Safe Caving Tips

Caving Safety

No one ever seems to think that accidents will happen to them, but it is important to know how to be a safe caver and what to do if an accident does happen. There are many resources available on this subject, and rather than try to duplicate all that information here, we will try to point you to a few of the more reliable and useful resources.

There is no substitute for training and in cave experience under the supervision of qualified cavers, and the best way to find them is visit a local caving organization. Individual clubs are different and if no one volunteers their services as a trainer or trip leader, you may have to ask and be a little persistent.

Caving Safety

Caves are inherently dangerous environments, with many hazards we may not be used to dealing with from our above ground experience. Please read our disclaimer for a brief discussion of some of the hazards inherent to caving One moment of carelessness, inattention, or impairment by exhaustion or hypothermia can lead to disaster. By understanding the hazards that may be encountered, getting proper training, and using appropriate equipment these hazards can be minimized, but never eliminated.

We have provided some safe caving tips below for new cavers. There are many additional resources available by doing some Internet searches. Most caving clubs have their own safety guidelines and you would be well advised to find a local group and inquire into the information and training opportunities that they have available. The Potomac Speleological Club has a useful list of cave safety tips on their web site.

Safe Caving Tips
Have the proper equipment along. The basic equipment page offers advice on helmets, light sources and clothing for safe and comfortable caving.

Never cave alone. A group of 3 or 4 is small enough to move quickly, yet big enough to allow flexibility in emergencies. If someone is injured, at least one person should stay with them while others go for help.

Make sure someone knows where you are going and when you are expected to return. Allow some leeway on return times since trips often take longer than expected, but having someone ready to call for help if your group is overdue is a wise precaution.

Move carefully in the cave. Uneven ground, low ceilings and pits make running and jumping dangerous. Climbs, crawls and rough terrain can make even a sprain a big problem for getting out of the cave.

Be aware of the nature of the caves you are visiting. For example, caves with streams may be prone to flooding and a sharp eye may need to be kept on the weather. Other caves require climbing skills or vertical equipment that you or others in your party may not have.

If you run out of light or become hopelessly lost get into a safe position and wait for help (you did tell someone where you were going didn't you?).

Cave Rescue

When an accident happens a quick response may be necessary to keep an injury from becoming a fatality. Extraction of a patient from deep within a cave can be strenuous and technically difficult, often requiring large numbers of people for callouts that may last a day or more. The time required to get a patient out complicates treatment of what might otherwise be a routine injury, and hypothermia and shock can be serious problems for an immobile patient.

The role of the cave rescue community is to help keep that response time as short as possible by providing training to cavers and potential rescuers on how to respond, and providing quick access to specialized rescue equipment and trained cave rescue personnel. Our cave rescue page provides information on how to initiate a cave rescue in an emergency and links to cave rescue organizations with more detail on specific cave rescue issues.

A recent discussion in the Safety and techniques forum of the NSS discussion board covered ideas for a cave emergency kit to be available on caving trips (not necessarily in the cave). Another recent discussion in the Equipment forum discussed the contents of a minimal first aid kit to be carried in the cave to handle emergencies.

The Self Rescue Group also has a number of online resources and a discussion list.