Throughout the world, there are misconceptions about a countless number of things. A few examples are that deserts are always hot, all elderly people retire to Florida, and scuba diving is just a sport people do on vacation in tropical waters. Let us go ahead and put this last one into some true perspective. There are people all over the planet, no matter where they live, who enjoy nothing more than cold water diving. There are even a few that have made it a must in their lives. When it comes to this type of diving there is of course, as with all types of diving, training and equipment considerations that cannot be avoided. Let us face facts. This is not sitting in a hot tub at your local gym or spa but that does not mean you have to be miserable.
I am going to deviate for a minute. I know everyone by now has seen the videos of people doing the “ice bucket” challenge. For those that have not, I will explain. Someone has been challenged to have a bucket of ice water dumped on themselves by someone else. Once you have had your frosty shower you then challenge someone else to do the same thing. It is not the Polar Bear Club, where people sit in freezing water as a hobby. Nor is it the Polar Bear Plunge, where people go into extremely cold water for a fundraiser. The purpose of this challenge was to bring awareness to the debilitating disease, ALS. This is one example of how certain daring individuals have no issue facing the cold, and will do anything they feel may be fun or exciting.
Now let us return to the main topic. When someone has decided that they want to give cold water diving a try, the first step is to look at what is involved. Cold water diving, just like all other diving, has one founding principle behind it – you are diving. Everything else that comes next follows the same principles as any other type of diving. Pressures change with depth. Cylinder pressures change with temperature. Your body is going to lose heat. You are going to get an extreme headache if you do not keep your head warm. You get the idea.
Now, I know someone, somewhere is saying to his or her self, “This guy has probably never been under ice.” Here is the truth… are you ready… that person is 100% correct. However, I have been in water that is below freezing temperatures numerous times. I will also tell you that on my first dive in that type of water that I made multiple mistakes. The first mistake being that I dove wearing a wetsuit which had completely inadequate thermal protection. Next, I was wearing a half mask instead of a full face mask which meant my face nearly froze before I got to any kind of depth, and my mask fogged up more than I like to admit, but I will. I am not going to attempt to explain how all of these mistakes on my part destroyed my air consumption. I am quite certain you already have the idea.
Needless to say, immediately following that dive I learned the horrible mistake I had made in thinking that I would just deal with it and be okay. Since then I have come to enjoy the comfort of a dry suit and the warmth of the correct thermal layers that are worn underneath a dry suit. I have also learned how much of a benefit the correct hood and gloves can be, not just any that I may have handy. And a full face mask has become one of my best friends when it comes to keeping my face warm. Finally, I now know that if I am going to dive colder water, for whatever reason, I will be doing so in a set of steel doubles instead of a single tank. This last point is simply for gas availability and basic comfort on my part.
Now, take cold water diving one step further. There is a group who dive these conditions out of necessity. They are public safety divers. These men and women leave their homes at the worst of times to help and assist others when no one else can. They may be pulling victims from a submerged car in the night, or they may be looking for someone who simply fell into a body of water. The reality is that those individuals choose to perform these tasks despite cold, wind, snow, ice, and other problematic conditions. Now take all of the issues I mentioned earlier, as well as the frigid environment, and add the stress of rescue or recovery. This is why cold water diving almost always requires some level of team work. Essentially, your level of risk increases so your preparation and acknowledgement of safety must also increase.
The bottom line to the rambling you have just read is this: “No matter what type of diving you’re going to do, plan appropriately – especially in colder environments.” I am certain the last thing anyone wants to hear about is that someone they know became a popsicle on a dive because they just did not think things through. Like anything in diving, take your time, plan, and then go have some fun.
– Benjamin-James Royal Yates – Divemaster – Air Hogs Scuba, Garner, NC