Legends of Diving Articles


Sea Sabres Signaling System
by Dr. Sam Miller
© 2010 Dr. Sam Miller
All Rights Reserved.

The very 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.

Fifty three 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

booklet format 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 underwater.

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!

In October 1956 the USN released part 3 of Navships 250-538 which was titled "Self contained diving." This document

established 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 system.

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 Signaling System.

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.

Signaling System...It 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 underwater

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 him.

  • 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 count.

  • 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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