A Salute to SeaLab


Image Credit: Naval History & Heritage Command

In order to keep up with the rapidly expanding world of ocean technology, I am a regular reader of Ocean News and Technology, an industry magazine, the editorial of which runs a full spectrum of ocean interests and innovations, of course emphasizing offshore applications for oil platforms, pipelines, and services, but also wind and tidal energy, research and exploration, the newest observation and data collection technologies, and even maritime history and underwater archaeology.

An interesting feature in the January 2016 issue discussed the story of SeaLab, a program now celebrating a 50th anniversary of the first of three experiments in aquatic living as part of the US Navy’s Man-in-the-Sea initiative to understand how humans can best survive in exacting underwater conditions. The three SeaLabs pioneered living and working under the immense challenge of pressure and changing conditions, and contributed enormously to the development of tools and procedures that opened the ocean world to new and safe access through extended stay in an underwater habitat, development of breathing devices and medical protections, and understanding of the physical and psychological demands of such experience.

Ocean News reports on a 1966 symposium in which H.A. O’Neal of the Office of Naval Research, describes three key innovations as follows: “1) The introduction of helium-oxygen reduced the danger of nitrogen narcosis at depths greater than 150 feet and decreased decompression times of deeper dives; 2) The introduction of the self-contained closed-mixed gas breathing apparatus which increased diver mobility by releasing from an umbilical cord to the surface; and 3) The introduction of saturation diving, increasing the ratio of useful working time to decompression time…The program engaged personnel from many disciplines – the Aquanauts, as they were called, as well as —> Read More