Originally Published @ Scuba Scoop January 10, 2010
Helmet Diving in the Caribbean
Football players wear them. So do people competing in hockey, baseball, cycling and a myriad of other sports.
But divers wearing helmets? And being supplied with compressed air via a hose at the water surface that connects to their helmets? Who would have thought it?
During a recent Caribbean cruise I experienced this interesting twist on underwater exploration during a stop at Coral World Ocean Park in St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands. It is called “helmet diving.”
We boarded a bus in St. Thomas and were taken on a 40-minute drive on the wrong side of the road – at least what North Americans consider the wrong side — to our destination, which they called “the cove.” Among the other attractions at this facility are snorkelling, scuba diving and encounters with sea lions, sharks or turtles, to name a few. Equipment can be rented or purchased there.
The helmet diving base is a large round covered area. After a brief introduction that included instructions and the usual signing of a waiver absolving the facility of liability, gloves and water shoes were provided. We descended a ladder three steps into the water, where a white helmet was placed over our heads, resting on the shoulders. It was the receptacle for the compressed air that was pumped down from the surface.
The helmet, which featured a clear mask, was large enough to enable us to wear our glasses. That was a bonus in clear water where the visibility ranged from 30 to 40 feet. We were told to stay upright to prevent water from entering the helmet. Breathing was normal, but we had to purge our ears. The helmet weighed 70 pounds, but with the buoyancy created by the water we experienced a weight of just 15 pounds when we were below the surface.
Descending the final steps of the ladder to the ocean floor 20 feet beneath the surface in 81-degree Fahrenheit (27.2 Celsius) water, we began our helmet dive walk. Two scuba divers guided us on the 30-minute trip. An added safety measure was a chain along the route; we were told to hang on to because the water was fast moving. Unfortunately, one of our helmet divers had to leave the water after experiencing breathing difficulty. While it should not be a problem for most people, those who have breathing difficulties or who suffer from claustrophobia might not want to try it.
Of the five of us taking part in the helmet dive, I was the only one who scuba dives. It struck me that helmet diving is an excellent opportunity for those who do not wish to go the scuba route to see some of the underwater world that thrills divers. But in exposing helmet divers to that same visual experience – especially in the clear waters of the Caribbean – it is also a vehicle to attract new people to scuba.
I would highly recommend helmet diving to anyone thinking of getting into scuba diving, or to those who just want a glimpse into a diver`s world.