Cave training basics

I usually put the “basics of cave diving” into three spheres of awareness which radiate outward in their degrees of importance and necessity so that each sphere in turn becomes automatic (not complacent) and allows the diver to concentrate on attaining more control of the outer spheres as the course progresses. With proper attitude, training and experience eventually all spheres will become one and these skills in order should therefore constitute the basis of cave training.

1: Personal awareness (buoyancy, trim, equipment, gas and gauges)
2. Environmental awareness
(line, navigation, formations, current, depth, position, ect..)
3. Team awareness
(communication, light, ability, position in team, ect..)

One of the first questions I ask a student is “What is the difference between a trained cave diver and an untrained cave diver” many times they ask in response;”is there such thing as an untrained cave diver?” to which I reply yes they are the dead ones!” “Any monkey can get into a cave however only a trained cave diver knows how to get out when a problem happens.
Therefore training is and should be based in exiting procedures not entry procedures!!

In your training one of the first things you will learn are the inherent hazards of cave diving as there are many; and many of them are not as obvious as one would think, this allows a student to make an informed decision as to whether or not it is an activity they would like to engage in.
After covering the hazards we then progress to accident analysis, through analyzing accidents that have happened in the past we can determine what steps and skills are needed to prevent them from happening in the future and therefore base our training and skill development accordingly.
We will also see that most accidents can be broken down into 5 simple categories also known as the “5 rules of Accident Analysis” and with a simple analytic breakdown (process of elimination) you can determine not only the necessary skills needed and with a more detailed breakdown the actual focus and order of training:

The 5 rules of Accident Analysis: (The Good Divers Are Living)
1: Training
(problem/solution and risk management)
2: Guideline (navigation, line laying and awareness)
: Air or Gas management (rule of 1/3’s and conservation factors)
4: Depth and narcosis (management, awareness and need for additional training)
5: Light sources (daylight zone and going beyond)

Hazards of cave diving:
-No direct access to the surface (Training)
-Depth (Training)
-Decompression (Training)
-Narcosis (Training)
-Entanglement (Training)
-Entrapment (Training)
-Equipment malfunction (Training)
-Loss of visibility (Training)
-Limited visibility (Training)
-Gas management (Training and Air rule of thirds)
-Loss of light (Light and Training)
-Loss of gas (Training and Air rule of thirds)
-Loss of direction (Training and Guideline)
-Loss of orientation (Training and Guideline)
-Loss of team or buddy (Training)
-Loss of line (Training)
-Missing guideline (Training)
-Broken guideline (Training)
-Currents and Flow (Training)
-Distance from exit (Training)
-Hypothermia (Training)
-Exhaustion (Training)
-Restrictions (Training)
-Navigation (Guideline and Training)
-Silt (Buoyancy and trim)
-Percolation (Training)
-Delicate environments (Buoyancy and Trim)
-Limited Communication (Training)

When broken down you will immediately notice the reason TRAINING is the first rule and that any increase in risk demands additional training: “A good diver knows the limits of his training whereas the egotist doesn’t.”

In your cave diving training program we start with proper breathing, buoyancy and propulsion techniques as they are the foundation of all diving.

All skills to be preformed in the water will be explained, demonstrated and practiced first in what we call dry land training.

Once in the water we focus on proper propulsion and fining techniques at the surface as it allows the student to feel the resistance of the water and fine tune micro movements without additional gas consumption.

Once underwater we first want to insure safety and the students ability to share gas so we focus on proper gas sharing and replacement of a long hose, familiarization of equipment (d-rings, spools, spg, ect.)
I actually prefer to do this while the student is on their knees as it allows them to focus solely on the proper performance of the task at hand without making mistakes due to the additional task loading of trying to maintain neutral buoyancy and trim which will come later but once a mistake is made it must first be unlearned. No one learns to ride a bicycle by having to balance on it before peddling, you need the motion to gain balance and it is the same with diving so one step at a time.

After the initial familiarization and ability to properly use, remove and replace the equipment we’ll start swimming a short line circuit approximately 40 meters in a square and working on buoyancy, propulsion, position, communication, equipment familiarization and awareness. Once comfort with this is gained we initiate gas sharing while swimming as well as basic exiting procedures and communication. And finally valve manipulation to include gas hemorrhage and isolation protocols for gas supply management.

We will then progress to a larger circuit approximately 80 meters in total length including a simulated primary tie off. On this line we will swim in simulating running the primary line (buoyancy, position, angle, light and communication) while on the simulated mainline we will practice the basic spheres of awareness; buoyancy, propulsion, position, communication, line awareness, team awareness, team positioning and basic single guideline navigation including procedures for passing other teams jumps onto and off of a main or single guideline. At the end of the line we then progress into line contact scenarios for zero visibility navigation consisting of a minimum of 8 penetrations each working on essential entry skills and 8 critical exits over the entire 80 meter circuit:
-Individual: line contact exit (eyes open)
-Individual: line contact exit (eyes closed)
-Team: touch contact line exit (eyes open)
-Team: touch contact line exit (eyes closed)
-Team: Bump and Go line contact exit (eyes open)
-Team: Bump and Go line contact exit (eyes closed)
-Team: Gas sharing exit eyes open transitioning to line contact (eyes open)
-Team: Gas sharing touch contact line exit (eyes closed)

After completing these skills we are confidant that the students have had plenty of practice swimming in while maintaining self, environmental and team awareness and are also capable of efficiently exiting a cave in a variety of critical situations including the ability to properly pass navigation left by other dive teams. Now that both student and instructor are confidant they can follow the line out; the next progression in training is whether or not they can find the line “TO” follow it out hence the logical progression of skill sets will include lost line recovery, team separation/missing team member, line entanglement, broken, missing or cut guideline and the basics of line repair. Each dive ending in some type of exiting procedure and overall awareness of equipment, team and environment.

From here both student and instructor are comfortable and confidant to now engage in further penetration dives coupled with an introduction to complex navigation in circuits and traverses including jumps, gaps and permanent T’s, along with restriction training and more focus on optimum positioning for exiting, communication and visibility with regards to environmental conditions and navigational concerns.

As the title says these are the basics of cave training and by no means constitute the detailed explanations and supervision of training with a qualified instructor. This is simply an example of a course for the purpose of demonstrating the “progressive nature” of skill development and our teaching style and method.

My best advice is to seek a professional instructor for professional training so here are a couple of hints;

-Don’t hire someone that isHire a pro trying to impress you with tales of their grandeur, you are not paying to be impressed you are paying for training and a good instructor will contain his ego and focus on the student.

-Look for full time professionals over “part time,” “holiday” or “hobby” instructor as they spend their time doing what they are teaching not doing something else and teaching as a hobby therefore they have an invested interest in doing a better job. I’m sure you wouldn’t look for a “part time,” “holiday” or “hobby” doctor or lawyer either.

-Avoid “zero to hero” instructors that slam their way through pay for their levels, since they don’t respect their own time and the necessary effort and experience required they will definitely not respect yours.

-And lastly don’t purchase training based on price, just because it is cheaper than someone else does not mean its the same quality, my favorite quotes says; ‘If you think it’s expensive to hire a professional just wait until you hire an amateur.”

Posted 07/07/2015 by Sirius Diving