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Beginners guide to cave diving
Cave diving below stalagmites

– Goni

Cave diving is an entirely new world after coming from recreational diving.

Different equipment and techniques are required and often the whole way you have been diving has to be adapted.

Exploring the underground world is an indescribable feeling; leaving a narrow part of a cave decorated with stalactites and stalagmites, which then opens up into a huge chamber that will take your breath away.

A cave diving course is challenging and that’s the way it should be as it is intrinsically more dangerous – it is not possible to just ascend if something goes wrong.

If a difficulty occurs with regards to visibility, the equipment or any other problem, this has to be solved where you are in the cave and it might take hours to get back to the entrance.

Here’s a true story When Tragedy Strikes – Cave Diving Accident.

Sounds scary? It might be at first and it’s always good to maintain a healthy respect for the dangers of the cave. However, it is not so scary if you are well trained and stick to all the rules.

Here are some points to consider before taking a cave diving course.

Cave Diving Stress

As with all types of scuba diving, it is very important to stay calm in potentially stressful situations. This is particularly true as there is usually no chance to bring a panicking diver to the surface immediately.

In order to know instinctively how to react in such situations and to solve any occurring adversity while being in a cave, so-called “drills” are performed. These include scenarios like running out of air, problems with the equipment (e.g. leak), losing a buddy, the line or visibility as well as various combinations of the above.

So for training reasons you might end up having no air with zero visibility, swimming back to the entrance of the cave. While doing that your buddy might even get entangled in a line and you have to free him.

Cave diving training lines on trees

Lines used by divers to find their way out of caves hang on trees for them to practice on -Credit: Goni

The course includes a lot of swimming “blind” in zero visibility which might be achieved either by covering/turning the mask or switching off all the torches. Like this, the line must be used to find a way out of the cave. Another scenario is losing the line when you cannot see, which makes you lose all sense of orientation. Without seeing a thing you must still locate the line and follow it back to the entrance.

These drills are stressful as well as difficult but it is crucial to stay calm. Before taking the cave course it is important to be at least reasonably confident that you will be able to handle such situations without going into a tailspin panic.

In a real situation, it will most probably take longer to deal with the problems and divers will often become anxious. This makes it even more important to take the training very seriously, practicing until the exercises feel comfortable and the challenges are solved.

Cave diving with a line

A diver going deeper and darker into a cave following a line just below him – Credit: Goni

Previous Scuba Training

Many cave divers use either double tanks (backmount or sidemount) or rebreathers. If you do not have any previous experience with either of these techniques this should be acquired before even starting with any cave diving. In addition, buoyancy control has to be very good, as do the propulsion techniques (frog kick, flutter kick, back kick and helicopter turn) needed for maneuverability.

Cave diving gear being assembled

Setting up your gear is required before you start any cave diving – Credit: Goni

This is very important as improper techniques, for example might lead to stirring up silt which causes loss of visibility. You know this from recreational diving when someone in front of you touches the sandy bottom with his/her fins and no one behind can see anything anymore. In open water, this is not such a big deal as the following divers can swim to the side or up where visibility is normal again. In a cave, this might not be possible and due to less water flow the stirred up silt will stay in suspension for much longer.

Cave diving requires good finning techniques

In a cave, silt stays in suspension much longer. Good finning techniques are required – Credit: Goni

For an experienced diver, these techniques will most probably be easier to learn than for a newer diver. However, it might be harder to change bad habits, like adapting an inefficient frog kick that has been practiced for several years.

It’s important to also take into account that the handling of the equipment and the techniques have to be understood and trained before any of the cave diving practice can be started.

Do you know Why Choose Cave Diving In The Cenotes?

Cave Diving Equipment

Many cave divers are using backmount although sidemount is getting more and more popular. Both have advantages and disadvantages and so it is more about personal preferences. It is important to decide before starting the course which one you would want to use and feel most comfortable/confident in using.

It is best to have all the necessary equipment before starting in order to get used to your own gear right from the start. If you’re not sure whether you will love cave diving (or diving with two tanks in general) renting is an option to consider before purchase as gear is not cheap.

Here’s Dive Gear: When To Buy What?

Cave diving equipment ready

Cave diving gear all assembled, backmount on backplate – Credit: Goni

The Price of Cave Diving

The courses vary in price depending on where and with which agency you enroll. The course is generally divided into 3 parts; “cavern”, “intro to the cave” and “full cave”. It is recommended to first take “cavern” and “intro to the cave” which takes 5 to 10 days and then do some cave diving at this level. After getting some experience in different caves, the “full cave” course can follow which takes a further 4 to 6 days.

Here’s more on Cave Diving: First Time Cave Training In The Cenotes.

The cost for the first part is between $ 1000 – 3000 and equipment rental if required. The second part is about the same. The rental will be anywhere between $ 30 – 100 per day.

The cost to buy equipment varies a lot dependent on the brand and quality. In such an environment it is not advised to “buy cheap” but buy the best you can afford. The equipment is likely to cost several thousand  USD in any case.

Continue to dive in caves

Not just because of the financial outlay, but also for training reasons, you should be reasonably sure you will continue to dive in caves after your training. Without regular exposure, some of your learning might fade which makes cave diving more dangerous and you don’t want to risk that.

However, even if you happen not to continue to dive in caves the courses provide great training that will make you a better diver also at a recreational level. I would not want to miss this experience, I learned a lot and improved my propulsion techniques, my trim and my ability to handle difficult situations.

I know I want to continue to cave dive but I don’t know yet how I will be able to integrate it in my life. Nevertheless, for me it was definitely worth the investment.

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