When the weather gets cold, many divers hang up their kit and hibernate for the winter.
It doesn’t need to be like that, though, as we’ve already described here on Dive.in.
One of the ways to dive through the winter is ice diving.
In this article, we’ll take you through the basics of getting started on taking the cold plunge under the ice.
Ice diving is an advanced form of diving, that takes place in situations where the surface of the body of water you’re diving in has frozen solid.
Because of this, ice diving is taking place in an overhead environment, where you cannot be sure you are able to surface in case you need air or in some other form of emergency.
Dive kit for ice diving
Needless to say ice diving takes place in very cold environments, so all equipment used must be suited for this. And a good portion of special equipment is also needed.
Both the divers and the surface crew (more on these later) need to dress appropriately for the cold weather on the surface. Dressing in layers, including head protection and gloves, will be a necessity in most situations.
And making a plan for how and where the diver will change into dry clothes and warm up following the dive is another key element. In some cases, simply being able to step out of a dry suit and get into a heated car is sufficient planning, but in other cases, heated shelters or similar may need to be set up on shore.
Dry suits should be considered as key kit, as is sufficient undergarments to stay warm. Hoods and gloves that are adequately warm are important, too, and here dry versions of both can be considered.
If using the wet version, both the hood and the gloves should be at least 5 mm versions, and the gloves should be the three-finger version or semi-dry.
As ice diving is in an overhead environment, double tanks should be used, and all regulators should be cold water certified and well-serviced to avoid freezing and free flowing.
Ice divers are typically tethered, with a lifeline tied to a harness worn on top of the dry suit, but underneath the BC unit. This allows for easy communication and re-location in case of an emergency.
Ice penetration kit
A snow shovel is usually necessary to clear snow before breaking through the ice. And once the ice is cleared, an ice saw or chainsaw is often necessary to cut through the ice and make an entry/exit hole.
Procedures - teamwork makes it safe
Ice diving is a team sport that requires more than just the diver, but also a surface crew. Often, the diver will enter the water alone, but be tethered to the surface and the exit hole through the lifeline mentioned above. A line tender stands by the exit hole and feeds line and reels it in as needed.
A system of communication is used between the diver and the line tender, typically one tug for OK (used by both the diver and the tender, similar to the “OK” sign in SCUBA hand signals), two tugs for “take in rope”, and a series of rapid tugs used to signal an emergency. If this happens, the tender immediately starts reeling in the rope, pulling the diver towards the exit.
A fully equipped safety diver should be standing by at the surface, with a line tethered to him/her. In case of an emergency, the safety diver can jump in come to the aid of the diver.
In addition to these roles, other surface crew members might be there to assist the diver when exiting and in getting out of the dive kit and getting warmed up. As well as keeping their eyes open for any shits in the ice that may pose a threat for the diver or other members of the team.
Gas management should be a major priority, using the same rules as in other overhead environments, typically one third for the swim out, one third for the swim back, and one third for backup.
How to get started
Ice diving in an advanced form of diving that shouldn’t be undertaken without proper training. All of the major organizations have ice diving courses, and these are highly recommended.
In addition to this, there a number of this a diver can do to get started safely with ice diving.
First, dive with experienced ice divers on your first outings. This will allow you to learn from others experience while increasing your own.
Also, consider starting you ice diving early in the season, where you can dive under a thin layer of ice that can be broken with relative ease in case of an emergency (making it a sort of semi-overhead environment). In this case, the entry and exit needs to happen from shore, as ice this thin will not support the weight of the diver or the surface crew.
Ice diving is a truly unique type of diving, that offers experiences that no other form of diving can.
To really appreciate the feeling of being upside down that can be had during an ice dive, Check out the video, made a group of Finnish divers: