Section 1.00 – General Policy

1.10 The Scientific Diving Standards

The purpose of these Scientific Diving Standards is to ensure scientific diving is conducted in a manner that will maximize the protection of scientific divers from accidental injury and/or illness, and to set forth standards for training and certification that will allow a working reciprocity between Organizational Members (OMs or OM).  Fulfillment of these purposes shall be consistent with the furtherance of research and safety, and facilitation of collaborative opportunities between AAUS OMs.

This Manual sets minimum standards for the establishment of American Academy of Underwater Sciences (AAUS) recognized scientific diving programs, the organization for the conduct of these programs, and the basic regulations and procedures for safety in scientific diving operations.  It also establishes a framework for reciprocity between AAUS OMs that adhere to these minimum standards.

Historical Perspective
This Manual was developed and written by AAUS by compiling the policies set forth in the diving manuals of several university, private, and governmental scientific diving programs.  These programs share a common heritage with the scientific diving program at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography (SIO).  Adherence to the SIO standards has proven both feasible and effective in protecting the health and safety of scientific divers since 1954.

In 1982, OSHA exempted scientific diving from commercial diving regulations
(29CFR1910, Subpart T) under certain conditions that are outlined below.  The final guidelines for the exemption became effective in 1985 (Federal Register, Vol. 50, No.6, p.1046).  AAUS is recognized by OSHA as the scientific diving standard setting organization.

Scientific Diving Definition
Scientific diving is defined (29CFR1910.402) as:

“Diving performed solely as a necessary part of a scientific, research, or educational activity by employees whose sole purpose for diving is to perform scientific research tasks. Scientific diving does not include performing any tasks usually associated with commercial diving such as: Placing or removing heavy objects underwater; inspection of pipelines and similar objects; construction; demolition; cutting or welding; or the use of explosives.”

Scientific Diving Exemption
The two elements that a diving program must contain as defined by OSHA in 29 CFR 1910 Subpart T 1910.401(a)(2)(iv) are:

  • a) Diving safety manual which includes at a minimum: Procedures covering all diving operations specific to the program; procedures for emergency care, including recompression and evacuation; and criteria for diver training and certification.
  • b) Diving control (safety) board, with the majority of its members being active divers, which must at a minimum have the authority to: Approve and monitor diving projects; review and revise the diving safety manual; assure compliance with the manual; certify the depths to which a diver has been trained; take disciplinary action for unsafe practices; and, assure adherence to the buddy system (a diver is accompanied by and is in continuous contact with another diver in the water) for SCUBA diving.

OSHA has granted an exemption for scientific diving from commercial diving regulations under the following guidelines (Appendix B to 29 CFR 1910 Subpart T):

  • The Diving Control Board consists of a majority of active scientific divers and has autonomous and absolute authority over the scientific diving program’s operation.
  • The purpose of the project using scientific diving is the advancement of science; therefore, information and data resulting from the project are non-proprietary.
  • The tasks of a scientific diver are those of an observer and data gatherer. Construction and trouble-shooting tasks traditionally associated with commercial diving are not included within scientific diving.
  • Scientific divers, based on the nature of their activities, must use scientific expertise in studying the underwater environment and therefore, are scientists or scientists-in-training.

Recommendations for Changes to AAUS Manual
As part of the MBL’s annual report, recommendations for modifications of this Manual must be submitted to AAUS for consideration.

1.20 Operational Control

Organizational Member Auspices and Responsibilities

MBL auspices include any scientific diving operation in which an MBL is connected because of ownership of life support equipment used, locations selected, or relationship with the individual(s) concerned. This includes all cases involving the operations of authorized individuals of the MBL or auxiliary organizations, where such individuals are acting within the scope of their authorization.

It is the MBL’s responsibility to adhere to the AAUS Standards for Scientific Diving Certification and Operation of Scientific Diving Programs. The administration of the local diving program will reside with the MBL’s Diving Control Board (DCB).

The regulations herein must be observed at all locations where scientific diving is conducted.

Organizational Member Diving Safety Manual

Meeting AAUS minimum standards is a requirement for organizational membership in the Academy. The MBL has developed and maintains a diving safety manual that includes wording on how the OM defines specific policies and procedures required for the proper function of a scientific diving program. The MBL manual must address environmental and working conditions unique to the program’s operations. The MBL diving manual must meet or exceed the AAUS standards.

AAUS standards must be the foundation for the development of the MBL’s scientific diving safety manual. The order and formatting of the MBL’s manual does not have to conform to the AAUS template. The information contained in Volume 1, Sections 1.00 through 5.00 and the Appendices are required for all manuals.  Volume 2, Sections 6.00 through 12.00 are required only when the MBL conducts the specifically referenced diving mode or activity.  Deviations or significant changes to AAUS minimum standards may require justification before approval is granted by the AAUS Standards Committee.

Diving Control Board

  • The Diving Control Board (DCB) must consist and maintain a majority of active scientific divers. Voting members include the Diving Safety Officer (DSO), and other representatives of the diving program such as qualified divers and members selected by procedures established by    A chairperson and a secretary may be chosen from the membership of the board according to local procedure.
  • Has autonomous and absolute authority over the scientific diving program’s operation.
  • The DCB must:
    • Establish additional standards, protocols, and operational procedures beyond the AAUS minimums to address MBL’s specific needs and concerns.
    • Approve and monitor diving projects.
    • Review and revise the diving safety manual.
    • Ensure compliance with the diving safety manual.
    • Approve the depth to which a diver has been authorized to dive.
    • Take disciplinary action for unsafe practices.
    • Ensure adherence to the buddy system for scientific diving.
    • Act as the official representative of the MBL in matters concerning the scientific diving program.
    • Act as a board of appeal to consider diver-related problems.
    • Recommend the issue, reissue, or the revocation of diving authorizations.
    • Recommend changes in policy and amendments to AAUS and the MBL’s diving safety manual as the need arises.
    • Establish and/or approve training protocols or standards through which the applicants for authorization can satisfy the requirements of the MBL’s diving safety manual.
    • Suspend diving operations considered to be unsafe or unwise.
    • Establish criteria for equipment selection and use.
    • Recommend new equipment or techniques.
    • Establish and/or approve facilities for the inspection and maintenance of diving and associated equipment.
    • Ensure that the MBL’s air station(s) meet air quality standards as described in Section 3.60.
    • Periodically review the DSO’s performance and program.
    • Investigate diving incidents within the MBL’s diving program or violations of the MBL’s diving safety manual.
  • The DCB may delegate operational oversight for portions of the program to the DSO; however, the DCB may not abdicate responsibility for the safe conduct of the diving program.

Diving Safety Officer

The Diving Safety Officer (DSO) serves as a voting member of the DCB, and should be designated one of the MBL’s Representatives to AAUS.  This person should have broad technical expertise and experience in research related diving.


  1. Must be an active scuba instructor from an internationally recognized certifying agency.
  2. Must be appointed by the responsible administrative officer or designee, with the advice and counsel of the DCB.
  3. Must qualify as a Full Voting Member of AAUS as defined by AAUS Bylaws:
    • “(a) Holds a diving certification from a recognized national certifying agency or equivalent, and
    • (b) Has engaged in sustained or successive scientific diving activities during the past two years, or
    • (c) Has completed a course in scientific diving that meets the requirements as specified by the most current edition of the AAUS Standards for Scientific Diving.”
  1. Must attend an AAUS DSO Orientation within one year of accepting a position at an AAUS approved OM, unless he/she has served as a DSO for another current AAUS OM within the last year.

Duties and Responsibilities

  1. Answers, through the DCB, to the appropriate administrative officer or designee, for the conduct of the scientific diving program of the MBL.
  2. If delegated by the DCB, the routine operational authority for this program rests with the DSO. This oversight includes, but is not limited to: training, diver authorizations, approval of dive plans, maintenance of diving records, and ensuring compliance with this Manual.
  3. May permit some duties and responsibilities to be carried out by a qualified delegate, with the approval of the DCB.
  4. Must be guided in the performance of the required duties by the advice of the DCB, but operational responsibility for the conduct of the scientific diving program will be retained by the DSO.
  5. Must suspend diving operations determined to be unsafe or unwise.

Instructional Personnel Qualifications

All personnel involved in diving instruction under the auspices of the MBL must be reviewed and authorized by the DCB.

Lead Diver

For each dive, one individual shall be designated as the Lead Diver who shall be at the dive location during the diving operation.  The Lead Diver shall be responsible for:

  • Ensuring dives are conducted in accordance with Section 2.0.
  • Ensuring all dive team members possess current authorization and are qualified for the type of diving operation.
  • Coordination with other known activities in the vicinity that are likely to interfere with diving operations.
  • Ensuring safety and emergency equipment is in working order and at the dive site.
  • Suspending diving operations if in their opinion conditions are not safe.
  • Reporting to the DCB, through the DSO, any physical problems or adverse physiological effects including symptoms of pressure-related injuries.

Reciprocity and Visiting Scientific Diver

  • Two or more AAUS OMs engaged jointly in diving activities, or engaged jointly in the use of diving resources, must designate one of the participating DCBs to govern the joint dive project. However, responsibility for individual divers ultimately resides with the home OM.
  • A Scientific Diver from one OM must apply for permission to dive under the auspices of another OM by submitting to the DSO of the host OM a document containing all the information listed in Appendix 6, signed by the DSO or designee of the home DCB.
  • A visiting Scientific Diver may be asked to demonstrate their knowledge and skills for the planned dive.
  • If a host OM denies a visiting Scientific Diver permission to dive, the host DCB must notify the visiting Scientific Diver and their DCB with an explanation of all reasons for the denial.

Waiver of Requirements

The MBL DCB may grant a waiver for specific requirements of training, examinations, depth authorizations, and minimum activity to maintain authorizations. AAUS medical standards may not be waived.

1.30 Consequence of Violation of Regulations by Scientific Divers

Failure to comply with the regulations of the MBL’s diving safety manual may be cause for the restriction or revocation of the diver’s scientific diving authorization by action of theMBL’s DCB.

1.40 Consequences of Violation of Regulations by Organizational Members

Failure to comply with the regulations of this Manual may be cause for the restriction or revocation of the MBL’s recognition by AAUS.

1.50 Record Maintenance

The MBL must maintain consistent records for its diving program and for each participant. These records include but are not limited to: diving safety manual; equipment inspection, testing, and maintenance records; dive plans (project and/or individual); records of dive (project and/or individual); medical approval to dive; diver training records; diver authorization(s); individual dive log; dive incident reports; reports of disciplinary actions by the DCB; and other pertinent information deemed necessary by the MBL.

Availability of Records:

  • Medical records must be available to an attending physician of a diver or former diver when released in writing by the diver.
  • Records and documents required by this Manual must be retained by the MBL for the following period:
  1. Diving safety manual – Current document only.
  2. Equipment inspection, testing, and maintenance records – Minimum current entry or tag.
  3. Records of Dive – minimum of 1 year, except 5 years where there has been an incident of pressure-related injury.
  4. Medical approval to dive – Minimum of 1 year past the expiration of the current document except 5 years where there has been an incident of pressure-related injury.
  5. Diver training records – Minimum of 1 year beyond the life of the diver’s program participation.
  6. Diver authorization(s) – Minimum of 1 year beyond the life of the diver’s program participation.
  7. Pressure-related injury assessment – 5 years.
  8. Reports of disciplinary actions by the DCB – Minimum of 1 year beyond the life of the diver’s program participation.