NYPD divers removing material from the Harlem Meer following a murder in the area few days prior.
Police divers in a river in Berlin

Police diving is a branch of professional diving carried out by police services. Police divers are usually professional police officers, and may either be employed full-time as divers or as general water police officers, or be volunteers who usually serve in other units but are called in if their diving services are required.

The duties carried out by police divers include rescue diving for underwater casualties, under the general classification of public safety diving, and forensic diving, which is search and recovery diving for evidence and bodies.[1]


Police diving includes forensic diving – the recovery of evidence from underwater – and public safety diving. Police diving work may include:[2]

Forensic diving

See also: Evidence management and Investigation of diving accidents § Preservation and disclosure of evidence

Forensic diving is professional diving work related to the gathering of evidence for use in investigations and legal cases. Police divers may be called in to investigate and recover evidence in plane crashes, submerged vehicles, boating accidents, suicides, homicides, swimming fatalities and other incidents and crimes. Forensic divers may face a number of environmental hazards from underwater structures and infrastructure, debris, industrial pollution, medical waste, organic hazards from various sources, shifting currents, poor visibility, hypothermia and hyperthermia, for which special equipment may be required to mitigate the risk. Other specialised equipment could include locating devices, access equipment, and transportation. Underwater recovery efforts may include the use of trained dogs, which can detect human remains underwater at depths as great as 150 metres (490 ft) feet in ideal conditions. Qualifications and training for forensic divers are additional to departmental physical and psychological requirements. Training may include instruction in stress management, media relations and teamwork.[3]

Submerged evidence can have similar forensic value to evidence found above the water. Items recovered from immersion have been used as evidence in many cases where they have provided identifiable blood traces, fingerprints, hair and fibers, and other trace evidence. There are advantages to having a regional underwater investigation team available, but doing it well requires planning, administration, an adequate budget and due consideration of occupational health and safety issues. The working environment for underwater investigation includes a range of contaminated and inhospitable sites. Depending on the location and local procedural requirements, the teams may contain volunteers, firefighting and rescue personnel, or law enforcement personnel, and in some cases a collaboration of all of these. It is preferable that all members of an agency dive team be full-time, trained members of that agency for reasons of liability, training, policy and procedures. In some jurisdictions the required minimum certification is a recreational certification, in others an occupational qualification and registration may be stipulated. All members should be medically fit to dive, properly trained and competent to perform the tasks they may be assigned, and trained in matters of crime scene documentation and evidence handling and processing in an underwater environment.[4]

Public safety diving

Main article: Public safety diving

Two divers under a ship
Dominica Marine police, maneuver under a Barbadian coast guard ship looking for an inert training explosive

"Public safety diving" is a term coined by Steven J Linton in the 1970s to describe underwater rescue, underwater recovery and underwater investigation conducted by divers working for or under the authority of municipal, state or federal agencies.[citation needed] These divers are typically members of police departments, sheriff's offices, fire rescue agencies, search and rescue teams or providers of emergency medical services. Public safety divers (PSDs) can be paid by the agencies employing them, or be non-paid volunteers.


See also: Hazmat diving

Due to the conditions in which accidents may happen, or where criminals may choose to dispose of evidence or their victims, police divers might need to dive under hostile environmental conditions which can include:[5]

As these dives may have to be done at short notice, department diving supervisors should be aware of the conditions and local hazards of the likely sites within their areas of operation, so that appropriate measures can be available when their team is called out.

Qualifications and training

A diver wearing a dry suit skidding on the ice surface, on a special platform, at night.
Nesconset FD Scuba rescue team surface ice rescue training

For professional police diving, the diver would in most cases be expected to be trained as a professional public safety diver, with specialised training in handling underwater forensic work. All the principles of land-based law enforcement work preserving and collecting evidence apply underwater.[6]

More specialised training, depending on local requirements, may include airborne deployment of divers and gear, climbing and rappelling, cold water and ice diving, firearms training, night diving, operation of a recompression chamber, search management, surface-supplied air diving and diving voice communication systems, hazmat diving, and penetration diving.[6]

United States

In the US, diving training agencies such as Emergency Response Diving International (ERDI), the National Academy of Police Diving (NAPD), Team Lifeguard Systems, and Underwater Criminal Investigators have courses to train divers in public safety diving.[7][8][9][10]

UCI (Underwater Criminal Investigators) was founded in 1987 to provide professional underwater criminal investigations training to the public safety diving community.[10]

The National Academy of Police Diving (NAPD) was formed in 1988 by a group of police divers to create a national standard for police and public safety diver training and certification in the US.[11] It has helped provide training[clarification needed] for police officers, fire departments, military divers, and environmental investigators in the following locations: North America, Central America, Russia, Australia, and the Caribbean.[citation needed]

South Africa

In South Africa, public safety diving and police diving fall under the Diving Regulations of the Occupational Health and Safety Act, 1993, and such divers are required to be registered as commercial divers by the Department of Employment and Labour. Their basic diver training must be done through registered commercial diving schools. As they are professional police officers, they are also trained in police procedures. [12]


The Australian Diver Accreditation Scheme (ADAS) includes accreditation for police diver training.[13]

This section needs expansion with: to cover other countries. You can help by adding to it. (April 2023)


Main article: Diving equipment

Some items of diving equipment have been designed or modified specifically for public safety diving, such as buoyancy compenstor harnesses modified for helicopter lifts and swiftwater work, and for chemical resistance and HAZMAT conditions.[14][15] Most equipment is standard scuba and surface supplied diving equipment suitable for the conditions in which it is to be used.


In Britain, in the early years of the British Sub-Aqua Club (BSAC), police often called on BSAC branches to dive to find submerged bodies, before the police started their own diving branches.[citation needed]

See also


  1. ^ Stanton, Gregg (2003). "Underwater Crime Scene Investigations (UCSI), a New Paradigm". In: SF Norton (Ed). 2003. Diving for Science...2003. Proceedings of the American Academy of Underwater Sciences (22nd annual Scientific Diving Symposium).
  2. ^ Cocozza, Joe (2002). "NYPD SCUBA". Archived from the original on 7 February 2011. Retrieved 12 June 2012.
  3. ^ "Forensic Diving NCJ Number 174498". FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin. US Department of Justice. 7 (4): 1–8.
  4. ^ Dutelle, Aric (July–August 2007). "Underwater Crime-Scene Response Part 1 of 2: Underwater Investigative Teams NCJ Number 220008". Evidence Technology Magazine. US Department of Justice. 5 (4): 24–27.
  5. ^ Viders, Hillary. "The New York Police Department (NYPD) Scuba Team". www.wateroperations.com. Retrieved 1 September 2017.[dead link]
  6. ^ a b Falkenthal, Gayle (Summer–Fall 1999). "Underwater Search and Recovery Team: A Passion for Diving and a Desire to Serve (NCJ Number 179732)". Law Enforcement Quarterly. 28 (2): 20–23.
  7. ^ http://www.tdisdi.com/wpsite/erdi/get-certified/erdi-course-options/[dead link]
  8. ^ http://napdonline.com/course-description-catalog/[dead link]
  9. ^ "Training". 12 December 2008.
  10. ^ a b "Home". ucidiver. Retrieved 8 November 2019.
  11. ^ "NAPD: About us". National Academy of Police Diving. Retrieved 12 June 2012.
  12. ^ "Diving Regulations 2009". Occupational Health and Safety Act 85 of 1993 – Regulations and Notices – Government Notice R41. Pretoria: Government Printer. Archived from the original on 4 November 2016. Retrieved 3 November 2016 – via Southern African Legal Information Institute.
  13. ^ "Police diver". adas.org.au. Australian Diver Accreditation Scheme. Retrieved 16 April 2023.
  14. ^ "OMS Chemically Resistant BC Systems". Archived from the original on 2012-06-13. Retrieved 2012-06-12.
  15. ^ "Specialized BCS - BCS - Zeagle Dive Systems". Archived from the original on 2012-06-07. Retrieved 2012-06-12.

Further reading

Linton, Steven J.; Rupert, Edward "Ed" (1978). Dive rescue handbook - a field guide and emergency directory for the dive rescue specialist. Fort Collins, Colorado: Concept systems. LCCN 86113489.