At age 80, Phil Nuytten isn’t done developing innovative underwater equipment.
If you count the time spent skin diving and spearfishing at age 12, then Phil Nuytten has been around diving for almost 70 years, but his passion for underwater exploration hasn’t waned a bit with the passage of time.
Nuytten, 80, is president of North Vancouver, British Columbia-based Nuytco Research Ltd., which designs, builds and operates atmospheric diving suits, submersibles, remotely operated vehicles, lights, thrusters and other equipment for underwater applications.
Through Nuytco Research and sister company Can-Dive Construction Ltd., Nuytten has been developing equipment to support underwater operations for more than five decades. When you’re doing what you love, why would you ever stop?
“I’ve got a ton of things to do yet, so I have no interest in retiring,” Nuytten said. “I come to work every morning with a big smile on my face because there are so many neat things that we’re doing, and I really enjoy it.”
Nuytten cemented his place in commercial-diving history decades ago. After being heavily involved in experimental deep diving and the development of mixed-gas decompression tables, he co-founded the pioneering underwater-services company Oceaneering International in 1969.
In the 1970s, he and longtime colleague Dr. Joe MacInnis participated in arctic expeditions to test Nuytten’s designs for life-support gear to be used in polar and subpolar conditions. Their success eventually would land Nuytten on the cover of National Geographic in 1984 for his record dives through ice-covered arctic waters.
During those dives, Nuytten was able to reach the Breadalbane, a British vessel that sank in 330 feet of water near Beechey Island in Lancaster Sound, about 500 miles north of the Arctic Circle, in 1853 – one of the northernmost shipwrecks ever discovered.
In 1977, Nuytten began work on a one-atmosphere diving suit called the Newtsuit, which was awarded a patent for its rotary joint design, allowing the diver to have mobility and dexterity. The 1,000-foot-depth-rated hard suit is a “submarine that you wear,” according to Nuytten, completely protecting the user from outside pressure and eliminating the need for decompression.
The Newtsuit earned Nuytten widespread recognition. In 1987, he won a Canadian Award for Business Excellence, administered by the Canadian government. The following year, he became the first Canadian to win the ADCI’s highest honor, the John B. Galletti Memorial Award, which recognizes those who have made significant contributions to the commercial-diving industry. That same year, he was inducted into the ADCI Commercial Diving Hall of Fame.
Nuytten said the Newtsuit was developed primarily for submarine rescue missions, but it’s also used in the construction, inspection, maintenance and repair of deep-water oilrigs.
Another breakthrough in submarine rescue came in 1995, when Nuytten patented the Remora rescue vehicle, which features a manned personnel compartment and a patented articulated mating skirt that allows for mating with a disabled submarine at angles of misalignment of up to 60 degrees. Remora vehicles subsequently were purchased by the U.S. and Australian navies.
Today, Nuytco Research owns and operates a fleet of submersibles, ROVs, sonar systems and specialized tools for commercial and scientific applications. The company also offers training for its equipment or can supply a full crew, including pilots and support personnel, as clients require.
Nuytco Research is best known for its DeepWorker series of micro-submersibles. Models are rated for depths of either 2,000 or 3,000 feet and can accommodate either a single pilot or a pilot and a passenger. DeepWorkers have been used all over the world in scientific, surveying, construction, oilfield, tourism, film and photographic applications, Nuytten said.
Horizontal and vertical thrusters give DeepWorker models unparalleled maneuverability, enabling them to hover and “fly” underwater, according to Nuytten. Strong, dexterous manipulators allow for precision while performing underwater work.
The Dual DeepWorker, with versions rated for depths of 2,000 or 3,000 feet, is a two-person submersible in which each occupant has a 24-inch-diameter acrylic viewing dome, providing an expansive field of view and an easy way to enter and exit the submersible. It has a favorable weight-to-power ratio and six thrusters, giving it superb maneuverability, and it’s equipped with PAX controls, meaning the pilot can pass the controls to the passenger, Nuytten said.
Similarly, Nuytco Research offers the Orcasub, a two-person submersible rated for depths of 2,000 feet. According to the company, the Orcasub’s patented, welded steel pilot hulls allow for a more comfortable, “business-class” cockpit for each pilot. The submersible features aluminum battery cylinders so that a variety of battery types can be quickly swapped out in the field.
One of the company’s newest innovations is the Exosuit, a hard-metal dive suit with versions rated for depths of either 1,000 or 2,000 feet. An upgraded version of the Newtsuit, the atmospheric diving system maintains the cabin pressure of the surface, and its rotary joint design gives divers the dexterity and flexibility they need to perform delicate underwater work, Nuytten said.
Prior to the Exosuit, there was no way for a diver to reach a submarine that had become disabled near its crush depth of 2,000 feet, he said. The Exosuit weighs 500 to 600 pounds, depending on the configuration, and has two redundant oxygen systems with a total capacity of 50 hours. It also has a 50-hour carbon-dioxide scrubber and a backup battery with automatic changeover that kicks in upon power failure, Nuytten said.
The Exosuit can be equipped with four to eight direct-drive, magnetically coupled thrusters, each with 1.6 horsepower. It has a 1,250-foot-long umbilical, a high-definition camera and a full duplex intercom system for easy communication with topside support personnel.
Nuytco Research recently developed a prototype of an Exosuit specifically designed for covert Navy Seal missions. The LADS, or lightweight atmospheric diving suit, will allow Seals to swim ashore using flippers, Nuytten said. “We’re just in the process of finishing the first of that suit,” he said in late February.
While the LADS suit remains a work in progress, Nuytten said the Exosuit is ready for prime time.
“The Exosuit is poised to become an invaluable tool for research scientists around the globe as well as commercial dive companies, military organizations and explorers,” he said. “The name of the game is that you’re down on the bottom or at some depth, but you’re never exposed to any pressure when you’re in that suit. You’re at the same pressure that you were at the surface, so there’s no possibility of the bends.”