Curator’s Corner – Underwater Construction Battalions and the “Bunny Suit”

May Photo 1

Seabee Divers of UCT-2 in Diego Garcia (2004) to perform maintenance on pier facilities (U.S. Navy Seabee Museum Archives)

“We Build, We Fight, We Dive”. This is the motto of Seabee Divers from the Underwater Construction Teams (UCT’s) of the Naval Construction Force (NCF). UCT’s provide support for construction, inspection, repair, and maintenance of ocean facilities supporting Naval and Marine Corps operations worldwide.

In the mid-1960s, increased interest in exploitation of the ocean for defense spotlighted a need to establish an underwater construction capability within the Navy. On November 1, 1973 the Chief of Naval Operations established UCT-1 and UCT-2 under the 21st and 31st Naval Construction Regiments respectively. The two teams are currently located on both coasts; UCT-1 is stationed in Virginia Beach, VA and UCT-2 in Port Hueneme, CA. Each team is comprised of 70 personnel consisting of Civil Engineer Corps (CEC) officers and enlisted Seabees. The teams are divided into three detachments of 12-15 Seabees that are deployed worldwide to support both peacetime and wartime missions. They are prepared to execute underwater construction tasking in both permissive and non-permissive environments and in climates ranging from the tropics to extreme cold weather.

May Photo 2

Challenge coin from UCT-1 and patch from UCT-2 in the U.S. Navy Seabee Museum collection (U.S. Navy Seabee Museum)

These elite Seabees begin their careers in battalions, learning their rate and earning Seabee Combat Warfare (SCW) qualifications. Divers are expected not only to know their job as a steelworker, construction mechanic, builder, construction electrician, engineering aide, utilities man or equipment operator, they also need to know their job as an underwater construction diver. This is gained through rigorous training and exacting qualifications.

May Photo 3

USN Lightweight Diving Dress, also known as the “bunny suit” (U.S. Navy Seabee Museum)

The U.S. Navy Seabee Museum has recently acquired a historical USN Lightweight Diving Dress, also known as a “Bunny Suit” from a retired Captain of the Civil Engineer Corps (CEC) who spent most of his career in the Navy’s Ocean Facilities Program and commanded the Seabee Underwater Construction Team TWO (UCT-2) in the late 1980s.

This Lightweight Diving Dress was worn by Seabee Divers in the 1970s. It was commonly referred to as a “bunny suit” because of the folded bun “tail” which creates the watertight seal with the folded white waterproof canvas fabric. It was the lightweight version of the deep sea dress, the Mark V, which was used with the MK V hardhat rig.

The donor described that a diver would don the suit from the back and wore a weight belt and lead-soled boots with canvas uppers and bronze toe caps to control buoyancy. As it was a “dry” suit, you could wear long underwear and wool socks to keep warm.

A “Jack Browne” diving mask was normally worn with the bunny suit and it provided similar protection like the MK V deep sea mask, except it was used for lighter work in shallower depths. Air to the mask was controlled with a simple valve operated by the diver with a hand wheel. Unlike the MK V helmet, the Jack Browne diving mask had no voice communications built in, so they communicated on the surface via line pull signals.

Drop by the Seabee Museum to see the bunny suit in person Tuesday May 3rd at the Curator’s Corner event 2-4pm and visit the museum’s Underwater Construction exhibit to learn more about Seabee divers!

May Photo 4

U.S. Navy Mark V Deep Sea Diving Suit on exhibit at the U.S. Navy Seabee Museum (U.S. Navy Seabee Museum)

Robyn profile pic

Meet the Curator: Robyn King “Meet the Curator: Robyn King is pursuing her master’s degree in Museum Studies and Nonprofit Management through Johns Hopkins University. She earned her Bachelors in History and Anthropology from the State University of New York at Oneonta. She has experience working at state museums, historic sites, the National Park Service, and most recently the Navy. She is an expert in collection management, and has worked closely with both natural and cultural collections. Robyn loves all museums and sharing her love of history. When she is not working, she is volunteering her time with the National Peace Corps Association, as a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer from West Africa.”

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