Encyclopedia of Ocean Engineering

Living Edition
| Editors: Weicheng Cui, Shixiao Fu, Zhiqiang Hu

Atmospheric Diving Suit (ADS)

  • Tao LiuEmail author
  • Shuai Wang
Living reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-10-6963-5_51-1


Diving Suit Exosuit Human Occupied Vehicle (HOV) Submarine Rescue China Ship Scientific Research Center (CSSRC) 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



An Atmospheric Diving Suit (ADS), also known as Atmospheric Diving System, is a humanoid type deep-sea manned operation system, which can maintain atmospheric pressure when diving. The diver equipped with the suit can directly reach the operation site for observation, navigating by the underwater thruster, or landing and shifting by its own strength. At the same time, with the help of rotary joints, divers can control the gripper of both hands and special tools under underwater operations. The suit is connected to the Tether Management System (TMS) through the neutral cable to obtain energy and communicate. The video image of the operation process is also transmitted to the surface ship for the personnel to make a decision for reference (Jiang et al. 2013c).

Scientific Fundamentals

Historical Development

As a common underwater operation equipment, ADS has been progressed with the development of human technology. Since the simple “diving tub” developed by John Lethbridge in 1715 for the salvage of underwater wreck, to the Hardsuit2000 equipment for submarine rescue, it has experienced 300 years of history (Thornton 2000). In recent years, with the development of offshore oil industry, the ADS in various countries is developing rapidly. Its submergence ability can descend to depth steadily from more than 10 m to 600 m; from single observation ability to complicated operational ability with professional tools; ADS provide a guarantee in wide application fields in deep-sea oil and gas resources and salvaging of sunken ships.

Early Development of ADS

The birth of the first kind of diving suit 1715 to 1882 Carmagnolle can be thought of as the early development of ADS. At this stage, the development was mainly driven by salvaging sunken wreck treasure, while technical level at a very low level. Shallow operation depth, no life support systems, or just through the air pipe connecting to the surface, no communication system, no propulsion system, small size and flat glass-viewing window are the typical characters. However, it was during this period, the concept of atmospheric diving for underwater operations, and gradually from the initial bucket structure development to the humanoid type structure, from the development of wooden materials to metal materials, emerged from without limbs joint to the primary of the joints. In this period, Lethbridge, Taylor, Plillips, Carmagnolle (Yang 2015) successively appeared.

In 1715, John Lethbridge sought a way to acquire wealth by building a device to recover some of the treasures from the sunken ships (Aylmer 1996). The Lethbridge, which he calls “a submersible that is not connected to air,” is widely considered to be the early embryo of ADS. In fact, it is only a wooden bucket that is suspended into the water, through the wall of the bucket with both hands and set up sealing measures to carry out the normal pressure diving.

In 1838, the first diving suit equipped with joints, Taylor, was designed. See Fig. 1. Divers in Taylor connected with the water supply through a hose, and the joint is similar to the steel structure of accordion type, leather material helping watertight (Harris 1985). These types of joints have only limited ability in a small range of activities and shallow water depth.
Fig. 1

Taylor atmospheric diving suit design, 1838 (Harris 1985)

Plillips, designed in 1856, was the first fully enclosed diving suit (Davis 1951) and ball-hole joint was first used. There is a buoyancy chamber on the back, a single-hole viewing window, a manhole on the top, and a simple clamping device on the upper extremity, all of which are standard modern fixtures. There is no record of the Plillips being built, but many of its features have been applied to successful installations over the next century.

Carmagnolle is the most famous ADS of this stage. In 1882, the Carmagnolle brothers applied for the patent of armored diving equipment in France. The joint of the device is tightly assembled from several concentric hemispheres and is attached to each other by a water-tight cloth with a certain folding so that it can slide (Davis 1951). This is the first truly constructed humanoid assembly, and it is the first time to introduce the Ergonomics consideration in the design.

Mid-Term Development of ADS

After the development of the previous stage, ADS is already applied in wider fields, such as underwater operation of marine oil and gas industry, and aid to the navy submarine rescue. The ADS system also tends to be improved gradually, equipped with independent life support system, communication system, propulsion system, and operational tools. In this period, there were two important types of joints – oil filled spherical joint and oil filled cylindrical joint, bringing leap-forward development. With materials of steel, magnesium alloy, aluminum alloy, and glass fiber reinforced plastic applied, the operation depth of ADS has been developed from several meters to hundreds of meters. With the enhancement of the underwater working ability of the suits, it is gradually recognized by the industry. Some types have also developed from a single prototype in the early stage to an industrial production status. During this period, many different types emerged, such as Bowdoin, Neufeldt & Kuhnke, Galeazzi, Campos, Peress, and JIM (Yang 2015).

In 1915, American Bowdin obtained a patent for a new type of oil-filled rotary joint. The joint is cylindrical and has a small catheter that equates the internal and external pressure. However, without lasting lubrication, the joints can easily get stuck (Harris 1985). Although this device was not manufactured, it introduced a very important concept of oil filled pressure balance and played an important role in the development of the joint. Then in 1922, Victor Campos applied for a patent for a similar type of oiled joint and made Campos. The suit was reported to dive to depth of 600 m. Despite diving 600 m, there is no perceptible movement of the joints. It is worth noting that the Campos joint set fail-safe design for the first time. If the joint failure happens, it can automatically seal and not let water into the suit, which has a great significance for the future design of ADS.

In 1917, German company Neufeldt & Kuhnke built two models of ADS based on the patent of ball-hole joint and used the ball to bear and transfer water pressure. In 1924, the German navy tested its second generation, diving to a depth of 161 m, which was very difficult to move the upper limbs and the joints had no fail-safe design (Scott 1931a). In 1931, with the help of this type of equipment, a total of 10 tons of silver COINS and 5 tons of gold COINS were recovered from a sinking ship in Egypt. Through this successful salvage, the suit gained a good reputation (Scott 1931b). In 1930, the suit was licensed to be built and sell. A developed type of Galeazzi with many improvements to the original Neufeldt & Kuhnke was manufactured and sold more than 50 sets (Harris 1985).

In 1922, the British inventor Joseph Salim Peress applied for a spherical joint of oil filled and tried to make a type of ADS in 1925 but did not succeed. Then he developed the second type of ADS in 1932, named “Tritonia,” which is now often referred to as “JIM I.” There were only 8 ball joints, and equipped with simple tools (Barton 1973). JIM I was successfully used in Lusitania’s wreck salvage, with a maximum depth of 313 m. In 1937, it successfully completed the royal navy sea trial (Loftas 1973). The ball joint of this kind of ADS used hydraulic compensation for the first time, which laid a good foundation for the JIM used widely later. Early 1960s, a new type of JIM was designed, using the material of cast magnesium, which has high specific strength. See Fig. 2. The front of JIM is equipped with ballast, which allows the diver release in an emergency, then the JIM can rise to the surface at a speed of about 30 m per min. In 1971, the first set of JIM was carried out sea trials by the British naval ship Reclaim, and two divers arrived to the depth of 120 m. In 1981, the number of JIM has reached 19 sets (Earls et al. 1979), which is widely used in all kinds of underwater operations. JIM also became the basis of later developed ADSs.
Fig. 2

A JIM suit used by NOAA is recovered from the water. (Wikipedia, photo from NOAA)

The WASP was completed and put into use in 1978. It follows JIM’s design in many aspects but is designed as a GRP column below the waist to replace the lower body. The technology of propeller is adopted for the first time. It is equipped with a small multi-directional propeller, which is controlled by the pedal control board inside the cylinder, thus improving the maneuverability. A new generation of WASP-III put into production in 2001, to be able to descend to 760 m depth. The new WASP has a stronger vector propulsion system, lateral propulsion capability, and two camera systems.

Modern ADS

Phil Nuytten, developed the NEWTSUIT based on the 1984 patent for rotating joints (Nuytten 1985), which is a truly somatological ADS. It has a wide range of activity allowing it to enter areas previously accessible only to divers. NEWSUIT is equipped with 16 patented hydraulic compensated rotary column joints that allow divers to drive the upper and lower limbs by themselves. The innovative joint greatly improves the working depth and flexibility of ADS and is a milestone in the history. The NEWTSUIT life support system can guarantee 6–8 h of normal operation and 48 h of support in case of emergency.

In order to meet the needs of the army, the US navy cooperated with OceanWorks Company developed a series of HARDSUIT1000 (305 m), HARDSUIT1200 (365 m), and HARDSUIT2000 (610 m) on the basis of NEWTSUIT. See Fig. 3. The first two types adopt cast aluminum manufacturing, the other aluminum forging manufacturing. Meanwhile, HARDSUITs have become the standard equipment for French and Italian naval submarine rescue projects. In addition, the commercial model HARDSUIT 2500 of HARDSUIT 2000 will be applied in the industrial field, with a diving depth of 760 m.
Fig. 3

U.S. Navy’s ADS 2000 At the Ready. (Photo from OceanWorks Company)

China Ship Scientific Research Center (CSSRC) started research of ADS since 1980, and the first set of QSZ-I was developed in 1986. See Fig. 4. QSZ-I adopts spherical joints to connect limbs, and the maximum diving depth is 300 m. Sea trials with and without diver were carried out in the South China Sea. On the basis of QSZ-I, QSZ-II was improved in the 1990s. Four propellers were increased for depth control, height control, and cruise control. The computer control system is improved to make divers’ underwater activities more convenient and faster. Its biggest characteristic is that underwater movement has dual functions – it can choose to walk on the ground on the knuckles of the legs, and it can also rely on the power of the propeller to propel and cruise in the water. It can be controlled by the diver as well as the deck remote control. It is not only a manned submersible but also an unmanned observation submersible with remote control.
Fig. 4

QSZ-I atmospheric diving suit. (Photo from CSSRC)

Since 2011, CSSRC began to develop a new type of ADS with the depth of 500 m, purposed to support marine oil and gas production safety maintenance and guarantee. The ADS has completed sea trials in 2015. The TMS, Launch and Recovery System (LARS), independent life support system, high-definition cameras, imaging sonar, two LED lights, emergency ballast, neutral line cutting, stroboscopic lamp, emergency pinger lamp, etc. equipped with the ADS forming a complete set.

After 2000, Phil Nuytten designed the latest EXOSUIT, which will work 305 m deep and reach 610 m in the future. The two salient features of the EXOSUIT are its lightweight and cable-free nature, allowing divers to swim within the EXOSUIT by swinging their lower limbs to drive their flippers, indicating that their joints are already highly flexible. It has 22 highly flexible rotary joints, and the foot swimming fins, the air (excluding divers) weighs only 72 kg. EXOSUIT has the ability of 48 h life support and is equipped with the latest underwater communications. It can be decomposed and loaded into a cylindrical vessel with a diameter of 0.4 m and a height of 0.6 m, which is convenient for storage in the submarine cabin. Traditional underwater operations, from compressed air to communication, rely on umbilical cables, so the effect of uncabled underwater operations needs to be further verified.

Principles of Modern Atmospheric Diving Suit

The arms and legs of modern ADS are connected by joints. The limbs are human-powered. Propulsion devices are equipped to maintain mobility in the water.

Joint is one of the key components of ADS. Hydraulic support column joint based on the patent of Phil Nuytten in 1984 is widely used now (Nuytten 1990). This type of joint has light weight, small rotation torque, large rotation angle, and reliable sealing. At present, the joint technical difficulties include: (1) underwater sealing technology – the research of sealing form and interior design parameters with high reliable seal and low rotating friction under deep water pressure; (2) rotary positioning technology – the research of rotary positioning between cylinder and piston with reliable radial and axial accuracy but not additional joint rotation torque and no appearance of stuck under high pressure; (3) hydraulic support technology – reliable design of hydraulic support to resist water pressure and reduce the rotational resistance under deep water pressure, also make sure that the joints can automatically compensate the amount of oil loss in the process of using; (4) pressure-resistant structure design – design of joints with lightest weight, most reasonable deformation control and uniform stress distribution meeting the requirements of working depth, and deformation under high pressure will not affect the sealing mechanism at the same time; (5) safety self-locking technique – when complete oil loss or sealing failure appears, the joints can lock themselves so as not to allow seawater to enter the cavity (Jiang et.al 2013a). It is a worldwide technical problem to develop high depth ADS that can meet the urgent requirements of high depth atmospheric diving suit.

The torso of ADS is somatological and the specific size is usually referred to ergonomic standards. Wrought aluminum milling forming is the popular process using at the time to ensure the density and intensity of the material. In addition, machining precision can be controlled strictly, make the thickness of the shell more reasonable, and the overall ADS weight lighter. There are four large openings in the upper body of the torso, including window opening, left and right upper limb opening, and waist opening, respectively. See Fig. 5. The same three openings in the lower body, respectively in the waist and the left and right lower limbs. It is necessary to carry out relevant theoretical analysis and experimental research on such non-regular, multi-channel, and large-opening structures. At present, the waist opening is usually adopted, which make divers in and out of ADS convenient. A bonus is the torso height can be adjusted by adding or removing torso sections to adapt to the needs of different height of the divers (Jiang et.al 2013b).
Fig. 5

The upper body of ADS torso with hemispherical viewing window. (Photo from CSSRC)

Hemispherical viewing window technology is also important. The JIM was originally designed with four viewing windows on the top. Later it was improved to a fully transparent Plexiglas helmet, providing a wider view for the operator. However, under the action of high pressure seawater, organic glass will undergo continuous creep deformation. This puts forward new requirements for design strength and safety. In addition, the manufacturing process of hemispherical viewing window is rather complicated. It is important to pay attention to the installation form of a hemispherical viewing window with torso connection. The study found that big bearing stress will occur during the progress of hemispherical glass shell inlaiding into metal shell (Taylor and Lawson 2009).

Propellers are equipped on various types of ADS after the development of JIM, which are controlled by the pedal control board inside the ADS. Thus, the movement capability is greatly improved. Two 2.25 hp constant speed adjustable pitch propellers are used on most existing ADS to help divers “fly” underwater or stay in the same site when they flow slightly down (Shen et al. 2015). The developing electronic ring propeller (ERP) is expected to reduce wear and maintenance and is the development direction of future propellers.

Neutral cable connects the ADS and TMS, transmitting the underwater power source, image information, status information and communication link between the diver and the deck commander (Liu 2009). When ADS is close to zero underwater buoyancy or a suspended state, the tensile force inside the neutral cable is very small, leading to several circle of cable looseness appears at the same time under fast cable releasing rapid. Therefore, the synchronous transmission mechanism consists of a set of counter-rotating active wheels and passive wheels will be necessary for cable smooth and orderly arrangement. The wheels provide the same direction traction to help send neutral cable out of TMS, while appropriate inverse hysteresis force to keep neutral cable tightly aligned back on the winch (Zhao et al. 2014).


ADS is able to send divers directly to the underwater site, carrying out more effective operation. Smaller and lighter weight make it easier get into some limited space, engaging complex diving that only wet divers can do before. ADS eliminates or alleviates the physiological risks brought by ordinary wet diving. Divers do not need to decompress or pressurize for a long time, thus extending the underwater residence time and improving the operating efficiency. ADS can be equipped with various operation tools and adjust operation depth above rated work depth by propeller. When hovering over the water, ADS also has the ability of resistance to the current at the same time. With these advantages, ADS has a good military and civilian generality, increasingly wide application in all kinds of underwater operation, and it is gradually forming industry market. The advantages of low economic cost, high efficiency, and sufficient security also gradually revealed.

Key Applications

Application range of Atmospheric Diving Suit

ADS has become an effective way of underwater operation. In ocean engineering, ADS is currently used in deep-sea oil and gas resources development, realizing many functions such as offshore platform jacket installation, pipeline and cable laying, oil facilities and structure inspection support, underwater platform cleaning, rope hanging, life support POD delivering, and so on. It can also be used in offshore industries, such as underwater industrial operations. In the aspect of submarine rescue, ADS has successfully participated in the Deep Submergence Rescue Program of various countries and carried out the task of underwater rapid assessment and rescue. ADS can be widely used in the exploitation, operation, and application of deep-sea resources.

Important Events of Atmospheric Diving Suit

In 1975, the JIM won the privilege of petroleum engineering maintenance, carrying out oil well operations for 5 h 59 min at a depth of 300 m under water. JIM created the longest diving record in 150 m+depth work at the time (Curley and Bachrach 1982).

The WASP completed the repair of an oil pipeline 20 cm in diameter at a depth of 650 m under water in conjunction with a Remote Operated Vehicle (ROV), setting a record for the depth of the submarine pipeline maintenance work at that time (McCabe et al. 2000).

At the beginning of 1988, the QSZ-I conducted a 2500 square meters census of Yingxiu bay reservoir in Aba Tibetan autonomous prefecture, Sichuan province, inspecting concrete erosion and damage. In less than 10 days, the position of more than 2000 m2 of underwater scouring, grinding, and silting was basically found out, which provided a technical basis for the reinforcement of the bottom plate of the dam gate of Yingxiu bay reservoir (Lin et al. 1990).

In the summer of 1988, the QSZ - I conducted dam crack detection for Beijing Zhuwo reservoir, scanning and recording five dam sections. According to the accurately specified position, underwater repair was successfully carried out.

The NEWTSUIT first participated in the rescue of the wrecked ship SS Edmund Fitzgerald in 1995 (Jiang et al. 2013a).

In September 1998, the OceanWorks Company (OWC) completed a 2000-feet-deep manned submersible test for ADS2000 system in NEDU, Panama City. After several times of function demonstration experiments, ADS2000 system was officially delivered to the US navy (Gibson and English 2000).



  1. Aylmer AR (1996) John Lethbridge:the first inventor of a diving engine, without communication of air. Hist Diver 8:13–17Google Scholar
  2. Barton R (1973) Armoured suit has 1000ft capability. Offshore Serv 6:18–21Google Scholar
  3. Curley MD, Bachrach AJ (1982) Operator performance in the one-atmosphere diving system Jim in water at 20 degrees c and 30 degrees c. Undersea Biomed Res 9(3):203–212Google Scholar
  4. Davis RH (1951) Deep diving and submarine operations: a manual for deep sea divers and compressed air workers. Siebe, Gorman & Company, CwmbranGoogle Scholar
  5. Earls T, Fridge D, Balch J (1979) Operational experience with atmospheric diving suits. In: 11th annual offshore technology conference proceedings, pp 1527–1531Google Scholar
  6. Harris GL (1985) Iron suit: the history of the atmospheric diving suit. Best Publishing Company, ArizonaGoogle Scholar
  7. Jiang XY, Liu T, Wang X (2013a) Current status of atmospheric diving suit and its key techniques. Ship Sci Technol 35(9):1–8Google Scholar
  8. Jiang XY, Liu T, Wang X, An HR (2013b) Multi-objective optimization analysis of pressure hull in atmospheric diving suit. J Ship Mech 17(8):944–951Google Scholar
  9. Jiang XY, Liu T, Zhang MR, Wang X (2013c) Plastic correction of pressure hull’s limit load considering material properties. J Ship Mech 17(11):1278–1291Google Scholar
  10. Jim Gibson, Jim English (2000) THE U.S. NAVY ADS2000. Ocean Works International, IncGoogle Scholar
  11. Lin BY, Zhu GX, Wang XH (1990) Underwater detection and reinforce technique for the Ying-xiu bay power plant’s concrete sandbank. Saf Dam 4:60–70Google Scholar
  12. Liu H (2009) The research of underwater vehicle design and control technique. The electronical and mechanical institution of Shanghai University, ShanghaiGoogle Scholar
  13. Loftas T (1973) JIM: homo aquatic-metallicum. New Scientist, 621–623Google Scholar
  14. McCabe, Chuck, John.(2000) Deepwater spool piece repair. Underwater Magazine, 11–12Google Scholar
  15. Nuytten RT (1985) Rotary joint. US, US4549753Google Scholar
  16. Nuytten RT (1990) Pressure equalizing rotary joint. US, US4903941Google Scholar
  17. Scott D (1931a) Seventy fathoms deep. Faber, LondonGoogle Scholar
  18. Scott D (1931b) The Egypt’s gold. Faber& Faber, LondonGoogle Scholar
  19. Shen D, Zhao JH, Wang L, Wang Y, Ma L (2015) Application of control technology in atmospheric diving system. Shipbuilding China 4:78–89Google Scholar
  20. Taylor L, Lawson T (2009) Project deepsearch: an innovative solution for accessing the oceans. Mar Technol Soc J 43(5):169–177CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Thornton MA (2000) A survey and engineering design of atmospheric. Texas A&M University, Monterey, California USAGoogle Scholar
  22. Yang QS, Hu Y, Cui WC (2015) Development and application of domestic and international atmospheric diving suits. Shipbuilding of China (3):183–191Google Scholar
  23. Zhao JH, Zhang MR, Wang S, Shen D, Yin H, Liu T (2014) Application and development trend of tether management system (TMS) for ROV. Shipbuilding China 3:222–232Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.China Ship Scientific Research CenterWuxiChina

Section editors and affiliations

  • Weicheng Cui
    • 1
  1. 1.Hadal Science and Technology Research CenterShanghai Ocean UniversityShanghaiChina