As a result of the last few years having witnessed the rapid growth in popularity of a variety of underwater vehicles, it might well appear to the uninitiated that there may be a day, not far distant from now, when the diver might-be replaced completely.

It is my view that those more closely involved have reached something of a dichotomy of opinion regarding the future role of the diver. This situation has been created by the rapid increase in subsea requirements of many disciplines taking place simultaneously and, in a large number of cases, independently of each other. This state of affairs has been catalysed by the ferocity of competition in the industry, which has been continuously on the increase in recent years and which in itself has contributed to the reduction of cross-fertilization of ideas and philosophies between contractors and clients.

As we find ourselves amid a buoyant offshore European market in a reasonably settled state, it is perhaps opportune, more so than at any previous time, to appraise the diver's services in the coming years and compare his role in relation to a possible machine alternative.

Diving Operations

The diver is still the most dextrous mode of intervention in the oceans. However, as we are all aware, there is a depth limitation that will be arrived at beyond which he will be unable to operate, and prior to that a shallower limitation beyond which point his safety and efficiency will be brought into question.

Current views as to these maxima are postulated at being between 360 and 460 metres (1200-1500 feet). More realistically, I think we are currently looking at something between 300 and 360 metres (1000-1200 feet) when we simultaneously take into account the safety and cost factors involved at these depths. From whichever point of view, a definite plateau of limitations arrives on exceeding 300 metres.

As many are aware, we have sent divers to record depths in the region of 686 metres (2250 feet) under hyperbaric conditions, which gives us the possibility of commercially reaching these depths in the future. But remember that the transition from laboratory conditions to commercial application in open water at these depths is something of a ‘quantum jump’. As is often the case with commercial enterprise these days, the question of whether or not a particular mode of subsea intervention is or is not utilized is influenced by the cheapness of the service offered.

Because of the nature of the diving operations in the underwater business, the deeper the diver goes the more it costs. This, coupled with the physiological limitations imposed on him, which again increase with depth, and the hazardous medium in which he works, results in many clients undeavouring to remove him from the water at the first opportunity and to replace him with some form of automatic or remote intervention. It is also fair to say that the diver's vulnerability does not enhance his competitiveness when placed alongside the ever-improving alternatives offered.

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