Nov 2019

An in-depth look into Cave Diving

By Guest Blogger

Cave diving is a very unique diving discipline and indeed next level in many peoples books. If you have dived before and couldn’t care less about colourful fish and stunning corals, cave diving might be just for you. Time to prove the adventurous image your tinder profile paints of you by leaving your man cave and say hello to pitch dark waters! Unless of course, you suffer from claustrophobia or thalassophobia.

That being said, cave diving can be stunning. Many cave systems contain water so clear, it looks like divers are flying through the air. Of course, to get there, you will likely have to squeeze yourself down narrow openings, which is half the fun! If you are jealous of Columbus or Neil Armstrong, this is your chance to redeem yourself and gain access to sights and places where perhaps no other human has ever been before. Can you think of any other sport that offers you this opportunity?

Where can you Cave Dive?

There are excellent cave diving spots all across the world where you can go cave diving and its potential locations are not limited to oceans with reefs or calm alpine lakes with high visibility. There are more underwater caves than meets the eye and new and exciting destinations are being discovered all across the world. Some of the most notable cave dives include:

First Cathedral, Hawaii

This cave diving site is known for its massive underwater tunnels and caverns. As you descend, you will find the “altar,” an area that features sunbeams that peek through from the surface. It is an ideal choice for those who fancy stunning visuals while cave diving, due to the tiny holes in the back of the caves that allow the sunlight to form a stained-glass window. Between the colourful corals and stunning seascapes inside the cave, divers are even likely to encounter turtles, lobsters, and sharks. 

First-Cathedral-Hawaii

Great Blue Hole, Belize

An underwater limestone sinkhole that was formed thousands of years ago. It is the world’s largest natural formation of its kind and a popular destination for cave diving. The Great Blue Hole has a total of 11 colossal underwater caves with different depths and lengths. As you descend about 400ft, you will find massive stalactites, stunning corals, and oxygen-deficient caverns. The water is so clear that you can witness marine life, such as giant groupers, nurse sharks, Caribbean reef sharks, and other tropical fish. The best time to visit is from November to April, but you should consider planning your trip in March to avoid the tourist season. 

belize-blue-hole

Kuredu Caves, Maldives

With over 60 dive sites, Kuredu caves are a paradise for recreational cave divers. The caverns feature massive, craggy rock formations. These underwater caves are home to marine life, including leaf fish, balloon fish, green turtles, manta rays, moray eels, butterflyfish, angelfish, and ferocious barracudas. You may spot sting rays once you go deeper. This cave system offers ideal diving conditions year-round. 

cave-diving-maldives

Cenote Dose Ajos, Mexico

Also known as two eyes cenote, this cavern is one of the most sophisticated underwater cave systems in the world. You will be impressed by the massive stalactites with some bats hanging upside down and fierce stalagmites creeping up from the bottom. The marine life includes freshwater shrimps and numerous species of tiny fish. The best time to visit is from October to December, and the peak tourist season starts from January to March. 

cenotes-dive-mexico

Where to Learn Cave Diving?

If you want to learn cave diving, chances are you are a special kind of thrill seeker. Perhaps the sense of exploration you get is what truly excites you. Before you decide on where to learn cave diving you mustn’t confuse this with a cavern dive. A cavern dive takes place in the first part of a cave, where you can still see a light source behind you. As soon as you don’t see any more light, it becomes a cave dive.

Much like other types of diving, cave diving is regulated. One must have a certain amount of logged dives before you can start training. In general, an advanced open water certification is required at the very least.

While some of the skills can be completed in regular diving locations you should conduct your training at an actual cave-diving site to really get a feel for the sport. It may also inspire you to get to the next level. While there are many cave systems around the world the Mexican Cenotes in Yucatan are probably the most popular destination to learn cave diving. 

The following popular agencies offer cave diving courses and training: TDI, RAID, PADI, SSI.

How is Cave Diving Dangerous?

Cave diving is considered ‘technical diving‘ and should not be done by untrained divers. It has an unusual and unique set of risks, but like other extreme sports, such risks can be mitigated with the right training and exercise. Precaution, education, proper certified training and knowing one’s limits are vital to becoming a veteran cave diver who lives to grow a fluffy white beard.

The most common dangers are obvious and only really happen to unqualified or amateur divers:

  • Getting lost
  • Running out of air
  • Scuba gear malfunctions
  • Becoming stuck or trapped 

However, there are other aspects of cave diving that outlines exactly how dangerous it is:

  • Torches breaking on the ascent 
  • Reels breaking or being snagged/tangled 
  • Scuba masks damaged
  • Navigational problems
  • Overhead environment – emergency surfacing is not an option
  • Poor visibility

Cave Diving Hazards

The hazards of cave diving may be evident to many people, yet there are still occasional accidents and even deaths, which can be attributed to the victims not fully understanding the risks of cave diving.

  • Getting Lost: It is different than traditional diving, where you can swim back to the shore or the boat when you’re getting lost. In cave diving, getting lost can easily result in death. 
  • Loss of Visibility: Most caves are formed by a kind of erosion, and often, the eroded material ends on the cave floor. And that can affect your visibility to see your friends, your reserve gas supply, or losing orientation points to return to the cave entrance.
  • Equipment Malfunction: Equipment malfunction can be very dangerous and could result in a diver running out of gas. So it’s crucial to check your equipment and know-how to deal with the most common malfunctions. 
  • Currents, Surge, and Surf: Some caves are complex and can carry strong currents, especially sea caves and coral caves. Currents, surge, and surf can push you further into the cave or make it more difficult to exit.

Cave Diving Equipment

Some of the most crucial pieces of a cave diving gear are:

  • Drysuit: A drysuit is needed when diving in cold water. Get a drysuit with pockets to carry your safety equipment. 
  • Mask and Fins: Most cave divers prefer masks made of black silicon skirts; they’re lightweight and help your pupils to dilate. You also need robust and flat-bladed fins to reduce the potential for entanglement. 
  • Tanks: There will be two tanks held together by steel bands and connected by the manifold, that have two outlets and can be turned off or on in case of any problem. 
  • LED Lights: You will need LED primary lights and two back up lights of 1000+ lumen. Make sure to buy lights that are designed specifically for cave or technical diving. 
  • Timer: A timer is essential to calculate the number of decompression stops during ascending during the end of the dive according to the standard decompression table.
  • Sharp Knife: A short and sharp knife should be attached to your harness to help you free yourself from entanglement in the guidelines or other equipment. 
  • Slate or Wet Notes: Wet notes are a better alternative for cave diving. Keep it in your pocket just in case you’re in trouble. 
  • Surface Marker Buoy: If you’re learning cave diving, technically, you need an SMB. It must be the type that can expand into the water using the exhaust from the regulator you have. 

Cave Diving Qualifications

As a rule of thumb, you must have your Advanced Open Water course certificate or other courses where you become certified to dive to a recreational limit of 130 feet (40 m.) You have to be an experienced night diver and you will also need a Cavern certification or a similar that shows you have experience in an overhead environment. Search our list of dive schools and find the perfect dive centre to learn cave diving.

Cave Diving Gear Setup

Picking a specific cave dive set up is really dependent on personal preference and the size of the cave systems you want to explore.  Different divers will recommend different styles (twinsets, side-mount diving, etc.) One should educate himself about the essential equipment first to devise about what makes a good set for a particular dive. It’s more than just attaching a snorkel to your dive mask. Your life may depend on it.

The Sidemount Configuration:

Allows for maximum adaptability, divers can secure and separate air tanks whilst underwater and this is crucial if you need to navigate through small spaces. Technical divers mainly use this configuration because of the flexibility it offers.

sidemount-cave-diving

Twinset Configuration:

With a twinset configuration, this allows only for a standard setup. Considered unnecessary for side mount configurations and offers very limited flexibility. 

cave-diving-twinset

Cave Diving Deaths

With all the hazards, it may not be as shocking to hear that 161 American cave divers have died during their expeditions in the past 30 years. However, 87 of those casualties were completely untrained cave divers. Many of them lost visibility due to silt and ran out of breathing gas. Even though the technology has improved significantly over these three decades the hazards remain unchanged. It is inherently dangerous, albeit a beautiful environment.

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