1.0 Introduction

Diving within the British Army (particularly the Royal Engineers) has a long and distinguished history and, as a specialist Army diver, personnel carry out tasks such as underwater searches, repairing military ships or even aiding the civil police.

Introduction to Military Diving: In-Outs
Introduction to Military Diving: In-Outs

Diver training is pretty unique in that both officers and soldiers complete their training on the same course(s) and at the same venue, the Defence Diving School (DDS) at Horsea Island in Portsmouth. The training courses are tough, with an emphasis on physical fitness and mental robustness.

British Army military divers are commercially trained to extremely high standards to carry out underwater tasks and learn new skills and military techniques all the time. During training candidates get expert diver tuition that teaches them everything from the physics of diving to underwater search and recovery skills. Candidates also learn underwater engineering and surveying techniques, decompression and first aid; gaining HSE parts 1 and 2 commercial diving qualifications due to DDS being a Health and Safety Executive (HSE) approved Diver Competence Assessment Organisation.

Student Prepped for Marked Swimming
Student Prepped for Marked Swimming

However, due to the nature of diving, not everybody is suited to be an Army Diver. Unit Diving Teams often operate independently with minimal support in very arduous conditions and this requires fit, keen, motivated individuals. Aspirants must be able to act independently, think laterally but also be a strong team player, although there is no requirement for previous diving experience. The role of Army diver is a specialist job that brings with it extra pay (as a recruiting and retention incentive) and considerable responsibility.

During the 2000s British Army military diving witnessed a number of changes, and the information in this article will reflect those changes. For most diver aspirants there will be four stages in their diving career:

  • Stage 1: Diver Selection (1-week course);
  • Stage 2: Basic Diver (5-week course);
  • Stage 3: Advanced Diver (6-week course); and
  • Stage 4: Supervisor (5-week course).

The above course lengths changed during the 2010s (FOI 2019/02019 dated 12 April 2019):

  • Stage 1: Diver Selection (1-week course)’;
  • Stage 2: Army Diver Course (7-week course);
  • Stage 3: Army Advanced Diver Course (7-week course); and
  • Stage 4: Army Diving Supervisor Course (8-week course).

By 2019, the courses had undergone further change (Royal Navy, 2019, p.1.3 – 1 & 1.4 – 12; The Sustainer, 2020, p.21):

  • Stage 1: Army Diver Selection Course (ADSEL) (5-day course);
  • Stage 2: Army Diver Class 2 (AD2) (7-week course);
  • Stage 3: Army Diver Class 1 (AD1).
  • Stage 4: Army Dive Supervisor (ADS) (12-week course).

These courses are discussed in Part 3 below.

Although the DDS is a joint training establishment encompassing the British Army and Royal Navy, this article only describes the British Army-side of military diving and does not include:

  • The Royal Navy’s suite of military diving qualifications (FOI 2019/02019):
    • Able Rate (Diving) Phase 2 (28-week course);
    • Leading Diver Phase 3 Leading Hand Career Course (14-week course);
    • Petty Officer Phase 3 Petty Officer Career Course (12-week course); and
    • Mine Clearance Diving Officer Course (24-week course).
  • Recreational (i.e. civilian) qualifications and courses provided through:
    • The Army Sub Aqua Dive Centre (ASADC) which is part of the Army School of Physical Training and based at Bovington, Dorset.
    • The Joint Service Sub Aqua Diving Centre (JSSADC) which is part of the Adventurous Training Group.
    • The diving wing of the Cyprus Joint Service Adventure Training Centre (CJSATC).
    • The Kiel Training Centre (KTC) based in the port of Kiel, Northern Germany.

This article is divided into five sections for easier reading, starting with Section One which provides a background to military diving, aim of military diving and gender. Section Two looks at entry standards and applications before moving onto Section Three which provides an outline of the training courses available (the information most people are after). The penultimate section looks at diving regulation and finally Section Five provides some useful information relating to military diving and diving pay, as well useful links to relevant websites.

“It definitely builds their teamwork. If they do not work as a group they will not pass. We do not have any problems when the guys come back for the advanced course. When they leave they are fully qualified and they are here because they want to be.” (MOD, 2011).

1.1 Brief History

The first recorded military interest in diving came in 1838 when Colonel Pasley, Royal Engineers, of the School of Military Engineering at Chatham undertook to demolish the wreck of a collier blocking the fairway of the Thames at Tilbury. After unsuccessful attempts to position the charges using the diving bell from the Naval Dockyard, Colonel Pasley trained a number of his soldiers in the use of Mr Kemp’s diving equipment, having first tested the concept himself and thus become the first Service diver on 28 April that year (yes before the RN).

Within a short period charges had been successfully laid by divers of the Royal Sappers and Miners, and the wreck demolished. Encouraged by this success Colonel Pasley turned his attention the following year to the wreck of the Royal George at Spithead and over five subsequent years conducted salvage operations and demolished both this and a number of other wrecks in the area.

Preparations for the 1000m Long Jackstay swim.
Preparations for the 1000m Long Jackstay swim.

During this period Colonel Pasley evaluated a number of different types of diving equipment and in his final technical report commended the use of Siebe’s diving dress for ‘public service’. Having persuaded the Royal Navy of the advantages of this equipment over the unwieldy Dockyard diving bell; Colonel Pasley subsequently detached Lance Corporal Jones to HMS Excellent to train a party of 13 Petty Officers and Seamen in its use.

In September 1995 the Royal Navy and the Royal Engineer Diving Establishment (REDE) combined their diver training assets to form the Defence Diving School (DDS) at Horsea Island, Portsmouth. The Army wing of the DDS is known as the Diving Training Unit (Army) (DTU (A)) and the Royal Navy wing is known as the Diving Training Unit (Royal Navy) (DTU (RN)).

However, this was not the first time the RE and RN had joined forces at Horsea, as the facility itself is centred on a former torpedo test range, which was built by the Royal Engineers on behalf of the Admiralty in the 1880s.

Subsequent landfill operations have long since joined two sides of Horsea Island to the Portsmouth mainland; next to port Solent. The site itself is an outpost of HMS Excellent, and comes under the command of the Maritime Warfare School (MWS). DTU (A), formally the Royal Engineer Diver Training Wing, is an integral part of this Joint Service Unit and moved from HMS Vernon (what is now Gunwharf Quays).

1.2 Aim

The aim of military diver training is to prepare selected Royal Engineers and 17 Port & Maritime Regiment personnel for service with Unit Diving Teams by developing the temperament, mental resolve, physical robustness and core military diving skills necessary in the demanding environment of military diving operations.

1.3 Women and British Army Military Diving

In accordance with current Government policy on the employment of women in the UK military, service as an Army diver is open to male and female volunteers.

Lt Catherine Ker

The first woman to graduate from the DDS was Catherine Ker, a Royal Navy Lieutenant, as a Minewarfare and Clearance Diving Officer (MCDO) in December 2010 (Royal Navy, 2010). Although The Royal Navy has had female divers in the past, Lieutenant Ker is the first to graduate from the DDS since the policy on women changed.

1.4 British Army Military Diving Training Ethos

Unlike military diving in the Royal Navy, military diving in the British Army is an additional qualification, i.e. on top of soldier and trade skills, and is therefore not a full time employed role (except when employed as a member of DDS).

There is a presumption that personnel who volunteer for military diver training will become, or develop into, very good team players. And, although there is an element of individual work required the emphasis is on team cohesion and teamwork.

Stronger team members are expected to aid weaker team members through knowledge development, encouragement and camaraderie; though only to a point. If an individual is unable to pass the formative (criteria) tests and/or it is obvious they are unable to cope with the stress (physical and mental) of the course, after remedial work and a period to demonstrate improvement, the individual will be subject to RTU (returned to unit) procedure.

Candidates require:

  • A good level of stamina (preferably built over a period of time);
  • Determination (mental fortitude to keep going despite being cold and fatigued);
  • Excellent admin (personal administration in the field and in barracks); and
  • A sense of humour is the key to military diver training.

Candidates are not expected to be superman; they just need the above to pass the course. Like most training courses in the UK military, military diver training has a policy of ‘train in’ rather than ‘select out’.

1.5 Is The Sappers Military Diving Course Arduous?

Yes. The profession of military diving is simultaneously mentally, physically, academically and technically demanding.

Gone are the days of strapping two cylinders on your back, turning a valve and then jumping in water to complete a task. All diving aspirants must:

  • Learn and pass examinations on diving theory (academic element);
  • Learn and pass examinations on diving equipment (technical element);
  • Develop and maintain physical and medical fitness throughout their diving career (physical element); and
  • Develop and maintain an appropriate attitude to diving (mental element).

Most applicants for military diving, within the British Army, will have previously completed either the All Arms Commando Course or P Company. Consequently, the physical standards are high, do not be fooled by the DPFT standards. Although there is usually specific fitness training sessions scheduled into the diving training programme (usually first thing in the morning), setting up a dive site is a fitness session in itself – especially with the time constraints and weight of the equipment.

Potential divers should not be fooled into thinking that their courses will be easy. Aspirants will experience:

  • Being cold and wet (especially if the wrist cuff leaks!);
  • Physically fatigued due to the sheer intensity of the course which is liberally interspersed with planned and unplanned (for correcting errors!) fitness sessions; and
  • Mentally fatigued due to the time spent working and awake, and the volume of information to assimilate (the learning curve is steep).

1.6 Organisation of the Defence Diving School

The DDS sits within the Royal Navy’s training pipeline as part of the Flag Officer Sea Training (FOST) organisation, formerly the Naval Training and Recruiting Agency (NRTA). FOST is commanded by a Rear Admiral (OF-7).

The DDS is a joint British Army and Royal Navy training establishment and Figure 1 outlines the organisation of the DDS from an Army perspective.

21,17a - Figure 1, DDS Org

Figure 1: Organisation of the DDS

There has been some restructuring at DDS, therefore the above figure is for historical purposes only.

1.6.1 Commanding Officer

The post of Commanding Officer (CO) DDS rotates between the Royal Engineers (Lieutenant Colonel, OF-4) and the Royal Navy (Commander, OF-4) on an alternative basis.

The CO DDS has command over both the Royal Engineers and Royal Navy training teams which are divided as:

  • Diving Training Wing (Royal Navy); and
  • Diving Training Wing (Army).

1.6.2 Officer Commanding, Diving Training Wing (Army)

The Officer Commanding (OC) of the Diving Training Wing (Army) (DTW (A)) is a serving RE officer, either a Direct Entry (DE) or Late Entry (LE) Major (OF-3).

1.6.3 Senior Diving Officer (Army)

The Senior Diving Officer (Army) (SDO (A)), a Major (OF-3), is responsible for all aspects of the conduct of Army diving including safety.

Since 2016/2017, DDS was restructured to a single OF-3 appointment (Royal Navy, 2019). This single OF-3 appointment, known as the Officer in Charge Diver Training Group (OiC DTG), sits above six Divisional Officers (DO’s) (Royal Navy, 2019).

The appointment must be manned by a Navy diver as Army divers are not SQEP (Suitably Qualified and Experience Personnel) in the full range of diving equipment used. The rationale for the single position is to ensure the required standard is maintained across all six instructor teams and best practice between the two services can be shared.

1.6.4 First RLC DDS Staff Members

In 2004, I was selected as the first RLC soldier to be employed as a staff member at the DDS, initially on a 6-month tour. This was later extended to a full 2-year tour. The first RLC officer, Major Chris Pugh, started his tour in 2005.


2.0 Eligibility

The DDS suite of diving courses is the only recognised route for Regular members of the UK military to become military diver trained. British Army military diving is open to male and female officers and soldiers of the Royal Engineers and 17 Port and Maritime Regiment, RLC (MOD, 2011).

Theoretically, all serving military personnel within 17 Port and Maritime Regiment are eligible to undertake military diver training. However, in practice training is typically ‘reserved’ to the following trades:

  • Seaman/Navigator (RLC);
  • Marine Engineer (RLC);
  • Port Operator (RLC); and
  • Recovery Mechanic (REME).

There is no training pipeline for Army Reserve personnel.

2.1 Trained Soldier Status

All Royal Engineers and 17 Port & Maritime RLC officers and soldiers can apply for military diver training after they have completed all Phase 2 (employment) training associated with their career employment group (CEG).

2.2 Approval

Candidates, both officers and soldiers, must have completed a number of tests (see relevant Defence Instructions and Notices (DIN) and Section 2.5) prior to attending an Army Diver Selection Course (Section 3.4). An appropriately qualified Medical Officer needs to approve a candidate’s application (Section 2.6).

2.3 Service

There is no compulsory Return of Service (RoS) requirement for military diver trained personnel.

2.4 Age Range

All officers and other ranks over the age of 18 who have completed Phase 2 training are eligible to apply for military diver training. For serving members of the Royal Engineers and 17 Port & Maritime Regiment there is no upper age limit for applying for military diver training, subject to the medical and fitness criteria. Theoretically, at least, personnel can apply in the last year of employment.

2.5 Fitness Standard

All military diver aspirants must ensure that they are physically fit and mentally robust. The Divers Personal Fitness Test (DPFT) is the benchmark utilised by DDS staff and must be passed on Day One. The DPFT consists of:

  • A minimum of 8 under-grasp heaves;
  • A minimum of 16 dips.
  • A minimum of 40 flat sit-ups in 1 minute (hands on temples); and
  • A 1.5 mile run, as an individual, within 9 minutes 30 seconds; after a 1.5 mile run, as a squad, in 15 minutes (the route is conveniently one lap of Horsea Island).

It should be noted that candidates will be required to pass the DPFT on Day One of each course outlined in Part Three below.

2.6 Medical Standard

Unlike other military courses, such as P Company or the All Arms Commando Course, military diver aspirants require a higher medical threshold than specified in JSP 950 ‘Medical Policy’ (published 01 April 2011, formerly JSP 346).

All potential divers must pass a stringent medical examination conducted by a Service medical officer or civilian medical practitioner who is authorised to conduct and record diving medical examinations on service personnel.

The following document: Medical Examination & Assessment of Divers (MA1) (HSE, 2011) provides an insight into the civilian process.

If a candidate passes the medical they will be issued with a Certificate of Medical Fitness to Dive, which is valid for up to 12 months. This must be renewed annually and will include a fitness test. The Certificate of Medical Fitness to Dive issued in accordance with BR 1750A is automatically recognised as a Certificate of Medical Fitness to Dive under the Diving at Work Regulations 1997 whilst the person holding the certificate is employed by the Ministry of Defence as a member of the armed forces of the Crown (HSE, 2011).

Candidates should also refer to the relevant DIN as published by the Sponsor Branch (Defence Diving School).


3.0 Background

The British Army diving selection and training process is for candidates wishing to become diver-trained and subsequently serve in a Unit Diving Team. This process is orchestrated by the DTU (A) which delivers a number of courses for officers and soldiers of the Royal Engineers and 17 Port & Maritime Regiment, Royal Logistic Corps.

During the mid-2000s and 2010s the British Army military diving training pipeline underwent a number of changes (Figures 1-3) due to equipment changes and streamlining of courses. For most diver aspirants there will be four stages in their diving career:

  • Stage 1:
    • Pre-Diving Assessment (“one-week” (The Sustainer, 2020, p.20).
    • Known as the Unit Pre-Diving Assessment.
  • Stage 2:
    • Diver Selection (1-week course).
    • Known as the Army Diver Selection Course (ADSEL).
  • Stage 3:
    • Basic Diver (7 weeks from 2010s; formerly 5-week course; now “eight-week[s]” (The Sustainer, 2020, p.20)).
    • Known as the Army Diver Class 2 (AD2) Course.
    • Military Diver First Aid followed by the basics of military diving.
    • The equipment is similar to civilian SCUBA diving equipment where all of the air is carried in cylinders on your back, although this is were the similarity with SCUBA ends.
    • Depths up to 30 metres.
  • Stage 4:
    • Advanced Diver (7 weeks from 2010s; formerly 6-week course; now “eight-week[s]” (The Sustainer, 2020, p.20)).
    • Known as the Army Diver Class 1 (AD1) Course.
    • This is all about specialised equipment, which is similar to that used by commercial divers.
    • The air supply is controlled on the surface and sent down to the diver via an umbilical that is connected to a diving helmet.
    • Also train using various underwater hydraulic tools (e.g. chainsaw and concrete breaker).
    • Depths up to 50 metres.
  • Stage 5:
    • Supervisor (8 weeks from 2010s; formerly 5-week course; now “12-week[s]” (The Sustainer, 2020, p.21)).
    • Known as the Army Dive Supervisor (ADS) Course.
21,17b - Figure 2, Pre-2003

Figure 1: Outline of Army diving pre-2003

Before the 1990s, RLC candidates only completed the first 4 weeks of the ACAD course and qualified as ‘Shallow Water’ (SW) divers. As a result RLC divers were only trained to dive to a maximum depth of 18 metres, in contrast to RE divers who were trained to dive to a maximum depth of 30 metres. By the 1990s RLC candidates completed the full course.

21,17c - Figure 3, 2003 to 2006

Figure 2: Outline of Army diving, 2003 to 2006

21,17d - Figure 4, Post-2006

Figure 3: Outline of Army diving, post-2006

“The Defence Diving School runs four basic and two advanced courses a year and there is healthy competition for places.” (MOD, 2011).

3.1 Pre-Diving Briefings and Preparation

Verbal briefings are provided to training and regimental units (RE and RLC) which are designed to inform diver aspirants about service with a Unit Diving Team.

It is important that candidates attending a military diving course ensure they have ‘adequately’ prepared themselves, both mentally and physically. Although passing the diving course is the goal of all candidates, how each candidate trains to achieve this goal will be different.

3.2 Unit Pre-Diving Assessment

The Unit Pre-Diving Assessment is a one-week course held within the unit which aims to examine:

  • Physical robustness;
  • Ability to retain information; and
  • Ability to work under pressure (both figuratively and literally).

3.3 Course Instructors

Typically, a diving course will be commanded by a course officer, either the 2IC (Captain) or SMI (WO1) but delivery is through:

  • A Royal Engineers Sergeant (OR-6), Course Leader: provides administrative and diving supervision, as well as lesson delivery;
  • Two Royal Engineers/RLC Corporals (OR-4), Diving Instructors: these two individuals deliver the bulk of diving supervision and lesson delivery;
  • Two Royal Engineers/RLC Lance Corporals (OR-3), Course Support Staff (CSS); these two individuals act as a liaison between the students and instructors, although they will also deliver lessons. They provide direct support whilst students ‘set-up’ a dive site, amongst a number of other student support roles (e.g. cleanliness of ‘The Cage’).
  • Course PTI (Physical Training Instructor): at least one of the above will be PTI-qualified, although PT sessions may also delivered by the RN-resident PTI.

Instructors are known by the titles Senior Military Diving Instructor (SMDI) or Junior Military Diving Instructor (JMDI).

As part of their induction process, all instructors posted to the DDS must undertake a diving standards check (basic diving skills and drills) and a mock classroom-based lesson. There are a number of other administrative and instructional procedures to complete as part of the induction process.

3.4 Course Joining Instructions

All candidates for the below courses will receive joining instructions which provide advice on accommodation, car parking, dress, food, equipment to bring and not to bring and a number of other useful titbits of information.

3.5 Army Diver Selection Course

1 - Set up in dive tank
Initial dives take place in the training pool.

The aim of the Army Diver Selection (ADSEL) Course is to select those officers and soldiers suitable for training as Army Divers and to achieve this DTU (A) assesses:

  • Physical fitness;
  • Diving aptitude;
  • Ability to learn new information; and
  • Attitude towards military diving.

These four elements are realised through:

  • An explanation of the course, and the role of an Army diver, including:
    • Purpose and role of standby diver.
    • Purpose and role of an attendant.
    • Set-up and use of in-service self contained equipment.
    • Set-up and equipment required for a dive site.
    • Underwater communications (lifeline signals and through-water).
  • A Medical Assessment (Day 1, AM);
  • Diver Personal Fitness Test (Day 1, AM);
  • Introduction to Diving Theory, i.e. lectures in physics and physiology;
  • A compression chamber dive to not less than 10m;
  • Jumping into the water from 7m and surface swimming in a UWSS (underwater swim suit);
  • Physical training (PT), including In-Water training; and
  • Acquaint Dives, including:
    • Flooded face mask procedure (below water);
    • A working dive using simple hand tools; and
    • A nil visibility dive.
Welcome to PT!
Welcome to PT!

Candidates will need to be comfortable with working in cold, wet conditions during day and night diving operations when fatigued. Getting in and out of wet, cold diving clothing and being sleep deprived is a constant feature of this 5-day course. During this course candidates will be accommodated on Horsea Island in a communal room (sleeps 20+ personnel in bunk beds) and fed in the DDS dining hall.

Day one of the course involves a brief by the course leader with introductions to staff members and welcome statement from the OC DTU (A). Staff will collect (sealed) medical documents from candidates who have been unable to have them sent ahead (was fairly common). Anyone without medical documents will be subject to RTU (Return to Unit) procedures (rare but did happen). Course Support Staff (CSS) will then transport all candidates to the sick bay (medical centre) at HMS Excellent for a medical assessment. Once medical assessments are completed, candidates who have passed will undertake the DPFT (Section 2.5). Once back at Horsea Island candidates will be expected to run everywhere and as a group. Conveniently, the running route for the running element of the DPFT is one lap of Horsea Island. Candidates on the selection course particularly enjoy their acquaint run around Horsea Island carrying their red diving equipment bag above their heads!

In-water Training.
In-water Training.

Candidates will also be introduced to ‘The Cage’ where all diving equipment is stored during any given course. The Cage is expected by maintained in a clean and tidy state, with inspections on a daily basis! Adjacent to the Cage is the training pool where all potential divers conduct their first dives (usually over Days One and Two) one-on-one with the instructors. At some point during these two days candidates will probably be introduced to ‘Hang Tough’ which involves shimming along the steel girder above the pool.

During this week expect to work 18+ hours per day (except Friday), as diving operations will last until midnight and then candidates will be expected to ‘sort the Cage’, whilst in the morning the dive site will need to be set-up by 0700 – typically you will be up at 0500ish and ‘in bed’ by 0100-0200ish; although on at least one day you will get no sleep! If still extant, candidates may also experience the ACADTHON, which was a full lap of Horsea Island (1.5 miles) followed by finning (in the sitting position kicking your legs wearing UWSS and fins) half way up the lake and back (approximately 1000 metres) in 30 minutes or less.

Candidates will also undertake an endurance swim, which involves swimming up and down a jack stay (simply on a ‘rope’ on the lake floor) for approximately 5 hours, coming out of the water only long enough to swap diving sets. This evolution lasts approximately 11 hours (the course is divided into two groups, one attending and one diving) and is a relatively ‘boring’ period, but a welcome respite from the otherwise frantic pace. This period aids candidates to develop breathing technique and buoyancy control (usually involving some amusing whale impressions; you’ll understand once you see it). Other delightful experiences may include a 600lb air compressor, but lets not spoil the surprise!

Time management on this, and subsequent, courses is vital. Due to the sheer intensity of the course and volume of information learned, candidates will no doubt feel mentally and physically exhausted by the end. However, candidates can look forward to finishing their course around 1300 on the Friday.

The following document, although now outdated, will provide aspirants with an insight to the content of the military diving training syllabus: Potential Divers Handout.

It is a mandatory requirement for all diver aspirants to pass the SEL Course prior to attendance on the Army Diver Class Two Course. And, on completion of the SEL Course candidates have a two year period to complete the Army Diver Class Two Course. If a candidate fails to complete the next course during this period, they will need to re-qualify on another SEL Course.

3.6 Army Diver Class Two Course

The aim of the Army Diver Class Two (AD2) course is to train officers and soldiers in the use of the Swimmers Air Breathing Apparatus (SABA) MOD 1, in-service self contained equipment, in techniques (manual tasks) that will enable them to operate at depths of up to 30 metres as a member of a Unit Diving Team.

SABA Mod 1 is a specific form of Self-Contained Air Diving Equipment (SCADE), which is more commonly known by its sport diving label, SCUBA (Self-Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus).

High Entry Training
High Entry Training

The “eight-week) (The Sustainer, 2020, p.21) (formerly 7-week) course is run predominantly in Portsmouth and broken into week long phases.

In its previous iteration as a 5-week course, training included:

  • Week 1: Introduction to diving set and safety drills and procedures.
  • Week 2: Initial diver training.
  • Week 3: Reconnaissance, Search & Recovery and basic tools training.  Endurance training.
  • Week 4: Fast water test week (Weymouth).
  • Week 5: Deep diving and administration.

In its current iteration, the course is run by the Diving Training Group, DDS (Royal Navy, 2019). The first two weeks consist of the Military Diver First Aid Course, with the following five weeks being the SCUBA practical phase.

  • Week 1: Military Diver First Aid Course.
  • Week 2: Military Diver First Aid Course.
  • Week 3: Horsea Island, Basic Skills:
    • Day 1: Diver Personal Fitness Test (DPFT), opening address, H&S brief, diving regulations, introduction to diving physics, draw equipment, dress a diver lesson, SCUBA theory, and cage handover.
    • Day 2: Diving illnesses, identify SABA Mod 1 and DTWC, knots & signals, charge diving cylinder, basic drills, and before & use routines.
    • Day 3: Wet PT, emergency drills (including assessment).
    • Day 4: Rigging a safety boat, and manual dexterity & hand tools.
    • Day 5: PT duathlon, intro to decompression methods & tables, course photo, weekly reports, PBAC9D), ramset bolt gun, cage hand over, AD lifeline signals final exam, and logbook session.
  • Week 4: Horsea Island, Hard Fin:
    • Day 1: Squad run, seabed & circular searches, tidal systems, underwater recovery methods, understand decompression regulations, fast water search, night dive, and dive period.
    • Day 2: Body search & recovery, and circular & grid searches.
    • Day 3: Mud run and Exercise Hard Fin (day and overnight).
    • Day 4: Squad run and compass theory & swimming.
    • Day 5: Weekly feedback & reports, and UWFT assessment PA 07.
  • Week 5: Weymouth, Fast Water:
    • Day 1: Fast water searches, and towed searches.
      Day 2: PT, fast water searches, single line jackstay, and night dive.
      Day 3: Fast water searches, and logbook/revision.
      Day 4: River recce theory & practical, fast water dives, PT endurance run, and load stores.
      Day 5: Return to DDS.
  • Week 6: Horsea Island:
    • Day 1: Wet PT and underwater demolitions.
      Day 2: Live underwater demolitions, night dive (marked swimming in pairs), and long jackstay.
      Day 3: Boat dive, simulated decompression exercise, and wet PT.
      Day 4: Submarine Escape Training Tank (SETT), and AD2 progress exam.
      Day 5: Outisde agency recovery/buoyancy task. Load for NDAC.
  • Week 7: Horsea Island/NDAC, Deep Diving/Test Week:
    • In the final week of the course, students will undertake a three day package which is the routine culmination of the AD2 course with three progressive (in terms of complexity and depth) days of diving (Royal Navy, 2019).
    • Day 1: Deep diving, final exam revision/logbook, and PBAC(D) assessments PA-05.
      Day 2: Deep diving, standby diver drill, and final exam revision.
      Day 3: Deep diving, AD2 final written exam (WA-04), and resit signals exam (if required). Return to DDS.
      Day 4: Cage maintenance, PCD, records & pay, and post incident procedures.
      Day 5: Presentations, and SMDI disposal.

As of 2019, there are 27 diving periods students complete during the course, with the first 19 being in less than 10 metres of water. The 20th is at 15 metres, and 21 at 30 metres (SETT). There is one deep dive (21 to 30 metres) each day in the final week.

Training, on both the AD2 and AD1 courses, may take place at the National Diving and Activity Centre, located in Chepstow (MOD, 2011).

The AD2 course is experienced at the same frantic pace as the SEL course, with the Weymouth Phase (Week 4) probably being the most difficult and sleep deprived.


During the 6-week ACAD, and successor 11-week Army Diver Course, candidates where required to create a ‘Best Book’. The hand written Best Book was a copy of lessons and information gained during the duration of the course which was expected to be written in the candidate’s own words and submitted each week for inspection by course staff. The Best Book had to be neat, tidy and legible or that week’s section would need to be rewritten or even the whole folder redone!

This is a computerised and abridged version of my 1996 Best Book: ACAD Course Work.

Only on successful completion of the AD2 course will candidates receive their coveted Army Book 576 and the distinctive golden diving badge, and be eligible for service within a Unit Diving Team.

Those candidates who pass the AD2 Course will be eligible to attend the 6-week Army Diver Class One (AD1) Course.

In November 2013 Surgeon Lieutenant Jamie Vassallo, age 28, became the first RN officer to complete the AD2 course (RN, 2013).

Since the 2010s, this course is 7 weeks in duration and renamed the Army Diver Course (FOI 2019/02019).

3.7 Army Diver Class One Course

Surg Lt Jamie Vassallo being prepared for army diving session
Lt Jamie Vassallo being attended by a DDS staff member, who happens to be from the RLC.

The aim of this course is to train AD2 divers (officers and soldiers) in the use of the Open Space Diving System (OSDS), in-service surface demand equipment, in techniques (underwater engineering tasks) that will allow them to operate at depths of up to 50 metres as a member of a Unit Diving Team. Training is conducted primarily at the DDS at Portsmouth with other training modules in Scotland and the National Diving and Activity Centre (MOD, 2011). This course includes (MOD, 2011):

  • Use and operation of OSDS;
  • Advanced reconnaissance;
  • Underwater Demolitions;
  • Underwater Concreting;
  • Search and Recovery Techniques (includes body recoveries and the salvage of weapons from the bottom of wells or canals);
  • Engineering Tasks (piping and construction etc);
  • Tools Training, i.e. the use and operation of hydraulic cutters, breaking equipment and thermal cutting systems such as the hydraulic pack, Ramset boltgun and Broco cutting equipment;
  • GMDSS (VHF Radio qualification); and
  • Gemini Coxswain (in accordance with BR 67).

Those candidates who pass the AD1 Course will be eligible to attend the Army Diver Supervisor Course, subject to rank and other criteria.

Since the 2010s, this a “eight-week” course (The Sustainer, 2020, p.21) (formerly 7 weeks) and renamed the Army Advanced Diver Course (FOI 2019/02019).

3.8 Army Diving Supervisor Course

The Army Diving Supervisor (ADS) course is a “12-week” (The Sustainer, 2020, p.21) course designed to test experienced Corporals and Officers in the skills required to be an ADS. As such, the aim of the ADS Course is to qualify AD1 divers as military diving supervisors by means of assessing them in the following three supervisory roles:

  • Local agency tasking in both OSDS and SABA (typically within the Portsmouth area);
  • Fast water tasks (typically at Chesil Beach); and
  • Deep diving tasks (typically in the West of Scotland).
Mud Session, not just the preserve of the Royal Marines.
Mud Session, not just the preserve of the Royal Marines.

Local agency tasks are time-constrained with a 4-hour window to complete the task, which may include travel time! Fast water tasks, undertaken at Weymouth, also ‘enjoy’ time constraints.

A percentage of AD2 personnel (typically from 17 Port & Maritime Regiment) will qualify as SABA-only military diving supervisors (traditionally known as Unit Diving Supervisors, UDS). These UDS candidates follow the same syllabus as ADS candidates but will typically only complete the first 4-weeks of the course missing out the deep diving phase which is conducted using OSDS.

The ADS course typically has 10-12 students and prior to 2003 had a pass rate of, on average, 10%.

Since the 2010s, this course is 8 weeks in duration (FOI 2019/02019).

3.9 Course Dates

Dates of all courses covered in this article are published annually in the relevant Defence Instructions and Notices (DIN). Alternatively course dates can be obtained from the DDS.


4.0 BR 2806

The BR (Book of Reference) 2806 UK Military Diving Manual is the authority on military diving and is issued in two volumes.

  • Volume One: the purpose of Volume One is to promulgate the theory of diving and administrative regulations governing the conduct of all Military Diving.
  • Volume Two: the purpose of Volume Two is to promulgate the relevant procedures and drills used in the conduct of military diving.

4.1 Inspectorate of Diving (Army)

The Inspectorate of Diving (Army) (ID (A)) is a three-person team that includes:

  • Inspector of Diving (Army), Captain (OF-2);
  • Senior Inspector of Diving (Army) (SID (A)), Staff Sergeant (OR-7); and
  • Junior Inspector of Diving (Army) (JID (A)), Corporal (OR-4).

ID (A) is based at the DDS and conducts annual inspections of Unit Dive Teams across the RE and 17 Port and Maritime Regiment. Inspections incorporate:

  • General diving theory test for all divers based on qualification level;
  • Practical diving assessment, during day and night operations, for all divers based on qualification level;
  • Inspection of divers personal logbooks; and
  • Dive store inspection (serviceability of equipment and all associated paperwork).

The ID (A) is now, collectively with the Superintendent of Defence Diving (SoDD, new name for the Superintendent of Diving (SofD)), known as the Diving Standards Team (DST) (Royal Navy, 2019).

The SoDD organisation sits within the Defence Maritime Regulator (DMR), which forms part of the Defence Safety Authority (DSA).

4.2 Institute of Naval Medicine

The Institute of Naval Medicine (INM), commanded by a Surgeon Captain (OF-5), is nationally and internationally renowned as the Royal Navy’s centre of excellence for occupational health advice, information, training and research.

As well as underwater medicine INM is also concerned with radiological protection, occupational hygiene, submarine medicine, noise and vibration. The INM is unique in maritime and general occupational health in the UK due to the range of specialised facilities and staff from appropriate disciplines working together on a single site.

INM is based at Alverstoke, Gosport in Hampshire and has approximately 130 doctors, scientists, trainers and health administration staff working at INM within seven divisions:

  1. Occupational and Environmental Science;
  2. Environmental Medicine;
  3. Radiation and Submarine Medicine/Diving and Hyperbaric Medicine;
  4. Training;
  5. Medical Administration;
  6. Statistics; and
  7. Corporate Services.

INM has two recognised levels of diving medical assessor (DMAC, 2014):

  • Level 1 Medical Assessment of Divers (Medical Examiner of Divers); or
  • Level 2D Medical Management of Diving Accidents and Illnesses (Diving Medicine Physician).

Document: Training Objectives for a Diving Medicine Physician, Revision 1 (2013).

The development of the INM can be traced back to 1948 when the Royal Naval Medical School (RNMS) was established in Monckton House, a mid-19th century gentleman’s residence. Monckton House now accommodates the Royal Naval Medical Service Historic Library and Collection, comprising books and other documents from the libraries and museums previously housed at the Royal Naval Hospitals Plymouth and Haslar, together with the Queen Alexandra’s Royal Naval Nursing Service Museum and Archives.

In the 1960s and early 1970s the RNMS was further developed as part of the support for Polaris submarines, being renamed the INM in 1969 to reflect this. Special to purpose research, training and radiological protection service facilities were built including a controllable environment residential chamber.

4.3 Health and Safety Executive

The HSEs Diving Group is part of the Energy Division of the Hazardous Installations Directorate, which is the operational arm responsible for major hazards (including the offshore oil and gas industry).

However, the Group’s remit encompasses all diving at work activities – not just offshore – and specialist inspectors from the Group deal with the industry on a day-to-day basis using a variety of methods which include:

  • Inspection;
  • Investigation of accidents and incidents;
  • Enforcement of statutory requirements;
  • Provision of information, guidance and advice;
  • Attending industry and trade association events/shows;
  • Working with stakeholders to identify, develop and promote good practice; and
  • Contributing to research & standards development.

The principle legal framework underpinning the Group’s work is the Diving at Work Regulations 1997 and the HSEs Policy Unit supports the Group’s work through the formulation of policy and legislation.


5.0 Summary

KMB Boat Diving, space not required!
KMB Boat Diving, space not required!

British Army military diving is open to all officers and other ranks of the Royal Engineers and 17 Port and Maritime Regiment RL. The military diving fraternity seek to attract determined, highly-motivated, intelligent, reliable and physically fit individuals to serve with Unit Diving Teams. This article provides the basic information to allow individuals to make an informed judgement before applying for military diver training.

5.1 Recruitment and Retention Pay (Diving)

The regulations for Recruitment and Retention Pay (Diving) (RRP (D)), previously known as additional pay or Specialist Pay (Diving), are laid down in JSP 754 Tri-Service Regulations for Pay and Charges Chapter 6 Section 2. Diver qualified personnel will be paid at a rate applicable to their rank and qualification.

The type of RRP (D) an individual receives is dependent on the qualification the individual holds and whether they are ‘in-date’ both medically and diving in accordance with BR 2806 ‘UK Military Diving Manual’ and BR 1750A ‘Medical Standards for Diving’. Further, all posts in units whose Establishment Table authorises the maintenance of a diving team. As such, RRP (D) is paid to entitled personnel as highlighted in Table 1 below.

An EOD (Explosive Ordnance Disposal) supplement was incorporated into the RRP (D) payment under categories 3a and 4a with effect from 01 August 2009.

The Armed Forces Pay Review Body (AFPRB), for its 48th report in 2019, conducted a full review of RRP (D) for both the Royal Navy and Army. The AFPRB noted that:

  • Army divers were manned at 83%.
  • The Army was conducting the Army Diving Capability Review which would be evaluating:
    • The necessity of RRP (D);
    • The structure of the Army’s diving capability; and
    • Governance to deliver the capability.

The AFPRB remarked that Army proposed to return to them with the results of the review for their 2021 report.

5.2 Useful Documents

  • Defence Instructions and Notices (DINs, most recent).
  • BR 2806 Volume One: Theory of Diving and Admin R
  • BR 2806 Volume Two: Diving Regulations, Drills and P
  • BR 2808: Underwater Hazards
  • BR Handbook Series: Equipment
  • DSM (Diving Safety Memorandums).
  • JSP 754: Tri-Service Regulations for Pay and Charges, Chapter 6, Section 2
  • JSP 999: Clinical Guidelines for Operations (Change 3, September 2012), previously JDP 4-03.1 Medical Support to Joint Operations:
  • JSP 433: Diving Regulations (obsolete, replaced by DSA02-DMR.
  • DSA02-DMR: Defence Maritime Regulations for Health, Safety and Environmental Protection – Parts 1 and 2. First published in January 2017, and superseded and updated in January 2019.
  • DSA-3/DMR/DCOP20: Guidance on MOD Military Diving Projects.

5.4 References

AFPRB (Armed Forces’ Pay Review Body). (2019) Forty-Eighth Report 2019. Available from World Wide Web: [Accessed: 19 September, 2019].

DMAC (Diving Medical Advisory Committee) (2014) Courses in Diving Medicine. Available from World Wide Web: [Accessed: 19 October, 2014].

HSE (Health and Safety Executive) (2011) Diving at Work Regulations 1997: List of Approved Classes of Medical Practitioners. HSE: London.

HSE (Health and Safety Executive) (2014) First Aid in Diving. Available from World Wide Web: [Accessed: 19 October, 2014].

MOD (Ministry of Defence) (2011) Diving with the Sappers. Available from World Wide Web: [Accessed: 15 August, 2017].

Royal Navy (2010) First Female Graduates from Defence Diving School. Available from World Wide Web: [Accessed: 19 October, 2014].

Royal Navy (2013) Navy Medical Officer First to Complete Army Diver Training Course. Available from World Wide Web: [Accessed: 19 October, 2014].

Royal Navy. (2019) Service Inquiry into the Fatal Diving Incident at the National Diving and Activity Centre, Newport on 26 March 2018. London: Naval Command.

The Sustainer. (2020) Dive RLC! The Sustainer. Winter 2020, pp.20-21.


5 thoughts on “British Army Military Diver Training

  1. I took an advanced diving course through the British engineers in Kiel N. Germany in 1965. Just wondering if you could give me any info about it?

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