Legends of Diving Articles


Dick Rutkowski
Proponent of Hyperbaric Medicine & Mixed Breathing Gases

Dick Rutkowski

Dick Rutkowski helped change the course of modern diving through his continued efforts to test and promote the use of mixed gases, such as Nitrox & Trimix.  His work eventually helped develop tech diving and clinical hyperbaric medicine as we know it today.

Upon graduation from high school in 1950, Dick joined the Navy during the Korean War. He was schooled in Radio Teletype and Morse Code.  Upon graduation he was assigned to North Africa, relaying communications to the 6th Fleet. It was in 1953 that Dick made his first recreational scuba dive. After being discharged in 1954 he worked for a couple of years at IBM and in the chemistry lab at St. Regis Paper.

He rejoined the Navy in 1956 and was assigned to Antarctica as a radio operator. Dick eventually served on the aircraft carrier USS Franklin Roosevelt in 1959, after which he enrolled in Meteorological Training in Peoria, Illinois through the US Weather Bureau. He was sent to the South Pole weather station after graduating and in 1963 he received a transfer to the Canadian Arctic.  Rutkowski eventually departed Polar Operations to join the Atlantic Oceanographic Meteorological Lab in Miami in 1964, which later, in 1970, became NOAA (the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration). Dick attended Commercial Dive School in 1965 and was certified through PADI, NAUI, and YMCA. It was in 1965 that Dick started Scientific Diver Training for NOAA. During this period he worked for NOAA as a diver as well as Scientific Technician, installing equipment in the ocean. It was in 1967 that the Board of Geographic Names named a glacier  in Rutkowski's honor. In 1978, he co-authored the world's first dive management manual, which is still used today.

Dick Rutkowski with
Dr. Morgan Wells

In 1970 Dick joined forces with Dr. Morgan Wells, who was the Director of NOAA Diving, to work on procedures for scientific research diving using Oxygen Enriched Air (NITR0X). Dr. Wells saw the need for longer periods of diving time, with less decompression time, using open circuit scuba for conducting underwater research on the continental shelf. He went on to develop an EAD (Equivalent Air Depth) formula and used this formula, along with the current tables, to develop the Nitrox Dive Tables. Dick worked with Dr. Wells on these tables and formula development.  That same year Rutkowski co-founded, with Ed Brown, Dive Incorporated, a company developed to service oil rigs.

In 1973 he became a NOAA Aquanaut by working in the undersea lab located in Freeport, in the Bahamas. It was during this time he was directed to obtain a recompression chamber for NOAA to serve the recreation and military diving community in areas of Miami, as well as Central and South America.

Rutkowski helped start The Florida Underwater Council and, with them, developed a recompression chamber.  In 1975 he started a training program at his own facility. The program was called Medical and Physiological Aspects of Recompression Therapy. It was during this period that NOAA implemented the Physicians Diving Medical Program(for which Dick served as Co-Director for 33 years) which was used to train physicians exclusively.

Rutkowski continued to set up chambers and train technicians throughout the U.S. and Caribbean between the years of 1975-1985, including the Cayman Islands as well as the Great Lakes area of the US. He served as Director of NOAA's Hyperbaric Facility, Deputy Diving Coordinator, as well as NOAA's Dive Safety Officer. After 33 years of government service, he retired and formed his own company.

Upon retiring in 1985 he built Hyperbarics  International, INC. through which Dick continued to build hyperbaric facilities and teach Diving and Clinical Hyperbaric Medical Medicine throughout the world to physicians, dive supervisors, and medical personnel. During this time, Dick set up over 18 facilities in hospitals and field locations. He was the first to introduce Oxygen Enriched Air (NITROX) to the recreational diving community.  His was the first facility in the world to offer NITROX certifications to recreational divers. In 1988 he formed IAND (International Association of Nitrox Divers) which in 1991 became known as IANTD International Association of Nitrox and Technical Divers. It is no surprise that he is still known today as the "Father of Recreational Technical Diving." Rutkowski also co-founded eight other companies for scientific research, equipment, and safety.

Rutkowski's books and writings on Nitrox and mixed gases are the guidelines for Tech Divers throughout the world. He went on to write the Recompression Chamber Life Support Manual and worked with many government agencies to establish their diver training programs and safety boards for the EPA, NASA, NOAA, and other government agencies in the U.S. and around the world.

Dick Rutkowski

In the 1980's and 90's Rutkowski met with much resistance at first by the diving certifying agencies. His theory was widely criticized at that time but is now accepted and taught by all diving agencies around the world due to Dick's persistence. This changed the world of the recreation diver today. It was after achieving his goal of making Nitrox certification available worldwide that Dick was quoted as saying "science always wins over bullshit."

In June of 2011 Rutkowski received the Craig Hoffman / Charles W. Schilling Award for "for an outstanding contribution to teaching, education, and diving safety, with the particular goals of the Hyperbaric Medical Society in educating the diving community and the public about science and the practice of diving medicine." This is just one of the many awards Rutkowski has received over the years.

Dick has successfully treated hundreds of divers with his chamber and with the medical personnel at Hyperbarics International he has trained 7000 medical personnel to treat diving and clinical hyperbaric medical problems. There is no doubt that Nitrox has made it much safer on the older diver and diving in general, as it offers much better physiology. His contributions have changed the face of recreational diving and opened the door to technical diving as we know it today.  His contributions to hyperbaric medicine, as well as his work with mixed breathing gases, have no doubt made diving a much safer sport today.  All of these achievements make Dick Rutkowski a true Legend of Diving.

ILD would like to thank Dick Rutkowski for the pictures and information included in this article.


Rutkowski's Publications:

Instructor/Student Guide for the Use of Nitrogen-Oxygen Mixtures as a Diver's Breathing Gas

The Complete Guide to Nitrox Diving

Introduction to Nitrox Diving

Instructor/Student Guide for the Use of Breathing Gases during Hyperbaric Exposures

Diving Accident Management Manual

Mixing/Blending for Nitrox and Trimix

Contributor/Editor of NOAA Diving Manual

You can contact him at:

Dick Rutkowski 

President of Hyperbaric International, Inc.

522 Caribbean Drive Key Largo, FL. 33037  (305)-451-2551



Please check out more information on Rutkowski by reading his books.

Portage Quarry Recreation Club, Inc.
12701 South Dixie
Bowling Green OH, 43402

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