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Office of Coast Survey, Regional Navigation Managers

NOAAmads: Life on a Hydrographic Field Party

NOAA Diving Program

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MEET: David Elliott

Navigation Manager-Southeast Region, Office of Coast Survey

Currently, I am one of twelve “Ambassadors to the Maritime Community.” What this really means is that I serve as the liaison between the U.S. Coast Guard, state port authorities, harbor pilots, and all maritime constituents.

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What do you like most about working at NOS?

I enjoy my daily interaction with people in the marine environments, both recreational and commercial, and assisting with their requests for NOAA products and services. The emergency response work during hurricane port closures or maritime catastrophes is likewise very rewarding, as it benefits everyone.

What is the hardest part of your job?

I don’t know of one thing, really, but the job does require travel and long road trips that can be tough at times. I spent 31 years on assignment with the Coast Survey’s hydrographic field parties, traveling around the U.S. to conduct near-shore surveys of coastal waters to maintain and update the national suite of nautical charts. After that experience, I have been conditioned for travelling. Oh, and the paper work never ends.

What is your educational background?

I have spent the last 35 years surveying and 32 of those years have been spent with NOAA. For 27 years, I was part of the NOAA Diving Program. I have attended classes at the Florida Institute of Technology and Old Dominion University, but do not hold a formal degree. My educational background is more on-the-job training and extensive study in reading literature related to hydrography.

I am likewise a Certified Hydrographic Surveyor and a Diver Medical Technician.

What inspired your interest in the ocean and coasts?

When I was 14 years old, I read an article in National Geographic about George Washington surveying the Dismal Swamp. I grew up near there, in Virginia Beach, and visited the area with my Dad. The primitive nature and vastness of the region initiated my desire to become a surveyor.

How did you end up working at NOAA?

My neighbor, William Barnes, worked for NOAA in coastal mapping and shortly after high school he assisted me in landing a job with NOAA in that very same division. Mr. Barnes knew I wanted to travel and hooked me with the idea that I could get paid and go to school at the same time as I learned more about the skills required for surveying.

What advice do you have for young people wanting a career in the "ocean realm"?

Start early and remain committed. Read everything you can find about what interests you most and always be optimistic that what you do benefits future generations.

What is the most interesting/important thing you've learned while working at NOAA?

This is the hardest question of all, as there are too many things to name.  The diving portion of my time with NOAA would have to be the most fascinating; this would include everything from the use of hyperbaric chambers all the way to hand-held acoustic sonar devices for the location and imaging of wrecks and obstructions. I just recently resigned from the NOAA Diving Program when I took my new job as a Navigation Manager and I really miss it. Over the last seven years, I have worked extensively with a sonar that creates near video-quality images in zero-visibility water. This instrument has a multitude of applications, and assisting divers with instruction on the use of the device has been one of my most rewarding challenges. 

After three decades on the road in both domestic and international travel, I can say one of the most important things I’ve learned is to look forward to tomorrow. In a hotel, I ran across a quote and wrote it down so I could memorize it later. I found it by accident and was so impressed when I learned who wrote it. This was the quote:

Tomorrow is the most important thing in life. Comes into us at midnight very clean. It’s perfect when it arrives and it puts itself in our hands. It hopes we’ve learned something from yesterday. – John Wayne, Actor