCS) — Senior Chief Navy diver
  • E9 (NDCM) — Master Chief Navy diver

Officer designators[edit]

Designation as a Diving Officer for selected:MILPERSMAN 1210-140[24]

  • Unrestricted Line (117X, 112X)[24]
  • Restricted Line/Staff Corps (146X, 144X, 210X, 510X)[24]
  • Limited Duty (61XX, 648X, 653X)[24]
  • Warrant (71XX, 72XX, 748X, 753X)[24]
  • 1440 — Engineering Duty (restricted line) Officer[24]
  • 510x — Civil Engineer Corps (staff) Officer[24]
  • 720x — Diving (warrant) Officer[24]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Navy Expeditionary Combat Command – Diving". Retrieved 2016-09-25.
  2. ^ [ Navy Diver: A Tradition of Honor!, by Salty Dog Old School, Feb 7, 2020, Crows Nest website]
  3. ^ a b c d e f Navy Divers, Bureau of Naval Personnel Information Bulletin, All Hands, September 1944, pp. 26–30, Evansville Vanderburgh Public Library, Indiana [1]
  4. ^ US Navy diving manual Revision 7, SS521-AG-PRO-010 0910-LP-115-1921, COMMANDER, NAVAL SEA SYSTEMS COMMAND, U.S. GPO, Washington DC [2]
  5. ^ "Navy Expeditionary Combat Command – Diver History". Retrieved 2016-09-25.
  6. ^ Water Temperature Table of the Alaska Coast, National Centers for Environmental Information, last updated: Sat Jun 06, 23:02:52 UTC 2020
  7. ^ a b c 27th Naval Construction Battalion cruisebook, Part 5, 1946; Seabee Museum Archives, Port Hueneme, CA, p.41
  8. ^ 301st Naval Construction Battalion cruisebook, U.S. Navy Seabee Museum Archives, Port Hueneme,CA, 2020-01-22, p. 60, 61[3]
  9. ^ a b CEC Bulletin, Vol. 2 February 1948 No. 15, Lt jg. Cushing Phillips, p. 45 [4]
  10. ^ Combined Fleet Decoded: The Secret History of American Intelligence and the Japanese Navy in World War II, John Prados, Naval Institute Press, 2001
  11. ^ Navy Diver, Joseph S. Karneke, Ace Publishing, January 1, 1962
  12. ^ All Hands, June 1969, Number 629, Navy Dept. Washington, DC. p. 39
  13. ^ Seabeemagazine online
  14. ^ "Project Tektite: The Aquanauts That Lived in the Sea". August 11, 2016.
  15. ^ US Navy Seabee Museum online magazine, "Project Tektite and the Birth of the Underwater Construction Teams" by Dr. Frank A. Blazich Jr., Historian, US Navy Seabee Museum
  16. ^ Seabee 71 in Chu Lai, David H. Lyman, McFarland & Company, Inc., Jefferson, North Carolina, 2019
  17. ^ U.S. Navy Divers Recover Oil from Wrecked WWII Prinz Eugen, Lt. Clyde Shavers, CTF73/Destroyer Squadron 7 Public Affairs, Commander US 7th Fleet web page, Oct. 14, 2018
  18. ^ a b c d "Diver Training". Retrieved 2016-09-25.
  19. ^ "Navy Seabee UCT Diver Challenge Program".
  20. ^ Marcinik, EJ; Hyde, DE; Taylor, WF (1994). "Development of job-related physical selection criteria for U.S. Navy fleet divers". Undersea and Hyperbaric Medicine. 21. Retrieved 2013-11-21.
  21. ^ Staff (6 Jan 2013). "SEAL/EOD/SWCC/DIVER/AIRR Physical Screening Testing Standards and Procedures" (PDF). MILPERSMAN 1220 - 410. BUPERS - 324 ). pp. 1–10. Retrieved 6 April 2017.
  22. ^ a b c d e f g Chung, J; Brugger, J; Curley, M; Wallick, M; Perkins, R; Regis, D; Latson, G (2011). "Health survey of U.S. Navy divers from 1960 to 1990: A first look". US Navy Experimental Diving Unit Technical Report 2011-11. Retrieved 2013-11-21.
  23. ^ a b c NAVPERSCOM (PERS - 401D H ) ND "A" School Coordinator (30 May 2013). "Navy Diver ( ND ) Rating" (PDF). MILPERSMAN 1220 - 100. BUPERS - 32 4F Enlisted Community Manager. p. 3. Retrieved 6 April 2017.
  24. ^ a b c d e f g h DIVING OFFICER, MILSPERMAN 1210-140, CNO, 22 Aug 2002, p.1-6 [5]


External links[edit]