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Archive for January, 2007

Cave Diving Certifications – NACD Journal 1st Quarter, 2007

There are various reasons why I cave dive, but cave diving in itself has always been a challenge to me, in so much as one must always be trying to better oneself. There are a number of ways to do this, we can be mentored by others or simply strive to dive with more experienced people in a less formal mentoring process. Another option is to go the route of continuing education such as taking a scooter class where we will learn towing strategies, out of air scenarios and gas planning or a mixed gas class where we will learn how to plan our dives better, pick up our stages with less fuss. The list is endless, but we should always be trying to improve our techniques.

Some friends and I have been talking about the recent cave diving phenomenon for lack of a better word, where cave diving classes are being discussed on recreational diving boards and it seems to be the new cool thing to do. Comments such as, “I’m going to get my cave certification next month” from someone who’s never even seen a set of doubles are proliferating more and more throughout the recreational community.

Of course, I see both some good trends and bad trends coming out of this. On one hand, some of the entry level students I’m seeing have received excellent mentoring from friends who are already in cave programs, and are well versed in what is to be expected from them in a Cavern/Intro class. On the other hand, I’m also seeing people who are woefully unprepared, have no basic buoyancy skills, are a threat to both themselves and others, but at least they end up understanding why they are being failed and will not be allowed to continue on with an Intro class. As a cave instructor, while I think that a Cavern course should be something that should be taken by everyone (especially if they live in an area with a lot of caves) in no way or form do I encourage people to take any form of training beyond a Cavern class. It is unethical, cave diving is not for everybody and part of my job is to discourage those who I feel are not cut out for this type of diving.

As cave divers, we have a responsibility to the community and that is not to promote or encourage people to cave dive. We can see the signs everywhere of bad buoyancy control, the inability to run a line into the cave, the proliferation of new cave divers thumping their proverbial chests and buying equipment that far exceeds their capabilities and as a result the community and the caves as a whole are suffering.

As one of the Regional Safety Officers for the NACD, I was talking to a college dive club last night about the differences between open water diving and cave diving. Of course, this was a local college in cave country and some of the members are already cave divers and others are going through training. As educated individuals they realize the dangers involved with it and the difference between recreational diving and cave diving. I just wish more people would realize that there is a world of difference between a recreational cavern dive and even a basic Intro level cave dive. We leave behind the comfort of the sunlight and head on back into the black arteries underneath the earth!

We have warning signs installed at cave entrances warning open water divers to stay out but on the flip side, at times it seems that we are encouraging these same divers to get cave certified. The other night, some friends and I moved the gold line off the floor at Devil’s and put it back on the right wall, where it has traditionally been since it was pulled out from the Lips/Keyhole area. Why did we do this? Here are some of the reasons why…..

The main and overriding concern was that of safety. If an open water diver enters the Ear and sees the sign, then they will also see the gold line attached to it. In my opinion, this encourages them to penetrate further into the overhead and with the line up on the right wall it will not be noticed by the average open water diver.

Another reason is that we’ve seen far too many students doing lights out air shares down the gold line and as they feel their way around a placement simply drop to their knees or in the worst cases simply crawl along the floor! The placement of the line on the wall means that students will have to maintain control of their buoyancy while following the line in the dark. It will also test diver’s abilities to run a line, as they will now have to use a tie-off or run the line under a rock to come up the wall and then tie in to the gold line while hovering in mid water. Two days after we did this, I mentioned to another cave instructor about what we’d done and he laughed and said, “Thanks for doing that, I’ve spent too much time lifting people’s knees up off the floor as they’re tying into the line!” Something else to consider is that the best path down the Gallery while entering is up high and it has been pointed out to me by a couple of cave instructors that a lot of times, students do not like to be that far away from the gold line so they end up using a less optimum path of travel.

I realize that a few reading this will think I’m being an elitist, but is there really anything wrong with raising the proverbial bar a bit? Do we want divers who have no buoyancy control in our caves? I like swimming through clear water myself, not a haze that’s been stirred up by someone who doesn’t know the difference between a flutter kick and a modified shuffle or frog kick! I just wish people would slow down a little bit, believe me I understand that this is partly a product of our society, as everything is available almost instantly but cave training should be a journey, not a destination. It should never end with a Full Cave card, that is really when you start to learn about cave diving! I liken it to when you first get your driver’s license and have your hands at “ten to two” on the steering wheel, you’re constantly checking your mirrors, and as you do it more and more often, your awareness of surrounding traffic patterns heightens. As someone said a while back “five seconds ago, you weren’t in trouble!”

Well, as usual, thanks for taking the time to read my viewpoint, and please have fun and make good decisions out there. Please don’t encourage people to cave dive, it should be a personal decision made by someone for themselves as things can go south very quickly for the mentally unprepared. As always try to slow down and think a little bit before you act, keep your cave diving safe and please take good care of our underwater cathedrals.