Rusty Bryant launched into commercial diving when divers were “purple cats”, as he calls them.
In 1970, commercial diving was very rare. Saturation diving wasn’t a common practice, and divers rarely exceeded 250 feet in depths.
And it all started at Divers Institute of Technology (DIT). Rusty graduated in 1971 – one of the first graduates since its founding in 1968.
From Rookie to Veteran
Rusty is honest: he started doing it for the money.
Before diving, he was a logger in Alaska where he met a commercial deep sea diver. It “sounded like a good deal,” he says. Another diver recommended DIT, so Rusty attended their program and was hired right out of school with a company in New Orleans.
In 1974, he landed a job with Mcdermott. According to Rusty, Mcdermott and Taylor were the two biggest commercial diving companies.
“If you weren’t diving for one of these companies, you weren’t a serious diver.”
A year after starting with Mcdermott, saturation diving kicked off. Rusty’s skills and experience were about to be taken to another level.
“I was positioned in a good place.”
For five years, he was making good money doing saturation diving, but things turned downhill in 1980. There was a shutdown in the industry and jobs were scarce. And, as Rusty describes it, “When there’s shutdowns, there’s no payroll”. It’s a cycle, he says.
Riding the Tide: Moving From One Business to Another
But he didn’t let the tidal wave of misfortune keep him from doing his job.
Instead, Rusty opened his own diving business. He ran it successfully until the diving industry opened back up. That’s when Rusty put his business aside and dove back into the water.
Rusty continued diving until he was 49. At that point, his boss asked him to become a supervisor. It was a good opportunity, but Rusty had other avenues he wanted to pursue.
“I didn’t like supervising. So I went into consulting with a company in New Orleans.”
One day, he was out consulting and came into the dock for his boat to get supplies. While on the dock, he got a call from Exxon.
That phone call led him to consult with one of the biggest names in the maritime industry working with deep water infrastructure. His job carried him to West Africa, and he worked in that program for 13 years.
“I’ve been active since leaving DIT,” says Rusty. “And I’m 68 now.”
Forty-five years later, and he’s still eager to get back to work. And, he says, “I have to thank DIT for getting me started in this.”
A Half Century Perspective
Rusty defines commercial diving as a “hard, dirty, dangerous job”.
With saturation diving, several people occupy a small habitat. Rusty describes the conditions, “Our habitats are 8 feet in diameter and 40 feet long. There’s four people in there for 40 days.” Cramped quarters and uncomfortable living conditions may seem unappealing, but it’s worth it, says Rusty.
“You’re breathing helium,” he states. “So you talk like Donald Duck.”
A Dangerous Gig
In terms of danger, it’s “just as dangerous as you want to make it,” says Rusty.
“I dove steady for 25 years. In all that time, I’ve had about ½ dozen broken ear drums. And the bends [decompression sickness] 3 or 4 times”. For a diver, that’s not bad. And, he explains, “you’re treated right there on the vessel on site”.
The veteran diver explains terrifying moments in his career.
Twice he recalls hurricanes coming over the site where he was working. During one of those he was in saturation. “It was one of the most scary times,” he says.
The Joys of Commercial Diving
Despite the dangers, he highly recommends commercial diving as a career. There’s a lot of variety in jobs. And it’s exciting. “You get your adrenaline up almost every day,” he says.
There’s also a lot of remarkable sea life that makes it worth it.
As a consultant, Rusty spends hours watching monitor screens in crystal clear waters. “I’ve seen stuff not even cataloged,” he says. “Research people can’t afford to spend the hours at that depth”. With the use of remotely operated vehicles (ROVs), his last job was able to go 7500 feet deep.
“The phosphorus is just beautiful at night,” he notes. He’s also seen “groupers as big as a door.”
He recalls his initial thoughts as a dive tender in the Gulf. “I was amazed by the sea and ocean. Everything out there is trying to eat everything smaller than them”.
For Rusty, there’s a lot about the job that makes it worthwhile.
“Every time you complete a job it’s rewarding,” he says.
And it’s not a typical job. Most people go into work on Friday worn out and only get two days off. With commercial diving, the pay and the time off are the biggest benefits according to Rusty. A diver will typically work 30 days on a job and have 30 days off. That’s half the year spent at home.
After 45 years, Rusty knows the diving world better than most. And for someone wanting to get started in the industry, he says he would recommend DIT.
“DIT is probably one of the best schools worldwide to go to. If a kid came and wanted to be a diver, I’d send him there.”
Through his many jobs, Rusty has talked with numerous young divers.
“From the people I talk to, [those who are] recent graduates,” Rusty states. “DIT [graduates] are a cut above the rest”. Through DIT’s program, “you’re going to have what you need to be in the industry.” Through his conversations with DIT graduates, he’s been impressed with their updated curriculum as well.
And after schooling, he says, accept two years of tending. “You need the time to get to know the business”.
Most of his advice comes from years of consulting. During these jobs, he learned how to deal with people and manage a vessel. He was responsible for knowing all the procedures and making sure they get accomplished accurately and safely.
His biggest lesson: humility. Working with engineers and divers, he says, “there’s a little give and take. Every side has two stories.”
He passes on this lesson to future divers. “Go down and don’t assume you know anything,” he says. “Do what you’re told and have patience… and, you’ll get along just fine”.
Patience and hard work are key.
Also for many divers, having a personal life can be challenging. His advice for married divers: “It’s tough. Adjusting to offshore life is not easy for spouses. It’s not easy for the guy himself either. You better get a cinch that no matter how tough, you’ll stick it out”.
A Satisfying Career
Rusty gives credit to DIT for almost half a century of an adventurous and rewarding career. “I would do anything [DIT] asked me to because they started me on all this,” he says.
Although he’s not ready to quit, Rusty is content with the experience he’s had. He enjoys reminiscing on the early days of commercial diving while watching with enthusiasm the constant changes brought by new technology. That includes his two sons:
They have have followed their dad’s footsteps and are maneuvering the waters as remote operated vehicle pilots.
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