Ray McAllister, Ph.D.
Ocean Engineer and Early Dive Instructor
Most people would not consider diving at the age of 86,
but Ray McAllister is not your average 86 year old. The
retired professor of Ocean Engineering, Ray began his
diving career 57 years ago at Scripps
Oceanography in 1951. There he taught his first Scuba
class in 1952. Ray went on to earn his doctorate in
geological oceanography from Texas A&M College. Ray's
scuba course is believed to be the first civilian,
non-military diver's course in the United States. His
instructions were, "Stay in our bubbles; that way you
will not get lost. Don?t push your ears too hard or you
can rupture an eardrum. And, oh yeah, don?t hold your
breath coming up, "cause it might kill you.? By the mid
1990s, Ray had logged 5,000 dives and quit counting at
For income, McAllister, using his diving skills, set up
hydrophones to listen for Russian
Submarines while working for Columbia University's
Geophysical Field Station in Bermuda.
Some may have considered scuba diving in California in
the early 1950s a challenge. With no protective gear
available, the divers only had shorts to wear into the
They surfaced shaking from cold, almost hypothermic. Ray
McAllister recalls divers attempting to swim in the
fetal position, trying to hold regulators to lips that
were numb with shaking hands.
Quoting McAllister, "One time I brought a candy bar for
quick energy after a dive. One of my buddies yelled,
?Look at your chest!? I was so cold I was chewing my
tongue and blood and chocolate were flowing down my
Divers who tried diver's long johns, found they did help
some, however, by the end of the dive, they were still
hypothermic. Ray recalls obtaining Italian Pirelli
drysuits. These consisted of thin rubber with waist
seals which were rings of grooved, hard rubber over
which the upper and lower halves of the suit were
stretched. These suits often became snagged on submerged
items letting in the icy water.
Ray obtained 10 surplus U.S. Navy drysuits from the
Underwater Demolitions Unit. Entering the suits from a
back entry that was rolled up and clamped off, they
found these suits snagged less easily than the Pirelli
suits. The seals around the wrist and face still leaked,
however, once the water warmed, it was better than the
cold Pacific waters.
Searching for another option, Ray found an exposure suit
that the U.S. Army developed for soldiers in wet
foxholes. It was constructed of 3/8? foam plastic. The
downside was that it took 40 pounds of weight to get it
underwater because of its buoyancy. With descent,
though, it became heavier and extremely dangerous.
In 1953, Dr. Hugh Bradner at the California Radiation
Laboratory was experimenting with protecting humans
immersed in a water tank of very low temperature. Three
neoprene suits were developed, one of which he gave away
to diver, Jim Moriarty.
Ray recalls diving with Moriarty that winter off the
Scripps pier. After the dive, Ray asked Jim how he felt.
The reply was "Great!? Pulling out the back of Jim's
wetsuit, Ray placed his icy hand into the back and found
it still quite warm.
In the 1950?s, Dr. Bradner formed a company called
Engineering Development Co., or EDCO, with their
wetsuits becoming very popular in California. Ray sold
almost all that he owned, even selling poached abalone
to bargirls in order to buy EDCO serial #57.
With it being slick rubber on both sides, tire talc or
cornstarch was needed to lubricate it while pulling it
on. Years later a rubber compound was developed that
allowed easier access.
Ray found putting the wetsuit on was still a challenge.
He revised it by adding an industrial 24? brass zipper
from the hip to the throat. He completed this with Black
Magic suit cement. Other divers seeing this innovated
design began sewing zippers in their wetsuits as well.
In 1964, Ray joined the Florida Atlantic University as
one of the founding professors and co-founded the
university's ocean engineering department.
Ray has written numerous scientific research papers and
a children's book, "Sea Stories from a Diving Dinosaur?.
He also writes articles for Pompano Pelican on many
subjects ranging from hurricanes to giant squid.
Information for this bio was obtained from Alert Diver