South Florida diving pioneer remembered

By Lee Stephens….

Rick Smith

There are people who love water sports, but then there was Rick Smith. He was one of the few people who could say he pioneered what many scuba divers are enjoying today off the coast of South Florida.

Captain Rick, as he was widely known, began his diving career in 1969 when the sport was in its infancy. Diving South Florida reefs and North Florida springs and caves, Smith was part of a select group of fearless, but smart underwater explorers. Smith participated in discovering and mapping some of Florida’s freshwater cave systems, the same systems that today are frequented by researchers, scientists and trained enthusiasts. He went on to earn Instructor ratings from YMCA, NASDS, PADI and NAUI. In 1977, Smith opened his first dive shop and dive charter business, Pisces Divers, in North Miami. As the operation grew, he opened a second shop and the only full-service dive operation located on the water in Miami at the Miami Beach Marina. The Miami Beach location became the base of operations for his threedive boat fleet, offering local and Bahamian dive trips.

Smith coordinated all levels of instruction offered through his dive shops and in conjunction with Miami-Dade College, the University of Miami, Barry University, Florida Institute of Technology, Miami Beach Police Marine Patrol and U.S. Customs. During those years, he also became a founding member of the boards of directors of the Florida Association of Dive Operators, Miami Association of Dive Operators and Dive Miami Association. He was instrumental in establishing, supporting, promoting and maintaining the Miami-Dade County Artificial Reef Program and pioneered many of the techniques and protocols that are still in use today by local dive operators.

Smith and his Pisces Divers organization was responsible for certifying thousands of divers over the years and many went on to open their own dive businesses. When local media covered a dive-related story, Smith was the go to guy. When the film and television industry came to Miami and needed a water safety expert, he was at the top of the list. Involved in water safety support and consulting for the 1980s TV hit Miami Vice, motion pictures such as Blue Lagoon and Invasion USA, Smith was diversified and talented.

After selling his businesses in the ’90s, Smith gained certification as an Emergency Medical Technician, followed by certification as a Hyperbaric Chamber Operator. He went to work at the Mercy Hospital Diving Medical Center from 1992 to 1994. After completing his paramedic training in 1995, he went to work at Miami Children’s Hospital as a flight paramedic on the pediatric Life Flight Program.

With Smith’s passing, his legacy lives on in the local dive community.

“I am proud to say that Rick changed my life, made a lasting impact on just about everyone that dived on his boats, worked for his operations or earned their dive certifications from him,” said Rick Barocas, former employee, local dive store owner and a close friend. “I already miss him dearly, but find solace in the fact that he will be remembered as a true leader in our diving community.”

Smith is survived by his wife Carlene, daughter Jeannie Smith-Rosenberg, sons Rick and David; two stepsons and five grandchildren. There will be a memorial service at the American Legion, 6445 NE 7 Ave., Oct. 24 at 11 a.m.

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