Exploring underwater caves allows you to cross into entirely new worlds seldom seen by anyone else. It’s practiced recreationally by divers or by scientists and researchers who want to study these unique environments. Cave diving is a specialized skill with unique risks, so let’s look at the basics of cave diving.
What is Cave Diving?
Cave diving is diving in underwater caves with no open water surface and usually no natural light. By definition, when you are cave diving, there is no direct overhead access to open air. Diving in caves provides the opportunity to see unique marine life, ancient rock formations, and places that may never have been seen before.
Another way to experience underwater caves is with cavern diving. Cavern diving:
- Takes place at the mouth of a cave, usually within 100-200 feet of the cave entrance
- Has an overhead environment
- Stays within the range of natural light
- Requires special training and equipment, but less than cave diving
- It is more dangerous than open water diving but less hazardous than cave diving
If you are curious about cave diving but cautious of the risks, cavern diving can be an excellent introduction to the fantastic experience of underwater caves.
Is Cave Diving Dangerous?
Cave diving has often been described as one of the deadliest extreme sports in the world. However, cave divers face many challenges, including:
Lack of Open Water
The overhead environment means that a diver needs to swim all the way back to an exit point to get out, even in an emergency.
Not only do underwater caves not have natural light, but they are often highly silty and can have low visibility.
Caves can twist and turn with narrow openings and branching paths.
Many cave dives are also deep water dives, with the additional risks of deep dives.
Many underwater caves also have strong water currents.
In other words, when a problem occurs, cave divers have to solve the problem at the moment, during their dive, rather than surfacing. Therefore, it takes preparation, discipline, and resourcefulness.
Despite these risks, divers who are appropriately trained, equipped, and certified have explored many incredible underwater caves. Unfortunately, most cave diving deaths have been due to divers not following established safety protocols, which can also be said about the risks of other forms of diving.
Does Cave Diving Require Special Equipment?
Because of the overhead environment in a cave, the diving techniques and equipment are very different from open water diving. Cave divers use all the standard equipment of open water diving and items necessary in an underwater cave. Some of the special gear used during a cave dive includes:
Cave divers always wear black masks with silicone skirts because they absorb light and force your pupils to dilate. This minimizes distractions for the diver and can help them see glints of light from the surface.
Cave divers need to carry a light source to help them see and navigate underwater caves. Cave divers usually carry three lights: a primary light, a backup light, and a backup light.
Specialized Cave Gear
Many cave divers use specialized gear configurations, including side-mounting harnesses that hold the tank cylinder beside the diver rather than on their back; cave reels or other line equipment; a dive computer; specialized harnesses, etc.
Cave divers carry a duplicate copy of all necessary dive equipment in case of emergency or failure.
Additional gear may be required for specific caves or dives, depending on the environment.
Do You Need a Cave Diving Certification?
Yes, getting a cave diving certification is incredibly important. However, there are skills to learn and practice before you are ready for cave diving certification. To start a cave diving certification, you usually need to:
- Complete a minimum number of hours in open water diving
- Complete an Advanced Open Water certification for deeper water diving
- Complete logged hours of night diving so you can communicate in low-light environments
- Complete a Cavern Diving certification, so you have experience in overhead environments
In other words, cave diving isn’t done on a whim. It takes commitment, experience, and education. In fact, the current estimate is that there are only 75 professional cave divers in the world.
Cave diving is not only an intense and exciting extreme sport. It is also a skill with global importance for scientific research, exploration, and even rescue missions. If you are interested in cave diving, cavern diving is an excellent way to familiarize yourself with the advanced skills you need to enter underwater caves.