All photos on this page © Steve Gerrard.

Cave Diving Accidents and Risks

Most cave diving accidents come down to five simple things. The diver had:

  1. No Training - many of the divers that die in the cave did not have the necessary cave training. There is no substitute, regardless of your dive experience. Cave skills are specialized and must be practiced to be effective. There have also been a ration of deaths in recent years of under-trained divers dying. Intro Cave (second-level) divers attempting Full Cave (highest level) dives with scooters and stages with which they were unfamiliar. Under-training is the same as no training!
  2. No Guideline - you must always have a continuous, well marked, guideline from where ever you are in the cave to the exit and into open water. "I know my way around, we don't need a guideline..."  are famous last words. This category includes loosing the guideline as well.
  3. Improper Gas Management - you are in an overhead environment where the nearest exit could be a very long way away. You must properly manage your gas supply. The typical cave dive uses the rule of thirds: 1/3 of your gas into the cave, 1/3 of your gas out of the cave, and 1/3 held in reserve.
  4. Dived Too Deep - nitrogen narcosis dulls your senses prompting the making of mistakes. If that mistake is one of navigation or gas management, a serious accident may result.
  5. Insufficient Lights - one primary light and TWO backups of sufficient strength are required.

Seconds after this photo was taken, the room would go black in a siltout. I don't mean low viz, I mean ZERO viz. Divers train for this kind of common occurence. There are multiple hazards such as the silt, the dark and navigation that divers must be prepared for at anytime.



Not too far in the distant past, the claim could be made that very few, if any, certified cave divers had ever died in a cave. All the deaths (about 300 to that point) were of untrained divers entering a cave. That has changed  since the mid-1990s with the rising popularity of cave diving. Now certified cave divers are dying at the rate of a few per year. Still, the rough overall numbers are that only 10% of cave diving deaths are by appropriately certified cave divers. Said another way -- 90% of deaths in underwater caves are by untrained divers. Don't be lured into an environment for which you are unprepared!

There have only been a small handful of accidents in which the equipment or the cave itself reached out and killed the divers. The rest of the accidents are human error, panic, or shear folly. Reading some of the dive accident reports, you just have to ask -- What were they thinking??

See Steve Gerrard's website ( and the NACD website ( for a more in-depth discussion of safety and diving practices.