Salvage Boat 2.0: Building a Vessel From the Seafloor Up

Salvage Boat 2.0: Building a Vessel From the Seafloor Up

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What goes down must come up.

That’s the slogan of every salvage class at Divers Institute of Technology (DIT), where raising a sunken boat to the water’s surface is the main order of the day.

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Building from Scratch

DIT first began using their salvage project in 2004 which consisted of an old boat hull.

Don Bradford, one of DIT’s Offshore and HAZMAT instructors, recalls the vessel’s state:

“During World War II this type of boat was an  officers’ command boat—fast and  it could get out of the way. Post-war these boats were being used as pleasure craft. They had berthing, a head, and were a very nice boat and were quick. But when  it came to us it was just a scrap hull.”

Fast forward over a decade later and approximately 480 lifts later. The salvage project  has undergone a good deal of wear and tear.


Students raising DIT’s old salvage boat.

“One issue that was creating a problem was the impact the project would experience when sinking to the lake bottom. DIT’s new location required the project to rest on a slope on which the project would crash onto the bow first as it sank. Also, the steel hull was  getting thinner and thinner due to oxidation and rust. Damaged areas began to present sharp, jagged edges that students could rip suits on or potentially get hurt. We were routinely having to do “band-aid” repairs and there was hardly anything was left to weld to as the metal was becoming thinner and thinner,” Swavek “Woz” Wozniak, DIT instructor for Salvage said.


DIT Students removing box patches and rigging during salvage course on old boat.

Assembling a Salvage Team for a New Project

The time for band-aids was over.

“The old project was reaching the end of its useful life; it was wearing out and becoming a borderline safety concern,” Raymond “Boy” Kayona, DIT Director of Training, says.


DIT’s old salvage boat taken out of the water for the last time.

Last year, the decision was made to rebuild the salvage project. It required an all hands effort to plan and execute the project. They had 12 weeks to accomplish the task with six team members, all staff at DIT.

Jim Bernacki, welding fabricator for the salvage project, took the lead.


DIT Welding Instructor Jim Bernacki fabricating DIT’s new salvage boat.

“I gathered input from instructors, what they needed to teach; what DIT wanted in order for the required Enabling Objectives to be met.. It took my full knowledge of vessels and what our requirements are to set us up for success.”

What Salvage Success Looks Like: The New Project’s Characteristics

Input was given to Jim on fabricating regarding  size, compartments, flotation, internal volume, formulas for raising the project off bottom  of the lake.- given to fabricators to put it all together.

“So when we go to lift it, Jim had all the same information to lift it, and lift it safely,” Don said.

To provide the best salvage experience for years to come, the instructors knew they needed to incorporate several attributes:

Safety: Always the number one priority among commercial diving projects.

Strength: The updated project must be reinforced with better materials to prevent deterioration.

Simplicity: Though the new project would have a more complex structure than the previous one, the instructors kept it to a minimum. Without complex moving parts, the vessel would last longer and students could practice at any skill level. Plus, it would be easier to maintain.

Flexibility: Instructors could add new challenges to the salvage project without limiting the outcome.

For all of the instructors, it really came down to choices:

“We have options to complicate the salvage if the class is doing really well,” as Woz pointed out.

Don gave one example:

“We installed a soft patch (a removable piece of metal). We could fabricate a different damage scenario and change it from one class to another. It is a hard plate that could be blown out, punched in, ragged or sliced.”

Boy summed up everything that was upgraded in this new model. Some of these characteristics were referred to as “damage options.” These simulated real life scenarios of damaged vessels in need of salvaging.

“This project has lots that  the old project didn’t have: Compartments to isolate and de-water.  It also contains an  enclosed space which allows for a  penetration dive.”

With the initial plans underway, Jim kept one thing in mind:

“Nothing was 100% committed to – we could always expand or contract from our initial plan. It made it better as the fabricator – that was easier.”

Thus, the work began.

Surfacing the old project. Fabricating and cutting. Testing. Painting. Coating.

Hold Your Breath: Testing in the Water

The upgraded salvage project had everything it needed, but the instructors knew it needed additional testing before being part of a live application inside a training module.

That meant it needed to be sunk and surfaced again.

Were they worried about it floating?

Boy describes the launching it this way:

“There was a little bit of apprehension when we craned the project into the water for the first time.  When I saw the lifting slings go slack – I knew it was actually floating on its own..that was a relief.  We then had to tug  it into position using our own vessel the M/V Response and then sink it in a low and controlled manner which was done flawlessly by our vessel Captain and instructor Team.  Next, we had to raise it off the lake bottom and bring it to the surface.  After months of planning, fabricating and extra effort by the DIT instructor staff, the new project popped to the surface, bobbed around, settled out and rested proudly on the surface…another relief. There was much elevated, holding breath…relief.”

(See the videos Boy Kayona shot when the DIT team craned & transported the boat from the welding shop to Lake Union across the street!)

Moving our new salvage boat across the street from the welding shop to Lake Union. SO close, yet SO far away.

Craning the new salvage boat into Lake Union; fingers are crossed that it will float!

Does it float? It floats on it’s first try!

Transporting the new salvage boat to its home at the bottom of the lake off Barge 7.

“Well, I knew what I was doing,” Jim says. “But yeah, phew it worked. Though had it had any issue, we would have means to fix it.”

Woz, who was the first diver to work this project, was never worried, he says with a little tongue in cheek: “I did a good job patching. High five self.”

“Everything in our vision came to fruition. I stood there with a big smile on my face. Very satisfying to see it all go. True what Mr. Kayona said—put it together from vision into reality.” Jim says.

DIT Staff also gives a big thanks, to class the members of class 108-15 who helped the instructors move, sink and test lift the boat for the very first time. “We couldn’t have done it with out them,” the staff said.

In the Classroom: New Flexible Application, Same Learning Style

In terms of classroom learning, the instructors kept the same curriculum for salvaging. Students still use the same equipment, and apply the same skills.

“I feel like the entire salvage project prepared me for salvage work in the dive industry,” DIT Graduate Brian Dishman

The teams are composed of 5-6 students, with 4 teams in total.


Class 109-15 (First DIT Class to salvage the new boat)

DIT Graduate Brian Dishman  (Class 109-15, the first class to salvage the new boat during the salvage course) said, “My favorite part of salvaging the [new] boat was being able to do penetrations. You got to go into the penetrations and patch some holes with box patches that we made out of plywood and 2x4s. We also put in some plugs and flanges to cover the holes.

“It was pretty cool to survey a boat that was under water, patch it and bring it to surface. We spent about a week developing our salvage plan in teams so it was satisfying seeing everything go as planned. It’s an actual real world project. The instructors broke us off into teams and treated us like employees of a company that has been hired to salvage a boat. I feel like the entire salvage project prepared me for salvage work in the dive industry.”

Class 109-15 was the first class to test the boat and they made a video of their process.


The main changes will come down to salvage theory, where calculations must be made according to the weight of the project. Since the project is heavier this time around, they must compensate for this.

About 20% of the salvage is done underwater, with the rest happening on the surface.

The project  has an ongoing maintenance plan, which will happen annually. This will incorporate repairs, re-coating and other maintenance as needed.

The project is seemingly perfect, but Boy brings up the question on everyone’s mind:

“We just need to think of a name for it.”

“The Good Ship Lollipop,” Jim says.

Written by Matt Smith, Creator of Water Welders.

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