Once medicals and project briefs are completed, the last group of humans the divers will interact with are the crew in Life Support. The Life Support department: normally a Life Support Supervisor, Life Support Technician and 1 or 2 Assistant Life Support Technicians. They quite literally monitor the divers within the system 24 hours a day until dive operations, decompression schedules and bend watch are completed. This includes diver welfare, feeding and watering, dive and personal laundry, provision of all dive equipment to sustain operations, communications and monitoring the environment in the chambers. The Life Support department are vital in the success of any dive operation involving saturation exposures.
Forget about the diving for now, just life and living within the confines of the saturation system itself can be extremely daunting to the uninitiated on arrival.
If we use the example of a team of 3 divers, they will be on shift for 12 hours and on rest period for 12 hours, 0600-1800 day shift with 3 other teams to ensure 24 hour coverage to the project. The maximum the divers would expect to be committed and confined to saturation would be 28 days.
This shift would see the team shaken (woken up) at 0600, breakfast delivered via the med lock and the day begins
Med lock (nearest) and equipment lock (furthest away)
There are two locks of interest, the medical lock and the equipment lock. Med lock is within the main living chamber and items are sent in and sent out of the sat system via this means.
View into wet pot and chamber from equ. lock
The equipment lock is within the Wet Pot (a smaller chamber that contains, amongst other things, a toilet, sink, plumbing for shower, access hatches/doors to remainder of system and the equipment lock).
Equipment lock from outside
The equipment lock is mainly used to send divers hot water suits, dive underclothes, water, soda-sorbs and larger items for the dive bell, such as a Kirby Morgan Surface Supplied Diving Equipment (KMB SSDE) dive hat.
The pressure in the Bell is initially at the same pressure as that in the saturation chambers but as working depth is reached, the pressure is increased to working pressure and the Bell hatch is opened. The divers will operate as Diver 1 and Diver 2 deploying from the dive bell to conduct the work scope as briefed by the supervisor. The third diver will be the Bellman, in effect the standby diver, poised and prepared to lock out of the Bell if the situation requires it.
When the Dive bell ‘locks off’ the system for dive operations, it will be expected to be off the system for a maximum of 8 hours, with the divers leaving the Bell for a maximum of 6 hours within that 8 hours. The divers are each tethered to the Bell by an umbilical which provides breathing gas, light, comms and hot water for their suits.
The diving operations conducted in saturation diving are in effect same as for air diving…diving tasks/projects are after all subsea, the key difference is the gas medium being breathed and the length of the diver’s commitment to saturation and then the length of the decompression, nominally a single decompression at the end of a project. It can be quicker to return from space than it is from saturation.
Once the divers settle into off shift routine, they can relax (within reason) in traditional manner, read, watch tv, even converse with one another, albeit with squeaky voices due to helium mix. Then its lights off, and rest.
Above is a very scant outline of a routine day, without trying to divert to talking about diving. Life in the sat system takes a fair bit of getting used to and rightly so. It’s quite alien to everyone and takes some getting used to. The best analogy I can use is, it’s like going from a school disco to the first outing in a night club, no idea where anything is, and not sure if you should out your lack of knowledge by asking ‘all the obvious questions’!