Beginner Guide To Ice Diving


When you look out your window and see snow falling from the sky and you step out into thick ice, the last thing you would probably be thinking about is diving under the ice.

But alas! Diving on the ice is one of the most unique experiences that you can ever have. So, put on that dry suit and scuba tanks and ensure you have some thick clothing underneath, take your scuba diving gear and head out in the company of friends as you are about to see the water unlike you’ve ever done before!

Anyone who has ice dived before knows how exhilarating the experience can be. But if you are a first-timer, then you are about to learn why you should try ice diving.

Let’s dive straight in, shall we!

Understanding Ice Diving

First of all, it’s important to note that ice diving is not the same as cold water diving. The latter involves getting into freezing water with your scuba diving gear. This water is usually around 1 degree Celsius.

But isn’t the water temperature the same while ice diving? Yes, but to be called ice diving you will need to cut through the layer of ice that has formed on top of the lake or water body.

Now that everything is clear, ice diving will require you to take certain measures to ensure that you remain safe.

First, you will need to be tethered to a rope. On the other end of the rope will be your dive buddy holding on to it. Don’t worry about the equipment getting caught up in the rope as there is a special harness designed for this. The need to use the safety line will occur only during the harnesses but it can also be used for communication between the diver and his dive buddy.

Often there will be more than a single dive buddy and ice diving teams usually number up to 4 individuals. However, only one person will be diving while the other dive buddies provide support from the surface. This helps to make sure that the diver remains safe.

When ice diving, time underwater is limited to 30 minutes with normal scuba diving gear. This is to ensure that you do not freeze in the cold water as well as ensuring that you have plenty of air to get back up onto the ice.

Why You Should Do Ice Diving

When you think of ice diving, you might think of watching free-spirited penguins chasing small fish and crustaceans or watching leopard seals easily gliding through the crystal-clear water. While this is one way to enjoy diving under ice, you don’t really need to travel to the polar regions.

In the northern and southern hemispheres, lakes and rivers still freeze over during the winter months and provide an excellent opportunity to go ice diving. Plus, if you live in these regions you can save plenty of cash that you would have otherwise used for travel.

Secondly, if you want to enjoy marine life, ice diving offers the perfect opportunity. Cold-blooded marine animals will try and conserve their energy as much as possible. This means that you can get relatively close to them. The sightings are unique in that the animals do not move around very much allowing you to get awesome glimpses.

Visibility is awesome when ice diving. The water doesn’t move as much and the particles in the water remain relatively still. This is what makes the water clear. Animals and sights that you would not normally see in the summer become easily visible. In fact, you might never find waters that are as clear as when you are ice diving.

Note That It Is A Team Sport

If you are thinking of ice diving when alone, you can forget that notion. Ice diving is a team sport and as we noted, only one person at a time can ice dive while the rest of the team remains on the surface providing support and ensuring the diver does not lose their way under the ice.

The team consists of four people. These are the diver, the tether, the safety diver, and the bucket. When you enroll for an ice diving course, you will learn all four positions and you can play any one of them depending on the situation.

When the diver goes under the ice-cold water, the tether will hold on to him with a safety rope and he propels himself using the scuba fins. Communication will be exchanged between him and the diver by tugging onto the rope. The work of the bucket on the other hand is to ensure that the rope which is contained in a bucked does not end up winding. He ensures the rope is free from knots.

Then there is the safety diver. His role is to dive in case of an emergency and retrieve the diver.

How To Get An Ice Diving Certification

If you have decided to take on ice diving then you are in for an experience unlike any other. You will need to show a record of over 100 dives. You also need to have some dry suit experience. The courses available can provide you with an ice diving certification after you’ve completed 6 dives.

That said, you will also need to show your advanced open water certification.  PADI and NAUI are great places to learn how to ice dive.

Ice Diving Gear


Many people assume that the usual scuba gear packages including the dive computer will function when ice diving. While this is mostly true, special attention needs to be given to both the regulator and the suit.

Most dive regulators are designed to function at their optimum in warm waters of above 5 degrees Celsius. Ice crystals can form in the diving regulator when the temperatures go below freezing. This can bring about all kinds of problems including the purges freezing open causing a free flow from the first stages.

To deal with the cold temperatures, regulator manufacturers will include nonfreezing chemicals in the chambers in the first stage allowing it to operate efficiently even in the freezing water.

You will obviously need to wear the right to keep the freezing temperatures at bay. The first thing you will need is a dry suit. Also, ensure that you are wearing the right undergarments.

You can find underclothing that is specially made for diving under the ice. But you will need to be willing to dig deeper in your pockets. However, if you want to save on a few hundred bucks, simply use your winter clothing. Make sure it fits under the drysuit.

Wear several layers of socks as your feet can get pretty cold. Also, make sure you wear dive gloves to protect your hands from freezing. However, in case you don’t have access to these, neoprene gloves will work just fine.

The face is also highly vulnerable and needs to be shielded from the cold water. You will need a full-face scuba mask. Sometimes just to keep things simple and to aid in movement you may find that numb cheeks work better for you.

Ice Diving And Photography

Many ice diving photographers go under the cold water because they know that the light setting here is unlike any other. Light only comes through from cracks, holes, and clear liners through the ice which results in a cathedral-like, heavenly ambiance. Sometimes when it’s dark you may need to use dive lights.

If you plan on doing ice water photography and videography, you need to first be proficient at ice diving and know how to take pictures underwater. Things get a lot more complicated with bringing more gear with you.

The underwater equipment that you will need for photography and videography will be assembled on dry land. Keep in mind that the cold temperatures will dry out the batteries quite fast. If the sun is shining, you will want to take care so as not to expose the camera to the rays between your dives as this could cause condensation between the lenses for underwater photography and ruin your chances of taking crystal clear images.

To maximize the light to the camera lenses when underwater, shoot looking up. You will benefit from sunny days as light penetrates through the holes in the ice and provides some amazing shots.

Ice Diving Kit

Ice diving takes on a completely different realm and environment than most divers are used to. It thus requires a special kit and gear one of which is a dive compass. This kit can be divided into surface gear and diving gear.

Both the surface crew and the diver need to be able to plan the dive accordingly. They should remain warm and when the dive is complete, it is a good idea to remove the dry suit and find a way to warm up.

Sometimes a shelter will be ideal while at other times all you will need is the heater in your car.

If you have decided to use a wet suit instead of a dry suit, then the wet suit should be 5mm thick. Double scuba tanks are needed when diving under the ice.

You and the crew will also need a snow shovel. This is used to remove any top ice on your chosen spot. Then you will need to break the ice. You can do this with ice snow or chain snow to cut a hole through the ice that is large enough for you to dive through.

Also, equipment might fail, and to remain on the safe side, it’s important to carry back up diving gear and equipment. Have a dive watch with you to quickly check the time that you’ve spent underwater.

Ice Diving Skills

Ice divers will need to know how to impact beneath the ice surface. Sometimes in very rare cases, the belt might fall off causing the diver to rise sharply to the surface.

It’s also crucial to know how to use the redundant backup air system in case the main air supply system freezes.

It is also crucial to know what to do in case the diver loses contact with the line, or the feedback doesn’t get to the dive buddy at the surface.

Take It Gradually

The body will react quickly to a plunge in cold water. It recognizes a different environment immediately, one that it is not used to.

This is why it’s important to take diving under ice gradually. This allows your body to get used to the cold temperatures and acclimate. Sometimes you may need to make shore dives. This way when you finally commit to the full dive, the body will already be used to out.

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Even for the most experienced scuba diver, the first time you take an ice dive is simply magical. Sights and scenery under the ice are clear and crisp and animals move at a slow pace. Once having taken the ice diving course, many people find that it quickly becomes a hobby. You will yearn for the next time you get the chance to dive beneath the ice.

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My name is David Hamburg. I am an avid water sports fan who enjoys paddle boarding, surfing, scuba diving, and kite surfing. Anything with a board or chance I can get in the water I love! I am such a big fan I decided to start this website to review all my favorite products and some others. Hope you enjoy!