It’s dark, enclosed and you can’t breathe without a tank, but it’s a whole new world and many people enjoy the adventure of cave diving.
Cave diving seems to be gaining in popularity. A popular place cave divers can go is right here in the local area at the Roubidoux Spring in Waynesville.
According to the Visit Missouri website, Roubidoux Spring is a “world-renowned cave scuba diving adventure in Laughlin Park. The average daily flow of Roubidoux Spring is 37 million gallons; 16th largest in Missouri. Roubidoux Spring is open to all certified cave divers. You must check-in and present your certification in the 911 Emergency Center, on top of the hill adjacent to the fire station. There is no charge for diving. Contact the Waynesville Police Department for information.”
Ozark Cave Diving Alliance (OCDA) is made up of cave divers interested in learning more about caves. According to the OCDA Secretary and Public Relations, Chris Hill, “The OCDA is a 5013c non-profit organization who is conservation minded and explores underwater cave systems. We work with various agencies and/or land owners to explore and provide them with data and feedback related to those cave systems.”
That might include a survey and a map, or pictures, video, or soil samples. According to Hill, “Basically, we focus on the Midwest. We’ve done projects all over Missouri, as well as, Arkansas and Oklahoma. We’ve also been known to help other teams with projects in Florida.”
Hill walked the Daily Guide through the preparation of a cave dive. According to Hill, “In general, first a dive plan is created. It could just be an easy recreational dive or something with more of an objective or purpose. From the plan, we would then determine what gear is needed. If diving deep or for a long period of time, we would need to select what breathing gases to use on the dive and what decompression gases to breath coming out – we rarely breath air, but instead blend gases to deal the narcotic effect of diving deep (below 120’) – when coming up and out from a deep dive, we have to deal with decompression, which a process to expel nitrogen from the body, to avoid the bends – in these cases, we blend gases with high oxygen content, which aids the decompression process. For a long distance dive, we would use Diver Propulsion Vehicles (DPVs, also called scooters). These pull us thru the water versus swimming.”
According to Hill, “For lengthy decompression, we have to deal with cold water, so heated vested might be used. Once equipment and gas mixtures are selected, then we have to mix the gases and fill our tanks. The number of tanks needed is dictated again by duration of the dive and depth. All gases must be analyzed for proper mixtures. Too much oxygen at depth can be deadly. Not enough helium allows a narcotic effect to effect the diver.”
According to Hill, “All equipment must be inspected and tested [still referring to before a dive]. Batteries are burn tested for reliability, regulators and tanks are tested for leaks. Dry suits are inspected and tested for leaks. Dive plans are finalized. We use computer programs to help determine decompression schedules, which are printed and laminated, to take with us. Contingency plans are also developed. Lots of communication goes on between divers leading up to the dive. Weather is monitored and water conditions are also monitored. The more recreational the dive, the less prep is needed.”
Hill told the Daily Guide what happens after a cave dive. According to Hill, “For a basic recreational dive, you typically just load up the gear and go home. Equipment repairs are noted and taken care at home. For the more technical dives, when we surface, we take it easy. There is still the potential for getting the bends with a high level of physical activity. In the more extreme dives, we have a team of support divers who take care of hauling all gear out of the water and to the vehicles. There’s usually lots of discussion on how the dive went, noting positive and negative points to use for future planning.”
According to Hill, “Most places the OCDA dives are by permit only. So we require various levels and types of training before our members can participate. We have different levels that divers can attain, which dictates the types of dives they can do. Outside of the OCDA, individuals can dive at non-permit sites. Some, like Roubidoux, have regulations that require proof of proper cave diving certifications.”
Hill discourages divers to dive without the right training: “There are other places that aren’t monitored or regulated, however, NO ONE should cave dive without proper training. People die every year cave diving without proper training and experience.”
According to Hill, there are many different kinds of training and varying levels: “There are different levels of training and different types of training, all geared toward what a person wants to do. Cavern training teaches a person to dive in the cavern zone of a cave, where you can still see daylight. Full cave training teaches a person to go further into the cave system. Trimix training teaches the art of diving deep (deeper than 120’). Trimix is a gas mixture that uses oxygen, helium and nitrogen as the main gases. Oxygen becomes toxic as you get deeper and nitrogen becomes narcotic with depth. So, we lower the percent of oxygen, based on the depth we plan to dive and we increase the amount of helium, which lowers the content of nitrogen. Cave DPV [Diver Propulsion Vehicles] teaches divers how to use DPVs safely in an overhead environment, such as a cave.”