Cavern diving and full cave diving are exciting opportunities to take your diving experience to a new level. Taking the right precautions and gaining the right experience, though, is necessary to ensure your safety.
Even though many divers may think that cavern diving and cave diving are the same things, the truth is that they're quite different. It's important to know what makes these dives unique not only from other standard open water dives, but also from one another.
If you're questioning what the differences are between cave and cavern dives, which are both considered overhead environments, continue reading. Below are just 5 of the differences you should be aware of before you sign up for a cavern dive.
1. Being Able to See Natural light at All Times
When you are cavern diving, you can expect to be able to see natural light the entire time that you are exploring the cavern. During a cave dive, you may go hundreds of metres past the point where daylight can penetrate and help guide you on your way.
Essentially, cavern divers will stay closer to the entrance of the cave which means they will more likely to get out of the cavern zone in a "straight line". That is why you always want to be able to see the natural light, in case of an emergency, swim towards the light.
Cave divers, do not have the same ease when it comes to exiting a cave in a "straight line". That is why they are required to take additional safety precautions to protect themselves and their dive buddies while they are exploring a cave system.
These safety precautions include:
- Be trained for cave diving, and alway stay within the limits of your training.
- Keep a connected guideline to the exit of the cave
- Obey the rule of 3rd's (Exit the cave with two-thirds of your breathing left in your tank)
- Use the proper gas for the proper depths. Want to dive deeper, bring other breathing gas like TRIMIX
- Always bring three light sources (Bring a back up for your back up)
2. Cave dive scuba gear is not the same as your recreational scuba kit
If you plan on going cave diving, you will need to learn how to use highly specialized scuba diving gear that is designed for cave dives.
When you want to stick with cavern diving, on the other hand, you can pretty much use the standard diving gear that you would use for any other open water dive. There will be a few pretty minor modifications to the gear so that you reduce the risk of getting tangled.
Modifications are also set to make the gear easily accessible throughout your dive, to boost buoyancy control, and to improve your body's position in the cavern.
Reposition your weights, so your head is tilted down a bit more than you might be used too. Doing this will keep your fins of the bottom and reduces the risk of stirring up sediment that could cause a silt out.
As an open water diver, you learned to drop your weights in case of an emergency. When cavern diving you should NOT drop your weights since you are in an overhead environment. Doing so will make you more buoyant, and you will float to the ceiling.
Use steel tanks when cavern or cave diving instead of aluminum tanks. Steel tanks will always be negatively buoyant compared to regular aluminum tanks that will become positively buoyant by the time you will heading back to the entrance.
Learn how to use your fins properly inside a cave or cavern. During a regular reef dive, you probably use the good old "flutter kick". If you would use this technique in an overhead environment, you will stir up the bottom that could reduce the visibility to 0 in seconds. The proper finning technique would be te frog kick.
3. Cave diving requires other training then Cavern Diving
In addition to requiring different types of diving equipment, cavern and cave dives also differ in terms of how much training you need. Because a cavern is the entrance to a cave, and there is plenty of natural light coming in to keep the entrance visible at all times, divers may think that they can handle this type of site.
Also read: 5 Reasons Why Cenote Diving Is Not For You
The truth is that a cavern is still an overhead environment that could prevent you from properly and quickly ascending right to the surface when necessary. Also navigating in a cavern is different than in open water. Finding your way in a cavern is done by following a permanent guideline that has been installed by fully certified cave divers.
Make sure you always stay with one hand on the line or at least close enough to grab it quickly when you need to do so. In order to explore an underwater cavern with confidence, and to do so safely, your guide will give you a proper pre-dive briefing and will learn you how to behave while cavern diving. In order to explore actual underwater caves, you need to enroll in a full cave dive course.
You also need to invest in a full range of diving gear specifically made for exploring restricted areas underwater where other untrained divers should not come. Because these sites are so much more challenging, you need to train properly, learn how to use your dive gear flawlessly and be confident in your abilities.
Read more about the full cave dive course
4. Limitations that are set when cavern diving
Both cave dive sites and cavern dive sites will place certain restrictions upon divers in order to ensure their safety at all times throughout the exhilarating underwater journey. But the types of restrictions that are set will differ depending upon whether you are entering a cave or a cavern.
Typically, when it comes to cavern diving, the maximum penetration will be 60 metres or 200 feet while the maximum depth will be 21 metres or 70 feet. The minimum starting visibility will likely be around 15 meters or 50 feet. Every dive should also be within no decompression limits. And there may be areas within the cavern where a pair of divers are not allowed to swim next to each other.
Planning a scuba trip? Then you should download the ultimate scuba dive checklist just like 5000+ other divers already so you will not forget to bring anything.
Cave dives will essentially go beyond at least one of the limitations set at a cavern dive site. Remember, a night-time cavern dive is essentially considered a cave dive because of the lack of visible light, so the same dive site can be treated quite differently depending upon what time you descend. And, again, to dive a cave, you need to take extra training for safety purposes.
5. You will encounter other animals and a different environment on the dark side
Things change quite dramatically once you move from a cavern dive into a cave dive. You will find yourself in a whole new world, where the landscape and the animals you encounter are different from what you typically will see on an open water dive.
Many strange marine animals thrive in caves and caverns, where they have evolved special features that help them survive and live quite contentedly in the dark. For example, you may come across animals that look pale or are completely white because they don't have pigmentation. A lot of animals are also equipped with long feelers so that they can find food and make their way around in the dark, as they are also often blind.
- When diving a cavern like one of the Cenotes in Mexico you do not need prior cavern dive experience but you should at least be advanced certified.
- Cavern diving is always done well within the no-deco limits and should always be done accompanied by a fully trained and certified cave diver.
- One of the rules of cavern diving is you should always be able to see natural light entering the cavern.
- Do not enter a cave unless you are trained to do so. For more in-depth information about cave diving visit the National Association for Cave Diving
- Use common sense, above and underwater, dive within your limit and stay close to the guidelines at all times.
- Always dive well within your limits and use common sense at all times.
Ultimately, whether you choose to dive in a cavern or cave, you can expect an unforgettable experience, so be sure to take it all in and have fun!
What are your thoughts about Cavern and Cave diving? Let us know in the comments below
Article written by Rutger Thole who is an avid scuba diver and loves to travel, dive and write about scuba diving. Based in Amsterdam he runs bookyourdive.com and at least twice a year he plans a dive trip of the beaten track.