Underwater Technology at Jensen Beach


As the primary selected writer, I wish to acknowledge the tremendous collaborative effort, and contributions made from every living faculty and staff member who could be contacted. Without this team effort, this article could never have been written. In alphabetical order, they are: Don Barthelmess, Ph.D., who coordinated all graduate inputs; Dudley Crosson, Ph.D., who provided the information discussing the Diver Medical Technician aspects; David Dinsmore, M.Ed., who originally suggested writing a history and provided a wealth of information and overall editing assistance; Bob Evans, MBA, MHR, who provided many details of the 22-week and UT degree programs during the programs’ later years; Tom Ingram, MBA, CAE, who assisted in the write-up of the Sport Diver Operations program; Frank Irwin, who provided many critical details; Dick McCoy, B.S., who helped fill in information on the early days of the program; Leon Morrison, who was the equipment expert and a history provider of the final days of the programs; Drew Richardson, MBA, Ed.D., who was the main contributor of the Sport Diving Operations program section; Rick Valentine, B.A., Capt. USN (ret.), who provided much useful input; and Charlie Vallance, MBA, who significantly contributed to the history of the whole program, especially the early days.

This article is dedicated to the students, instructors and administrators who gave their all to make the FIT/UT diving programs among the very best in the country.

—Douglas Soule, MBA, Capt. USNR (ret.)




The quest for exploration and production of oil and gas in the ocean began in fairly shallow water sites off the coast of California in the early 1950s. Over the following three decades, the oil and gas industry continued to push technological limits to explore and reclaim oil and gas from deeper and deeper locations. In many ways, the incredible technological advancements that occurred in the aerospace industry during the 1960s and later were similar in the offshore oil and gas sector in many locations around the world. The same could be said about the diving industry. Diving work was now routinely conducted at depths of 500 feet and deeper requiring specialty gas breathing mixtures, highly specialized tools and sophisticated topside technical support. Such work, referred to as “Saturation Diving”, involves the use of pressurized chambers. These chambers known as “Deck Decompression Chambers” (DDC) provide living quarters for divers at the same pressure as the underwater worksite. Divers are transported to and from the underwater worksite via a detachable bell that is mated and unmated to and from the DDC. Early on the demand for these diving services was immense but the supply of well-trained commercial divers to do this dangerous and difficult work was visibly absent. The Underwater Technology (UT) Program at the Jensen Beach Campus was systematically constructed to help meet this demand and soon established a reputation as one of the very best commercial diver training programs in the country. It would also become an innovative program that provided training for emerging newer hyperbaric technologies and medical disciplines.

Early Days

Early days scuba instructors Charlie Vallance, Dick McCoy and
Drew Richardson.

It all began in 1970 with an ex NASA engineer and certified scuba instructor by the name of Jim Woodberry who accepted a position to teach SCUBA at the Hydrospace Technical Institute (HTI) in Cocoa Beach, FL. Woodberry, as he was called, soon hired two students at HTI (Charlie Vallance and Len Whitlock) and an ex-commercial diver named John May as assistant instructors. By 1970 several trade school training programs had already been established to train commercial divers with the required skills to meet the vastly unfulfilled needs of the offshore oil industry. One of the first trade school programs was the Commercial Diving Center (CDC) in southern California. Two other programs, Santa Barbara City College in California and Highline Community College near Seattle offered similar training combined with the educational requirements for an Associate of Science Degree. Woodberry realized that a similar Associate Degree program located closer in proximity to the Gulf of Mexico oil industry could be highly successful and constructed a plan for a program that would ultimately become the Underwater Technology Associate Degree Program.

Once the conceptual program was approved by HTI, Woodberry immediately set out to procure startup funding and equipment that would be required for the program. He also began constructing a curriculum outline for the program based partially on the other two college programs in existence, but also from responses to questionnaires sent to diving companies in the Gulf of Mexico region. In 1972 the acquisition by FIT of the recently closed St Joseph’s College located on 84 acres of land adjoining the Indian River Intracoastal Waterway in Jensen Beach was finalized. This new branch campus was ideally suited for Marine Sciences programs. The facility included everything needed to commence instruction including classrooms, administrative offices, a pier for boats, swimming pool, dormitory and other typical college facilities. All of the previous HTI programs were transferred to the Jensen Beach location and HTI was dissolved. Woodberry and his assistant instructors, minus Lenny Whitlock, relocated to Jensen Beach.

The upfront costs required to start the UT Program were significant and required funding beyond that available through the university. Woodberry secured a significant financial grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) for the purpose of supporting the hiring of additional staff, faculty and the purchasing of needed equipment. The grant was in response to the Undersea Medical Society’s National Plan for the Safety and Health of Divers in their Quest for Subsea Energy, which was supported by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, NOAA and the Department of Energy (DOE). Later, NOAA’s Office of Sea Grant provided additional funds to FIT for the conversion of a U.S. Navy LCM 6 into a suitable surface-supply diving vessel. Another significant funding partner was the commercial diving industry. Several diving companies in the Gulf of Mexico region donated significant amounts of equipment including a diving recompression chamber for treating diving accidents, air compressors, welding machines and a variety of commonly used diving helmets used to support surface-supplied diving. The establishment of the UT Program was a joint venture between FIT, government and industry and an excellent example of collaboration to achieve a common goal.

Rolling Out the Program

As the creator of the UT Program, Woodberry was designated Department Head. In late 1975, two divisions were formed within the UT Program; scuba diving and surface-supplied diving. Charlie Vallance became the Division Head for the Scuba Diving Division (SDD) and Jim Wooly was hired as an instructor and Surface Supplied Diving Division (SSDD) Head. Drew Richardson, Tom Ingram and Dick McCoy were hired as scuba instructors. John May was reassigned the Surface Supplied Diving Division (SSDD) and Rick Paulzin, an Army trained diver with commercial diving experience, was also hired as a SSDD instructor. Leon Morrison, a diver with substantial knowledge and experience in all facets of diving and equipment was hired to join the SSDD as an equipment technician.

Marketing ads in sport diving publications announced the Associate Degree program and attracted enough qualified applicants to completely fill the first starting class the winter quarter of 1976. Basic scuba certification was a prerequisite for acceptance in the program. The UT academic program, although modified as the program matured, consisted of typical educational courses required for an Associate of Science Degree plus hands-on training required to be professional divers.

During the first year of the Program, student curricula consisted of scuba and surface-supplied diving, three English courses including technical writing, mathematics, oceanography, photography, rigging & seamanship, engineering drawing and blueprint reading, electricity, two diesel engine courses, welding, chemistry, and recompression operations. The second year curricula included several advanced courses involving advanced diving, diving physiology, compressor maintenance and repair, diving equipment repair, machine shop practices, additional welding, diving-related emergency medical training, hydraulic and pneumatic systems and underwater tools, ocean structures and oceanography, underwater inspection and repair, underwater cutting and welding, two courses in mixed gas diving, diving systems-fabrication techniques, lecture series with industry leaders and two technical elective courses. Elective courses offerings eventually included Underwater Ultrasonic Non-Destructive Testing, Diver Medic Certification, Underwater Explosives, and North Sea Diver Certification. These classes were either regularly scheduled as a quarter long course or offered between quarter breaks or the first week of the off quarter in a condensed full week format. Initially, UT classes began in the Winter Quarter to avoid any possible disruption from hurricanes. Later it was changed to the normal FIT schedule with classes starting in the Fall Quarter in order to better synchronize the availability of federal student assistance grant programs for UT students. The campus pool was the platform for initial advanced scuba training. Open water dives were conducted in the ocean near West Palm Beach using a chartered dive boat. Students in the first UT class completed their surface-supplied air diving training courses in a harbor in Fort Pierce, FL. All necessary diving and emergency equipment including a double lock recompression chamber was available to support diving operations.

LCM moored for open ocean diving.

As with any new and equipment intensive program, the surface-supplied diving portion of the program had some challenging times. It was apparent that the program was missing a critical capital asset that being a diving vessel. As aforementioned, NOAA helped locate, deliver and outfit a diving boat platform that could adequately and safely train divers in offshore conditions on both air and mixed gas. They arranged a lease contract for a LCM 6 (Landing Craft Mechanized) 6 landing craft from the US Navy and assisted in the delivery of the vessel to Jensen Beach from Virginia. NOAA also provided assistance with the extensive alterations performed on the hull plus the installation of the double lock recompression chamber and emergency backup high pressure air banks below decks, hydraulic systems that would power underwater tools, a three-point anchoring system and operate a winch with a swing davit to raise and lower divers on a stage from the deck were also installed. Two donated diesel driven air compressors for primary air supply and a generator finished the system. Four permanently mounted diver station control consoles were installed on the main deck and used to control and distribute breathing gasses of air and helium and oxygen mixes at depths down to 300 feet and pure oxygen at shallow decompression stop depths. Having met all marine surveyor standards and certifications, the LCM went into service almost immediately and provided nearly seamless service for all of the daily training demands for the duration of the program life. The LCM uniquely provided students with real life offshore and remote river diving experience where they made dives in a variety of conditions including low visibility, muddy bottoms, strong currents, and a rocking platform at sea. It also exposed them to the rigors of mobilizing a vessel, and setting up and breaking down dive stations while in transit, observing three-point mooring operation, piloting and general boat handling in a variety of weather and sea state conditions.

Early in 1976 the SSDD began recruiting instructors with dive training and equipment repair experience. David Dinsmore, a US Army Diving Officer and Army Liaison Officer assigned to Naval School of Diving and Salvage (NSDS). was hired as an instructor in the SSDD and within a few months assumed the Surface Supplied Diving Division Head position vacated when Wooley, May and Paulzin all resigned. David immediately recommended Doug Soule, a Lieutenant and Diving Officer in the U.S. Navy, to fill one of the vacant positions. Doug had shared an office with Dave at the NSDS and was a qualified instructor and Mixed Gas Diving Officer at the school. In 1977 Doug resigned his commission in the USN and accepted an instructor position at FIT within the SSDD. Once onboard, Doug’s first assignment was to develop the course outline and lesson plans for the first Mixed Gas Diving course to begin a month later. Shortly thereafter, Frank Irwin, a Navy Diving Corpsman and instructor, also at NSDS, was hired as an instructor in the SSDD Division upon his release from the Navy. Frank provided medical support and expertise at managing potential diving related injuries in the program and to teach recompression chamber operations and air diving courses.

A 20 ft. deep by 15 ft. wide square concrete training tank was built near the southeast end of the pool complex in the summer of 1977. This “Deep Tank” would become heavily used for a variety of classes. However, after conducting the first underwater cutting and welding course the tank required extensive cleaning. A donated circular 12ft wide by 8ft tall modular metal tank with glass viewing ports was located and assembled on the east slope of the “Deep Tank” to conduct training.

Since a new UT class now began every year, the Department needed to hire more instructors to manage additional courses offerings. These included: Dudley Crosson, a paramedic instructor and Diving Officer at Miami Dade Community College with Underwater Emergency Medical Technician experience, Art Noble, an engineer and seasoned commercial diver with saturation diving experience, Rick Valentine, a student at Florida Atlantic University and previous mixed gas qualified Navy First Class Diver and Joe Casper a recent graduate of the first UT class. Additionally, Jim Griffin was hired as a scuba instructor and Bob Evans, a previous Divers Training Academy graduate and Army/ Navy diver with previous commercial diving experience, was brought on as an equipment technician to assist Leon with equipment maintenance and repair.

Program Refinement

Now that the program was up and running with two full classes operating simultaneously one year apart, it was time to fine tune the SSDD portion of the program. Consistency of instructional objectives, instructional quality control, monitoring all aspects of diving safety, and course refinements including heightening the rigor of the in-water training locations and mechanical projects were some of the identified areas of desired improvement in the SSDD. Additionally, student scheduling and counseling required more focused attention. In addition to their instructor duties, Dave Dinsmore was assigned a lateral management position to lead those efforts and Doug Soule was assigned to the Surface Supplied Division Head position.

Starting in 1978, Doug, Dave, Rick and Art expanded or refreshed their own knowledge and experience in commercial oil filed diving. During the summer breaks, they ventured out to the Gulf of Mexico to find jobs. Santa Fe Diving hired Doug as a saturation dive controller but at his request allowed him to start as dive tender (the lowest level) and advance through each position as he gained thorough knowledge of the hardware and procedures and achieved competency in each position of both their saturation and surface-supplied diving operations. Dave went to work for Taylor Diving and Salvage as saturation life support technician (LST). He was fortunate to also be exposed to the fabrication and plumbing of control panels for new saturation systems. Art worked for Oceaneering as a LST one break and Santa Fe Diving and Construction the next to refresh himself with newer and different saturation equipment and procedures. Rick hired on with Oceaneering as a diver to learn more about the different types of underwater work in the offshore oil sector. Each instructor brought back knowledge and experiences that helped them provide higher quality, relevant instruction to the students.

With the start of any new educational program, many administrative tasks needed to be done. Course outlines and objectives, lesson plans, examinations and grading guidelines including performance-based criteria for “hands-on” practical portions of the program were developed and implemented. This performance-based grading ensured that students were accurately and fairly assessed of their ability to perform underwater work. Although the basic curricula remained fairly consistent, courses were both added and subtracted as the need arose. For example, it became apparent that many students lacked mechanical knowledge or experience. As a result, a course on basic mechanical tools and practices was added to the curricula.

Diver safety was always a primary focus in the UT Department. Ron Allison, a local physician served as the first UT Diving Physician. He was followed by Dr. Bob Soule, an emergency medicine physician with previous offshore commercial diving experience, who supervised the management of several patient recompression treatments on campus. Dr. David Bright, who also was a local physician, expressed an interest in providing this emergency type service. FIT sponsored Dr. Bright to attend the Navy Diving Medical Officer course in Bethesda MD. He returned fully certified to provide barotrauma medical services and contractually served as the on-call Diving Medical Physician until the triple lock recompression facility was finally closed.

One team celebrating the completion of the nighttime Christmas Tree project.

A deeper and more challenging air diving location infamously called “The Mud Hole” was located in the Intracoastal Waterway that utilized the LCM as a remote dive platform. Many challenging projects were conceived and integrated into air diving courses. For example, a segment of the final surface-supplied air diving course was redesigned to incorporate organizational, teamwork and supervisory training under more demanding conditions. Each team was provided a design to construct a structure similar to a “Christmas Tree” for an oil production platform. A student supervisor was assigned and responsible for locating all of the components, diving equipment and tools needed to construct the project at the dive locker and then mobilizing everything by truck to the LCM. The supervisor developed a work plan and diver rotation schedule as well as supervised the entire 12-hour nighttime evolution. An instructor observed every step of the project. Every student received the same grade awarded the team based on the accuracy of the finished project and the time it took to complete.

The Underwater Seminar course was designed to give students exposure to senior diving company executives. A different prominent figure in the industry addressed the students each class session. Most of these guest lecturers gave their time for free as a donation to the school. It was a great opportunity for students to hear wisdom from them and to ask questions.

The Association of Diving Contractors (ADC) held an annual trade show/conference in New Orleans. Each year UT second year students went with two instructors on a bus field trip to the show. The students visited the displays by diving companies and other diving related vendors and attended special seminars and hospitality rooms in order to learn more about individual companies and meet with key personnel of diving companies to begin future employment networking.

A revolutionary underwater cutting rod that eliminated the need for continuous high current to the torch was just beginning to be embraced by the commercial industry. The system only required a 12-volt DC source of ignition and a high flow of oxygen to start and maintain the burn of the mixture of self- burning metals. The vendor was contacted and agreed to supply rods for courses and to come to the campus yearly to conduct instruction on this new rod as part of the Underwater Cutting and Welding course.

The Underwater Hydraulics and Pneumatics course involved both academic training of hydraulic and pneumatic systems and the hands-on use of a variety of underwater tools. Parker Hannifin Company provided the training course “Fluid Power” for the academic portion of the hydraulics segment.

Rick Jones worked in Louisiana for one of the premier underwater video equipment manufacturers. He volunteered to visit JBC for several years until his tragic scuba diving death in 1984. He provided excellent academic and pool instruction to UT students on the most commonly used video systems in the Gulf and inland diving companies.

In an effort to expand the exposure of non-oil industry underwater work, Bob Massey was hired to teach several different courses that encompassed multiple topics including salvage, diving inspection and repair, inland diving work, and underwater demolition. Bob had owned a diving/salvage company for many years and had both a certified blasters license and a 300-ton vessel Captain’s license. He worked with the Martin County Sheriff’s Office to store explosives and do practical explosives training on their range. He would later replace Charlie Knoeller (the original LCM boat captain) when the LCM was repositioned to Link Port in 1986.

Open water mixed gas dives took place usually between 100 to 150 feet of water 8 to 12 miles off the coast of Ft. Pierce inlet. Diving depth was often determined by the location and current strength of the Gulf Stream. Two divers would descend on a stage platform operated by a hydraulic winch. Because the current was often strong, occasionally the divers were not even allowed to leave the stage to perform a project. Sufficient bottom time necessitated a staged decompression ascent with stops utilizing a variety of breathing mixtures at specified depths. For several years the UT program used the US Navy HEO2 (helium/oxygen) diving tables for decompression schedules. Unfortunately, these tables required shifting the diver’s breathing mix to 100% oxygen at 50 and 40-foot stops. Breathing oxygen under pressure can cause central nervous system toxicity potentially leading to convulsions and unconsciousness. The diving industry originally used these Navy tables but soon developed new proprietary tables using air or nitrox for travel and/or breathing periods and eliminated 100% oxygen in the water. These tables nearly eliminated oxygen related accidents and reduced long decompression times for helium/oxygen only dives. After the UT program had experienced several serious oxygen related incidents (fortunately no injuries), a decision was made to adopt new mixed gas decompression tables based on best practices of various diving company tables. A rough draft of new tables was constructed with two objectives (1) greatly reduce oxygen toxicity risks (2) improve the probability of avoiding decompression sickness compared to the standard US Navy HEO2 Tables. Dr. R.W. Hamilton, a highly respected diving tables expert, was contracted to develop a set of new mixed gas diving tables for the UT Program. These FIT proprietary tables were used on all mixed gas dives from then on without a single oxygen related or decompression sickness incident.

Associate of Science in Sport Diving Operations

In the late 1970’s the Recreational Diving Industry was experiencing rapid growth worldwide. Dive resorts, liveaboard dive vessels, retailers, and dive businesses of all kinds needed trained professionals who could successfully combine a knowledge of the diving business with the skill set to instruct and lead recreational divers in a variety of teaching and diving circumstances.

In 1980 the Sport Diving Operations Associate of Science degree program was instituted at FIT in response to this Industry-wide need. The program offered students a highly technical, but complete education program that included underwater and teaching skills as well as business instruction as part of a well-rounded, accredited college education leading to an Associate’s Degree.

As in all programs at the Jensen Beach campus, the emphasis was ‘hands-on” training with sufficient theory and academics to produce graduates with a strong foundation in the operations and business of diving and optimal employment prospects. Housed within the Underwater Technology Department Scuba Diving Division, Drew Richardson was appointed the Division Head for this new program.

The Sport Diving Operations Program provided students with approximately 45 open-water training dives, a majority of which took place in and around South-Central Florida, including in the clear waters of the Gulf Stream near Palm Beach. Reef systems, existing in 20 to 120 feet of water, provided a wide range of easily accessible dive experiences. Students were exposed to a variety of diving conditions including dark water search and recovery, current diving, drift diving, boat and beach diving, night diving, deep diving, wreck diving, and research diving. Some of the certifications available through the program included sport diver, advanced open-water diver, divemaster, assistant instructor, scuba instructor, wreck diver, rescue diver, deep diver, search and recovery diver, night diver, scuba equipment repair, and underwater photography, including videography.

The program included two non-diving fields of study considered essential to the development of a well-rounded and comprehensively trained sport diving professional: business and seamanship. The business sequence included theory and practical course work in general business fundamentals and dive-specific marketing and retailing techniques. The seamanship courses included the fundamentals of repair, maintenance, handling, and navigation while providing as opportunity to accumulate hours toward a captain’s license. Students also had the ability to individualize their programs allowing them to include studies in celestial and electronic navigation, marine communications, and a number of other fields.

During the first year of the program students attended courses that resulted in certification as Intermediate and, Advanced Divers and Divemasters, as well as useful operational courses such as Welding, Boat Repair & Maintenance, Topside & Underwater Photography, Nautical Science & Navigation, Seamanship, Rules of the Road, Diesel Engines, Basic Electricity and Mechanics, Identification of Marine Organisms, Advanced Lifesaving, and Advanced First Aid. Students also attended classes that would benefit them in the business and diving communities; English I & II, Math (Algebra & Numerical & Graphic Methods), and Intro to Business.

During the second year, students participated in additional programs to further their professional diving education, including receiving certification in several specialty diving areas such as night, wreck and deep diving, as well as earning their certifications as Assistant Scuba Instructors and Scuba Instructors. Unique to this program, students also participated in a Scuba Workshop program where they could meet with well-known Diving Industry Professionals, a Scuba In-Service Training Program to gain practical experience, and courses in Diving Physiology, Scuba Compressor Maintenance and Repair, and Scuba Equipment Repair courses from various scuba manufacturers. Students also received extensive training in Motor Boat Operations and Boat Handling. Rounding out the student’s practical education, students participated in Introduction to Oceanography, Practical Oceanography, Dive Store Retailing, and Accounting I & II, as well as having opportunities to take electives such as Recompression Chamber Operations.

The Sport Diving Operations degree program was unlike anything else in the world and received critical acclaim by the Recreational Diving Industry, including scuba retailers, resorts and live aboard boats throughout the world. The true mark of success was the fact that graduates of the program were able to find employment in diving academic, scientific, retail and resorts jobs internationally. Unfortunately, even with more than 145 students enrolled in the program, when the Jensen Beach Campus closing was announced in December of 1985, the Sport Diving Operations Program was not retained. The program was moved to the Melbourne Campus in the fall of 1986, then phased out in the summer of 1987.

UT Surface- Supplied Division Innovations

Barry Nichols, UT Saturation Diving Life Support Technician (LST)

As the UT program matured, it became more innovative and cutting edge. In the 1970s, the need for medical technicians specializing in the emergency treatment of diving accidents was recognized primarily due to the remote locations of the work and the specialized knowledge required to manage diving related injuries. The title of this specialty was branded early on by the commercial industry as Diver Medical Technician (DMT). The first iteration of the UT Program to meet this need included 250 hours of emergency medical training provided in two courses that followed the guidelines established by the Undersea Medical Society. Successful completion resulted in an official Underwater Emergency Medical Technician Certificate of Achievement. In 1985 the National Association of Diving Medical Technicians (NADMT) was founded for the sole purpose of recognizing a Diver Medical Technician specialty and establishing the guidelines for training of the program for the commercial diving industry. In 1989 the National Board of Diving and Hyperbaric Medical Technology (NBDHMT) became the medical sanctioning authority for diving (DMT) and related medical specialties such Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy that is now commonly available in hospitals and other medical facilities. Dudley Crosson was one of the first NADMT and NBDHMT approved instructors. The FIT UT program, among several other training organizations, was also one of the original programs to be approved to provide NADMT (Diver Medical Technician) training. Dudley, having worked closely with the NOAA Diving Program to establish the first non-commercial diving organization DMT program, was a tremendous asset and instructor in the UT Program by running the DMT courses and teaching other courses in the UT curriculum. Thanks to the efforts of NOAA and Dudley, both scientific and commercial diving students were able to participate in NADMT training. The DMT certificate was instrumental in providing graduates with more career options.

Based on observations made by several instructors who had spent time in the fabrication shops of the diving companies they had worked for as part of their off-quarter employment in the Gulf of Mexico, a new hands-on course named “Diving System Fabrications” was developed. The course taught students to identify, assemble and repair all components of typical advanced diving systems. Many of the components such as valves, regulators, and fittings used in this class were donated by local vendors. During the four-hour final exam, students were given a box with most but not all of the needed components accompanied by a diagram and a panel that needed to be assembled and plumbed to make the system operational. Students needed to identify and order the missing parts by part number from an available catalog and draw these parts from the instructor. The regulators and valves that came disassembled in their box had to be assembled correctly. Once all components were complete, they were installed and connected with tubing that needed to be bent correctly to connect with the appropriate types of fittings according to the specs provided. The finished product was connected to an air supply, checked for leaks and graded for proper function.

In the early 1980s diving companies were increasingly being hired to inspect the structural integrity of aging offshore platforms. Likewise, inland companies were being contracted to do the same especially for aging bridges. Non-destructive testing (NDT) methods being used above water began to be adapted to the underwater environment in order to gain much greater accuracy of structural integrity than previously used methods. Ultrasonic NDT was especially suited to measure the thickness of materials and the water environment provided a perfect conduit medium to allow this technology to provide vastly more accurate structural deterioration data. The UT program realized this new required skill set and arranged for Sonic Instruments Inc. to provide students with ASNT Level II certification training. Since the industry had also begun to employ underwater magnetic (mag) particle NDT to primarily test the structural integrity of welds, a NDT specialty certification course in Magnetic Particle NDT conducted by a certified training organization was later offered as well. These courses were considered qualified electives in the program and were offered occasionally during the break between regular quarters as a 1-week course. Several of the instructors also became certified.

22-Week Diver Training Program

Mud Monster Project for both UT and 22-week programs.

Although the UT Department had been routinely running specialty classes during the summer break, it was clear the administration wanted to do even more with the UT program. National student college enrollments were declining and JBC was no exception. Woodberry announced that the school wanted the UT Department to start a non-degree trade school diving program that would be run partially during the off quarter of the two-year Associates Program. Data showed that the demand for this type of training was still very high. Instructions were given to figure a way to maximize the use of all personnel, equipment and facilities to run the program from existing capital assets. The scuba portion was going to be pretty easy to do but the SSDD was another story. A Program Evaluation and Review Technique (PERT) plan, recently learned by instructors attending the MBA program at FIT, was constructed and executed to accomplish all of the activities needed to start the 22-week trade program. The staff worked hard designing a course curriculum that would be feasible and strong enough that graduates from a trade program would not tarnish the reputation of the 2- year program. Schedules were developed to accommodate the program that would partially run simultaneously with the 2-year program. Rick left his position at FIT to return to the U.S. Navy Diving Community. Lee Keller and Gary Playford, both with commercial diving backgrounds and Harold Aschenbrenner, who had previous diver training experience, were hired as instructors. Bob Evans was promoted to Instructor. Work study students were also an invaluable source of planned help, especially assisting Leon in the dive locker. The 22-week program came on-line smoothly as scheduled with full enrollment and proved to be a highly respected program for those seeking entry level jobs in the diving industry.

Treating Diving Injuries

The JBC had a standing contractual agreement with the Saint Lucie Nuclear Power Plant located north of the campus to provide support for any diving related accident or sickness arising from diving work at the power plant. The faculty and UT staff treated several power plant diving injuries. One in particular was a result of a severed diving hose and a faulty check valve at the helmet that caused a catastrophic loss of pressure in the helmet of the diver resulting in a severe vacuum barotrauma within the helmet. The diver/patient presented at the JBC triple lock chamber by ambulance with bleeding/bulging eyes from barotrauma, bloody sputum from nose and mouth and total paralysis from the neck down from an air embolism. He was aggressively treated by Dudley Crosson and Doug Soule inside the chamber while a variety of UT staff also possessing UEMT diving oriented training operated the chamber on the outside. The treatment was conducted under the supervision of David Bright MD, who was in constant communication with expert Diving Accident Network (DAN) physicians at Duke University. After an unsuccessful attempt to resolve the embolism injury using traditional USN Treatment Tables, Duke experts constructed customized tables involving blended mixtures of NITROX mixed to order by UT staff. This unique gas and schedule was intended to not only treat the patient but to prevent the development of decompression sickness of the staff personnel attending the patient inside the chamber. The patient emerged after almost 18 hours of treatment inside the chamber totally symptom free with the exception of a slightly diminished loss of feeling in one toe. No adverse events occurred with the staff that attended the patient inside the chamber. It is highly probable that that patient would have died or remained permanently paralyzed had it not been for the relative close proximity of the treatment facility and the expert UT staff and Diving Medical Physician who was very familiar with DAN resources.

In addition to maintaining readily available diving injury treatment assets and personnel to handle any student/staff diving related injury, JBC also served the general public by making the triple lock recompression chamber complex available for treatment of any decompression sickness or gas embolism injury. Several cases of decompression sickness from both student training and from the general public were all treated successfully at the JBC.


Gissendanner, UT grad, 110 ft water resevoir gates inspection.

Government agencies, private companies, lawyers involved in diving accident litigation and even individuals occasionally contracted special training or consulting services from the UT Department.

FIT trained the divers assigned to recover the solid rocket boosters (SRB’s) after each launch during the height of NASA’s Space Shuttle Program. Divers had to live boat dive 110 feet to the bottom of the booster case in ocean conditions to insert a huge plug in order to be able to dewater the SRB and tow it back to shore to be refurbished for reuse.

FIT/UT occasionally was contracted to provide expert reviews of diving accident reports or provide inspections and detailed reports of findings of diving equipment involved in diving related accidents under litigation.

Private companies also contracted FIT/JBC for training services. For example, Perry Oceanographic in West Palm Beach contracted FIT/JBC to conduct special Ramset Underwater Stud Gun training for their engineers. The company was under contract to design and build a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) equipped with an underwater Ramset capable of replacing hundreds of deteriorated sacrificial anodes on a deep offshore oil platform.

The UT Program had developed a stellar reputation and was visited by diving company owners, diving support companies, various governmental agencies and even representatives of foreign governments. In November 1981, a delegation of Chinese scientists and engineers spent several hours visiting the UT program as part of an overall trip to meet with cutting edge diving related companies including Perry Oceanographics in West Palm Beach.

By 1984, the 2-year Sport Diving Operations degree program had already earned a reputation as a unique and outstanding program. During an Instructor Training program, top ranking directors of both the National Association of Underwater Instructors and the Professional Association of Diving Instructors visited to observe and learn more about the program. These two diver certifying agencies dominated the training of divers worldwide.

Significant Personnel Changes

After many years of passionate dedication from the basic concept beginning to the maturation of the UT program, Jim Woodberry decided to leave behind a legacy at JBC to pursue new challenges in early 1983. Charlie Vallance, the most senior and a highly qualified member of the UT staff, assumed the Department Head position. Drew Richardson, the most senior instructor in the Scuba Diving Division replaced Charlie as Division Head. Dick McCoy resigned from his scuba instructor position in 1982. Art Noble left the program in 1983 but returned as an instructor in 1985. Harold Aschenbrenner also left the SSDD in 1983.

Tim Tealey, Dean of the FIT/JBC had been a strong supporter of the UT program from the beginning at HTI and skillfully executed the transition of all HTI programs to JBC. He always kept his finger on the pulse of the UT program. He steadfastly admired and supported the ethos of the UT program. It was a very sad day in 1984 when his wife came to the staff offices to tearfully tell of his medical condition forcing him to resign as Dean of the JBC. Several months later Dr. Marion Rice was hired as Chancellor of FIT/JBC to replace Dean Tealey.

Dave Dinsmore resigned early in the summer of 1984 to take a position as Diving Supervisor/Operations Director of the NOAA Undersea Research Center at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington NC. Shortly thereafter in August 1984, Doug Soule accepted a position as Marketing and Sales Manager for Nautilus Environmedical Systems in Houston, TX. Joe Casper resigned in early 1985 to work for a local diving company. Drew Richardson accepted a position with the Professional Association of Diving Instructors as International Training and Program Development Manager in 1985. Tom Ingram assumed both positions as Scuba Diving Division Head for the UT Department and the Department Chair of the Sport Diving Operations Associates degree program. It was decided that a restructuring of the management positions in the SSDD was warranted to better accommodate both the 2-year Associate program and the 22 week programs that were running simultaneously. Bob Colomy, a previous superintendent at Subsea International, was hired in early 1985 as an instructor and a newly created position as Director of Commercial Diving Instruction. Bob Evans was promoted to a new position as Underwater Technology Program Head of the 22week program. Several new instructors were hired to fill the vacancies. Kerry Dillon a previous work study student and UT grad 1980 accepted an Instructor position in the SSDD. John Therrien, a graduate of the Diver Training Academy also having commercial diving experience, and UT graduate Dave Malizia accepted positions as instructors of both the 22 week program and the 2 year UT program. Two equipment technician positions were filled by Tim Szesny and Ed Lis, both previous UT graduates.

The last person to voluntarily leave the program was the UT Department Head Charlie Vallance. Charlie exited the program in early 1986 to pursue local commercial diving opportunities. Bob Evans was promoted to UT Department Head and helped steer the ship on a true course until the UT program was terminated in June 1987. The challenging job of meeting all educational objectives and keeping all equipment in safe and fully operational condition, with all diving programs running concurrently, remained the same.

Dismantling the UT Program

Dismantling of the JBC began when Chancellor Rice announced on Dec 11th 1985 that the FIT Board of Directors had decided to close the JBC and put it up for sale. All courses of instruction at JBC would cease as of June 1986 at the JBC. Currently enrolled students in degree programs not completed by June 1986 could continue their studies at the main FIT campus in Melbourne starting in the fall of 1986. All FIT/JBC faculty were given Termination Notices effective upon the completion of their current contract period.

A Skin Diver advertisement for the 2year UT program was scheduled to run for six consecutive months starting in the January 1986 edition. Ironically, the ad generated more inquiries of any other ad ever run of the program and created a lot of disappointment and confusion from those expressing interest in enrolling.

FIT Academic Dean Dr. Andrew Revay and Director of JBC programs Robert Heidinger were assigned to assist the transition of all JBC programs to the Melbourne campus. These two individuals went to extraordinary lengths to help with the transition and the relocation of all Underwater Technology and Sport Diving Operations capital assets. They remained attentive to the needs of the programs and provided assistance for the remaining UT and Sport Diving Operations students until they completed their programs. Many within the UT program had transferred to another similar program or to a different degree program at FIT. Some left FIT altogether after the closure was announced.

Bob Evans, Dudley Crosson, Bob Massey, Leon Morrison and Bob Bernhardt were the only employees of the commercial diving aspect of UT Department to transition to Melbourne. Bob Massey replaced Charlie Knoeller as the LCM boat captain. Tom Ingram and two newly hired scuba instructors, Thomas Jahn and Richard Brantley, transitioned to the main campus to complete the Sport Diving Operations program. All UT capital assets except the LCM and the triple lock recompression chamber were transferred to FIT main campus in Melbourne during the summer of 1986.

Adequate facilities were arranged at the Melbourne campus to teach all scheduled courses except those requiring open water diving. The LCM was repositioned at a leased berth at Link Port in Fort Pierce, FL situated about midway between the JBC and FIT main campus. The triple lock recompression facility remained in place at JBC and served as a constantly functional treatment center asset until all Underwater Technology diving programs were terminated. Open water diving classes still used the Mud Hole in the intracoastal waterway and the Ft Pierce Inlet to access the open ocean for offshore air and mixed gas diving. Other diving classes were conducted remotely in lakes or rivers near Melbourne. Students in the Sport Diving Operations were still able to conduct open water dives with the assistance of dive charter operators. The Sport Diving Operations program relied heavily on current students with Divemaster or Assistant Instructor credentials to provide adequate student safety on all dives.

In June of 1987 the final class of the 16 remaining students of the 2-year Underwater Technology program and the remaining 145 students in the 2-year Sport Diving Operations program graduated. All of the UT Department faculty/staff that made the transition to FIT ended their employment in June of that year with the exception of Leon who stayed on for a couple of more months to dispose of all the remaining capital equipment from the program except the triple lock chamber and the LCM. It is not known what ever happened to the triple lock chamber or LCM but some say that there have been sightings in the wee hours of the morning of the LCM sailing out to sea with a ghostly resemblance of Jim Woodberry sitting in the Captain’s chair and the flag flying at half-mast.

The JBC UT Department Legacy

The diving programs at the JBC were often considered diamonds in the rough at JBC when in fact they were crown jewels of diving training programs. Although fairly short lived, the 22-week commercial diver training program and the 2-year Associates Degree in Sport Diving Operations programs were also hugely successful and helped meet a need for highly trained personnel specifically identified by the commercial and sport diving communities. All of the three different programs were staffed with hard working exceptional people who worked together as a team and always displayed a passion to provide students with excellent education and real- life skills that would set the stage for their potentially highly successful careers. Simply put, what made all of these programs special was the fact that the students who chose the JBC diving programs were highly motivated and hungry to learn. Synergistically, all of the instructors and staff shared a common vision; to train the best professionals in the country for rewarding careers in a variety of diving and other hyperbaric related occupations.

Many of the faculty and staff took advantage of the free education benefit available to qualifying faculty and staff at FIT including: Bob Evans BS, MBA, and MHR, Art Noble, MBA, Drew Richardson MBA, Doug Soule, MBA, and Charlie Vallance, MBA. Other faculty members furthered their education at other institutions while employed at the JBC. Dave Dinsmore chose to matriculate to Florida Atlantic University to gain a M.Ed in Guidance and Counseling. Tom Ingram earned a Masters Degree in Management and Marketing from Barry University 1981. Many instructors also became certified in courses taught by the UT program such as the non-destructive testing (NDT) and Underwater Emergency Medical Technician (DMT) offerings. These academic achievements not only helped them perform better at their jobs at the JBC but significantly enhanced their lifetime career opportunities and contributions elsewhere.

Of course, the real measure of the program’s success is by the ultimate value it provided and the careers of the graduates. In the age of social media perhaps Facebook is the best resource to measure alumni UT success. A dedicated active FIT/JBC UT Program Facebook group page with almost 90 members, including many instructors, has been active for several years. Here is what some graduates have to say about the UT Program:

Don Barthelmess UT grad 80 writes: “I use the unique skills and knowledge I gained from FIT almost daily. Since 1989, I have been a professor of diving technology and Program Director at the highly acclaimed Marine Technology Program at Santa Barbara City College, which began in 1968. I worked full time as a submersible pilot and diver for International Underwater Contractors, Inc. of New York. 

My time in the field was just what I dreamed from the stories I heard in school. Diving in one-atmosphere suits for deep oilfield work in the Gulf of Mexico, studying 6 gilled sharks for National Geographic off Bermuda, surveying the sea floor for the California State Lands Commission and many others. I was addicted to the excitement of my job. No two days were ever the same and few people got to do what I did- especially as a young kid in his twenties. 

I made it to diving supervisor at the ripe age of 22, set a depth record for one-atmosphere work to 1,972’ in 1983 and soon moved into project management. In 1989, the rigors of travel and time offshore led me to a tenure track faculty position at Santa Barbara City College- just a mile from my home. Here I was now teaching what I used to do. I often reflect on my FIT instructors to create positive student/instructor experiences in my own teaching. 

I began FIT straight out of high school in 1979. I recall seeing an article on the school in the quarterly publication “Oceans”. I applied and decided to attend without ever seeing the campus. I made many friends and enjoyed a camaraderie that is only seen in the military. 

I was most impressed by our instructors. There were a team of them, and each brought a perspective and experience that helped mold and shape our attitudes toward diving. If you would have told me back then that I would ultimately become a teacher like them, I would have called you a liar.

I would not trade my experiences at FIT JBC for anything and can empathize with what my own students experience.”

Todd Constance UT grad: “changed my life forever… the best instructors in the world made a difficult specialty almost easy. Thank you to all you teachers.”

Simon Fowler UT grad ( reminiscing on the passing of Art Noble), “I remember him playing us at racquetball … and how we were all ticked about how he was beating us… I had a couple of moments off the coast of Scotland and Cornwald that could have ended it for me without having NO PANIC drills he would run on us.”

Dan Vale (Referring to the Underwater Emergency Medical Technician course/certification), “That particular certification got me into sat. (saturation diving) at 22 atmospheres absolute (693 feet deep) in the second year of my career. It is still one of the most relevant certs. in the business.”

Kim Gissendanner UT grad 81 “For several years I had been noticing the FIT ads in Skindiver magazine. I loved diving so much that I decided to make it a full- time career.

My 2 years at FIT were some of the most formative years of my life. The opportunity to be involved with diving on a daily basis was incredible. All of the instructors were challenging and mentoring. I learned a lot from all of them with their own unique teaching styles.

Many of my fellow students shared my passion and we made friendships that have lasted even through today. There was a camaraderie there that I haven’t experienced since.

One of the highlights of my training was to be selected to go to Taylor Diving in the Summer of 1980 along with 8 other students. We learned so much working there. When we returned to FIT for the 2nd half of our program I think we all had a deeper understanding of what we were learning. The greatest honor of all was for me to be selected to receive the Underwater Technology Award. I had put myself through school and worked very hard to excel so to receive that award was the culmination of my work there.

In my later years while teaching at a commercial diving school, I realized how well designed the FIT course curriculum was for training commercial divers. With a mix of diving, welding, machine shop diesel, and fluid dynamics I learned the skills and acquired the knowledge that has carried me through my commercial diving career.

I took an inland path for my diving career with my first stop as a diver at Wiswell, Inc. Back then there was no breakout period in the inland world so I left FIT on a Saturday, drove straight to Connecticut and Monday morning I was in the Long Island Sound with a bandmask waterblasting an underwater structure. The one thing I’ve enjoyed most about my career is the variety. I’ve been involved with various aspects of ships husbandry, heavy underwater construction projects on piers, deep-water ports, railroad trestles, bridges, hydroelectric dams, power plants, and water treatment facilities.

I’ve worked for several different diving companies. Most of my career was spent with Aquatic Marine Systems, an underwater pile restoration company. I began with them as a diver and worked my way up the ranks and became their Senior Project Manager. After Aquatic Marine and pursuing other interest, I moved into the world of academia and taught commercial diving at International Diving Institute for 7 years. In 2015, I came on-board to work for a fellow classmate Rick Glenn at Glenn Underwater Services in Charlotte, NC. There I took on the role as Diving Safety Officer. Just recently, I have returned to Charleston, the place I call home. I am now proud to be working with diving as a Project Manager with Salmons Dredging Corporation.

I feel very fortunate to be in this wonderful career. There have been tough times and great times but I’ve always felt like my FIT – UT training has served me well.”

Rick Thompson writes: “We were fortunate to experience the FIT/UT program when we did. Looking back at the quality of instruction we received, we sure were provided an education by the best of the best.”

Keith Ellert writes: “I mean how many college grads still keep in touch with their instructors?…only at FIT (UT). Looking back, OK way back we were taught the science of REAL DIVING by some of the best of the best. Some went on after FIT to have prestigious careers, I am humbled to have been part of that experience.”

Dan Vale aka DSD UT class of 79 (reminisces) “I arrived at FIT/JBC December 30th 1978…having left the cold and snowy climes of southern Ontario behind me. Thus began 2 wonderfully fantastic years of my early life…We learned the value of teamwork, a respect for the traditions of working in the deep sea and the responsibility to look after the man on the bottom. His life was in our hands as he toiled in the dark, murky depths… We all supported one another as we muscled the mid water flange project, or wrestled the infamous “Mud Monster” to the mat… There would be reunions with classmates ahead and chance encounters as we moved through life…Those were special moments but all too quickly they had to end, as a chopper or crew boat awaited.”

Melissa Clark Bouvier UT grad 81 “As I review my life at this time what stands out the most is the close-knit community we had. All my jobs were due to relationships formed at FIT/JBC”.

Dan Vale UT grad also posts “ you guys made the UT program great for we students because in part y’all walked the walk so well.”

Jeff Mosteller UT grad writes, “From 1999–2004 I was the Technical Director of Hyperbaric Medicine at Edward White Memorial Hospital… Edward White was one of three astronauts who died in the Apollo One fire… that occurred in a 100% oxygen environment.” So… here comes me bringing two Perry Sigma Plus monoplace chambers to Edward White Hospital—chambers that treat patients with 100% oxygen environment!!! When I discovered who Edward White was, I lost a week of sleep and vowed that it would never be my legacy to have a fire in a 100% oxygen environment… needless to say my staff and I were razors for safety”. When I left the Director of Plant Services gave me…the mission patch from Edward White’s historical space walk. It hangs on the wall everywhere I work to remind me…to stay vigilant.”

Barry Manchester UT grad “FIT-UT excellent program, substantial memories.”

Fran Murello UT grad 79 “FIT was the beginning of many firsts for me. I was the first in my family to graduate with a college degree… I then went on to accumulate 3 more. It was also the first time I was on my own away from home and because of that I was able to make many lifelong friends, which I still enjoy today”. “I went to FIT with a purpose and that was to become a diver and to test my limits of what I can do. After graduation, I got married and my wife (Rose) and I moved to Houma LA. There I went to work for Santa Fe Offshore Engineering where I was a Life Support Technician for Saturation Diving. A year later I moved to Connecticut to work for Underwater Construction Corp of Essex CT. Eventually I ended up back in Houma LA with Santa Fe. I feel that I accomplished my goal of becoming a diver, working in the gulf and along the Atlantic coast”… “As time moved on and I moved into the non-diving working world and got into the information technology business and spent the remainder of my career and education focusing on building the next chapter of my life. But no matter where I ended up, or who I was working for and no matter what the challenges were, I could always draw upon the fact that I knew what I learned at FIT would carry me through the day. If I could dive in a mud hole and assemble a pipe and flange project I could figure my way through a corporate meeting. If I could survive a blow up in that same mud hole I knew I could persevere whatever life threw at me and I knew that no matter how seasick I got I could still take care of my diver. I felt confident in my abilities to stand up to any and all challenges.”

“I look back on those days with fond memories and would not change it for anything. I learned a lot of skills in addition to diving such as EMT training, welding and seamanship that were not the norm in any other college class I ever took, but provided me with life skills that I still draw upon even today. Social media has allowed many of us to stay in touch which is great. I have been back to Florida many times but only once to the Jensen Beach area. I wish the old campus was still there but I know it will live on in our memories and always be a part of us.”

As a footnote to the overall JBC legacy, it is written that more NOAA officers came from the JBC than any other college in the US. That statistic speaks volumes.

Show More
Back to top button