Under the Ice – Introduction to Ice Diving

Last Updated: February 21, 2023

Diving allows a glimpse into a world that is normally closed to people – the world underwater. But that is exactly what makes diving so interesting and so fascinating. Because diving is an excursion into another, often bizarre world full of wonder and beauty. This is especially true for ice diving.

How Dangerous is Ice Diving?

scuba diving under ice

Ice divers pursue their hobby in frozen lakes, often under a layer of ice that is centimeters thick. Diving is usually done with equipment, only extreme divers do without oxygen equipment and dive only with the power of their lungs as apnoea divers.

Ice diving is not without danger and this is what this form of diving has in common with cave diving. For example, the diver cannot come back to the surface at any point, because there is a thick layer of ice above him. But hypothermia is also a danger for every ice diver.

What Equipment Does an Ice Diver Need?

The equipment of an ice diver differs in many ways from the equipment with which a “normal” diver goes underwater. For example, the ice diver needs a special dry suit, because this suit prevents him from cooling down too quickly. The regulators must be designed in such a way that they cannot freeze.

Divers who want to be completely safe dive with two tanks and two separate regulators. The diving rope must be tear-resistant and buoyant; a length of 50 to 100 m is ideal here.

Also, the belay diver must have a rope equal to the length of the rope that the ice diver has. This is because just a few meters without the belay rope and there is no chance of returning safely to the entry hole.

Every ice diver also needs a so-called signalman, who guides the diver or group of divers and is in constant contact with them.

If you have never dived in the ice before, you should never go underwater alone, but always with an experienced ice diver and dive under his guidance. If you follow these rules and do not overestimate yourself, you will discover a fantastic world under the ice cover.

What are the Requirements For Ice Diving?

The freezing cold, the often poor visibility under ice and the small entry and exit pose a special challenge for ice divers. Certain requirements should be met for safety reasons. Important are professional equipment as well as increased training time, with which the ice diver prepares for the dive under the ice.

Preparation and Follow-up of an Ice Dive

Divers should prepare especially carefully for diving under the ice. First, a suitable body of water must be found and the entry hole and emergency hole must be sawn out. Special diving suits protect the diver under ice from extreme temperatures.

Good planning is essential when ice diving because the conditions do not allow any mistakes. Furthermore, you should always be supported by a second person who can intervene in an emergency. In a team, the person above water always takes care of the divers and make sure that they are held by safety lines.

Ice Diving – Practice and Tips

ice diver ok sign

Diving Partner With Experience

When ice diving, it is important to have a dive partner who has the necessary experience in this extreme sport. Without a partner, diving under ice is generally not done, as the conditions are simply too dangerous for a solo dive.

The partner is connected to the diver via the so-called buddy line and additionally with a signal line, which serves the signalman above the ice surface as a contact to the ice divers. Certain signals are firmly agreed upon before the dive so that there is no confusion.

Rescue Diver For Emergency

A rescue diver represents an additional safety during ice diving. This diver is ready for emergencies with full equipment to quickly come to the aid of the ice diving team, if necessary. As soon as he receives an emergency signal via the signal line, he dives to the ice divers, equipped with his own signal line.

Even if the safety ropes are no longer properly connected to the diver, the rescue diver’s efforts are required, as the divers would not be able to find their way back to the exit hole without a safety rope.

If the diver loses contact with the signal line under ice, his life is in danger, because it is usually very difficult to find the hole again. In this case, the diver must remain calm and wait until help arrives from the rescue diver.

Do Not Underestimate the Cold

Divers should under no circumstances underestimate the cold water. It is best to warm up properly before the dive by doing light exercises. A proper diving suit is essential.

A drysuit is used here, which protects the diver from cooling down for about one hour under ice. After the dive, the diver should immediately put on suitable clothing and preferably drink warm beverages such as tea.

The best way for ice divers to keep their feet warm is with neoprene socks, and special ice caps also prevent premature cooling. To keep the body warm longer, you can pour warm water into the suit before diving.

Equipment and Technique For Ice Diving

Ice divers always live with the risk of not being able to surface at will. It is a fatal mistake to believe that you can simply cut a hole in the ice with a normal diving knife. Because this is not possible even with a thin ice cover.

This is also one of the reasons why different techniques and special equipment is needed.

Especially important are two independent and separate regulators, which must be suitable for ice-cold water. If it happens that one of the regulators fails, this valve can be closed and the other one can be used. When ice diving, the following applies: The first breath should always be taken under water.

This is because if the air temperature is below zero, the regulator may freeze up. To be on the safe side, every diver should perform a detailed safety check before the dive and breathe into each regulator once.

This is why the safety of the entry and the carrying capacity of the ice are so important

When it comes to the thickness and load-bearing capacity of the ice, each country and state has different regulations.

As a rule, the ice cover must be at least 15 centimeters thick. But that is considered the lower limit for being allowed to walk on the ice at all.

Even with a thickness of ten centimeters, people are already allowed to walk on the ice surface. The question is, however, how many people there are and how close together they are. Ice divers usually stand in a group around the ice hole.

Namely, those who have already dived and all those who are still preparing for their dive. Since ice diving always attracts interested spectators, you should include them in the weight. If there are any spots or discoloration on the surface of the water, always be careful, as this may indicate a friable area.

Even before the hole is cut into the ice, it is best to cordon off the area with red and white tape. After all, no one wants a figure skater pirouetting to become an involuntary ice diver.

After diving, it is very important that the hole in the ice is covered with branches and clearly marked as a danger spot with barrier tape. The swan-out ice slab should also be slid back over the hole, as it will quickly refreeze.

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