The training process

You may have heard or read that becoming a fully-certified Cave Diver involves taking three or four separate courses. After all, that’s how things were originally set up in the 1980s. Today it’s better to think of this process as though it were one single course.

How things have changed

This illustration shows how we first conceived the Cave Diver training continuum in the 1980s. We based it on assumptions that either turned out to not be true, or which once were true but no longer are.

Today we break the learning process into two parts:

  • Apprentice Cave
  • “Full” Cave

Each part consists of at least four days and eight dives. You will sometimes hear that students can begin this process by taking a two-day Cavern Diver course. That’s no longer accurate.

  • A traditional Cavern Diver course is designed to be a single-tank course that keeps divers within normal sport-diving limits.
  • Student who begin their training in anything other than complete cave diving equipment (i.e., doubles or sidemount) deprive themselves of a valuable learning opportunity.
  • The bottom line is, if your goal is to become a fully certified Cave Diver, start in complete cave diving equipment and in a course designed to train Cave Divers, not Cavern Divers. That’s what we teach.

That having been said, not everyone is ready to jump right into this process. For students with little or no prior technical diver training and limited (or no) sidemount or doubles experience, we do offer a special TDI Cavern Diver course.

Unlike traditional single-tank Cavern Diver courses, we teach this in doubles or sidemount with the specific goal of getting students up to the point where they can be successful taking the Apprentice Cave Diver course. You can learn more in our Cave Diver Course section.

Apprentice Cave

Assuming you are already a trained tech diver with several sidemount or doubles dives under your belt, this is the first step in the process. You will occasionally hear it referred to the Cavern/Intro course. That’s not really accurate. This is a cave diving course, designed to help create cave divers. It focuses on:

  • Buoyancy control, trim and propulsion techniques
  • Guideline and reel use
  • Emergency procedures, including lost diver, lost line, lost visibility and gas sharing under adverse conditions

Students who complete this segment have the option to make limited cave dives with similarly qualified buddies before continuing on with the last segment of their training. Depending on circumstances, your instructor may even recommend this.

It’s important to understand, however, that students should not see this as a potential stopping point. Doing so would be like a beginning diver thinking that classroom/pool training by itself imparts everything they need to know to be a certified scuba diver.

“Full” Cave Diver

This is the second step in the process. It takes four or more days and eight or more dives — although, as with Apprentice, students may elect to take this in two, two-day blocks. Topics and skills include:

  • Simple navigation (jumps and gaps)
  • Complex navigation (circuits and traverses)
  • Limited decompression (typically no more than five minutes on oxygen)

Divers who complete this level of training can spend several years and hundreds of dives and still not see all there is in our region’s most popular caves.

Stick with the same instructor

We sometimes have students tell us, “I want to use a different instructor for each course leading to full Cave Diver certification so that I can get different perspectives.” This sounds great…in theory. In reality, it doesn’t work. Here’s why:

  • Not every instructor covers the same skills in each course. If you go from instructor to instructor, you could miss something important.
  • When you go from one instructor to another, then each succeeding instructor has to waste time ensuring that you really learned what you were supposed to in the preceding course. This limits the time available to learn new skills.

There is a place where being exposed to different instructor perspectives can be valuable. However, entry level Cave Diver training isn’t it. The place to do this is after certification as a full Cave Diver. Examples might include Stage Cave Diver or DPV Cave Diver courses, or while taking part in guided cave dives.

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