Research Protections Policies

RP09 Scientific Diving at Penn State

Policy Status: 


Subject Matter Expert: 

Debra Thurley, 814-865-1775,

Policy Steward: 

Associate Vice President for Research, Director of the Office for Research Protections


The Pennsylvania State University (University) is dedicated to the safe and responsible conduct of all research activities. The Office for Research Protections (ORP) partners with researchers to maintain the integrity of Penn State research.  The Scientific Diving Program (SDP) in the Office for Research Protections establishes standards for the safety and integrity of all scientific diving conducted under the auspices of the University.  The purpose of this policy is to outline the standards for Scientific Diving at the University, as well as the requirements for individuals to obtain and maintain the privilege to conduct Scientific Diving under University auspices.


The University’s Scientific Diving Program supervises all compressed gas diving for scientific purposes at the University.  The administration of the program resides with the University’s Diving Control Board (DCB).

The jurisdiction of the DCB is all locations where Scientific Diving is conducted under the auspices of the University.  The authority, policies, and procedures of the DCB and SDP are established by the University’s Standards for Scientific Diving manual and the standards of the American Academy of Underwater Sciences (AAUS).  These two sets of standards also establish the qualifications of the Diving Safety Officer (DSO) and the authority and duties of the DSO.

This policy and the University’s Standards for Scientific Diving manual establish requirements and expectations for Scientific Diver training and certification; Scientific Diver record keeping, certification status, and paperwork; Scientific Dive plans and conducting dives; and standards for diving equipment.

University-related Scientific Diving research cannot be conducted without prior review and approval as stipulated by the University’s SDP Manual.  This research may be subject to further appropriate review and approval or disapproval by other officials of the institution; however, those officials may not override a decision by the DCB to deny a dive plan.

The DCB is the final authority on defining the standards for Scientific Diver safety and responsible diving-based research at or by the University.  Each diver, however, assumes personal responsibility for his or her safety and for the integrity of his or her research.  See Title 29 CFR 1910 Subpart T, Appendix B, “Guidelines for Scientific Diving,” Occupational Safety and Health Standards, Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OHSA).


“Diving Control Board” is the responsible entity for scientific diving using compressed gas at or by the University.  Administration of and responsibility for the Scientific Diving Program reside with the University’s DCB.

“Scientific Diving” is diving performed solely as a necessary part of a scientific, research, or educational activity by employees and students whose sole purpose for diving is to perform scientific research, scientific teaching and training, and/or scientific outreach tasks.  See Title 29 CFR 1910 Subpart T, Appendix B, “Guidelines for Scientific Diving,” Occupational Safety and Health Standards, Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OHSA).

“Diver in Training” (DIT) is an employee or student who has been certified as at least an entry level diver through an internationally recognized certifying agency or scientific diving program (such as the University SDP), and has the knowledge, skills and experience necessary to continue training as a scientific diver under supervision, as approved by the DSO.  It is expected that a DIT must progress with good faith toward completing the University’s Scientific Diver training program.

“Scientific Diver” is a University employee or student who has obtained and maintains AAUS certification and remains in good standing with the DCB, which includes adhering to the requirements set forth in the University’s “Scientific Diving Standards” manual. A Scientific Diver who does not adhere to the requirements will return to DIT status until the requirements are completed.

“Diving Safety Officer” is the individual who is responsible, through the DCB, for the administration of the SDP. The routine operational authority for the SDP – including the conduct of training and certification, approval of dive plans, maintenance of diving records, and ensuring compliance with this policy and all relevant regulations – rests with the DSO.


This policy applies to all Scientific Diving, SDITs, and Scientific Divers under the auspices of the University.


The DCB at a minimum has the authority to approve and monitor diving projects, review and revise the diving safety manual, assure compliance with the manual, certify the depths to which a diver has been trained, take disciplinary action for unsafe actions, and assure adherence to buddy system for scuba diving. 

The full authority of the DCB is detailed in the University’s Standards for Scientific Diving manual.


DCB policies and procedures comply with University policies and procedures, with the AAUS standards, and in accordance with OSHA under Appendix B to Title 29 CFR 1910 Subpart T.


The University requires the following of Scientific Divers:

The following are also responsibilities of University Scientific Divers:

  • Intelligently interpret and apply the standards when a situation arises that is not specifically covered;
  • Use good judgment if circumstances develop that necessitate deviation from the standards and policies;
  • Understand that ultimately diving safety, the decision to dive or not to dive, and the conduct of the dive are the responsibility of the individual.


Failure to comply with this policy, the standards set forth in the Standards for Scientific Diving manual, a DCB-approved dive plan, or regional, state, or federal law may result in a decision of non-compliance. Non-compliance can lead to the prescription of remediation and/or sanctions, up to and including revocation of the privilege to conduct Scientific Diving under the auspices of the University.

Suspected non-compliance shall be handled by the DSO and DCB as described in the applicable procedures on handling non-compliance in the dive safety manual as approved by the DCB.


For questions, additional detail, or to request changes to this policy, please contact the Office of the Associate Vice President for Research, Director of the Office for Research Protections.


RA70 - Property and Equipment (Formerly RA07)

RP02 - Addressing Allegations of Research Misconduct

SY04 - Employee Accidents - Reporting and Investigation

SY25 - Compressed Gas Cylinders


Most Recent Changes:

  • May 28, 2024 - Minor revisions to align verbiage with Standards for Scientific Diving Manual (“SDIT” vs “DIT”) and include clarification.

Revision History (and effective dates):

  • September 1, 2023 - Updated Subject Matter Expert to Debra Thurley, Associate Vice President for Research. 
  • January 20, 2022 -  Updated sections "Authority of the Diving Control Board" and "Scientific Diver Responsibilities" to align with Standards for Scientific Diving manual and new program processes.
  • September 28, 2016 - New Policy.

Date Approved: 

September 28, 2016

Date Published: 

September 28, 2016

Effective Date: 

September 28, 2016