A fatal accident in New Mexico last month made international headlines in the scuba diving community. An experienced diver became trapped in a network of underwater caves that NM had sealed for more than 40 years and was unable to return to the surface.
Divers considered the caves some of the most dangerous in North America, and very few groups have ever received permission to explore them. But even so, many divers were surprised that a veteran diver with so much experience could commit a tragically fatal error.
The tragedy has made many scuba divers re-think the overall safety of cave diving. While some diving spots are much safer than others, even the most easy-to-access cave diving site requires extra precautions.
Before you plan a diving trip that revolves around exploring a network of underwater caves, make sure you are familiar with the Golden Rules of a cave diving expedition.
An estimated 90% of cave diving accidents occur because the diver has not been trained for the unique underwater cave environment.
There are specific methods that divers use to maintain control during a cave dive, so be sure you take a specialized course on cave diving before you go on your trip. Check out our education section for more information.
Divers should always place and follow a continuous guideline to the surface to ensure they can find their way back to the entrance. In a zero-visibility situation, the access can be impossible to locate.
Even in good visibility conditions, it can be very easy to get lost in a complex underwater cave system. Don’t rely on your memory alone, and have a guideline at all times. Consider investing in your own guideline.
Be sure to reserve two-thirds of your starting gas for exiting the site in case your return is delayed by some factors.
Common troubles that cave divers encounter include:
If it is your first time visiting a particular cave site, or the cave is exceptionally narrow and intricate, leave even more time and gas to ensure you can leave efficiently.
Another leading cause of cave diving accidents is going below the maximum operational depth (MOD) of breathing gas. When this happens, divers experience severe narcosis or oxygen toxicity.
Narcosis can hinder reaction time, decision-making skills and effectively be fatal. The general rule of thumb is that air should not be used any deeper than 100 ft. to avoid the potential effects of narcosis. Divers should also analyze their gas mixtures before every cave dive.
Don’t test the functionality of your equipment during a cave dive. Ensure that you have a minimum of at least three dive lights and be sure all your vital life support equipment is in top shape.
Cave diving can be an exciting adventure for avid divers, but safety is key to ensure that a dive trip does not result in tragedy. Start with specialized training, and ensure that you take every precaution necessary to embark on a safe cave diving expedition.
Need more safety tips? Check out our education section. If you live in the Dallas area, swing by our shop in Carrollton, and we’ll be happy to chat with you about our specialized training.
Any other safety tips you want to share? Let us know in the comments!