The project dive plan (Rule 28)

The part of the safety policy that addresses diving is, in effect, established within the project dive plan, and should be formulated before the start of a project. Regardless of whether the project is an assessment, survey, excavation or monitoring activity, if diving is involved, a project dive plan needs to be in place. The plan will be compiled by the person(s) responsible for dive activities for the project, normally the dive supervisor (see roles and chain of command and qualification of personnel, below).

The project dive plan is a comprehensive document and should include, at the very least, the following sections, which are described below:

  • a review of the aims of the project 
  • activities/working methods that will be undertaken to achieve these aims
  • the logistical aspects of the diving operations
  • roles and outline of the chain of command
  • necessary documentation and record-keeping tasks
  • the applicable diving legislation that will be adhered to on the project
  • a site-specific risk assessment
  • emergency procedures and contacts

As with the project design of any archaeological undertaking, planning is an integral part. In regards to diving operations where technical equipment is operated in different environments, this is of the utmost importance. In order to help formulate the plan and assist in the overall operations of a project, reconnaissance of dive sites and other working areas such as moorings, harbours and marinas where vessels will be operating from, prior to the start of a project, is strongly advised. In addition, visits to emergency treatment facilities in order to establish prior contact is encouraged, especially if the area where the activities are taking place is not normally frequented by divers.

Before work commences on a project, the dive plan should be read by all project participants, who should acknowledge that they understand the document. Emergency procedures should be clear and reviewed with all participants, and the location and operation of first-aid and communication equipment and transport options should be made known.


Example of a depth measurements form

Example of a distance measurements form

Example of a Safe Work Method Statement used at Comber Consultants, Australia.

Example of a Risk Assessment used at Comber Consultants, Australia.

Example of a completed diving operations record from the Montenegrim Maritime Archaeology Research Project (MMARP).



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The aims of the project


The aims of the project should already be clearly stated in the project design (see Chapter II Project design). In this introductory section of the dive plan, however, these aims should be briefly revisited with a clear indication of how the diving activities will assist in achieving the project’s objectives.

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Activities/ working methods

This section of the dive plan should provide a description and the dates and times of the planned diving activities during the project.

Depending on the type of project (assessment, survey, excavation, consolidation or monitoring activities), tasks could vary from simple visual SCUBA diver reconnaissance to the extensive shifting of sediment using a dredge, an airlift or other earthmoving equipment, and the recovery of small artefacts or items of considerable size. This section of the dive plan should clearly state what types of diving will be done and the equipment to be used: for example, SCUBA diving or surface-supply diving, as well as the type of breathing gas: air or a specific mixture, diving with dry suits, diving with full-face masks or helmets, diver-to-surface communication, etc.
The choice of an appropriate diving system depends on environmental conditions, accessibility and size of the diving platform and ultimately the type of work to be undertaken. The experience and qualifications of the team should be in accordance with the chosen system.
Increasingly more complex diving systems are becoming popular in recreational diving, particularly enriched air (nitrox), trimix and rebreathers. While for some projects the use of such tech-diving equipment can be appropriate, one must be aware that a diving system which requires the diver’s constant attention just to stay safe is not acceptable if any work is to be done. An acceptably safe and sound back-up is hard to organize and if the project involves extensive operations at great depth it is more appropriate to choose a diving system that is well-proven in the offshore industry. 
The dive tables that are being followed for the project should be listed here and included in the documentation. The tables most commonly referred to are those formulated by the US Navy, and updated versions of these are available on the internet (as part of the US Navy Diving Manual). Depending on the country of operation or applicable legislation, however, other tables might be required or preferred (see Applicable Legislation, below). As a general rule on archaeological projects using SCUBA, decompression diving should be avoided, but it is possible to make allowances for the use of enriched air or NITROX to extend no decompression limits.

In addition to their presentation in the dive plan, specific underwater tasks should be discussed on a regular basis as part of the daily briefings of the project. No diver should undertake a task that is beyond their capability or level of competency, and no diver should be pressured to do a task if uncomfortable. If there are tasks which require a particular skill set, it is recommended that the project provide additional training for this, if possible.


Example of a Safe Work Method Statements used at Comber Consultants, (Australia)

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Logistical aspects


This section of the dive plan should provide a description of the location or locations of diving, the facilities from which diving will take place (boats, platforms, shore) and the type of transportation to and from these. The means of getting in and out of the water, such as solid and safe ladders clearly need specific attention. Detailed instructions regarding the operation of equipment and tools should also be described. Dredges and airlifts, for instance, are frequently used on underwater excavations. Their deployment creates specific hazards that should be addressed, in rapport with the diving equipment used. When the lower end of an airlift becomes blocked, it rapidly becomes buoyant and will suddenly rush to the surface if not tethered. No extraneous pieces of equipment, such as free dangling gauges or secondary breathing sources, should risk getting entangled. If a secondary breathing source gets sucked into a dredge or airlift, the breathing supply will rapidly be emptied. Incidents of this nature have led to fatalities. A means of quickly shutting off the supply to the excavation equipment must be within easy reach of the diver operating it.

  • The workplace

A work place, below as well as above water, needs to be kept well-organized and its layout described and understood. Guiding lines, ropes and reference spikes, power-supplies, such as compressed air or water-hoses for the airlift, water-dredge or other tools need to be mapped and all underwater workers should help the dive supervisor and the project director to rationalise the way that equipment lines and hoses are placed on the site to reduce the potential dangers associated with snags.

If working at several sites during the course of a project, each site should be described separately.

Additionally, the working environment (depths, water temperature and conditions, currents, visibility), and weather conditions (temperature, precipitation, winds) should be presented in this section. These will be further addressed in the risk assessment (see risk assessment, below), in order to mitigate any hazards these might cause to diving operations.

  • Roles and chain of command

In order to ensure fulfilment of tasks and a functioning chain of command during a project, specific roles must be assigned during diving operations.

Project director: this person is responsible for the overall running and daily organization of the project and leads the daily briefings. This person is also ultimately responsible for maintaining safety standards, maintaining the chain of command, and ensuring that project participants follow operating procedures.

Dive supervisor (or diving safety officer): this person is a qualified individual responsible for the organization and directs the diving aspects of the project. Prior to the start of the project, the Dive Supervisor conducts reconnaissance of the site, operating facilities and emergency facilities, as well as draws up the project dive plan. They are also responsible for checking diver qualifications and medical qualifications, collating paperwork associated with the diving aspects of the project, and assembling the equipment to be used and the initial safety checks. During diving operations, the dive supervisor is responsible for the health and safety of the divers and leads the safety briefings. The supervisor conducts safety checks on equipment and divers. She or he delineates all other roles of the diving operations and determines if a diver is fit to dive or other persons are able to carry out their roles, and the supervisor can cancel diving. In addition, the dive supervisor can control boat traffic or designate someone to do this.

Diver: this person undertakes a task on a project following the techniques required for the activity at hand. If diving is self-contained, it should be organized following the buddy system, and no diver should be left alone unless a system is used that allows for this, such as diver-to-surface communication. Under certain conditions, especially when heavy equipment is deployed or the work is integrated with ongoing dredging and construction, diver-to-surface communication is an absolute requirement. SCUBA may then not be the right choice of diving system.

Safety/ standby diver: during diving operations, this diver is fully kitted up. A safety/ standby diver only enters the water in case of emergency to assist divers and/or recover divers.

  • Further diversification of roles

Roles on a project can be further diversified depending on the dive system used. For example, using surface-supply equipment (SSE) and/or diver-to-surface communication, a tender will be used to assist in kitting up the diver and to hold the lines and communicate with the diver throughout the duration of their dive. The tender has no other responsibilities whilst fulfilling this role. In projects where a decompression or treatment chamber is present, a chamber operator will also be an assigned role. In addition, some projects might be organized in such a way as to include a timekeeper who oversees the dive schedule, records the entry and exit times of divers and their maximum depths, keeps an eye on basic dive operations and may assist the dive supervisor with the direction of boat traffic. These additional roles follow simple diving operations, which are based on the buddy system of diving. In all instances, clarity of communication, language, and agreement upon signals used is important.

  • Chain of command

The chain of command of the diving operations begins with the dive supervisor, who is the authority regarding safety and procedure. The dive supervisor confers with the project director on the tasks of the project and daily operations. The dive supervisor instructs the divers, safety/ standby diver, chamber operator, timekeeper and tender, and should not dive while fulfilling this role. If present, a tender will serve as the communication link between the dive supervisor (and perhaps project director) and the diver. A timekeeper, if present, will receive instruction from the dive supervisor and then communicate directly with the divers before and after they are in the water.

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Documentation and record-keeping


Every aspect of the diving operations needs to be documented as the diving operations record, and this paperwork should be kept separate from other documentation of the project.

Prior to the beginning of the diving operations, the equipment to be used and its status, including last service and approval, need to be recorded. The qualifications of the divers and other relevant personnel also need to be on record (see qualification of personnel, below), as well as the divers’ medical paperwork indicating that they are approved for diving and have obtained the necessary first-aid training. The risk assessment, safety procedures and emergency contact information also need to be formulated at this time (see risk assessment and emergency procedures and contacts, below).

During dive operations, the status of the equipment should be recorded (for example, if repairs and/or replacements have been made). Documentation also includes the records kept in real time of the daily dive operations (kept by the dive supervisor and if present, timekeeper) and the changes made to any procedures. It is also strongly encouraged that divers complete their own log books for their personal documentation. Moreover, it is strongly recommended that divers fill out individual reports after each dive to describe the task that took place. This record not only helps in reconstructing the course of any mishap or miscommunication, and to gauge the project’s progress, it will also support and reinforce the archaeological documentation considerably. Records also need to be kept by the dive supervisor of any injuries or illnesses that occur during a project.

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Applicable legislation


The legislation and codes of practice that regulate diving operations differ in each country. The relevant legislation should be understood by the dive supervisor and be available to all project participants. Legislation does not only influence diving as such, it also qualifies responsibilities, liabilities and the way in which insurance can or should be organized. Archaeological operations are more than just diving. Liability waivers that are sometimes used in outdoor sports, including diving, are often illegal as soon as specific tasks are assigned. If there is no applicable legislation in the country of operation, the dive supervisor should select a set of regulations to follow, and agree upon it with the project director, prior to the project’s commencement.


Examples of some of the most widely-used regulations include the British Health and Safety and Diving at Work Regulations issued by HSE (Health, Safety and Environment), the Norwegian Diving Regulations, and the Australian Occupational Health & Safety Regulation. For diving at work in a commercial or professional setting, these outline the legal responsibilities, minimum number of participants on a dive team, the health requirements of crew members, required diver qualifications and diver’s rights. Legislation might also specify what type of equipment can be used. In many countries the work that archaeologists perform under water is subject to the same regulations as work that is carried out for other reasons. In other countries, there are specific regulations or exemptions for diving at work with a scientific purpose.

The British Diving at Work Regulations 1997, for instance, include exemptions and codes of practice specific to scientific and archaeological diving projects. A code of practice is a set of recommended or preferred processes, actions or organizational structures to be applied in a given setting. These can provide practical information and outline safety procedures for team welfare. They are general as a rule, but can serve as a guideline to a project and can be annotated to fit a project more accurately. Codes of practice are also useful for projects with mixed teams, in which people with professional and recreational qualifications operate in tandem (discussed in qualification of personnel, below).

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Risk assessment


Once the project’s activities and logistics have been described in the project dive plan, then the principle hazards of these and of working in a marine environment, and the mitigation measures taken to avoid them, should be outlined. This assessment helps to identify and assess hazards systematically, to include control measures in the planning stage and to communicate safety information to all project members.
The risk assessment is probably best set out both in table format and in expanded descriptions. In table format, the hazards can be listed first, the likelihood of the incident occurring, the risks from those hazards described, the severity of the resulting injuries, the persons affected, and the mitigating measures. In some instances, the level of risk can be designated using a numerical scale (1 being the lowest risk and 5 being the highest risk, for example). It is considered best practice for diving supervisors to prepare a risk assessment for each part of the diving operation.

Examples of hazards usually included in a risk assessment are:

  • Environment: weather conditions, currents, tides, winds, cold, heat, marine life, working in contaminated waters;
  • Physical exertion: lifting of equipment, swimming, associated outdoor activities, general fatigue and lack of concentration;
  • Dive equipment: malfunctions, use of compressor, communication lines, damaged dive equipment; 
  • Boat safety: ships in the area, transfer between vessels, divers in water around boats; 
  • Diving-related events: the character of the work such as surveying and sampling; the wielding of tools; sharp or rusted metal, entrapment due to collapsing structures or sediments,  lines or equipment;  lost diver; diver not fit to dive (fitness of diver); nitrogen narcosis; decompression illness.

The assessment of hazards, their risks, and mitigation procedures should be addressed in the orientation briefing at the start of the project; additionally, specific safety briefings should be given on a daily basis, before work commences. Once the project is under way, the risk assessment should be reviewed frequently because as conditions change, different control measures may be triggered.

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Emergency procedures and contacts


Following closely upon the mitigating measures set out in the risk assessment, the emergency procedures section details what should happen in case of an accident or illness and the chain of command in these instances. This includes pre-hospital care relating to different scenarios (such as cuts, extreme seasickness, or decompression illness, for example). For clarity, the major or most serious life-threatening scenarios (such as an unconscious diver, burst lung or suspected decompression illness) and their treatment are best laid out in a flow chart. These scenarios should be reviewed prior to the beginning of diving operations.

To initiate emergency procedures, contact information of emergency transport services, hospitals, and decompression/treatment chambers should be listed. These should include the contacts for a search and rescue helicopter, the police, coastguard, fire-service or military, as appropriate. For best practice, all project participants should know where this contact information is kept on site every day. All medical paperwork of project participants should be on site during the diving operations, so that pre-existing conditions and personal contact information are known to emergency personnel.

Ideally, all crew members should be qualified first-aiders or should be certified in basic first-aid treatment as well as the operation of communication equipment. If not everyone is trained in these, however, those that are should be identified. Information in the emergency procedures section should also identify the locations of first-aid kit(s), O2 kits, and communication equipment (radios, walkie-talkies, mobile phones) and their operation should be demonstrated prior to the beginning of diving operations.

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Qualification of personnel

Participants on a maritime archaeological project will have to be qualified and competent in different skills and professional ethics and demonstrate that they have knowledge of the tasks to be undertaken (see Rules 22 & 23 in Chapter VII Competence and qualifications). These skills are varied, and can include historical expertise, technical knowledge of equipment used during diving operations, or first-aid care.

Minimum qualifications

The minimum qualifications for an archaeologist to work on a project are usually set by the relevant authority overseeing the project. These might include an academic degree or similar certification, practical experience, demonstrated research in the chosen field or area of speciality, and knowledge of the historical period or archaeological site under investigation. The person overseeing the diving operations and divers participating on the project will also have to have qualifications accepted by the relevant authority overseeing the diving and safety aspects of the project. At a minimum, the dive supervisor should have obtained an elevated certification from a recognized dive training institution.

Diving certifications

Different organizations exist world-wide. For SCUBA operations, the qualifications of the World Underwater Federation, CMAS, are accepted in several countries. For professionals working in the recreational diving industry, the instructor certificates from the Professional Association of Diving Instructors, PADI, are a common norm. However, in many countries where diving at work is regulated, qualifications need to be obtained from a training institution that is recognized for diving at work, for instance a school that is recognized by the International Diving Schools Association, IDSA. Specific first-aid or paramedic training is often included.

Divers in the project should also have obtained at least a primary level of certification from such an institution. If no relevant authorities addressing diving issues or such regulation exist in the country of operation, acceptable or comparable qualifications will have to be determined by the overseer of the project. These definitions are explained further in Chapter VII Competence and qualifications. It is important that all participants are determined to have the appropriate qualifications prior to the start of the project; not only is this best practice, but in many cases not following these guidelines can have legal ramifications (see  applicable legislation, above).

Prior to the beginning of a project, all qualifications and competences should be verified.

Academic degrees, diving and boat operator licences and first-aid certifications are easily checked with the issuing institutions.

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Qualification of personnel - mixed diving teams


As noted in Chapter VII Competence and qualifications, it is very likely that some projects will actively seek to include the participation of non-archaeologists (‘avocationals’) in order to encourage local involvement in underwater heritage management, capacity building, or provide technical training to interested parties. In development-led archaeology this may not be appropriate, especially not if archaeological services are tendered out, or where developers pay for specified archaeological research. Professional relationships should then be the norm. However, in exploratory archaeology and research projects that are funded independently, there can be great advantages in including interested avocationals. 


Avocationals usually do not work in the field of archaeology, but choose to explore or to participate in archaeological work in their free time. In fact, avocationals often are the first to identify sites and report them. They may explore areas where archaeologists who are professionally employed will not have looked. If this leads to further assessment and research, it is often a matter of courtesy to include the interested discoverer in the project. Avocationals are also available to participate in other ways. This can be very fortunate, as in archaeological projects one needs many skills besides strict scientific expertise and a variety of skills and qualifications are available in the non-professional community.

Avocationals' qualifications

Sometimes avocationals have the same diving qualifications as the archaeologists. It is then relatively straight-forward to develop a consistent safety policy, along the lines described above, that will cover the whole operation. It is a bit more complicated if the qualifications vary and are different for the volunteers and those who are employed professionally, especially where legal requirements differ for diving at work and recreational diving. Under some codes of practice (see applicable legislation, above) it is then still possible to integrate the team. As always, specific tasks, such as wielding heavy equipment, being supervisor or standby diver, will only be allotted to those who have the competence and necessary qualifications for that task.

Regulations for avocationals

In other instances, regulations can be prohibitive for integration of those ‘at work’ and those who one would like to integrate for their recreation. It is then often possible to have two separate procedures for two separate teams, operating under different regulations and different chains of command, but, for instance, still referring to the same safety backup. Preparing a safety policy for such a situation is a somewhat more daunting task, in which employer responsibility, liability and insurance need to get as much extra attention as the division of tasks and the avoidance of interference of one team with the other.

Mixed-team diving can thus be complicated due to different organizational embedding of the participants, and different levels of expertise or standards of training received by team members in a country with varying requirements for recreational and professional divers. In some settings, this might even be further complicated if the project has a team comprised of international members. Nevertheless, international cooperation is very desirable (see Chapter I, Rule 8), and so is the involvement of local and recreational divers (Chapter XIV).

Basic requirements for avocationals

The inclusion and basic requirements of non-archaeologists will vary from country to country, and be determined by the regulating authority or those overseeing the project or dive operations. In order for the non-archaeologists to be included in a form of ‘responsible participation’, their skills and level of technical expertise must be taken into consideration. This is best facilitated by establishing their participation in the project dive plan, which should be specific to mixed teams. In all instances, communication procedures and agreement upon signals used should be clear, and operating and safety standards must be maintained at the same level for all participants. In some instances, particular codes of practice can offer a basic set of standards that guides the participants or projects with mixed teams (see applicable legislation).

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Record keeping and logs


Records of the project diving operations are essential for documenting the flow of activities, and in many countries are also required by law. Records are necessary to demonstrate to the relevant overseeing authority that the technical requirements, as well as the health and safety concerns of the crew, were met during the course of the project. All paperwork associated with diving, the diving operations record, should be kept separate from other paperwork related to the project.

The records can be separated into two types: those collated prior to and those filled out during dive operations. The records that should be collated prior to the start of diving operations include:

  • applicable legislation
  • procedures, dive plan and risk assessment
  • copies of qualifications of divers (diving and first-aid certifications)
  • medical records of divers
  • list of diving and associated technical equipment to be used on the project
  • list of first-aid equipment

Records that should be kept in ‘real time’, whilst the project is taking place, include:

  • equipment safety logs (if there is a problem with equipment, and the resolution)
  • illness or injury records (what happened, to whom, and the treatment)
  • daily confirmation check of diving equipment and safety equipment
  • individual diver logs
  • change record (a document that outlines the changes made to any part of the diving plan and operations during the course of the project)

These records should initially be assembled by the dive supervisor of the project (see roles and chain of command, above). However, the ‘real time’ records, such as the timekeeping log, can also be filled out by the timekeeper, and the individual diver logs should be completed by the divers and signed off by the dive supervisor or other responsible authority.

The purpose of these records is not to complicate diving operations; rather, they are intended to provide a transparent and easy-to-follow record of operations that is accessible to project participants, directors, and supervisory authorities.


timekeeping logs (dive times, maximum depths, surface intervals)

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The diving operations record

The diving operations record should as a minimum include:

  • The name of the responsible organization or diving contractor 
  • The date or dates 
  • The location
  • The nature of the diving operation
  • The name of the diving platform or vessel if applicable
  • The risk assessment
  • The procedures followed in the course of the diving operation including reference to the decompression tables used 
  • Arrangements for emergency support (including contact-details by phone or VHF)
  • The name of the diving supervisor
  • The names of on-site first-aid staff
  • The names of all other persons engaged in the diving operation and their respective roles
  • The type of breathing apparatus and mixture used
  • A list of on-site first-aid equipment
  • Particulars on sea state, visibility, temperature and weather
  • Confirmation of daily check of safety and first-aid equipment
  • Confirmation that diving equipment has been checked on proper maintenance and proper functioning immediately prior to each individual dive
  • The time that each individual diver leaves the surface, starts to ascend and reaches the surface
  • The maximum depth of each individual dive
  • Any defects that are discovered in any plant or equipment used in the diving operations.
  • Any decompression sickness, other illness, discomfort or injury suffered by any of the divers. Particulars of any emergency which occurred during the diving operation and any action taken 
  • Any other factors relevant to the safety or health of persons engaged in the operation

It is highly advisable to use standardized forms, including checklists, for the diving operations record

Example of a completed diving operations record from the Montenegrin Maritime Archaeology Research Project (MMARP), documenting the dives and tasks that took place on a site, MR 01, in Maljevik Bay, on 28 August, 2010.

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