Article reprint - March/April 2001
Then and Now: Atmospheric Diving Suits
By - USN LT Mike Thornton, Dr. Robert Randall, and Kurt Albaugh, P.E.

While the earliest atmospheric diving suits (ADS) were invented to salvage the gold and other treasures from unfortunate ships, today's atmospheric diving suits are primarily used to support the oil and gas industry's perpetual search for black gold. USN LT Mike Thornton, Dr. Robert Randall, and Kurt Albaugh, P.E., examine the evolution of the ADS, and its advantages and disadvantages in the commercial arena.

John Lethbridge, credited with building the first atmospheric diving suit in 1715, referred to his invention - for lack of a better term - as a "diving engine." The ADS has also been referred to, over its nearly three centuries of existence, as an armored diving suit, armored diving dress, articulated diving suit, Iron Duke, and even Iron Mike. Alfred Mikalow, former owner of the Coastal School of Deep Sea Diving, in his book, Fell's Guide to Sunken Treasure Ships of the World, even referred to it as a deep-sea diving robot. The term 'atmospheric diving suit' did not even come into widespread use until the invention of the JIM suit in the early 1970s.

Since the days of Lethbridge's "diving engine," before the effects of depth were even fully understood, divers have attempted to isolate themselves from the sea around them, to dive deeper and longer without suffering the physiological difficulties and complications that extreme pressures can have on the human body. In some cases, divers were inspired strictly by the lure of the deep, and in others they were motivated by the treasures it had to offer.

Just as critics condemned putting the first man on the moon, skeptics of the atmospheric diving suit ask, "if we can do it with robots, why risk a human life?" It's not always that simple a question. ROVs have certainly surpassed atmospheric diving suits in their ability to go deeper. But, despite a nearly flawless safety record, the risk inherent with the ADS does involve human life, something not usually at risk in ROV operations. There is, of course, a certain risk any time a diver enters the water. The human body was not meant to be subjected to extreme pressures. But with the proper redundancy and safety features built in, it can be argued that the risk of serious injury is greater when you drive your car to work every morning.

Granted, ROVs can undoubtedly perform many of the same tasks deeper, but not always faster or more cost-effectively. So it's a question of time as well as technology, and time in the offshore industry means money and usually lots of it. As the price of oil hovers around $30.00 per barrel, with often many thousands of barrels per hour at stake until a repair job is completed, hundreds of thousands of dollars in capital is at risk.

However, atmospheric diving suits will never supplant the ROV, or diver. As Dan Kerns, Manager of Hardsuits Incorporated Diving Division, is fond of saying, "The ADS is not meant to replace the ROV, diver, or vice versa. It's just another tool to put in your bag, and pull out when the logistics, cost-analysis, etc. proves that tool is the one to use."

By definition, an atmospheric diving suit (ADS) is an articulated anthropomorphic single person submersible capable of diving to depths of up to 2,500 feet (758m) while maintaining the internal pressure at or very near one atmosphere. The immediate and obvious advantage of the atmospheric diving suit is its elimination of most of the physiological hazards of ambient pressure to the diver. There is no need for compression or decompression schedules, no requirement for special gas mixtures, and no danger of nitrogen narcosis, or bends. Likewise, the atmospheric diving suit can venture up and down the water column any number of times without any consequences or delay.

A History of Atmospheric Diving Suits
Lethbridge's Diving Engine, 1715 (UK) - John Lethbridge's "diving engine, without communication of air," as he called it, is widely considered to be the earliest atmospheric diving suit. Lethbridge built a device to help recover the treasures of sunken ships, and it was purportedly used successfully on several occasions to as deep as 60 feet (18m).

Lethbridge described his scheme in a letter to The Gentleman's Magazine in September of 1749: "Šthe first step I took towards it was going into a hogshead upon land, bung'd up tight, where I stayed half an hour without communication of air; then I made a trench near a well at the bottom of my orchard in this place in order to convey a sufficient quantity of water to cover the hogshead and then try'd how long I could live underwater without air pipes, or communication of air, and found I could stay longer underwater than upon land."

Having completed this experiment, he then engaged a cooper in London to make a "diving engine" of the following description: "It is made of wainscot, perfectly round, about six feet in length, about two foot and a half diameter at the head, and about eighteen inches diameter at the foot, and contains about 30 gallons; it is hoop'd with iron hoops without and within, to guard against pressure; there are two holes for the arms, and a glass about four inches diameter, and an inch and quarter thick, to look thro', which is fixed in a direct line with the eye; two airholes, upon the upper part, into one of which air is conveyed, by a pair of bellow, both of which are stopt with plugs, immediately before going down to the bottom. At the foot part there's a hole to let out water sometimes; there's a large rope, fix'd to the back, or upper part, by which it's let down; and there's a little line, called the signal line, by which the people above are directed what to do, and under is fix'd a piece of timber, as a guard for the glass. I go in with my feet foremost, and when my arms are got thro' the holes, then the head is put on, which is fastened with scrues. It requires 500 weight to sink it, and take but 15-pound weight from it, and it will bouy upon the surface of the water. I lie straight upon my breast, all the time I am in the engine, which hath many times been more than 6 hours, being, frequently, refreshed upon the surface, by a pair of bellows. I can move it about 12 foot square, at the bottom, where I have stayed, many times, 34 minutes. I have been ten fathom deep many a hundred times, and have been 12 fathom, but with great difficulty."

We might never have had the above account, except that Samuel Ley had accused Lethbridge of depriving another man of the previous invention of the same diving engine in the July 1749 issue of The Gentleman's Magazine. Lethbridge emphatically denied this in the most gentlemanly banter he could muster, and then went on to give the description above.

Lethbridge was reportedly very successful in his endeavor. His first success was in the salvage of the English Indiaman Vansittart, which sank in 1718 in the Cape Verdes off the Isle of May. Lethbridge and another early diving hero, Jacob Rowe, recovered incredible amounts of silver from the Vansittart. For several years following that salvage, Lethbridge and Rowe salvaged several wrecks for the Spanish, British, and Dutch owners.

One can note from the excerpt that Lethbridge's arms protruded through the pressure vessel, and were sealed with a leather cuff. Therefore, this suit might be more appropriately called a semi-atmospheric diving suit. It is nevertheless included here, since the technology to create any workable joint to maintain the entire person at one-atmosphere did not, of course, yet exist.

On closer examination, it seems unlikely that Lethbridge was actually able to stay submerged for 34 minutes as he claims, especially if he was to accomplish any appreciable work. Of course, as history records, it didn't seem to hurt his fortunes.

Following Lethbridge and Rowe's exploits there was little to no mention of the armored diving suit until 1838, an almost 80 year lull from Lethbridge's death in 1759. A replica of Lethbridge's "diving engine" is on display at the Heritage Shipwreck Museum of Charlestown, in Cornwall, England.

Taylor, 1838 (U.K.) - W.H. Taylor designed the first known armored diving suit with articulating joints in 1838. The suit was to be surface-supplied and had accordion-like joints of spring steel, reinforced and water sealed with leather.

From his drawing, it seems that either Taylor had no intentions of his suit being a true atmospheric diving suit, or else had no understanding of the depth-pressure relationship. The suit appeared to exhaust directly into the surrounding water from a short hose located at the divers waist. Therefore, the interior pressure would have had to be greater than the water pressure at depth. Also, the soft cloth joints of the suit would have most likely collapsed when exposed to any considerable pressure.

Phillips, 1856 (U.S.) - An American from Chicago named Lodner D. Phillips designed the first completely enclosed atmospheric diving suit in 1856. His design consisted of a barrel-shaped upper torso with domed ends and was the first to incorporate ball and socket type joints in the articulated arms and legs. The suit had at least eight joints. The arms each had joints at the shoulders and elbows and the legs had joints at the knees and hips. It had a ballast tank on the back, a single viewing port, a man-hole cover entrance on top, and simple manipulators at the ends of the arms - all standard fare on most atmospheric diving suits in use today. Air was to be supplied and exhausted through a twin hose entering near the top of the suit. It included a lifting eye in the center of the hatch cover for hauling it up and down.

Some of the more interesting features were the waist-high hand-cranked propeller at the front of the suit, the additional manipulators projecting from the waist that extended the operator's reach, and the "buoyancy" balloon attached to the top that would have certainly collapsed with increasing depth.

No record exists to indicate the Phillips suit was ever built, but many features of the design can be seen in similar more successful suits over a half century later.

Carmagnolle, 1882 (France) - Two French inventors, the Carmagnolle brothers of Marseilles, France, patented an armored diving dress in 1882. The joints were made of partial sections of concentric spheres formed to create a close fit and intended to be kept watertight with a loop of waterproof cloth attached to both sections of the joint and folded so as to slide upon itself when the joint was moved. The suit had no less than 22 of these rolling convolute joints; four in each leg, six per arm, and two in the body of the suit. The suit was the first truly anthropomorphic suit design to be constructed.

Another distinctive feature of the Carmagnolle suit was the helmet. It had 25 individual two-inch diameter glass viewing ports spaced at the average distance of the human eyes. An additional port at the top of the helmet could be removed to ventilate the suit when at the surface. The Carmagnolle suit is on display at the National Maritime Museum in Paris.

Bowdoin, 1915 (U.S.) - Harry L. Bowdoin of Bayonne, N.J., received a patent in 1915 for a new type of oil-filled rotary jointed armored diving suit. The joints had a small duct leading to the interior of the joint to allow the external and internal pressure to equalize. However, without constant lubrication, the joints likely would have run dry quickly and prevented rotation of the joint. The suit was designed to have four joints in each arm and leg, and included one joint in each thumb, for a total of eighteen. Disconnecting the upper and lower halves made entry into the suit possible. The addition of spacers in the waist, arm, and legs would have made it possible to accommodate various operators. Four small viewing ports and a single built-in chest-mounted lamp facilitated underwater viewing. Unfortunately, there is no evidence that Bowdoin's suit was ever built.

Neufeldt and Kuhnke, 1917 (Germany) - In 1917, the German firm Neufeldt and Kuhnke built two atmospheric diving suit models based on their patented ball and socket joint, which utilized ball bearings to transfer the pressure load. The German Navy tested the second-generation suit to 530 feet (161m) in 1924, but limb movement was very difficult and the joints were not "fail-safe."

Even so, the suit afforded intervention at previously unheard of depths. The German Navy reportedly had several Neufeldt and Kuhnke suits, called "Panzertaucher" (armored diver), during World War II, which later found their way into allied hands after the war. There are unconfirmed reports that the Russian Navy even built copies.

The Neufeldt and Kuhnke suit had joints at each shoulder, one at each thigh and ankle and small ball joints for the mechanical "pincers." The joints were sealed by means of a rubber skirt that attached to the socket and slid over the ball. Separation and mobility of the ball and socket joint was achieved by ball bearings between the two. The waist of the suit included a ballast tank that could be filled with water or blown clear with compressed air.

The Neufeldt and Kuhnke suit achieved its fame as a valuable assistant in the salvage of gold and silver boullion from the S.S. Egypt, an 8,000-ton Peninsular and Oriental liner that sank in May of 1922 while outward bound from London to Bombay. Though the suit was relegated to a mere observation chamber at the depth of the Egypt, it was used successfully to direct the mechanical grabs that tore their way to the bullion in the strongholds below. To reduce the chance of leakage, the suit was first simplified to one joint at each shoulder and two in each leg, and later the suit was completely replaced by an even simpler observation-only chamber. Over $1 million in gold and silver was recovered with the help of the Neufeldt and Kuhnke suit. There is at least one surviving Neufeldt and Kuhnke suit on display at the Museum of Man-in-the-Sea in Panama City, Florida.

Galeazzi, 1930s (Italy) - Roberto Galeazzi, a famous diving helmet inventor, produced and marketed a suit similar in design to the Neufeldt suit. There were at least 25 suits built, the last one in 1976. According to Jim English, Vice President and General Manager of Hardsuits International, the Galeazzi suit can be seen all over Italy, unfortunately, decorating the entrances of their Naval bases. At least one stands in the Museo Nazionale delle Attività Subacquee (National Museum of Underwater Activities) in Ravenna, Italy.

Campos, 1922 (U.S.) - In 1922, Victor Campos of New York patented an atmospheric diving suit with oil-filled rotary joints. The suit was reportedly taken to a depth of 600 feet (184m). Though the suit could have reached this depth, the joints most likely would not have had any appreciable movement. However, as mentioned previously, such suits were sometimes used quite successfully as observation chambers. The Campos joint was a fail-safe design, in that if the joint were to fail, it would automatically seal and not allow water to enter the suit.

Peress and the Tritonia, 1922 (U.K.) - In 1922, Joseph Salim Peress patented the first spherical type joint, which used a fluid to transfer the pressure. He built his first suit in 1925, which unfortunately did not work. Peress later redesigned the joints on an annular cylinder and piston resting on a cushion of fluid, which came to be known as Type 1.

In 1932 he built a second ADS, which was then referred to as the Tritonia, and is now commonly called "Jim I." It was successfully used on the wreck of the Lusitania at a depth of 312 feet (95m). In 1937 the Tritonia successfully completed trials with the British Royal Navy, but the Navy then concluded that there was no current requirement for deep sea diving and it was more interested in developing ambient pressure diving systems.

Peress's expertise was harnessed later in the century to help develop the JIM Suit, named after Peress's chief diver Jim Jarrett. The second suit Peress built is on display at the British Science Museum in London. Peress died June 4, 1978.

Mikalow, 1952 (U.S.) - During a period of history considered by many to be a gap in the development of the atmospheric diving suit, Alfred A. Mikalow, once owner of the Coastal School of Deep Sea Diving in Oakland, Calif., designed and built an ADS. His suit, employing ball and socket joints, was built for the purpose of locating and salvaging sunken treasure. The suit was reportedly capable of diving to depths of 1,000 feet (300m) and was used successfully to dive on the sunken vessel City of Rio de Janeiro in 328 feet (99m) of water near Fort Point, San Francisco, Calif.

The Mikalow had several interchangeable instruments that could be attached in place of the usual manipulators at the end of the arms. The "deep-sea diving robot," as it was called in Fell's Guide to Sunken Treasure Ships of the World, carried seven 90-cubic-feet high-pressure cylinders to provide the breathing gas and control the buoyancy. The ballast compartment covered the air cylinders and opened at the bottom near the diver's legs. The suit used hydrophones as its primary means of communication with the surface and powerful searchlights were attached to the head and arms.

Litton, 1967 (U.S.) - In the late 1960s Litton Industries Space Science Laboratories announced the development of a new ADS design capable of operating to depths of 600 feet (182m). The UX-1 suit (for underwater experimental) was to use a combination of constant-volume convolute joints and rotary joints. The basic principle was to place the geometric axis of the suit joints as close as possible to the anatomical axis of the operator's articulation. The suit design surpassed any that had been built to date, though it never made it to production. In 1974, prior to inventing the Newtsuit, Phil Nuytten bought all rights and patents to the Litton suit.

The ADS Comes of Age
JIM, 1969 (U.K.) - Mike Humphrey and Mike Borrow, partners in the English firm Underwater Marine Engineering, recognized the value atmospheric diving suits could bring to the offshore industry. By happenstance they were able to locate and convince Joseph Peress, inventor of the Tritonia atmospheric diving suit to join them.

The old Tritonia was located in a factory in Glasgow and shipped under the "utmost" secrecy. (The crate apparently arrived with the words "Lusitania Diving Suit" in large block letters along the side - so much for trade secrets). The suit was still divable and required only minor refurbishing before Peress, in his late 60s, demonstrated the suit in a tank in Hampshire.

After a lack of financial support from the oil and gas industry, a research grant was secured from the British government to proceed with their plan. DHB Construction (for Dennison, Hibberd and Borrow) was formed to develop the suit. The first suit was completed in November 1971 and underwent trials aboard the HMS Reclaim in early 1972. Two dives were conducted in excess of 400 feet (121m), limited only by the depth of the ambient divers providing support. Development and testing continued until March 4, 1974, when Mike Humphrey conducted a "chamber" dive to the equivalent of 1,000 feet (300m).

Despite the successful testing, the offshore petroleum industry still expressed little interest in the ADS. It wasn't until 1975, when Oceaneering acquired DHB Construction and garnered the exclusive rights to the application of JIM suits in the oilfields, that JIM became successful. In 1976 the JIM suit was used for a series of four dives on PanArtic's Hecla M25 well. The dives were made through a hole cut in an ice floe 16 feet (5m) thick, on which the rig was positioned.

The first dive, made by Walt Thompson of Oceaneering, set a record for the longest working dive below 490 feet (149m). It lasted five hours and 59 minutes at a depth of 905 feet (275m). The Arctic dives proved that JIM was capable of performing oilfield operations in very cold and very deep water. Average water temperature at the wellhead was measured at 29 degrees F, while the average internal suit temperature was about 50 degrees F. The operators simply wore a heavy wool sweater for thermal protection. The following year the JIM suit was used on over 35 jobs with an average duration of over two hours and depths varying from 300 to 1,130 feet (300 to 394m). By 1981 there were 19 JIM suits in existence.

The first JIM suits were cast of magnesium because of its high strength-to-weight ratio and weighed around 1,100 pounds in air (including the diver). The corrosion problems with magnesium were averted by careful surface preparation and coating. The suit had an in-water weight of 15 to 50 pounds negative buoyancy. Ballast was attached to the front of the suit, and could be jettisoned from within, propelling the operator to the surface at approximately 100 feet (30m) per minute.

The suit also included a communication link and jettisonable umbilical. The original JIM suit had eight of the annular oil-supported universal joints, one in each shoulder and lower arm, and one at each hip and knee.

Eventually, the magnesium casting was replaced with fiberglass construction and the single joints evolved into many segmented joints, individually allowing only seven degrees of motion, but when added together, giving the operator a greater range of motion. Additionally, the four-port dome was replaced by a transparent acrylic one that allowed the operator a much-improved field of vision. The fiberglass suit was known as the JAM suit. A lighter more anthropomorphic suit was built of aluminum or glass-reinforced plastic, and was known as the SAM suit. The aluminum model was rated to 1,000 feet (300m) and the fiberglass suit was rated to 2,000 feet (610m).

Every technology has a defining point when it becomes wholly viable to the market it wishes to serve. For the atmospheric diving suit, the JIM suit was that point. During no period prior to JIM was the atmospheric diving suit used as extensively or successfully as a means of underwater intervention. The suit was the basis of a new generation of suits that would prove their worth for many years in the oil industry and elsewhere. Rightfully so, there has probably been more written about the JIM suit than any other atmospheric diving suit developed. There are several versions of the JIM suit on display at museums throughout the U.S. and the U.K.

WASP, 1978 (U.K.) - The WASP was developed and built by Graham Hawkes of Offshore Submersibles (OSEL), formerly of the UMEL/DHB consortium. After successful legal action, Oceaneering prevented OSEL from selling the WASP, alleging that Hawkes had developed the suit while still working for UMEL. Interestingly enough, prior to the legal battle, the contract for the first WASP suit was to Wharton Williams, a firm that later was instrumental in the development of the SPIDER, an ADS strongly resembling the WASP.

The first two WASPs were built and in operation in mid-1978. It is similar in design to the JIM suit, except that below the waist it has a glass reinforced plastic cylinder in place of articulated legs. Small multi-directional thrusters, controlled by foot pedals within the cylinder, gave the WASP more mobility. Although the developers of the JIM suit experimented with a thruster-pack earlier, the WASP was the first suit to successfully apply thrusters, allowing the ADS a mid-water capability not present before.

Oceaneering's WASP has led the field in deepwater repair, setting what is claimed to be a new working water depth record for an on-bottom pipeline repair project. The pipeline repair, completed at 2,150 feet (652m), was made to an eight-inch gas pipeline connecting a well in Mariner Energy's Pluto field to a platform 29 miles away. The job was performed using the WASP and Oceaneering's 150HP Millennium ROV, illustrating the effectiveness of the ADS and ROV in tandem.

SPIDER, 1979 (U.K.) - Wharton Williams Ltd. and Vickers Slingsby Ltd. developed the Self-Propelled Inspection Diver, or SPIDER, in the 1970s in answer to the WASP. The basic design was very similar to the WASP, in that it had segmented ball and socket arm joints, a hemispherical pressure vessel for the legs and a 360-degree viewing dome. One of the SPIDER's unique features was the two hydraulically operated suction pads. These "sticky feet" were located in the equipment package and were intended to allow the SPIDER to attach itself to any relatively smooth surface, if you could find one in the barnacle encrusted sea. Additionally, rather than the standard mechanical advantage manipulators found on other atmospheric diving suits, the SPIDER had hydraulically operated manipulators. An adjustable pressure relief valve permitted varying the grip pressure. Like the WASP, the SPIDER also has variable ballast control. Two SPIDERs, owned by Silvercrest Submarines, are currently operating in Hawaii in support of a scientific research program.

Newtsuit/Hardsuit, 1985 (Canada) - Phil Nuytten developed the Newtsuit after leaving Oceaneering in the 1980s. Based on a rotary joint he patented in 1984, the Newtsuit was built by Hardsuits International, a subsidiary of Stolt Offshore. Now called the Hardsuit, it is a truly anthropomorphic suit with articulated arms and legs and just enough room for the operator to pull his arms back into the body of the suit to operate interior controls. The suit is capable of a wide range of motion, enabling it to enter some spaces previously accessible only to divers. The original Newtsuit is now on display at the Vancouver Maritime Museum, B.C.

There are currently three versions of the Hardsuit available: the original cast aluminum 1,000-foot (300m) version (Hardsuit 1000), of which 17 are in service; six versions rated to 1,200 feet (364m); and a forged aluminum 2,000-foot (600m) version recently delivered to the U.S. Navy for its submarine rescue program. Additionally, due to the differences in commercial certification and U.S. Navy certification criteria, a commercial version, designated the Hardsuit 2500, will be available to the industry and certified to a depth of 2,500 feet (758m).

The Hardsuit has 16 patented hydraulically compensated rotary joints, four in each arm and leg, that allow the pilot to physically move the arms and legs of the suit. In many of the suits operated by Hardsuits, the hip joint has been rendered immobile, presumably because it provided little additional mobility. Manually-operated manipulators at the end of each hand pod allow the pilot to grasp and maneuver objects underwater. Two 2.25 HP thruster modules are controlled by footpads within the suit, permitting the pilot to fly from point to point or maintain station within a light current.

The suit's life support system allows it to work at depth for up to six hours, with additional emergency life support for up to 48 hours. It has no battery back-up for its thrusters, and therefore it is Stolt Offshore's policy to limit operations to water depths not greater than the depth rating of the suit. The suit opens at the waist for entry and exit. Extensions can be inserted in the legs and arms of the suit to accommodate any size operator.

Advantages and Disadvantages
After over 200 years of development, the basic ADS premise is unchanged; separate divers from their environment while allowing them to complete work. As with everything, there are advantages and disadvantages. While most of the advantages were as true in Lethbridge's day as they are today, it was well after Lethbridge that the advantages began to be thoroughly understood, specifically those related to the physiology of diving.

The primary advantage of the atmospheric diving suit concerns the elimination or lessened severity of the physiological hazards generally associated with ambient diving. Other specific advantages of the atmospheric diving suit include:

  • A major advantage of the ADS, specifically over the ROV, is the ability to put a person directly at the worksite where he is most effective in improvising. Additionally, the ADS has a greater dexterity and much better depth perception than the ROV.
  • No lengthy decompression, or compression, is necessary. Therefore the ADS can get to the worksite and return much faster than the ambient diver.
  • The ADS may make unlimited excursions up and down the water column to any depth required within its rated depth, unlike saturation divers who have a limited safe excursion range from their working depth.
  • The thruster package gives the ADS a mid-water and moderate current capability.
  • Minimum or no pre-engineered tooling is required and often, standard diver tooling may be used.
  • The ADS eliminates the need for special high-altitude deep-diving decompression tables and is especially useful in sites where access may be limited or impractical for a saturation system.
  • The ADS may stay at the worksite for periods of six hours or more if necessary.
  • The ADS may carry to the worksite many of the features of ROVs, such as lights, cameras, sonar, and basic tools.

The primary disadvantage of the ADS is it separates the human's primary mechanical tool, his hand, from the task, with little or no real feedback for the operator. This leads to another important disadvantage of the ADS: it can't work well in extremely turbid waters. Other disadvantages include:

  • The ADS is generally less capable than the ROV in carrying payloads.
  • As compared to the diver and small work class ROVs, the ADS's ability to access confined spaces is limited.
  • In terms of surface support the ADS requires less support than a saturation system, but more than the average ROV work package.
  • The ADS footprint and load generally follows that of surface support; less than saturation systems but more than ROVs.
  • Putting the human operator at any work site is a concern and must be considered during project planning.

Specific Applications and Deepwater Trends
The majority of atmospheric diving suit use is in the offshore oil and gas industry, but it has also seen use in salvage, high-altitude diving, and oceanographic research. Some of the proven applications in the offshore arena are platform inspection, anode replacement, cathodic protection and thickness readings, crack detection, riser clamp installation, pipeline inspection, rigging and salvage, flooded member detection, hydraulic tool operation, pipeline tie-ins, marine salvage, and inland water inspection.

Additionally, after a period of 30 years it has been reintroduced to the U.S. Navy for use in its Deep Submergence Rescue Program. Other international navies are also employing the atmospheric diving suit to assist distressed submarines.

The Hardsuit 2000, currently used primarily by the Navy, has already been tested to 3,000 feet (910m) to Lloyds and ABS standards at Carderock Naval Surface Warfare Center in Maryland. "We think we can go to 3,000 feet without any redesign whatsoever, and in fact they have been tested to that in a chamber, and theoretically we believe we can go as deep as 5,000 feet (1,517m)," says John Halwachs of Hardsuits, Inc. It was admitted that it would require a major redesign of the joints; and considering the engineering involved, this is undoubtedly no small task.

The Next Generation ADS
Hardsuit 2000 - Already ocean-tested and fresh from a submarine rescue exercise in Singapore, this is the latest development by Hardsuits International. Developed at the request of the U.S. Navy, the Hardsuit 2000 is a forged aluminum 2,000 feet (610m) version of the shallower suits, designed to the Navy's stringent requirements. The U.S. Navy has taken delivery of one suit and three more are on order. The Hardsuit has also been an integral part of both the French and Italian Navy Submarine Rescue Programs since 1993.

Additionally, Hardsuits is exploring other avenues to update their ADS. Jim Halwachs, Hardsuits Engineer, says they are currently doing prototype testing of Electric Ring Propulsors (ERP) such as those seen on the Quest ROV from Alstom Automation Schilling Robotics. Some of the obvious advantages of the ERP are fewer moving parts and therefore less wear and maintenance. The disadvantage is the initial cost, but if proven to be a reliable alternative to the standard motor-driven propeller, ERPs could well offer a long term cost savings. Likewise, various inspection packages, such as cathodic protection inspection packages, are being added to their ADS to broaden their usefulness.

WASP 3 - The next generation WASP, of which two are expected to be produced in 2001, will be the first major update to the Oceaneering-owned atmospheric diving suit. According to Eric Hammans, Oceaneering Project Manager, the new WASP will have thrusters three times more powerful than the original, longer life support, updated atmospheric monitoring system, lateral thrust capability, two onboard camera systems, enhanced thruster control and fiber optic data transmission. Additionally, it will have an updated and redesigned control room with computer readouts of all the essential functions. Departing from the traditional yello w, the WASP 3 will be an orange, 2,500-foot (758m) version of the current WASP. The new thruster system will also be vectored in such a way as to allow movement in the lateral direction, a feature not common on most atmospheric diving suits.

Exosuit - Dr. Phil Nuytten, inventor of the Newtsuit and a pioneer in the industry, has introduced what may be the future of atmospheric diving suits. The Exosuit promises to be a swimmable and non-tethered one-atmosphere diving suit resembling the stuff only seen in science fiction movies. But this is not science fiction, and Dr. Nuytten has delivered before. When confronted with skepticism, he commented, "The same things were said about the Newtsuit before it went into production as I've heard about the Exosuit."

The two standout features are that it is swimmable and non-tethered. Current atmospheric diving suits in use today are too heavy to facilitate manually propelling them, with the exception of walking, from one location to another. The Exosuit is expected to be light and flexible enough to allow just that.

We've Come a Long Way
The ADS is still evolving, albeit more slowly than in the past. The oil industry is poised to go deeper and deeper in search of oil. If the atmospheric diving suit is to continue to progress deeper, and keep pace, it will likely need the kind of industry support that was sought after to develop the JIM suit. Though with the availability of alternative underwater intervention methods, especially those that can go deeper and without the risk of human life, no matter how small that risk may be, the ADS industry is unlikely to propel itself deeper. Instead, ADS firms are more likely to continue to market themselves toward other interests, such as submarine rescue programs. Additionally, in the offshore oil and gas industry, they will presumably continue to extend their capabilities, within current depth limitations, by adding work packages that will allow them to perform a greater variety of tasks.

The advantages of the ADS are clear, but not always sufficient to warrant placing a human being at the depths required to complete the job. Still, the atmospheric diving suit seems firmly ingrained in the offshore oil and gas industry and will always be a valuable tool when it is the sensible choice for the task at hand. UW

Mike Thornton is a U.S. Naval Civil Engineer Corps Officer in the Ocean Facilities Program, with over 11 years of combined enlisted and commissioned active duty time. His next assignment is as the Director of the Diving Operations Division at Naval Facilities Engineering Service Center in Port Hueneme, Calif. He has a Bachelor of Mechanical Engineering from Auburn University and a Master of Engineering in Ocean Engineering from Texas A&M University. He can be reached at

Dr. Robert E. Randall graduated from Ohio State University with a Bachelor of Mechanical Engineering degree in 1963. He served in the U.S. Navy as a submarine officer from 1963 to 1967. He received an MS degree in 1969 and a Ph.D. in 1972 in Ocean Engineering from the University of Rhode Island. He worked for the Naval Underwater Systems Center in Newport, R,I., from 1972-73 and for the Harbor Branch Foundation in Fort Pierce, Fla., from 1973-75. Dr. Randall is now Professor of Ocean and Civil Engineering at Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas. He published a textbook Elements of Ocean Engineering in 1997. Dr. Randall is also a Fellow in the Marine Technology Society.

E. Kurt Albaugh, P.E., is a Senior Consulting Engineer at Mustang Engineering, specializing in economic, cost, and feasibility studies for offshore and onshore field developments. He holds a B.S.C.E. from Youngstown State University and a M.C.E. from Rice University. He is also the Poster Editor and Technical Advisor for Offshore magazine.

UnderWater Magazine is the quarterly journal of the Association of Diving Contractors International, Inc. It is published by Doyle Publishing Company for the commercial diving, ROV, and underwater industries. Entire contents ©1993 - 1999 Doyle Publishing Company. Reproduction in whole or in part without express written permission is prohibited.