Unsupported Browser Detected

Internet Explorer lacks support for the features of this website. For the best experience, please use a modern browser such as Chrome, Firefox, or Edge.

What Does it Take to Be a NOAA Diver in the Southeast?

February 07, 2024

NOAA divers collect an incredible amount of data underwater to support research on coral reefs and other habitats. Explore the challenging skills and extensive knowledge required of these divers to get this critical work done safely and efficiently.

A woman underwater taking off scuba gear. NOAA divemaster, Erin Cain, practices scuba unit removal and replacement skills. This exercise allows divers to check and resolve possible entanglement or gear malfunction issues. Credit: NOAA Fisheries/Caitlin Langwiser

Scientific diving is an essential research tool and maintaining researcher safety is the top priority. NOAA Fisheries collects a ton of data from the ocean to better understand marine ecosystems and sustainably manage our fisheries. 

Collecting these data in underwater environments presents unique challenges, including:

  • Limited visibility underwater
  • Varying temperatures
  • Handling scientific equipment underwater while maintaining neutral buoyancy
  • Ensuring that data is collected accurately and safely
  • Monitoring diving parameters (breathing gas, time, depth, decompression status) while conducting research
A scuba diver swimming underwater in a pool with one arm outstretched.
NOAA divemaster, Allan Bright, practices underwater navigation. This skill is a core component of a NOAA diver’s training, as it gives orientation to the underwater environment. It can aid in locating survey sites and help prevent a diver from becoming lost. Credit: NOAA Fisheries/Caitlin Langwiser

Our divers undergo intense training and learn detailed safety protocols in order to complete this important job safely. NOAA divers from the Southeast Fisheries Science Center must complete extensive annual dive training. This guarantees they are equipped to handle the unique challenges of working underwater. 

Dive Training

Training for scientific diving includes:

  • In-water diving skills
  • Academic instruction
  • Watermanship assessment
  • CPR/First Aid/Emergency Oxygen certification
  • Dive rescue scenario drills

Practicing diving skills such as mask removal, regulator recovery, and air sharing teaches divers to safely adapt to unexpected situations in the field. Rescue drills require divers to practice and demonstrate their skills in emergency situations both individually and as a team. 

Two people practice CPR on a training apparatus.
NOAA divemasters, Joe Contillo and Erin Cain, provide care to a simulated unconscious, not breathing patient. Quick response times in performing CPR, applying an AED, and providing emergency oxygen are essential life saving techniques practiced by unit divers on a regular basis. Credit: NOAA Fisheries

Assessments to evaluate stamina and comfort in the water ensure divers have the physical fitness and confidence needed for an intense dive schedule. Divers may dive up to six dives a day and a maximum of 10 consecutive days of diving. It is important that divers review their dive instruction and training materials annually.

Any research that requires diving contains at least one NOAA divemaster or lead diver. There are currently eight divemasters at the Southeast Fisheries Science Center facility in Miami who see to the safety and success of diving operations. NOAA divemasters receive additional specialized training from the NOAA Dive Center

Emphasizing safety training and adherence to safety protocols allows researchers to make important contributions to our understanding and management of coral reefs. It also minimizes the risks inherent to underwater data collection.

With the annual training requirements met, these NOAA divers are eager to apply their honed skills to the many NOAA diving projects.  

Southeast NOAA Fisheries Dive Units

A woman poses with 2 training dummies.
Unit dive supervisor and dive medical technician, Caitlin Langwiser, ready to conduct annual training for the Miami dive unit. It takes a lot of gear and preparation to ensure each diver’s skills are up to NOAA diving standards. Credit: NOAA Fisheries/Erin Cain

NOAA has more than 30 active diving units across the continental United States and its territories. Six of these units are in the southeast within NOAA Fisheries; Southeast Fisheries Science Center divers work in dive units in Beaufort, North Carolina, Miami and Panama City, Florida, Pascagoula, Mississippi and Galveston, Texas. Additionally, the NOAA Fisheries Southeast Regional Office in St. Petersburg, Florida has a diving unit. The Miami dive unit is the second most active diving program in NOAA. In 2022, Miami divers conducted more than 1,100 dives, accounting for 25 percent of all NOAA scientific dives for the year. This translates to more than 25 days and nights underwater. 

The Miami Dive Unit

The Miami dive unit has one dive medical technician who is trained in operational diving medicine and emergency care. This provides an additional level of safety on remote diving missions. The skills of a dive medical technician are similar to that of a paramedic, with specialized training in dive-specific injuries and the operation of hyperbaric recompression chambers.

There are several NOAA Fisheries research groups that heavily rely on scientific diving to achieve their goals. The largest diving-focused research programs at the Center’s Miami location are the Coral Reef Ecology and Coral Research and Assessment Laboratories. 

Diving for Data

The information collected by divers helps us provide the science and data needed to effectively manage marine life of the Southeast Region and Atlantic high seas. Thanks to these teams and their extensive training, NOAA Fisheries divers in the Southeast are well prepared to keep “diving for data”!

9 men and women stand in front of a boat on a trailer posing with training dummies.
First session of training for the 2023 season. Divers shown here are Andy Fullerton, Grant Rawson, Ian Smith, Jennifer McWhorter, Mike Judge, Caitlin Langwiser, Margaret Miller, Kat Grazioso, Erin Cain. Credit: NOAA Fisheries

Last updated by Southeast Fisheries Science Center on February 08, 2024