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History of the Navy Diver Rating

Diving History: A History of the Navy Diver Rating

By NDCM(MDV) Dave Gove, Navy Diver Enlisted Community Manager
Millington, TN: BUPERS-325, 2010

Back in the late 1800s, the very first Diving rating was Gunners Mate. Instruction in simple diving had been part of the course at the Gunnery School because Gunners Mates were assigned as ships divers as a collateral duty. The introduction of the torpedo, a weapon that revolutionized Navy warfare, caused the Navy to require a more in-depth training pipeline to support torpedo testing and recovery. In order to support this, in 1882 the Navy established a school under Chief Gunners Mate Jacob Anderson to teach diving. Chief Anderson's two week course was the first designed solely to train divers. Based in Newport, Rhode Island; the school trained divers to descend to a maximum depth of 60 feet to recover exercise torpedoes. The course of instruction was based solely on dress of the diver and underwater procedures. Things like decompression (DCS or Decompression Sickness and AGE or Arterial Gas Embolism) were still decades from being discovered. As the mission of the Navy Diver grew, so did the training and recognition of the program.

In 1929 two Diver's distinguishing marks (patches) were introduced. The Master Diver mark had a block letter "M" on the breast plate and the First Class Diver mark had the numeral "1". Shortly thereafter, two additional Diver distinguishing marks were added; Second Class Divers and Salvage Divers. These cloth marks were awarded based on in-water/operational knowledge as much as they were on the training the individual received.

The outstanding contributions of Navy divers during World War II led the Navy to attempt the establishment of a Diver rating in 1948. This rating was called Underwater Mechanic - established in 1948 from wartime diving details but never actually activated. Originally this rating fell under the Exclusive Emergency Service Rating (in response to World War II needs) and later was planned as a general rating that would be placed under the Engineering/Hull ratings. The specialty badge consisted of a MK-V helmet superimposed over a two-headed wrench with the rating designator of UM. The Navy planned the rating and had manufacturers create insignia for it, but never implemented it before 1964 when it was disestablished. It was also at this time that the metal qualification badges worn today would be created and approved for wear:

1) Second Class Pin - Obvious heritage symbol of the diving community representing its primary job of diving - The MK V helmet.

2) First Class Pin - Heraldic Dolphins come from the sub community. These mythical fish/dolphins were tied closely to Poseidon the Greek god of the sea. It symbolizes speed and the ability to reach deep depths.

3) Master Diver - Also from the sub community. Seahorses pulled the chariot of Poseidon and traditionally stand for wisdom and sea power - the double tridents mastery of the ocean. The knot is a carrick bend, used to hold and position the diver’s air hose. This was placed on the breast plate to reflect ties to the operational side of diving and to differentiate it from the diving medical pins that use the caduceus on the breast plate.

In 1 July 2006 the Navy Diving (ND) rating was officially established as a general rating and falls under the Naval Special Warfare/Naval Special Operations ratings. The MKV helmet on the rating badge reflects our main operational environment as well as our heritage/history. The pins are still worn on uniform to distinguish both warfare qualification as well as level of diving training/qualification.

For further information see:

Naval History and Heritage Command. Ratings (Jobs) of Enlisted Personnel in the U. S. Navy FAQ..

Stacey, John A. United States Navy Rating Badges and Marks 1833-2008: A History of Our Sailors’ Rate and rating Insignia. Nanjemoy, MD: The author, 2008.

Tucker, Lester B. “Deep Sixing the Underwater Mechanic Rating Badges.” The Trading Post (July-September, 1994): 19-20.