by Dr. Sam Miller
© 2010 Dr. Sam Miller
All Rights Reserved.
first verified Underwater Signaling system was developed by
the Sea Sabres (SS) in the David Star Jordan swimming pool
in North Long Beach California in the very early 1950s. The
then Sea Sabres president Bob Retherford discovered a need
for an effective UW signaling system and he and the club
developed one over a series of dives and pool sessions. Bob
was an ex WW11 USAF type, so he relied heavily on USAF
signals as the basis for the Sea Sabre System.
years ago in 1954-The Sea Sabres sponsor at that time was
North American Aviation, printed 5000 copies of the Sea
Sabres Signaling System in a
as company publication
#58. Copies were distributed through out the world's known
diving community of that era; divers through out the world
at last had an established uniformed system to communicate
So far as can
be determined only one copy of the Sea Sabres Signaling
system has survived the ensuing fifty three years in tact
and it is owned by the author.
A copy of the
basic hand signals and a article by Bob was printed in part
in the now defunct Water World magazine in 1956. The
article urged divers every where to adapt the Sea Sabres
Underwater Signaling system as the standard of diving world.
Bob was an
active pioneer Los Angeles County Underwater Instructor
therefore the system he worked so hard to perfect was
accepted by LA county almost immediately after its public
appearance in Water World.
A few years
later a US government grant was issued to an Eastern ivy
league college to developed an effective UW signaling system
for the US Navy--they copied the Sea Signaling System almost
in total--and received $$$$ for their efforts!
1956 the USN released part 3 of Navships 250-538 which was
titled "Self contained diving." This document
the regulations for the use of SCUBA by the USN and
introduced and incorporated the Sea Sabres Signaling system
in total to the USN document as the "Official" USN signaling
In August 1960
three LA county Underwater instructors traveled to Houston
Texas to present the first NAUI instructor certification
course. All NAUI's initial documents were gleaned from
existing LA county library including the Sea Sabres
In 1968-9 the
late Ralph Erikson, one of the three founders of PADI copied
the Sea Sabre signaling system in total and produced an
"Official" PADI document as the "Official" PADI Signaling
System and immediately marketed it to the gullible members
for fifty cents a copy. The Sea Sabres Signaling System was
protected by a legal copy write document executed in the
name of Robert A Retherdord-but didn't apparently was
ignored by PADI...
About 15 years
ago I had a monthly column titled "The way it was" in
the now defunct Discover Diving magazine. One of my
articles was the Sea Sabre
Bob and Shari
Retherford with Ken Marx, in the early 1960's at Newport Beach,
California. Note the size of the equipment and the Sampson World
Record spear gun.
covered the history
of UW hand signaling as I have described above, and of course a little
about Bob Retherford, aka Capt'n Bob and who was also often referred to
by his friends as Rob Bumbleford. Bob was one who some how, some way,
always managed to snatch disaster from the jaws of success (yes you read
it correctly.) He had one of the two early dive shops in Orange County
("The OC") which he sold as it as soon as it became as success, He was
an award winning
photographer; after winning a number of international awards
he sold his camera, appeared several times on national TV as
the instigator of Underwater Christmas parties complete with
decorated trees and underwater Easter egg hunts and of
course Easter eggs, as well as the driving force behind
developing the worlds first underwater signaling system
which was known world wide to the pioneer divers as the
Sea Sabres Signaling System. Bob Retherford was indeed
one of a kind...as was the Sea Sabre Signaling System!!
Sadly Bob has
been diving in the big reef in the sky for a long time -
yes he was indeed one of a kind.
Epilogue by Dr. Samuel Miller, author
I have spent the past several
months reminiscing about Bob Retherford. He was certainly a unique individual
who lived life to the fullest. A few examples of the events that revolved around
His first "professional "
underwater photography job he placed the film in the camera backwards.
At his shop the "Aquatic
Center" he always placed a few drops of winter green or cinnamon oil in the
filter system of the compressor...Invented and advertised "flavored air."
He organized a trip to the
"Sacramento" sunk off Baja with millions in gold--later he discovered it was
gold dust-not bullion.
He discovered a huge 3000
pound anchor off Catalina - organized his friends to salvage it - then sold
it for $500.00.
Made a movie of the salvage
- won an award at the International underwater film festival.
The yacht Valiant was sunk
off Catalina in the 1920s. Bob salvaged an Underwood typewriter from the
ship - he sold it to the Underwood company as an "Underwater Underwood."
He was the first to make a
recreational dive on the famed "Farnsworth Bank" off Catalina, and
discovered the rare California purple coral.
Purchased the open submarine
Zale Parry & Dick Anderson rode 28 miles underwater to Catalina Island as an
investment. Couldn't sell it so made it into a sand box for his children.
He was in a spear fishing
contest - was run over by a boat!
He had many many wives...He
was married so many times his friends lost count and Bob probably also lost
He was indeed one of a
kind...And he was the Father of the Sea Sabres and the diving world's first
Underwater Signaling System.
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