So, with or without a helmet?
Have you already noticed that some cave divers are wearing a helmet and others aren’t?
Some are wearing their tanks on the side and others on the back. Here we say they use a different tank configuration. But why a helmet? Is it because they swim faster? 🙂 Or maybe that they can be subject to fallen rocks/debris that could hurt them? To carry their lights? To look cool?
A bit of history about cave diving
The first cave have been dived in France in 1878 and a helmet was used, it was in Fontaine du Vaucluse. What we call a hard hat commercial type diver went to explore this spring. In 1877, a year earlier another report of attempt was made without success as the brave man who tried to face the unknown did hit his head on a rock and fell unconscious. The first successful attempt to pass a sump was made by Frenchman Norbert Casteret in 1922. No helmet either and as for lighting, a simple candle stick allowed Norbert Casteret to discover what was beyond the first sump.
The cave exploration era was on as their were some written reports of these attempts. The way into the caves was opened.
(Ref. The Darkness Beckons, Martin Farr)
So from that point on, cavers and cave divers, started to evolve alongside each other with a similar mindset. Redundancy, safety and practicality.
So, helmet or no helmet?
As we see on this early stages of cave exploration, the helmet was to make the dive possible and the other…well, there was no other option until later in history when dry cavers grew into spelunkers and started to use techniques like rappel and abseiling. Due to the nature of their activity, a helmet was of safety obligation.
It was also very practical to carry a light. The famous acetylene light that was not producing smoke and was very bright. Further down the line, as batteries became the norm, it was going to be the only option for those having to put on dive gear to pass sumps or simply, start an exploration from the main entrance of a flooded cave.
Although French cavers (dry cavers) had a good experience, when it came to ‘becoming’ cave divers, the approach was, as there was no specific equipment available, to become very creative. Be it with the regulators configuration and the way they were going to use the helmet. Most of the caves in France turn into sumps some times of the year, others are pure sumps. So the diver is also or should I say the caver is also a diver… Hence the consistency in the use of a helmet. Dry cavers need/must wear a helmet. They rappel or abseil (as you prefer) and can be victim of falling rocks…Hopefully not too large!
What the future holds?
In fact, it was not so much due by the evolution of equipment than to geographical regions.
In England they were using the helmet the same way, most of early dry cavers were doing and so it was for those experienced sump divers. The thing is, when you have to go as far in as the exploration was sometimes taking you, you had to carry the gear yourself. So what you wear is often what you will use, plus ropes, more ropes and maybe some food and other surviving kits.
Some sumps being so remote that few trips were made to bring more gear to an advanced dry station to increase the chances of pushing the limits of exploration.
The helmet had since the early days been the best friend of cavers and sump divers.
So why is there that today, some divers see the helmet as a necessary tool and others see it as “being a tool” if you use one…?!? I ask the question? 🙂
I personally started by cave diving and was introduced to dry caving only few years after. As I started cave diving in backmount config, I was not given a helmet but then, when I transition to sidemount config, I was told to get a helmet…mainly to put my BULs (back-up lights) in an accessible location and at the same time, as I was getting into smaller cave, protect my dear little head.
Today, in Florida, wearing a helmet while sidemount cave diving, is “seen” as unnecessary. Here, in Mexico, the GUE divers are not in favour of using a helmet. They use things if it has to be a tool, a necessity.
When I look at the grooves I got going through some small cave, I am happy to be part of those who think a helmet, in sidemount caves, is a necessity.
I see some GUE friends making fun of an eventual situation where you had to use your BULs, communication would force you to say OK or ATTENTION with your head,,,a neck breaker! It is true, when you think about it… But if they knew that, us, good sidemount cave divers that we are, we always carry a spare BUL in our pouch, to be able to communicate in case it is needed and doing so, without looking like a troll! 🙂
I guess there is a choice for every cave diver out there. I still believe firmly that when sidemounting, or even backmouting in small cave, a helmet is a good idea. In exploration, not knowing what you will find, if it is a sump, you are better equipped if you wear one.
Anyways, we could argue hours on end about this topic. I leave it to you my dear readers, followers, haters and/or worshipers (not sure I have those!), to leave a comment and take part in the talk.
IN the same time, cave safely, wear your protection if you go out and be nice to others. 🙂