Training Programs

Becoming a Certified Cave Diver

The NSS-CDS breaks the process of becoming a fully-certified cave diver down into four steps. These steps can be taken as individual courses, or combined into four-, six- or eight-day programs. With each step, students’ knowledge, abilities and experience grow. So, too, do the limitations imposed on them, as the following chart shows:

Level Days Dives Max Depth Max Penetration Other Limits
Cavern Diver 2 4 30 m/100 ft 60 m/200 ft Daylight Zone;
No Restrictions
Cave Diver
2 4 30 m/100 ft 1/6th of Doubles No Decompression
Cave Diver
2 4 40 m/130 ft 1/3rd of Doubles Limited Deco
Cave Diver 2 4 40 m/130 ft 1/3rd of Doubles No Staging
or Scootering

Cavern Diver

As originally conceived, the Cavern Diver course was a recreational diving course, taught to recreational divers using basic recreational diving equipment. It was assumed most participants had little interest in penetrating caves beyond sight of the entrance.

The cavern diver course is setup to meet two different ends. The first is as a stand alone course for people who want to take a peek inside the caverns in a safe manner.

The second is as the starting point for people who want to continue on to becoming certified as cave divers.

The cavern diver course provides the framework for all cavern and cave diving.

Basic Cave Diver

This is where students begin making actual cave dives — under some fairly strict limitations. By limiting penetration gas to roughly 40 cubic feet, avoiding decompression and prohibiting any sort of jumps, gaps or complex navigation, we allow students to focus on things like basic dive planning, communication and emergency skills.

Students who want to gain limited cave diving experience on their own, at the completion of this program, may do so — provided they understand that the cave community will be keeping them on a fairly short leash.

This certification does not expire. It used to expire after 18 months.

Apprentice Cave Diver

By the time students complete the Apprentice level, we will have covered most or all of the academic knowledge and emergency skills required for full Cave Diver certification. Students may receive a limited introduction to decompression diving procedures, as they pertain to cave diving, and will make some simple explorations off the main line.

It is at this point that students are ready to gain some more realistic cave diving experience on their own, if desired. Nevertheless, they are expected to keep all dives well within the limitations of their overall experience.

This certifications expires after one year and is viewed as a stepping stone between Basic Cave and Full Cave with the expectation that Full Cave certification will be sought within that time frame.  Any NSS-CDS Full Cave instructor can renew this rating.

 Cave Diver

The final step in the process, the focus here is on gaining additional practice of all fundamental and emergency skills, under more challenging conditions. Students are expected to demonstrate their readiness to be full-fledged members of the cave diving community.

Although a total of 16 training dives is required to reach this point, it is not unusual for students to have made many more practice dives on their own before full Cave Diver certification.

Advanced Cave Diver

This course is an alternative fourth step in the series of cave diver development training courses. It includes all of the training included in the cave diver course plus it also includes all the content and training of the NSS-CDS Stage Diving specialty course and the content and training of the IUCRR First Responder program.


Specialty Cave Diver Courses

Stage Diving

This is a specialty course level, intended to help develop the participant’s skills and knowledge in extended penetration diving with the use of a stage cylinder. Longer decompression and more complex navigation concerns are covered.

DPV Pilot

The purpose of the DPV (Diver Propulsion Vehicle) Pilot specialty course is to expose the trained cave diver to the basic fundamentals of the safe operation of diver propulsion vehicles in underwater caves while under the direct supervision of a qualified DPV Pilot Instructor. The student is able to build practical experience in the field under controlled conditions. Safety practices, procedures and techniques common to most DPV’s used in the unique environment of a cave are covered. Conservation considerations such as low-impact operation are emphasized. Potential emergency situations are simulated and practiced.

Advanced Sidemount

A specialty course level, designed to expose the sidemount cave diver to actual sidemount cave diving situations.

Basic Underwater Cave Surveying

A specialty course level, designed to provide the participants with the fundamentals of surveying underwater caves. It is intended to motivate more divers to survey caves, to encourage the use of cave maps in dive planning, and to increase the quantity of published cave maps. Additionally, this program is to promote standardization for all survey projects.


This specialty program is a data management-oriented program and is designed to introduce the basics of underwater cave map presentations. The goal of this program is to develop an ability to complete the surveying and map-making process and actually produce a map.

Trimix Cave Diver

The purpose of the Trimix Cave Diver course is to provide the Cave Diver training for the safe planning and execution of mixed gas diving in caves to depths not exceeding three hundred (300) fsw/ninety (90) msw. The diver will be introduced to the proper and safe use of helium as a breathing gas, along with oxygen and nitrox for staged decompression. This course will emphasize precision and accuracy in all aspects of the dive beginning with advanced pre-dive planning. Safety will be a primary focus of this course due to the depths to which dives will be made.

Enriched Air Diver

The purpose of the Enriched Air Diver course is to provide divers with the basic knowledge and skills necessary to safely use enhanced air nitrox (Nitrox) as a breathing medium. The course covers the use of Nitrox mixtures with an oxygen content ranging from twenty two percent (22%) to forty percent (40%) and may be taught as a single specialty or combined with other NSS-CDS courses.

Rebreather Cave Diver

The purpose of the Rebreather Cave Diver specialty course is to provide divers with the basic knowledge and skills necessary to safely utilize rebreathers (either semi-closed or fully-closed) in overhead environments while under the supervision of a Rebreather Cave Diver Specialty Instructor. The diver will be exposed to the special hazards involved in using rebreathers in overhead environments, as well as the techniques and procedures used to mitigate the risks to a reasonable level. The program will also instruct candidates in how to plan overhead environment dives with open circuit dive partners.

Cave Diver Supervisor

  1. This program is designed to provide training in dive leadership to competent, certified cave divers who will lead or guide other certified cave divers on cave dives. A Cave Diver Supervisor is a leadership or instructor-in-training rating.
  2. Certified cave diver supervisors are placed in a role to continue developing the proficiency of certified cavern and cave divers in the overhead environment.
  3. All NSS-CDS Cave Diver instructor candidates must complete this class at the beginning of their internship, and prior to being issued an internship card.
  4. All guides are encouraged to take this program as part of their development as a guide.
  5. Cave Diver Supervisors may supervise dives with any level of certified cavern and cave divers from a recognized cave diver training agency where the cave diver supervisor also possesses that qualification or rating.