R. T. (Phil) Nuytten, OC, OBC, L.L.D. (hon), D.Sc (hon)
Text and photos courtesy of the Nuytten family
Phil Nuytten spent his life in subsea exploration. He logged many thousands of hours underwater world-wide as a working commercial diver, and as a developer of underwater equipment and techniques. He was widely regarded as one of the pioneers of the modern commercial diving industry and a significant force in the creation of new technology.
In the 1960’s and 70’s, Phil was heavily involved in experimental deep-diving and the development of mixed gas decompression tables. In 1968 he was a member of the team that completed the first 600-foot ocean ‘bounce’ dives on ‘Project Nesco’, and in 1972 he wrote the protocol for ‘Deep Work 1000’, the first North American thousand-foot saturation dive. These early projects helped set the international standards in use today.
In 1965 Phil founded Can-Dive Services Ltd, and in 1969, he co-founded Oceaneering International Inc. Both companies pioneered many early subsea development projects, and Oceaneering has gone on to become the largest publicly traded underwater skills companies in the world.
In the 1970’s, working with long-time colleague Dr. Joe MacInnis, Phil headed the equipment research component of a series of high-arctic expeditions. Among the goals of these expeditions was the testing of Phil’s designs of life-support gear for use in polar and sub-polar conditions. In 1984, Phil appeared on the cover of National Geographic Magazine for his record dives through ice-covered arctic waters onto the Breadalbane, the northern-most known shipwreck. His involvement in underwater activities in virtually all of the world’s oceans has resulted in articles on his work in Reader’s Digest, Business Week, Newsweek, Time, Popular Science, Discovery, Fortune, and Scientific American, as well as dozens of diving and aerospace technical journals. Phil was a popular speaker at underwater conferences around the world and has published numerous technical papers on his leading-edge work in subsea technology.
Phil was instrumental in the development and current acceptance of Atmospheric Diving System technology. In 1977, he began work on a revolutionary new one-atmosphere diving suit that resulted in a patented break-through in rotary joint design, which formed the basis for the world-famous ADS ‘Newtsuit’, a thousand foot-rated hard suit that completely protects the wearer from outside pressure and eliminates the need for decompression, while still maintaining mobility and dexterity. Always looking to improve on technology, Phil later introduced a new concept for an ultra-light weight hard suit called the ‘Exosuit ADS’. In spring 2012 the first production Exosuit ADS was unveiled, a natural successor to his original Newtsuit, and, like its predecessor, the Exosuit ADS a valuable tool for research scientists around the globe, as well as commercial dive companies, military organizations and explorers.
Among his diverse interests, Phil was a noted expert on West Coast Native Art. In 1982 he published a book called The Totem Carvers. An accomplished carver himself, Phil was of Métis descent and was adopted into the West Coast Kwakwaka’wakw First Nation. He also frequently acted as a consultant for appraisals of West Coast Native art and antiquities.
In 1992, Phil Nuytten received the Order of British Columbia, his home province’s highest honour, in recognition of his contribution to the economic well-being of the province and the recognition and support of the native culture, and for making the province known beyond its borders as a leader in underwater high-technology. On Canada Day 2016, Phil was appointed an Officer of the Order of Canada “for his innovations in deep-sea exploration, which have improved safety and made Canada a leader in underwater development and commerce.”
Of the many projects he conceived and patented, Phil often said he was proudest of the ‘Remora’ submarine rescue system, a rescue vehicle with a manned personnel compartment and a patented articulated mating skirt that permits mating with a disabled submarine at angles of misalignment up to 60°. During a NATO presentation by the U.S. Navy ‘Remora’ was described as a major breakthrough in submarine safety. ‘Remora’ vehicles subsequently were purchased by both the Australian and American navies. In 2008, the US Navy announced the successful test of the ‘Pressurized Rescue Module System’ (PRMS) and described it as “the world’s most technically capable submarine rescue system”. The PRMS was based on Phil’s 1997 patent.
Phil and his design team also produced the two thousand foot-rated micro-submersible ‘DeepWorker’ and received a five-year contract from the National Geographic Society to provide DeepWorkers and crews on the ‘Sustainable Seas Expeditions’, an initiative to study deep ocean environmental impact. The use of the DeepWorker micro-subs to explore and monitor marine sanctuaries has significantly increased scientists’ understanding of underwater ecology, habitats, and biodiversity.
Phil was heavily involved in the production of film and TV specials based around his unique technology. Made for TV specials include a one-hour CBC special on his life and work called “Descent of Man”, NBC ‘Mysteries of the Sea’, Walt Disney’s “Pressure Point”, and dozens of Canadian, U.S., European and Asian specials. Phil was also senior technical advisor and provided the submersibles and other futuristic subsea devices for James Cameron’s Academy Award winner “The Abyss” and consulted on Cameron’s ‘Titanic’.
Phil Nuytten spent over fifty years developing undersea systems that have the safety of the diving technician as their common theme; to provide scientific, technical, military and sport divers full access to continental shelf depths without the hazards of decompression, so that humans can explore, learn about, and—ultimately—protect the world’s oceans. And Phil loved every minute of it.
Phil Nuytten was the Chairman of the Academy of Underwater Arts & Sciences at the time of his passing. He had been inducted into the AUAS Diving Hall of Fame in 1997 and passed away on May 13, 2023, at the age of 81.
aquaCORPS archives: Think Hard: Interview With Phil Nuytten (1994)
Enabling a Permanent Human Presence Under the Oceans from 2027
London and Bristol 4 September 2023: DEEP, the ocean technology and exploration company whose purpose is to ‘Make Humans Aquatic’, announces ambition for a permanent human presence under the Oceans from 2027.
Steve Etherton, President, EMEA of DEEP, said: “We need to preserve the oceans. To do that we need to understand them. The oceans sit at the centre of many of the generational challenges the world is facing, and they also offer opportunities we have not even begun to comprehend. They are the source of at least every other breath1 we take. They influence the weather. They influence the climate. They influence us. Yet, this life-sustaining ecosystem remains surprisingly unknown. Through our innovative technology DEEP will enable scientists to operate at depth for extended periods of time and we hope, in some small way, will contribute to our understanding of this life-giving environment”.
The DEEP System comprises SentinelTM the underwater habitat, and a revolutionary range of submersibles, dive and scientific research equipment. All backed up by technical and human performance training and qualification programmes (DEEP Institute2), and a unique underwater R&D test and operations facility (DEEP Campus).
The Sentinel will be globally classed3 by DNV, the world’s leading classification society for underwater technology and will allow scientists to live underwater at depths of up to 200 meters for up to 28 days at a time. This will give extended access to most of the world’s continental shelves and importantly being able to descend to 200 meters allows access to the entirety of the Epipelagic, or “sunlight”, zone4. The lower limit of the Epipelagic zone is the deepest point at which sunlight penetrates into the ocean and it’s estimated that 90% of marine life is found in this zone. Being able to comprehensively explore the full extent of this part of the ocean rather than just performing incursions from the surface, will represent a step-change in the way scientists can observe, monitor, and understand the oceans.
Following two years of intensive and pioneering research into innovative manufacturing processes and materials science, DEEP is at the advanced stage of technical design and has commenced production. The DEEP system offers a radically more effective way to live and operate underwater than has existed before. Previously, underwater facilities have been temporary and fixed-location. DEEP’s habitat is modular, scalable, autonomous, recoverable, re-configurable and re-deployable.
Sean Wolpert, President, Americas of DEEP said: “Out of sight and out of mind – not having a better understanding of the oceans is no longer an option. DEEP is coming out of stealth mode now as we need to take others on this journey. We are already talking to potential international partners, and others with a long-term view of the needs of the planet, who recognise that the up-side for humanity in preserving and husbanding the oceans is now too great to ignore. Looking at the themes around the emerging new ocean/blue economy we hear of opportunity and solutions in pharmaceutical research, in carbon capture, in innovative medicines. This is about how we can cooperate and can begin to work with the oceans for generations to come. DEEP offer to partners a way to do this hitherto impossible.
The UK’s South West and Wales were selected as DEEP’s initial base because of the unique cluster of relevant marine engineering, diving, hyperbaric and submersible expertise, and links with the North Sea diving industry5. Together these provide the foundation for a new industrial and scientific ecosystem.
Mike Shackleford, President, Global Services of DEEP said: “We have made significant investments in advanced manufacturing processes, and will build one of the world’s leading fabrication facilities with innovative production methods which will reduce waste, enhance energy efficiency, offer bespoke design and shorten manufacturing timelines. DEEP’s facilities already house our prototyping and pre-production capabilities as well as advanced material testing infrastructure not found elsewhere in the UK, and this is just the beginning”.
Investment in DEEP Campus, will transform the old National Dive & Activity Centre, into a world-leading 600 meter long, 100 meter wide and 80 meter deep controlled water facility for training5, testing and research. DEEP Campus will become a core part of the regional ecosystem, hosting essential development exercises for DEEP as well as regional, national and international partners.
For further Information:
1. On “every breath we take”: How much oxygen comes from the ocean? (noaa.gov)
2. On Training: Complementing the tangible systems and taking a fully transparent approach with the UK Health & Safety Executive, DEEP is developing a training and operational programme to support Sentinel operational deployment, the DEEP Institute.
3. OnClassification: To engineer the Sentinel habitat systems DEEP is working closely with DNV, the world’s leading classification society for underwater technology, to jointly establishing the rule sets where, currently, none exist. DEEP has successfully achieved Approval in Principle of the Hull has established a route to approval through the remaining phases. Working with DNV to such levels of detail is essential to DEEP’s paramount commitment to safety in design and operation.
4. On the Epipelagic zone: Diagram and explanation: https://www.noaa.gov/jetstream/ocean/layers-of-ocean
5. On staff: DEEP’s world-class team comprises over 100 experts in marine engineering, naval architecture, materials science, specialised divers, and Includes representatives from technical, police, saturation, and special forces diving, as well as participants from the NATO submarine rescue programme.