NAUI's New Technical Diving Program

By Ty Sawyer
Photo by William Dooley

Most of us are not familiar with the world frequented by technical divers; such places as the USS Monitor, the Andrea Doria, Hole in the Wall off Roatan, Nahoch Nah Chich Cave in the Yucatan and deep water oil rigs. Many exist beyond the 130 foot depth limit imposed by our recreational dive training. But more than that, they exist beyond our ability to dive them. They are pure technical dives. A diver requires rigorous training before even attempting to dive them; then a little bit more: qualification.

This was 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 sidebar) 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 protocol; 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 U/W 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.

For more information on the NAUI Technical Program, call (813) 628-6284.

NAUI 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 Readey

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