Hi: and congratulations on your new open-water certification. Diving is extremely cool and I hope you get as much out of the experience as you can: talk about opportunities… wow!

You probably do not recall everything you read while doing the academic work to earn your certification, so I would like to take this chance to remind you of something important: An overhead is no place for an open-water diver: period. There should be no exceptions to this.

I’m writing to tell you this because there is a chance that sometime soon, someone – perhaps a buddy or a more experienced diver, maybe even an instructor – will try to tell you differently. Please tell them they are wrong. You can quote me if you like, and you can use stronger language too, but much more importantly, you can find the same advice in training manuals from EVERY agency and any reputable dive professional. Please take the time to check this out.

Caves, caverns, and the inside of wrecks, are NOT places to find yourself without specialized training. And I do not mean advanced open-water, or rescue diver or even a divemaster or instructor training but specialized training in those specific environments. If the person, even an instructor, trying to get you into a cavern or cave, calls you a wimp or says that everything will be OK as long as you “stay close and follow me,” please walk away. It could save your life and in any event, will send the right message.

If they are an instructor, suggest they reread their standards and procedures manual – it really does not matter which agency they teach for because they ALL forbid this sort of behavior and this type of dive. Fact is, suggesting that you let them “guide” you into an overhead environment could get them reprimanded and their teaching status suspended.

A few days ago, a buddy of mine pulled an open water diver out of a cave in North Florida. Against all odds in this sort of scenario, she was alive… shaken, but alive.

Her explanation was that she went into the cave just to take a quick peek at what was in there because someone (her Dad) had convinced her that as long as she did not go in too far, she’d be fine.

In a perfect and just world, she will be able to sit down sometime soon with her idiot father to have a chat. She almost died. She would have died if my friend had not been there to find and save her. (He is, by the way, a very experienced cave instructor and explorer.)

OK, so here are some things to think about. Untrained divers kill themselves in caves with sad regularity. This has been happening for years and unfortunately continues to happen even though it is preventable. People who should know better and who have read the “rules” choose to ignore common sense and believe they are immune from the laws of physics… and Murphy.

The poor sap who ends up dead may have been told that caverns and caves are safe, and believed it. They may also have been a super master specialty open-water instructor and have a collection of badges as long as their arm, but all that means bugger-all inside a cave when they realize they are lost, are sucking seeds and stems from their almost depleted single cylinder, and start to claw at the limestone ceiling and walls wailing for salvation.

Caves can be beautiful but that beauty can become extremely ugly in a couple of heartbeats. Here are some things that have happened to untrained divers who almost died in a cavern or cave but somehow managed to find their way out.

“We only intended to swim in a little way, but there were lots of passages and we got turned around…”
“The water was really clear but my buddy crashed into the bottom and I lost sight of him and the exit. I think he is still in there…”
“We had a light between us but it went out. It was really dark and I kept swimming into the walls…
“I swum in a little way and then my octo started to freeflow…”
“We followed a line and it just stopped and then I got tangled in it…”
“I panicked when I turned and could not see the exit.”

There are no grey areas when it comes to this overhead stuff. Going in there without the right kit and training is seriously tempting fate, and there are so many other ways to enjoy yourself with scuba. Please, please, do not go into an overhead until you get training in overhead diving and get yourself some serious kit and gain the experience to use it properly.

Thanks. Now go dive… in open water.

Steve Lewis
TDI instructor trainer #6



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  2. Bravo Steve!
    I firmly believe that we as a community of Cave, Tec or Wreck divers don’t do enough to spread the word.

    Last month the rescuer that you write about along with myself and another diver pulled the corpse of another open water diver out of a cave and the impact that it made on me will last forever.

    As a result I and some other members of the WCDC have launched an initiative to reach out to every OW Instructor in our area and speak to each of their classes with the hope of impressing upon them how important it is that they dive within their limits.

  3. Well said Steve, as always! Many think that we as cave divers are arrogant and trying to keep the caves for ourselves and others out of them. In reality we are not trying to keep anyone it of caves, we are trying to keep them out of coffins.

  4. Nice article and I agree completely. You quite rightly mention wrecks in your article along with caves. All the situations you discuss apply equaly to wrecks and in some areas there is more temptation to go into wrecks then into caves.

  5. Hi Steve, excellent article. What is your view on recreational agencies that provide wreck specialities? As you have already shown wrecks provide overhead environments with associated dangers attached. Are these courses, in your opinion do these courses cover enough skills to encourage wreck penetration by recreational divers?

  6. Yes. After completing my Cavern course with Cristina Zenato just last month, I realized how panicked I could get in total blackness and the line snatched from my fingers, lights out and air sharing skill – and I have thousands of dives as a dm. When you came down Steve, to do rebreather class, it made me desire more. There are a great deal of o/w divers tempting fate. Now according to Cristina, I am more in the danger zone; I’m married to an owsi. But there is of course no chance in hell I would encourage her into a cavern or cave just so i can stroke my ego! I get it loud and clear Steve. Good article- and let’s also hope that the operators who take people places they shouldn’t be themselves, are wise enough to realize :: danger :: !

    best regards

  7. Well done, not being cave, cavern or even wreck cert. I can appericiate the straight forward approach. I enjoy diving and have had the luxury of several different locations and enviroments, that being said…and me starting my tec-40 I like the no BS approach.
    Dive right.

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  9. great job! thanks for the crucial information, they are really beneficial for the scuba divers or people whoa re thinking to start diving as hobby, thank you again.

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  11. Steve, you forgot one overhead environment that is a specialty onto itself, due to cold; that’s diving under ice. It is a true overhead environment with the further complication of extreme cold, which can make even professionally rated Scuba gear malfunction. I have never ice dived, and did set up the safety program years ago for the Warm Mineral Springs Underwater Archaeological Program. Even cave-rated divers require further training for ice diving.

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