Cave Diving Isn't a Crazy as It Sounds

cave diving in mexico
Cave instructor Natalie Gibb swims through a delicate cave passageway in Mexico. © Jeff Lindsey, 2013

Cave diving is an adventure sport with considerable risks. For this reason, cave divers are often perceived as crazy adrenaline junkies. For most cave divers (at least the safe ones), their motivation for venturing into flooded passageways has little to do with thrill-seeking.

Flooded caves are uniquely beautiful. Few animals can survive inside caves, but the ones that are able to withstand the harsh environment tend to look more like animals from a science fiction movie than creatures the planet earth.

Most cave divers are also drawn to the sport because of the challenge. Cave diving is extremely technical and requires a level of underwater proficiency and control much greater than most other forms of scuba diving. And, of course, adventurers crave access to worlds that few other humans get to experience. 

What Exactly Is Cave Diving?

Cave diving refers to ​diving into flooded passageways that are completely enclosed. It differs from Cavern Diving in that is a technical diving certification. Cave divers go well beyond the reach of daylight, and may explore extremely small areas or venture miles into a cave system.

What Equipment Do Cave Divers Use?

Cave divers use a variety of equipment configurations, including back mount, side mount, open circuit, and rebreathers of all types. Although there are advantages and disadvantages to each configuration, all have one common safety feature—they provide redundancy.

Cave divers must carry back-ups of all vital life support gear. They have at least two tanks (or a rebreather and a bailout tank), two regulators, three lights, etc. The equipment cave divers use is highly specialized and can be pricey—but it's worth it!

What Training Is Required to Cave Dive?

Any time a diver chooses to enter an overhead environment, he should seek proper training.

A diver who wishes to cave dive must seek cave training in particular. Other overhead environment training may have similar aspects to cave diving, but the skills and techniques are not exactly the same. Wreck divers, for example, have overhead environment training, but must still seek cave training in order to be safe in a cave.

Skills required for safe cave diving:
•  Frog Kicking
Proper Trim
•  Gas Management Using the Rule of Thirds

Most training agencies require a minimum of 100 dives to even begin cave training, but for many divers, this may not be sufficient preparation. Any sort of advanced training beyond the open water environment is helpful. Courses that focus on advanced finning, buoyancy, and trim are highly recommended.

Cave courses can generally be broken down into three component parts: Cavern Diving, Intro to Cave/Cave 1, and Full Cave/ Cave 2.

Of course, the course structure and the limits of training at each level may vary depending on the training organization. No matter what training agency you choose, an experienced diver who wishes to reach the full cave level can expect to spend a minimum of 10 days training, usually broken up over a long period of time to allow for practice between levels.

Cave diving requires a very high level of training, but it can be extremely fulfilling (and addicting!) It requires a significant investment of time and money, and divers must cave dive relatively frequently to keep their skills current. Safe cave diving requires effort and commitment, but for those of us who love underwater caves, the chance to enter such an absolutely unique environment is worth it.

About the author: Natalie L Gibb is a full-time cave diver and instructor in the Riviera Maya, Mexico. She is owner of Under the Jungle, a cave diving center in Mexico.