By Natalie Gibb
Cave divers are not the most fashionable bunch. By the time weave put on masks, shoved fins over our thick loots, and layered our arms with gauges, we look more like Michelin Men than elite athletes. What is perhaps the most controversial piece of cave diving gear is also the ugliest: the cave diving helmet. Pop a few suns on a kayak helmet, jostle that sucker on over everything else, and boom a insta-dweeb. No one appears good in a helmet. Yet an increasing number of cave divers wear them, for a good reason.
No, cave diving helmets are not crash helmets! Unless being used for scooter diving in side mount,( when the smallest miscalculation could result in scalping oneself) cave diving helmets are not meant to protect a diveras head a the caves would be in fairly poor condition if we swam around bonking our heads haphazardly into the ceiling. In modern cave diving, helmets are meant to hold lights when using a side mount equipment configuration.
I will be the first to admit that helmets are not necessary in side mount cave diving. They are completely superfluous in back mount configuration, in which all problems may be solved with one hand. However, when executing two-handed undertakings such as removing a side mount tank or replacing a tank bungee, many side mount divers find it useful to have a temporary location to stow their primary sunlight. Placing the illumination briefly on the helmet while solving a problem allows the diver to keep his workspace illuminated and to maintain clear visual contact with the line while attending to the task. When stowed properly on the helmet during two-handed chores, the light doesnat flash around, blind buddies, or create confusing light signals, as it might if held in the hand. Task loading is reduced by completely freeing up both hands. Even a goodman manage or glove-mounted light will impede motion to some degree.
Cave diving helmets also help to streamline equipment configuration in side mount diving. In back mount, a diveras back up lights are most commonly carried on the harness chest straps or in a thigh pockets. In side mount, a genuinely streamlined, tightly fit system will not allow for this placement. Lights stowed in thigh pockets will slightly offset the streamlining of the tanks and will be difficult to access when the tanks are tightly in trim. Back-up suns carried on the chest become a significant entanglement hazard in exceedingly small caves. And of course, stowing a back up light on the helmet means that a diver can immediately light his workspace in the event of a primary illuminate failure with a simple push of a button or spin of the light head.
The ability to light oneas workspace while performing two-handed tasks is additionally helpful when engaging in advanced cave diving activities such as photography, survey, and cartography. Again, itas absolutely possible to succeed at any of these activities without a helmet, but itas so much easier to temporarily pop the primary light onto the helmet and record your data or review camera settings.
So helmets are fantastic, right? Well, kind of. Cave diving with a helmet does require some practice and technique. Like any other tool in cave diving, thereas a lot more to helmet employ than is immediately apparent. Itas extremely easy to be an obnoxious helmet user or to use the helmet as a crutch to make up for poor dive abilities. I certainly blinded more than my fair share of buddies before I learned to use the helmet correctly.
The first and most vexing of terrible helmet behaviours is putting the light on the helmet and appearing immediately at your dive buddies, instantaneously blinding them. I made in accordance with permanently attaching a primary sunlight to the helmet in the first place, but even in such cases, itas simple enough to avoid blinding your buddies by shielding the illumination with one hand while facing them.
Even better, use a helmet mount that allows for the sun to be quickly removed from the helmet. Mounts include the traditional c-clamp style sold with Light Monkey illuminations, as well as newer styles such as Dive Riteas clever locking latch system, or Razoras fabulous spin on/ off technique. I love these options because I believe that a helmet should be used only to temporarily stow the primary illuminate while engaging in two handed tasks.
Leaving the light on the helmet for the entire dive means that the diver cannot properly signal with his light( at least not without head-banging ), and reduces the diveras ability to see far into the cave due to backscatter of particulate in the water. Any tiny movement of the diveras head as he seems around the cave results in a dancing light beam more reminiscent of a 70 as disco than proper cave diving communication, and exhaled bubbles often pass across a helmet mounted lightas beam, attaining twinkling lighting patterns that may be confused with a failing sunlight or emergency sunlight signals.
I prefer that my helmet-mounted back-up illuminates also be removable, for the same reasons that I like the primary sunlight to be removable: to avoid blinding my buddies and for proper sun management. Itas simple to drill a few pits in the helmet, operated a bungee through them and stow the back-up lightings in the bungee loop. I use bolt snaps to clip my back-up illuminates to an additional bungee loop on the back of my helmet so that they cannot be knocked off. To being withdrawn, I turn the light on, unclip it and then pull it off from the back of the helmet. Itas quick, easy to remove and simple to stow. There are also commercially available brackets back-up lightings to be removed from the helmet simply.
Light cable routing also requires some consideration. When a canister lightas head is stowed temporarily on the helmet, the sun cable avoids the diver from passing his long hose over the helmet in an air-sharing scenario. The sun must be removed from the helmet with the left hand during an air share, both in order for the long hose to pass cleanly over the donatoras head, and to avoid blinding an already stressed out-of-air buddy. Itas an extra( but simple) step to remove the light with the left hand while simultaneously passing the long hose over the head with the right hand, but the step must be practiced with the air share( s-drill) until it is second nature, and the illuminate must be mounted on the left side of the helmet so that it may be accessed with the left hand.
Helmets also complicate otherwise simple dive undertakings, such as switching to a back-up mask. The extra step of the removal of and holding the helmet while replacing the mask involves some thought and planning. My personal predilection is to remove the helmet, clip the chinstrap, and hang the helmet from my left hand, while performing my mask swap with my right. The tricky part comes when replacing the helmet after the swap, as a diver must take care to avoid trapping his regulator hoses or bungee necklace underneath the chinstrap.
If you do decide to invest in a helmet, realize that not all helmets are created equally. There are quite a few characteristics to consider. The first is fit a the helmet needs to fit over your hood and mask strap. Neoprene mask straps add a considerable amount of bulk, as do hoods, so be sure to try on different sized helmets with your hood and mask in place. While itas absolutely possible to create your own helmet, Light Monkey, Razor, and Dive Rite( among others) producer helmets that work well for cave diving. If you are stimulating your own helmet, be sure that it is relatively neutral in the water, and does not have foam or other buoyant material inside( like a bicycle helmet ). You want the helmet to fit as closely to your head as is comfy, and to be relatively neutrally buoyant.
I love my dorky, ugly helmet! I think that helmets are great tools for side mount cave diving, but I donat employ one when I dive in backmount for several reasons. I donat need two hands to solve problems, and the helmet further curtails my ability to look forward as I am small and my head already hits the tanks in manifolded doublings. However, for survey, photography, and sidemount, my helmet stimulates my life easier. Any why build things more complicated than I have to?
Natalie Gibb Is a full cave instructor, explorer, and researcher based in Mexicoas Riviera Maya. She is a published author, international speaker, and cave conservationist. For more visit: Under The Jungle