Gaining Experience in British Cave Diving Conditions
There are no ‘ready made’ courses which churn out ‘Qualified’ cave divers and if some people seem to imply that their course will turn you into an experienced UK cave diver – don’t believe them!
Every member of the CDG has many years of ‘dry’ caving behind them before they got to dive in a sump. They were not taught how to cave dive. With a little help and advice from their friends, looking at how others go about it, they learn. Watching, asking – but most importantly by THINKING – and then cautiously trying out what they’ve learned for themselves.
This is where the CDG helps. They are there to disseminate information and to try to share experience among cave divers in the UK. The CDG is a non-profit making group of individuals with one common interest – the exploration of caves. They do not run formal courses – training is very much on an ad hoc basis, with no commercial considerations whatsoever. To pass through the grades to ‘Qualified Diver’ status may take years.This is the approach that we have taken for the last 60-odd years. That’s why we had line laying techniques, good lights, gas management rules, rebreathers and multiple redundancy years ago. But not content with that, the innovations continued with mixed gasses, DPVs, and gear adaptations by the bucket load. We sat, we thought, then we went out & did – cautiously. And we still do the same before & after every dive – always on the lookout for new ideas, techniques, equipment which we can use, or adapt, and incorporate into what we do. Then we share our experience with others.
There are no shortcuts, and no amount of money can buy you the amount of experience needed.
There are no ‘ready made’ courses which churn out ‘Qualified’ cave divers and if some people seem to imply that their course will turn you into an experienced UK cave diver – don’t believe them! – there is no substitute for experience. Examining the accidents that have taken place in British sumps shows that the vast majority of people drown within metres of an airspace, and that they usually have limited experience.
So by all means go on that cavern or cave-diving course somewhere nice & sunny abroad – it will hopefully give you an enjoyable and interesting experience. Almost certainly the techniques you will learn, and the discussions re: gear configuration, etc. will make you a better diver. But they are a world apart from what you would normally expect to find in a British sump.
In the CDG’s ‘Qualified Diver’ test, the candidate will be taken to a muddy quarry and will be expected to lay line, navigate, survey, as well as operate normally underwater like any other diver (i.e. breathing & ear clearing, controlling buoyancy, and maintaining air margins). Additionally the diver will be given some manual dexterity test, and at various stages he will have his mask dislodged/ removed, usually after the examiner has quietly turned off the candidate’s reserve set, immediately followed by the set he is using, whilst tangling him up in the line! If the diver copes with all this without approaching the incident pit, and can later satisfy the examiner with his technical knowledge, then he can be put forward for qualification. Even then, the candidate must be elected to ‘Qualified Diver’ status by his peers in the CDG.
And, sadly, this is still no guarantee of invulnerability in the sump. There are few more frightening experiences than being lost in a sump, or physically stuck, or having a catastrophic gear failure. Air may be only metres away – or kilometres – but if you can’t reach it when you need it…..
To dive safely in the caves of Britain requires careful thought and planning, a thorough understanding of caves & caving, training, the right equipment, and the right mental attitude.
So let’s close with a few words from the CDG Manual :-
“Cave diving calls for complete self-reliance and independence of judgement, which does not imply ignoring the experience of others … the divers responsibility for safety is his and his alone, if he delegates responsibility for any part of the operation, he does so at his own risk … he should examine his motivation for cave diving … he must to a great extent live cave diving as well as practice it …this is a hard doctrine to accept, nevertheless it is one born of experience.”
(This article reflects the personal viewpoint of two CDG members (Scoff & Dave Ryall) – who would also be the first to point out that not all of the people will agree with all of the people all of the time!)