Phil Nuytten, an internationally-recognized pioneer in the deep sea world of diving, died unexpectedly on May 13th, 2023. He was 81 and still full of innovative ideas.
Phil was only a teenager when he opened Vancouver’s first dive shop. Switching to commercial diving, he put in seven-day work weeks at BC’s logging camps and pulp mills, then got a diving job at the Bennett Dam on the Peace River. At the age of 25, he had saved enough money to open his first company—Can-Dive. Over the years, Phil developed a reputation as a maverick, diving deeper, staying underwater longer, working in Arctic waters with Dr. Joe MacInnis, and trying new combinations of gases. He considered it all part of getting the job done.
Some of Phil’s career highlights include hooking up with Lad Handelman to expand his experience in the oil patch and co-founding Oceaneering International. His inventions include the well-known ADS Newtsuit (followed by the Exosuit and Ironsuit 2000), the submersibles Deep Rover and DeepWorker, and the submarine rescue vehicle REMORA.
Ironically, my first connection with Phil Nuytten was about totem poles, not diving. As a kid he worked alongside Northwest Coast carver Ellen Neel, a commitment to Native art that would stay with him throughout his life; my first book documented the start-to-finish process of carving a totem pole so we had lots to talk about. Then, as editor of Westcoast Mariner Magazine, I got to interview Phil on several occasions. But what I remember most were the recent four years working on Deep, Dark & Dangerous: The Story of British Columbia’s World-Class Undersea Tech Industry. Phil was always available to share ideas, photos, history, a good story or to proof drafts and suggest corrections. What a gift that was.
There’s no question that Phil was a force to be reckoned with. But there was never any question about his track record of accomplishments, his contributions to the world of deep ocean work and exploration, and the many honours he received. Known as B.C. diving’s “Renaissance man” he was not only an accomplished diver but an inventor, a tech manufacturer, a businessman, adventurer, underwater explorer, author, owner of Diver Magazine, a songwriter, a collector and a Northwest Coast Indigenous carver.
In fact, Phil leaves behind two huge legacies—the first includes his inventions, his companies and the people whose lives he influenced over his long career. But there’s also the treasure trove of diving and deepsea equipment, vehicles, photographs and information he lovingly collected in his warehouse. Both are a real testimony to the legendary life he lived so vigorously and enthusiastically.
Vickie Jensen, maritime historian, and author