Last Updated: March 8, 2023
If you have a penchant for water recreational and technical activities, then cave diving would be a thrill for you. Cave diving is a combination of scuba diving and cave explorations. When cave diving, you dive in an environment where you cannot vertically access the surface to catch a breath.
Cave divers discover new marine life, places never visited by any person in the past, and explore phenomenal rock formations. The extreme sport attracts only a few people, and has barely a handful of qualified professionals, globally. It is basically a preserve for rescuers and researchers.
What is Cave Diving?
Cave diving is a special form of scuba diving that involves navigating through underwater voids and gorges that extend deep underground. While caves can offer unique underwater experience, they are also particularly dangerous owing to the limitations typical of overhead environments.
Why is Cave Diving Dangerous?
Cave diving is considered to be the most dangerous type of scuba diving. You enter into deep, dark, and tight areas that are considerably far from the water surface.
Some potential risks include:
- Strong and unpredictable water currents in the caves
- Getting entangled with your reel line or losing the guideline
- Rocks may fall on you or block your exit
- There is always the risk of running out of air
- It can be a disaster if your lights breakdown
Cavern vs. Cave Diving – The Differences
Cavern diving and cave diving have multiple differences that include the following.
Cavern diving takes place near the entry of the cave, which makes it far less risky, and does not go beyond a depth of 70 feet. Cave diving explores the interior of the caves, and can dive to a depth of 130 feet.
Cavern diving uses natural light streaming through the water. A cave diver swims into the cave for a considerable distance. You have to use lights since the environment is dark and with limited water visibility.
Cavern diving is considered as recreational diving, so you only need a PADI Cavern Diver Specialist training (other agencies offer similar courses) that is available for advanced divers. A cave diver requires technical training in addition to other diving skills. You also have to be certified as a cave diver by an accredited diving agency.
Cave diving requires specialized dive equipment, whereas you can use regular diving gear for cavern diving.
Certification for Cave Divers
In order to qualify for accreditation as a cave diver, you have to acquire advanced technical skills and experience. There are only a few recognized cave diving certification agencies. Most of these bodies are small and regional-based.
The renowned cave diving accreditation agencies include:
- Global Underwater Explorers (GUE)
- International Association of Nitrox and Technical Divers (IANTD)
- Rebreather Association of International Divers (RAID)
- Scuba Schools International (SSI)
- Technical Diving International (TDI)
Each agency has its set of requirements you have to meet to be trained for certification. Some of the common qualifications are:
- Advanced Open Water certification – The program trains you to dive to a depth of up to 130 feet.
- Cavern diving certification – The training equips you with skills to wreck dive with penetration, use reels, and experience overhead environments.
- Night diving experience – Caves are usually dark, hence the need to have night diving skills.
- Diving experience – Most agencies require 75 to 100 dives. Some agencies may accept 25 dives.
- Deep diving knowledge – Even though you may not have an interest in deep diving, the experience is useful for linear distance cave diving concepts.
- Decompression and technical diving experience – Cave diving requires technical configurations like decompression, the one-third rule for air management, and buoyancy control among other techniques.
Safety Tips – 5 Rules of Cave Diving
Though cave diving has many potential risks, they are avoidable. Adequate training and precautions significantly reduce the possible dangers. Cave diving has a guideline of the essentials you need to prevent danger.
The checklist goes by the acronym TGDAL to mean: Training, Guide, Depth, Air, and Light. Some divers use the expression, “The Good Divers Always Live” to recall the checklist.
You should only cave dive if you are certified by an accredited diving agency. Most cave diving injuries or fatalities are avoidable. They are a result of inadequate training and experience. Get adequate skills to avoid such risks.
Ensure you have a reel that runs from the leader of the team to the entry point on the surface. You can also mark the cave entrance as a second safety measure.
When cave diving, you navigate low depths which require decompression breaks when ascending. When navigating the caves, be conscious of your depth so that you do not exceed the intended depth. In case you dive further than planned, recover the distance with a slow and safe ascent.
4. Air or Gas Management
When cave diving, apply the one-third rule on air supply. Use a third of air to descend and explore, a third to ascend, and then retain the last third for emergencies. The extra third is useful if you dive beyond the planned depth, or if your partner runs out of air.
The rule of the third depends on the water flow in the cave. If the current is strong, adjust the thirds to save more air. You need it to be able to exit the cave against the strong water flow. Ensure you also have a proper gas mix to suit the depth you plan to reach.
You should have three lights when cave diving. The primary light is for navigation while the other two are backups. The three lights should have enough power to last the entire underwater expedition.
Cave Diving Techniques
Cave diving requires special techniques and the ability to use them. Besides cave diving certification, you need perfect movement skills, buoyance control, and a good propulsion posture.
– Movement Techniques
Silt-out is a challenge when cave diving since it hampers visibility. That is why you need a reel to mark your entry point. To prevent silt-outs, you have to use movement techniques that do not disturb the underwater sediment.
Use the following movement techniques to avoid silt-outs;
- Back kicks
- Flutter kicks
- Frog kicks
- Helicopter turns
- Pull and glide. With this technique, you use your fingertips to locate crevices on the rocks. Then you pull yourself and glide by hands
Your buoyancy control is important as you dive in tight locations especially if there is a strong water flow. If you do not set the BCD to stabilize your buoyance, you may stir up silt, and also wear out.
As a cave diver, swim with your face down, knees bent, and elevate the fins above your body. Push yourself from the cave ceiling if it is sturdy. The posture and the movement techniques will propel you without a silt disturbance.
Cave Diving Equipment
Cave diving is a recreational and technical activity that requires specialized diving gear. Your equipment should be able to endure cold temperatures, low depths, and rocky underwater conditions.
For you to have a safe diving expedition, ensure you have the following equipment;
You should have a scuba suit that can keep you warm since the underwater caves are dark and cold. For extra protection, you can use either a dry suit or a warm wet suit.
Spools are also known as reels, caves, distance, and guideline lines. You deploy the spool as you dive for it to unwind gradually as you explore the caves. The line marks the surface entry point and the path you use to exit. A guideline is a lifeline to cave divers in case lights fail, or the water gets tumultuous causing poor visibility.
You need at least three lights for visibility in the caves. The main light should be strong while the other two should be extra backups. Ensure the lights can last for the entire dive-time.
You need high-performance stiff fins for short and controlled flutter kicks. Short and firm fins will not disturb silt, and are also able to navigate an overhead environment.
You need a regulator to connect the air supply from the air tank. The system should have two regulators; a first and second stage regulator. You breathe through the first stage regulator. Use the second-stage regulator to share your air cylinder with a buddy if need be.
Diving masks are personal diving equipment that should enhance your safety and visibility.
The masks should have the following qualities:
- A good fit – A well-fitted mask is safe and comfortable when diving
- Black frame – A black frame absorbs any stray lights that might cause distraction in the poorly-lit underwater environment
- Wide lenses – Use wide lenses to be able to see a large area
- Low profile – A compact size mask will take minimal space and is comfortable in the tight environment
Where to Go Cave Diving?
Divers who are keen to explore these magical underwater systems are rewarded with a whole new world of diving places to admire.
Mexico and Florida have some of the best underwater cave systems in the world.
Cenote diving in Mexico has a world-class reputation thanks to the incredibly clear fresh water of its caves (cenotes). And the rock formations above and below the water are incredible.
Cave diving in Florida is also up there on most divers’ wish lists. There are huge underground tunnels flanked by limestone and filled with fresh spring water just waiting to be explored.
While safety is a major concern when cave diving, if you take the right precautions, you won’t have to worry much. Cave diving is thrilling and can help you experience isolated habitats underwater. Despite its wonders, you can’t afford to take your safety lightly.
Before diving into a cave, ensure you have the right training and certifications. Always dive with a partner and plan your dive properly.
My unbounded love for the oceans and everything it has to offer motivated me to pursue my passion and become a professional scuba diving instructor.
I keep reading, exploring, and learning more about scuba diving and the underwater world all the time, so I’m excited to share my knowledge with fellow scuba enthusiasts and hopefully contribute a little to your development as a diver. I want people to fall in love with the oceans with as much passion as I have. Read more about me here.