Am I ready to Become a Cave Diver?

By Marissa Eckert

What are the requirements to start cave training?  What do I need to do to be prepared for cave training?  These are all questions I get asked by so many potential students.  There are many options when coming up with an answer.  The first option, and the easiest, would be to go the training agency website and look up the requirements to take the class.  However, this leaves a lot open for interpretation and doesnt mean you will necessarily be ready.  Like anything, there always needs to be minimum requirements.  But is that enough?  Maybe for some people it is, but for most people its not.

So, what are the requirements?

TDI breaks cave training down into three different levels.  Those levels are cavern, intro to cave, and full cave.  To start cavern the requirements state that you must be 18 years old or 15 years old with parental consent, have an Open Water Certification, and a minimum of 25 logged dives.  This doesnt sound like much.  So, what do I tell my students when they ask me?  First, I find out if they are only interested in cavern or if they are interested in potentially progressing into cave diving. If they are interested in progressing into cave diving, I always strongly suggest they get comfortable with a dual configuration first.  This configuration can be side mount, back-mounted doubles, or even a rebreather.   The main things I tell everyone they need to have down are buoyancy, good trim position, the ability to hover in place motionless without moving their hands or feet, and good overall awareness.  This means awareness of oneself and what your body and equipment are doing, but also total awareness of what is going on around you.

So, what does all this mean?

Many times Ive had students show up thinking they had all these things mastered only to quickly realize they have a long way to go.  Which by the way, is okay! After all, we all start somewhere and progress at different paces.  The most important thing is to be open to feedback.  But there are also ways to prepare yourself better.  First and foremost, when starting down this route it is critical to find a good instructor.  Take time to look up instructors, ask questions, interview them, look at their past students, look at what type of diving they are doing, and most importantly ask questions!  Find out what techniques they use during class.

I have found that video recording students when they are struggling with something gives them a great perspective to see what they are doing wrong and helps them visualize and correct it.  Does the instructor look good as a diver?  Whether you like social media or not, the internet can be a great place for research. When looking at a diver they should look in trim, almost like they are laying flat on a table.  In videos are they finning with their hands?  Are their feet constantly moving?  Are there things dangling below their body?  All equipment and hoses should be extremely clean and contoured to the body.

The most important question to always ask during training is WHY? There should always be a why behind everything we do.  And it should never just be because I said so.  Make sure the instructor knows why they are telling you to do something a particular way.  Everyone can always learn new ways of doing things, instructors included.

How can you truly prepare yourself?

A good idea is to record video of yourself or have a friend record you while diving.  Send it to your instructor ahead of time, so they can give you feedback and let you know if there are things you need to work on.  There is no certain number of years to be diving, or a certain number of dives to have, that says yes you will be ready.  Every individual learns at a different pace.  If a class is only offered in a minimum number of days with a maximum number of students allowed, be aware that this means less time practicing each skill.  For this reason, you might be better suited doing one-on-one training or having a regular buddy take the class with you.  This ensures you are comfortable with each other and familiar with each others habits in and out of the water, and that you get along!

The most important thing of all is to come to class with an open mind, a readiness to learn, and no concern with whether you will receive a card, but with a concern that you will learn to be a better, safer, more competent diver.  I always tell my students safety is the number one most important thing in cave diving, but fun is a close second!  Sometimes, it may not feel fun. Stop and ask yourself does this instructor have your best interests at heart?  I know I certainly do.  I want to go to sleep each night knowing that I gave my students as much knowledge as possible to make them safe and thoughtful cave divers.

With proper training, proper equipment, proper experience, and a proper attitude I think cave diving can be done very safely.  I often joke that the most dangerous thing about cave diving is driving to the dive site!