PANAMA CITY, Florida - For the U.S. Navy's 40 saturation divers, requalification on the Fly Away Saturation Diving System (SATFAD) here this week ensures the Navy retains its deep water recovery capability.
The Sailors train on the SATFAD system three to four times a year to retain their qualifications on the unique system that allows these Navy divers to execute missions such as deep ocean salvage, aircraft or black box retrieval.
"We train so the procedures become routine, and we're using this opportunity to train now until a real disaster happens," said Saturation Diving System Program Manager Paul McMurtrie, who is also a retired U.S. Navy Master Diver. "We train here in Panama City, Florida because this is where the expertise is located, and we can conduct training operations here year round."
The March 2015 SATFAD testing is conducted pier-side, and only in 30 feet of seawater, simply to give the divers the opportunity to practice operations such as manned pressurization, manned launch and recovery, watch stander drills and emergency procedures.
"It's a lot of hands-on training," said McMurtrie. "There is a lot to learn here from the divers who have been doing the job for decades, either in the military or as civilians."
This one-of-a-kind system is owned by Naval Sea Systems Command and maintained by a crew of five civilians from the command's Supervisor of Diving and Salvage organization. It is a complex combination of pressured dive chambers and metal containers that allow the Sailors to work and live on a barge at sea and dive in the ocean's depths for up to 30 days.
The main chamber, the deck decompression chamber, allows the Sailors to achieve desired and pressurized depth only then to connect to a Dive Bell that is then "locked out" and submerged into the water by way of a hydraulic arm that picks up the dive bell and places it and the men inside into the ocean.
This year, 2015, is the Year of the Military Diver (#YOTMD), and the 70th anniversary of Naval Surface Warfare Center Panama City Division. It is also the 100th anniversary of the Mark V dive system, the 40th anniversary of Women in Diving and the 35th anniversary of Naval Diving Salvage Training Center in Panama City, Florida.