A True Diving Pioneer Passes – Bill Tant – “Cap’n Scuba”

A True Diving Pioneer Passes – Bill Tant – “Cap’n Scuba”

Services are at Elmwood Chapel Tuesday Aug 6th

Visitation at noon, followed by the funeral at 1:00

I first met Bill in 1967 when I came home from the military. I had been a diver a few years when I walked into Southern Skin Divers Supply in Birmingham. Southern was already old compared to other dive schools. Bill, who is our partner Mark Tant’s uncle, founded Southern in 1953 and his school and store has been open all these years. Many of you divers, especially the newer ones, may not have known Bill Tant or what he did for you so let me tell you. Bill created scuba diving on the Gulf Coast. He was the Man! Bill’s dive school was named Bill Tant’s School of Scuba and was part of Southern Skin Divers Supply. He had his own certification since his school predated all other certification agencies that now exist. Bill was the one who started the spear fishing and wreck diving that you now enjoy. Bill was the one person who started the diving in the springs of North Florida, and Morrison Springs was always Bill’s favorite. The first dive operation in Panama City was based in Bill and Eloise’s home in PC which is the original harbormaster’s house at Old St. Andrews. There were no dive boats in the beginning and Bill was able to talk the fishing boat captains into carrying divers out into the Gulf. The Empire Mica and the Tarpon are now famous historical dive sites and both of these were developed by Bill and his divers. He was a great promoter of diving and loved the water all of his life. We were all lucky and blessed to have Bill Tant.

Steve Phillips

Panama City News Herald – Friends, family remember ‘Cap’n Scuba’

We would like to make something nice here and give Bill the credit he deserved. If you’ve got any good stories or memories of Bill & would like them added here, please send those to us with a note to include it on the blog (that gives us permission). Email us at ssdsupply@aol.com  Thanks!

Here are a few………….

My Dad told me yesterday that Bill had passed. 

Wow… where do I start. Bill Tant had a huge influence on the direction of my life. I took lessons from him and one of his instructors Joe Gann, aka Gainer, in about 1968 when I was 17 years old. Other divers around that time were Gordon Riggles (?), Bob Tant, aka Gas Man, Mark Slattery, Dave Abts, Sonny Aldredge. I worked for Bill on Saturdays during high school cleaning up, jamming jugs and cleaning rental gear. I was working when they set the anchor outside of the old shop and Bill and I put our initials in the cement. 

The early sixties were an exciting time in diving. There were TV programs like Sea Hunt with Lloyd Bridges, the Jacques Cousteau books and TV specials, the Navy SeaLab program, the James Bond movie Thunderball. I remember an old sponge diver movie with a very young Robert Wagner and Gilbert Roland called Beneath the 12 Mile Reef and a film about US Navy UDT called The Frogmen with Richard Widmark. 

My initial set of dive gear cost less than $100.00 which included mask, fins, snorkel, weight belt, 1 steel 72 tank (I think it was used), tank harness, life vest (there were no BC’s in those days) and regulator. My first regulator (I still have it) was a U.S. Divers Mistral; a single stage, double hose regulator which cost $50.00. In fact, I never dove a single hose regulator until I was in the Navy. Equipment manufacturers of that time included Voit, Dacor, U.S. Divers, ScubaPro, and Nemrod.  

We would dive out of Panama City and Mexico Beach on the wrecks Tarpon and the Empire Mica. I can remember driving Bill and Eloise to Panama City in that huge Buick station wagon. That thing was like driving a hotel lobby down the road. Bill would be in the backseat wrestling with his 2 boxers, Cortez, the Macau, would be screeching in the back along with Dub-Duck quacking from underneath an upside down milk crate.  I once made $90.00 in about 20 minutes diving for a lost outboard motor in Lay Lake. That was a lot of money for a 17 year old kid. Plus, the guy was so happy he bought me lunch too! 

I didn’t dive much in college but the interest was still there so when I was in the Navy I went to Diving and Salvage school at the old Washington Navy Yard in Washington, D.C. My class started out with 36 people and only 9 of us graduated. I was stationed onboard a submarine rescue vessel, the USS Kittiwake (ASR-13). She was sunk off the Cayman Islands a few years ago and is now a dive site. I think it’s fitting that after all the divers she supported in her career, now she serves as a training wreck for other divers to enjoy. After getting out of the Navy, I dove in the Gulf of Mexico as a commercial diver for a company called Oceaneering International. After 2 years in the Gulf, I worked in a couple of hospitals as a Hyperbaric Chamber Operator for a number of years. 

I miss diving and I will miss Bill. He was a mentor to me and someone that I looked up to as a kid. Diving was a big part of my life due largely to Bill’s influence. He was truly a pioneer in SCUBA diving, underwater photography and diving travel. He was always jovial and fun loving and he lived life to the fullest every moment. Far winds and following seas my friend, you will be missed.

Please give my condolences to Miss Eloise and to Bob.
Steve Holley, Colorado Springs, CO (formerly of Leeds, AL)



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