Staying Alive in Dirty Dives: Mike Wendlandt on Dive Hats

Staying Alive in Dirty Dives: Mike Wendlandt on Dive Hats

Mike Wendlandt, Director of Life Support at DIT and self-proclaimed ‘Dirty Diver’, has the crucial responsibility of servicing and maintaining all gear related to life support. The gear and hats at DIT keep our students and divers alive and safe — and safety is the most important thing in our industry! Ultimately it’s the gear and technology that lets us go underwater and do what we do. Mike is also the Hat room manager, and he generously let us into his world of knowledge about diving hats.


“We take a lot of pride in what we do, and when it comes to our gear, I treat each piece like it’s my own personal gear. I will never put our students or my fellow divers in something that I’m not willing to dive in myself!”

How did you get into working specifically with gear and hats?

“I have been diving recreationally since I was 10 years old, and I spent a lot of my time growing up in my dad’s machine shop, so I have always been interested in how things work mechanically. When I became a commercial diver I immediately wanted to know how the gear we use worked. I took a course while I was a student to learn how to service, repair and rebuild the Kirby Morgan diving hats that we use today in our industry, and fell in love with the mechanical side of it. I still love diving very much, but knowing that the gear myself and my fellow divers use is without a doubt safe, is definitely the most rewarding part of my career.”

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DIT’s Hat Rack in our Hatroom.

The limits of diving are really the limits of the available technology. What’s the history of modern-day diving?

“I attribute the birth of our industry to the Navy, and the tried and true Mark V. A lot of the safety regulations we have today came from the greatest divers of them all: the Navy Divers who tried what had never been done, pushing the envelope to see just how far we could go and figuring out how to do it better and safer. That type of heavy gear diving was pretty much the staple until the birth of the superlite demand mode helmets that emerged out of the early 60’s. In my opinion, the Kirby Morgan Superlite 17-A/B was the helmet that revolutionized our industry. Many of today’s state-of-the-art models are based on its design. It was a gel-coated fiberglass hat with a helmet-mounted side block gas distribution manifold, with integrated emergency gas supply and a non-return valve, as well as a demand mode regulator mounted on it which used much less air or gas to function. In the 80’s, new models came onto the market with better locking mechanisms for securing the neck dam and a variety of shell sizes, but the design did not change a whole lot. In the 2000’s we were introduced to a new shell which was now made of stainless steel — much stronger than its fiberglass predecessor. These years also introduced new regulators with a more balanced design compared to the downstream regulators used on the early models. These regulators were much easier to breathe from, causing the divers to not get fatigued as quickly. However, all in all, the design of the first 17-A/B –the ‘wheel’–has not been reinvented… “If it’s not broke, don’t fix it!”

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Kirby Morgan 37

What hats are used for what types of diving?

Today’s demand mode helmets are very versatile and can be used for a range of applications, from normal air diving to deep gas diving, all the way to deep saturation diving. However, for hazmat and nuke diving, we use a different mode of helmet, the most pouplar being the DESCO helmet, which is a freeflow/positive pressure hat that functions very much like the Mark V. There is a constant supply of air flowing into and out of the helmet and it has the capability to marry to a sealed Hazmat diving suit, completely encapsulating the diver from whatever “special” environment he or she may be entering.”

What does DIT offer in terms of gear and hats?

“At DIT we have over 40 hats that we maintain for our training center. We have almost every make and model that our graduates will encounter when they head out into the industry. Our students get a lot of time in each style so they have a good idea not only how each hat functions but also which they prefer. In addition, we have a state-of-the-art Dive Locker where we service our equipment, which, like our helmets, has evolved a lot from the time DIT opened in 1968. The school has also moved several times, expanding and advancing in all we do, including the Dive Locker. We take a lot of pride in what we do, and when it comes to our gear, I treat each piece like it’s my own personal gear. I will never put our students or my fellow divers in something that I’m not willing to dive in myself!”

Tell us about your favorite kind of dive work and your favorite dive hat.

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Mike’s Favorite Hat

“My favorite kind of dive work would be the kind that pays! …But in all honesty I truly enjoy underwater burning and salvage the best. The ability to burn underwater at 10,000 degrees Fahrenheit is pretty awesome, as well as the ability to asses, patch and bring something back to the surface that has been lost. I’d say for me there is not much that tops that! In terms of my favorite hat… I love them all, but if I had to pick one I would have to go with the Kirby Morgan 97 — the 455 balanced regulator is by far the best rig I’ve ever dove.”

See Mike’s Hatroom for yourself!

Written for DIT by Londi Gamedze

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