Ice Diving Training and Techniques – Straight from a Pro

Ice Hole Chain saw

As I write this article, I am comfortably sitting in my office in sunny South Florida. The weather is quite fair, around 75 degrees with a light wind, a few harmless clouds but mostly sunny. The water temperature recently has been in the mid to high 70F degree range; I consider a 5mm wetsuit to be adequate for my ventures. Diving other parts of the nation in mid February will have far different and most certainly more extreme conditions though, involving the much more technical aspects of scuba diving.

Freezing temperatures, blankets of snow, frozen water, and wind chill factors require a different type of dive plan. When I think of this type of training and diving (ice, rescue and technical training) the first name that comes to mind is Hank Woronka and all the guys over at Lake County Diver Supply out of Hobart, Indiana. Hank has been diving for over 50 years and ice diving in particular for over 34 years. When I had questions concerning diving these extreme environments, Hank would be the gentleman to answer them. I had the pleasure of speaking with him recently and inquire about some of the equipment requirements, planning, and execution for such intense diving and rescue training.

Of course, a great deal of training and education is required before attempting any sort of cold water dive and especially ice penetration, thermal conditions and over-head environments could pose a great threat to those inexperienced. This article will simply touch on some of the basics and techniques shared with me. Special considerations for equipment are a crucial topic when dealing with extreme climates. Exposure suits, full face masks, and thermal gear are all of course vital instruments to take into consideration. Every piece of equipment must be designed with special regard when the surrounding environment is at literally freezing temperatures. In particular, first stages, regulators, primaries, secondaries, inflation hoses, gauges etc. must be able to withstand freezing temperatures to prevent malfunction.

Training for buoyancy control, harness, weights and ropes, communication techniques and equipment malfunction or freezing is also advised when diving and especially in the mentioned environments. Ice conditions are also a critical variable: ice forms, depth of ice, and site preparation all account for performing a successful operation. When cutting (with the use of an ice saw or chain saw) into the ice when deemed acceptable conditions, a 6x6ft triangle is cut to allow easier entry and extraction from the ice hole. The closer angles of a triangle shape allow the diver greater capability hoisting him or herself (with help from the tender) out of the ice hole and onto the solid ice surface. Every aspect of diving must be scrutinized and carefully adjusted for these sub-zero conditions, there is truly little to no room for error. The effort and training for ice diving is truly astonishing.

Hank recounted from over the years countless victims, cars, and evidence retrievals from frozen lakes and ponds. The importance of proper ice training is significant for everyone and everything involved. It has become a crucial aspect of scuba diving worldwide, whether it is for recreation or for rescue/recovery attempts. He mentioned in our conversation that ice diving and rescue/recovery is a huge process, one that consists of a well prepared and well trained team. Each member performing a task for the overall safety of everyone involved. Working as a team in this type of environment is essential for the overall success of the dives. Ice diving is a true test against the elements; success is accomplished by those who are willing to put the time and effort into learning such a technical aspect of the field.

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