CENOTE Diving - Know The Rules
by Chuck Jones
The many recent articles on cave, and cavern
diving have excited a great deal of interest
in this thrilling diving experience. However,
because cavern diving is actually technical
in nature, the average open water diver typically
has no information regarding safety standards
or how to choose a guide for these dives.
In this article, I will give you the basics of what
you need to know before going on that first cavern
dive, how you would get the proper training for a
cavern or cave certification, and who is qualified
to guide or to certify you in this specialized
CAVERN DIVING is the first level of diving in
an overhead environment. You as a diver will be
in OPEN WATER gear and need only an OPEN WATER
CERTIFICATION. Some equipment modification may
If you go with a Trained Professional
Guide, no additional certification is needed.
Limits for a Cenote Cavern Diving TOUR
Maximum Depth 100 ft.
Maximum Penetration 200 ft. from light and air
Minimum Lights 2 Lights per Person
Minimum Visibility 40 ft. at beginning of Dive
A cenote dive or cavern spring dive designates
that the dive is inland rather than sea access.
A cenote is what might be called a "sinkhole"
in the United States. It is a window to an
underground river. A cavern is the first room
of a cave and is illuminated by natural light.
Not all caves have cavern zones. There are
also some caves that are in open water (sea caves).
The CAVERN DIVING TOUR is the OPEN WATER DIVER'S
first experience with an overhead environment and
the special skills involved in this kind of diving.
For example, you may be dealing with both fresh and
salt water on the same dive. The halocline is
where the salt/fresh water meet in swirls. There
can be temperature differences between the 2 types
of water as well as differences in visibility.
Cavern dives are done during regular daylight
hours. When the natural light ceases to enter
the Cavern Zone, then it becomes a cave. Cavern
dives should begin no later than 1 - 2 pm so
that the requirements for natural light are
Cavern Diving Certifications typically can be
completed in 2 days. Skills for handling reels,
running line, stress tests, buoyancy, special fin
use are all covered and practiced. Cavern Diving
Certifications are offered thru many certifying
agencies. If you plan to go on to a Full Cave
Certification, consider getting your Cavern
Training through the N.A.C.D. (National Association
for Cave Diving) or NSS-CDS (National Speleological
Society-Cave Diving Section) so that your training
is readily accepted for the next level. In any case,
cavern diving tunes your buoyancy and refines your
diving skills so that you become a much better open
water diver, even if you go no further in your
Next and most important question:
WHO CAN TAKE YOU ON A CAVERN DIVING TOUR ?????
There have been lives lost by innocent OPEN WATER
DIVERS simply because they did not know the proper
questions to ask. Those divers lost their lives
because their guide did not have the proper
training or experience to run a tour dive of this
nature. You as an OPEN WATER DIVER would not
necessarily know what is required and that is
the problem. There will be those who will take
people into CAVERNS with no special training,
equipment, or experience. Their only motivation
is to make money. IT IS YOUR LIFE !!! Do NOT
hesitate to ask for proof from your potential
guide. That person should hold a C-Card in FULL
CAVE and have the equipment corresponding to
that level of training: DOUBLE TANKS, DOUBLE
REGULATORS, MULTIPLE LIGHTS, CAVE REELS, and
knowledge of the system to be used for the tour.
Cenote diving can be an amazing experience, but
safety must take priority. Ask those questions
BEFORE you go diving in Caverns to make sure
your guide is qualified.
Do not confuse Cave Diving with Cavern diving.
CAVERN DIVING is recreational and can be done
by any CERTIFIED OPEN WATER DIVER, if accompanied
by a qualified guide.
CAVE DIVING is for FULLY CERTIFIED CAVE DIVERS.
This activity is much more equipment intense.
It usually takes a full week to complete the
training. THERE IS ABSOLUTELY NO ONE QUALIFIED
TO TAKE YOU ON A CAVE DIVE UNLESS YOU ARE TAKING
OR HAVE COMPLETED A CAVE DIVING CERTIFICATION.
CAVE DIVING goes beyond the guidelines for Caverns.
Your limitation is set by your training, equipment
and abilities. Cavern diving is more or less an
introduction to the world of CAVE DIVING. ANYONE
with an OPEN WATER Certificate and a desire for
adventure can participate in a CAVERN DIVE.
CAVE DIVING is strictly for those who hold a
certification at that level.
Hopefully, this will answer most of the questions
that you need answers to. But if it does not, please
do not hesitate to write and I will be more than
happy to assist you.
Written by Charles T. Jones
Cavern Insructor NACD
Assistant Cave Instructor NACD
Former N.A.C.D. Regional Safety Officer
for the Island of Cozumel, Mexico
Master Instructor PADI