The major cause of accidents that occur when caving are predominantly caused by inadequate equipment lack of training and knowledge, poor judgement, falls, being struck by falling objects and hypothermia. With regard to hypothermia, correct clothing has been covered in another article in this section. Other hazards can include getting lost and passages being flooded. Therefore, to minimise those risks, it’s far better to be well prepared.
There are many precautionary measures you can take to ensure your caving trip is as safe as possible, although they will differ in some respects depending on the type of trip you’re making. However, here are a few tips that would be common to all trips whether you’re a beginner or an experienced caver.
You should aim to carry 3 sources of light on your person. The primary light source will be fitted to your helmet but the other 2, be they torches or light sticks should be equal in intensity to your primary source. You should also ensure you carry all necessary spares like bulbs and batteries for each of your light sources. Candles are useful to provide heat, if you’re at risk of being stranded for a while, but are not powerful enough to be considered a suitable back-up light source if your primary light source is lost.
A sturdy helmet with caving approved safety standards is a must. It could even save your life. This is an aspect where you should not compromise on cost. You might find a helmet that costs a bit less but which hasn’t been approved and which may not protect you in the event that you fall and hit your head or are hit by falling debris. Don’t take the cheaper option. It might cost you your life.
Additional items which can also improve safety could include gloves, knee pads and food and water sufficient for the expected duration of your trip.
There have been numerous occasions of cavers being injured and help not being summoned for quite some time because no-one was aware that they were out there or had no idea of when they were expected home and many incidents of people caving alone who have run into difficulty or have got injured and have not been in a position to summon help.
Therefore, you should always notify a friend or family member about any caving expedition you are about to undertake. They should be told the name and location of the cave and the approximate time you expect to return. Allow a bit of extra time for delays so that rescue help isn’t called out unnecessarily. Also, as soon as you exit the cave, try to make immediate contact with the person you have chosen to let them know your party is safe.
Caving is far safer if you do it as a group. A good sized group contains between 4 and 6 people. If groups are any bigger, it can slow progress and they can be difficult to manage so if the party is larger than 6, you should divide them up into smaller groups. That way, in the event of any sudden emergency, an injured person, for example, at least one person can stay with the casualty whilst a couple can go together to summon medical assistance.
Each group should also consist of at least one person who is either qualified to lead a group and, preferably, should have some familiarity with the cave from a previous expedition. It’s important to remember when vertical caving, that although there are some similarities to rock climbing in using ropes and related equipment, being a rock climber or mountaineer is not enough.
Vertical caving has many skills and requires specialist equipment and knowledge which are specific to this type of caving activity so, even if you are an experienced rock climber, ensure that you are qualified to take on this aspect of caving and that at least one of your party has experience of leading these kind of trips.
You must always be alert and stay alert to the risks of danger. Never use alcohol or any kind of drug that will or might affect your co-ordination or judgement or which might impact upon your ability to make clear and correct decisions.
Following this advice, it will reduce the likelihood of your caving trip running into trouble.