IMCA Publishes Updated Design for Saturation (Bell) Diving Systems
Friday, April 05, 2013

Offshore equipment and operating practices are routinely improved in the constant quest for ever-greater levels of safety and efficiency.


The International Marine Contractors Association’s (IMCA) newly published ‘Diving Equipment Systems Inspection Guidance Note (DESIGN) for Saturation (Bell) Diving Systems’ (IMCA D 024 Rev 1) reflects the changes that have taken place since its initial publication in 2001.

“It is intended that this document should be used in conjunction with IMCA D 018 ‘Code of practice on the initial and periodic examination, testing and certification of diving plant and equipment’, says IMCA’s Technical Director, Jane Bugler. “Cross-references to this Code are provided where appropriate.

“Our new document, in which the format has also been slightly changed to improve ease of use and provide better referencing, addresses various aspects of a saturation/bell diving system as utilised within the offshore diving industry and aims to provide a comprehensive reference source, addressing the philosophy of what equipment and layout is required for a safe diving operation plus the examination, test and certification requirements necessary to meet agreed industry practice.”  

IMCA D 024 Rev 1 can be downloaded free of charge from the IMCA website at, with printed copies available to members at £10.00, or £20.00 for non-members (plus 20% for delivery outside Europe).

Detail sheets
The information in Diving Equipment Systems Inspection Guidance Note (DESIGN) for Saturation (Bell) Diving Systems’ is presented in the form of detail sheets, each of which specifies the requirements for a generic item of plant or equipment, or a group of items, which are covered by the same criteria. The testing requirements identified will normally correspond with the certification that the diving contractor maintains in a plant and equipment register, or records in the planned maintenance system.

Only generic items of diving plant and equipment are addressed and the detail sheets do not include information on constituent parts of ancillary equipment such as diver’s tools and personal equipment, the only exception being the diver’s underwater breathing apparatus.

“It is important to point out that in the previous version, section 15 covered hyperbaric evacuation systems,” says Jane Bugler.  “This section is not included in this revised document because work is currently on-going to develop a new separate DESIGN document covering hyperbaric evacuation systems. Until that is ready, section 15 of the previous version will be made available for download from our website.”

Long track record
This new document has a considerable history behind it. In the early 1980s, in order to give some guidance to the offshore industry, IMCA’s predecessor the Association of Offshore Diving Contractors (AODC) started to produce a number of reference documents, standards and guidance notes. This process continued through the 1980s. It was clear, however, that there was still considerable confusion with some diving systems being ‘audited’ several times a year by different clients, each of whose representatives had slightly different interpretations as to what was required.

AODC published document reference AODC 052 – Diving Equipment Systems Inspection Guidance Note (DESIGN) in February 1989 that sought to clarify any interpretations necessary and to identify a common standard that could be applied by all parties during an inspection. It was intended for use offshore in the UK sector of the North Sea, but in the absence of other guidance it became a standard reference in many parts of the world, particularly where there were no specific national regulations.

Subsequently, AODC expanded and revised the document which was re-issued as Rev 1 in February 1995. This more comprehensive document covered both air and saturation diving systems. It was still based on the requirements of the UK sector of the North Sea, but was adopted by many clients and diving contractors world-wide. Some users, however, found it to be complex and difficult to use.

With the increasing international nature of the offshore diving industry, IMCA revised AODC 052 Rev 1 in order to simplify it, clarify any anomalies which had show up and adapt it for international use, rather than restrict it to North Sea use. It was also decided to split it into separate documents, one for surface diving (IMCA D 023 published 2000) and the other for saturation diving (IMCA D 024 published 2001). Subsequently documents were issued in 2006 for surface supplied mixed gas diving (IMCA D 037) and mobile/portable surface supplied diving (IMCA D 040).

IMCA has also published IMCA D 011 rev 1 – Annual Auditing of Diving Systems.  This document sets out guidance on how the DESIGN process is carried out explaining how the DESIGN audit document can be used as the basis for an annual diving system audit.

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