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Scuba Diving in Antarctica
What Equipment to Bring

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Ice Polar Scuba Diving In Arctic Antarctic Antarctica Expeditions Cruises travel

Antarctic Diving Schedule - All trips require reservations and can be made by contacting us through our online form to check availability. Please contact us to verify your selection before making any airfare or accommodation arrangements. Due to unforeseen circumstances, dates are subject to change without notice. Referrer Name: Eco-Photo Explorers Click here to book your next trip...

Diving in Antarctica is truly an expedition in itself, every plunge into its icy waters is different than the previous one. There is no such thing as a "better dive location" because each year the ice and weather conditions change, which makes these underwater adventures so unpredictable.

Antarctica Expedition - Diver inspecting an Ice Berg...Since diving in Antarctica involves cold water and adverse weather conditions, it is an equipment intensive activity. Due to the remote location and challenging conditions, it also demands a higher level of experience. Diving is no fun if you are cold and uncomfortable. Divers in cold water may have a higher air consumption rate, expend more energy, and can become more fatigued. Cold water also decreases a diver’s ability to perform complex tasks that require manual dexterity.

It is therefore extremely important that, prior to coming on the trip, you have acquired all the appropriate equipment needed for diving in Antarctica, and that adequate training and experience is gained in the use of new and unfamiliar equipment. In order to avoid any unnecessary problems you should complete several dives with all the equipment you intend to use in Antarctica prior to your voyage.

Please note that itineraries in Antarctica are pretty much a guideline and is always weather and ice dependent. Of course expedition companies will try to hold to their itinerary as much as possible, but safety is always the number one priority. Since this is an expedition to a remote part of the world, unpredictable weather conditions, availability of anchorages, wind conditions, political conditions and other factors beyond the expedition companies control will always dictate when it's safe to make a dive.

Ice isn’t static but is always in motion and pack ice movement may force changes to your itinerary. It is also possible that certain bays or fjords are closed because of ice. In this case your itinerary maybe altered accordingly. If your itinerary changes, be assured that your Captain, Expedition Leader and Divemaster will provide a program that corresponds with the character of your expedition. The main problem is that there are so many great places to visit and it’s hard to know which are the best at the time!

These diving voyages are true expeditions. Each dive will be a surprising event and you maybe exploring new and never-before-dived places. Each dive site will vary according to conditions and accessibility, but will surely offer a unique and exiting experience.

Experienced dry suit divers will have the opportunity to make at least one dive per day while they're around the Antarctic coastline, so there should be plenty of time to join the rest of their group for other exciting activates. Most trip operator's will usually not cater to no-limit diving because they believe Antarctica has so much more to offer and will certainly be a unique experience! For gorilla divers, you maybe able to make as much as three dives per day.

Well, as long as your body can take it...

Although the diving you will be doing while in Antarctica is not really considered "technical" in professional diving terminology, the conditions and gear required to dive safely do require a fair bit of experience and training. We have seen some very experienced warm water divers come down here and feel (and act) like they were brand new diver trainees!!

All divers must have advanced qualifications (experience with wreck diving, deep diving, night diving and underwater navigation). If you are not a qualified ice diver you must at least have completed a dry suite diving course. We also recommend some minimal qualifications for someone to be considered for Antarctic diving: Have at least 50 total dives with at least 20 total drysuit dives in the year proceeding deployment to Antarctica.

Large Zodiacs with powerful outboard motors will usually be the boat of choice to transport divers comfortably to their intended destinations (dive locations, shore visits or iceberg cruises). Expect the dives to vary from shallow ice diving along ice-floes or under brash ice to shore diving, where dives can vary approximately 30 to 60 feet. The combination of sunlight, sea water and the often extraordinary formations of ice, create an overwhelming, ever-changing color spectrum, with a fantastic variety of shades and brilliance. Snorkeling or diving along ice-floes is truly inspiring; you will never forget the indescribably beautiful colors.

The Antarctic Peninsula has a fascinating variety of marine life, such as sea-snails, crabs, sea butterflies, fish, jelly-fish, sponges and starfish. Lucky divers may even see seals, penguins and maybe even whales while exploring the icy waters around Antarctica!

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Diving Equipment

Click here to book your next Antarctic diving trip...
Scuba Diving at Deception Island
Diving in the Beagle Channel at Ushuaia, Argentina

All divers must have advanced qualifications (i.e. experience with wreck diving, deep diving, night diving and underwater navigation). If you are not a qualified ice diver you must at least have completed a dry suite diving course. We would also recommend some minimal qualifications for someone to be considered for Antarctic diving: Have at least 50 total dives with at least 20 total drysuit dives in the year proceeding deployment to Antarctica.

Rigging for the Antarctic - Because your expedition will entail Scuba Diving as well as extended periods on land photographing wildlife and ice formations, equipment considerations are essential as you prepare for these activities. Explorers of the Ice Kingdom must be equipped to deal with relatively cold and crisp temperatures, along with the possibility of snow and icy rain. As for clothing, we recommend employing a layered approach to exposure protection.

Typical clothing/equipment inventory (what we use):

DUI FLX EXTRME drysuitsScuba Diving in these icy waters represents an entirely different challenge. Because the water temperatures in the Southern Ocean and the waters around Antarctica hover around 28-29 degrees Fahrenheit (-2.2 to -1.6 C), exposure protection is the most important equipment consideration. If a diver gets really cold he or she may not think quickly or react efficiently if things go wrong. We currently use DUI FLX EXTRME drysuits, which is made of a trilaminate material. In addition, we employ a drysuit integrated dry glove system to enable the most comfort possible in the vulnerable hands and fingers. To protect our heads and the bare skin on your face, we use special neoprene ICE Caps (underlayer) which are worn under your dry-hood. We found that having TWO protection layers worked better then one.

Since most drysuits do not provide thermal insulation and protection, drysuit undergarments are of utmost importance. We use a layered approach to the undergarment system, beginning with a polypropolene first layer to wick away body moisture and capture body heat. We currently use the fourth element HALO 3D undersuit which had a water temperature rating of 28-29 degrees Fahrenheit (-2.2 to  -1.6 C), along with its matching booties and dry wick socks. Undergarments come in various weights. A 250gm suit will insulate rather better than a 100gm suit, but you will need to wear more lead to counteract its buoyancy. It's important to make sure your undergarment fits well, because this avoids the build-up of excess pockets of air which can make it hard to evacuate during an ascent.

Latex neck seals are a particularly cold area as well, so we had our drysuits modified to except a neoprene warm neck collar. This warm collar is nothing more then a neoprene cover that is attached over the latex neck seal. When your dry hood is tucked inside the warm collar, your neck seal is now sealed from the direct contact of the water which keeps your neck and upper body warmer. Another cold area is your latex wrist seals. Since heated air can not pass into your dry gloves, your hands and fingers will eventually get very cold. The straw between the wrist and glove latex seals never worked for us and an integrated dry glove system did the trick.

DUI dry zipglove systemThere's a variety of integrated dry glove systems on the market today, and after considerable consideration, we choose the DUI Zipglove system. The DUI integrated dry glove system enables heated air to pass into the glove area, which keeps your hands and fingers warm and can be installed most drysuits. This zipglove system offers divers the ability to replace damaged outer gloves quickly as well as remove wet or damp inner liners with dry ones.

After thermal protection, the next most important item of consideration is the regulator, which is the most critical component of a scuba diving life support system. The regulator delivers air from the diver’s tank to his lungs at a pressure equal to the surrounding or ambient pressure. Because of the extremely low temperatures, it is important to utilize regulators that are insulated from the cold surrounding environment to prevent the buildup of ice inside the regulator and the subsequent “freezing up“ of the equipment.

You never know how close your regulator comes to failing because of icing, even if it has the latest cold-water technology, because the circumstances that make that subtle difference are so varied. It's a good idea to practice the technique of making an ascent by breathing from a free-flowing regulator. This is a technique routinely taught by many training agencies. To avoid a free-flow regulator, avoid heavy air-flows from your regulator, which includes breathing heavily from it. Before diving, take test breaths when submerged in shallow water, rather than in the air, and never press the purge button either above or below the surface. Blow away any entrapped water (or ice) that might be around your cylinder valve or regulator orifices with dry air from another cylinder. Apex TX100 Regulator

We use Apex's TX100 regulators from Sea Quest. These regulators have become one of the standards for deep diving and ice diving expeditions worldwide. The TX100 has great ergonomics, low breathing resistance, and a re-designed heat exchanger offering improved performance. The first stage has a compact design which incorporates 2 high pressure ports, and 4 medium pressure ports angled for optimum hose position.  Single tank with a Y-valve attachment for two regulators

On our expedition, we used single tanks with a Y-valve or H-valve attachment for two regulators. Thses special tank valves have two outlets for two regulator 1st stages. There are really two valves with one tank connection. This allows you to turn off one valve if that regulator free-flows, and still be able to use the rest of the air in the tank. The two valves are arranged in the shape of a "Y" or "H". These are the valve of choice for most of these expedition companies if your using a single tank.

Regulator Background Information:

Since the majority of free flows are due to the first stage freezing, and not the second stage, some regulators have been designed to resist the effect of jammed valves caused by the cold. Single tank with a Y-valve with two regulators attached

The idea of environmentally sealed first-stages is to keep water out. Examples of regulators with this advantage are the Apeks TX100 (which is what we use), Aqua-lung Titan D and Cousteau Supra D, Dacor 360XP AER Pacer, Mares Proton Ice, Ocean Reef Polar Enterprise and Oceanic Delta II Sub Zero.

Some regulators, like the Poseidon Cyklon 5000 and Jetstream, and Beuchat VS8 and VS10, can be adapted with cold-water kits that use silicone grease or some other type of insulating material. Certain second-stages have specially coated moving parts to stop any ice from sticking. Examples include the Beuchat VS8 and VS10, Dacor 360XP AER Pacer, and Spiro Cousteau Arctic.

Some plastic regulator second-stages such as the Apeks TX100, Spiro Cousteau Arctic, Aqua-lung Cryo, Mares V16 SCS-XTR and Sherwood Blizzard have additional metal heat-sinks. It is strange to think that what might feel like very cold water is, in fact, warming up the much colder air coming from the scuba cylinder, but regulators with plenty of metal in their design helps to conduct this small amount of heat to the air which tends to make it less prone to freezing. Examples include the Mares Ruby and Dacor 960XLE.

Other manufacturers say their regulators are designed not to freeze. Scubapro says its Thermal Insulation System (TIS), and that the cold air never cools down any water that might enter the regulator. TIS is fitted to all the latest Scubapro designs. Scubapro's M25 AF/S600 is suppose to be an excellent regulator for cold water diving.

Some divers choose not to use environmentally sealed first-stages or cold water kits and follow strict cold weather and water protocols so that they avoid freezing problems. This is a choice you will have to make.

You will need the following equipment:

  • Dry suit (completely water proof)
  • 2 sets of thermal underwear
  • 2 sets of thick, warm insulating layers
  • 2 pairs of semidry or dry mitts or dry gloves with extra under gloves (1 for backup)
  • 1 dry hood
  • 1 Ice Cap (recommend, but not necessary) - More...
  • 2 separate freeze protected regulators, because you will probably be diving with special tanks with two separate outlets (H or Y) - Check with your trip organizer
  • 1 analog submersible pressure gauge
  • BCD with low-pressure inflator
  • Depth gauge
  • Watch or bottom timer
  • Underwater compass
  • Knife or cutting tool
  • Snorkel
  • Fins (spare strap)
  • 2 masks (spare strap)
  • Quick release weight belt or weight retaining system with two release buckles
  • Dive computer (recommended - maybe optional, check with your trip organizer)
  • Dive tables
  • Log book & certification card
  • Highly visible surface positioning signaling device
  • Whistle or other audible surface signaling device

Your expedition ship will have their own compressor and a sufficient number of tanks (DIN and INT connection) and weights.

The following items are also recommended:

  • Personal clothing for exposure protection at the surface ( Polar Clothing list )
  • Stainless steel thermos flask (hot water for gloves)
  • Sunglasses
  • Windproof outer jacket and pants
  • Sunscreen
  • Warm hat
  • Small personal spare parts/repair/tool kit

Medical Facilities:

Most expedition ships have an onboard medical doctor and a clinic equipped to treat most minor illnesses and injuries, and have basic resuscitation facilities. There is no recompression chamber on the ship and should one be required evacuation back to South America may need to be arranged.

Safety First!!

Scuba diving in Antarctica is no more dangerous than normal scuba diving as long as you stick to one basic but very important rule: Safety First. Your expedition ship will not have access to a recompression chamber in Antarctica therefore they cannot accept risky ventures from any diver and all dives are usually limited to a maximum depth of 20 meters/66 feet. You are asked to remain with the group at all times and to adhere to all normal Standard Safe Diving Practices. We cannot emphasize enough the importance of following the Divemaster's safety rules at all times, and of sticking to the dive plan. Divers who find it difficult to follow basic rules are kindly asked to stay at home!

Divemaster's will usually start with an easy "check-out" dive so all divers can acclimatize to the cold water and to the special Antarctic diving conditions. Before every dive there will be a detailed briefing and general diving procedures will be discussed with the group at the beginning of the trip.


General Information

Regulator - Normal regulators will not function in sub-freezing water as both the first and second stage will freeze. You will be required to bring two sets of regulators (2 x 1st & 2nd stage), suitable for extreme cold-water/ice diving. Some regulators can be fitted with an environmental seal kit, others come environmentally sealed from the manufacturer.

To avoid regulator malfunction, regulators must be cared for properly before, during and after diving. Regulators should be kept dry and warm before the dive; store them in your cabin. Avoid breathing from the regulator before submersion, except to briefly ensure it is functioning, but when doing so, exhale ONLY after removing the regulator from your mouth so as to avoid freezing the second stage with moisture from the exhaled breath.

During the dive breathe normally – deeply and slowly - and avoid heavy breathing and rapid inflation of the BCD or dry suit. If during the dive your primary regulator freezes up and causes a free flow, you should switch to your back-up regulator, turn off the valve to the primary regulator to stop the free flow, abort the dive and return to the surface.

Tips on keeping water out of your regulator:

  • Always open the cylinder valve briefly before mounting the regulator, to blow out any moisture from the orifice.
  • When purging the regulator for removal, hold the second stage lower than the first stage so that water cannot drip back to the first stage after pressure has dropped.
  • Remove the regulator carefully, so as not to allow ice or water to fall onto the filter of the regulator.
  • Dry the dust cap thoroughly before attaching it to the regulator.
  • The dust cap must fit snugly before rinsing the regulator.
  • Do not press the purge button while rinsing the regulator.
  • Shake excess water from the second stage before hanging the regulator to dry.

Apex Freeflow Control Device (slide or isolation value)Regulator Freeflow Control Device (slide or isolation value) - Regulators not designed for cold water use are especially prone to freezing. Freeflow Control Device (FCD) contributes a significant advance in diver safety. In the event of 2nd stage freezing, freeflow can cause catastrophic loss of air. With the FCD fitted to your regulator, a simple sliding action allows the diver to isolate the freeflowing 2nd stage and continue the dive using a secondary air source or alternatively, the diver can manually control the air flow allowing a safe ascent to the surface. We use the Apex Freeflow Control Device which is designed to fit all regulators that use the standard 9/16" UNF hose fitting.

Please note, these devices are not cheap and can range from US$40 to US$60. Since I had my regulator freeflow during a dive on two separate occasions, it was worth the money.

Face mask - We recommend using a standard mask and regulator. You can use a full face mask if you prefer but keep an extra face mask handy in case your regulator free flows. It is best to avoid spitting into the mask for defogging, as this can freeze onto the inside of the mask. Commercial defogging agents work well for cold-water/ice diving. Straps can also become brittle in cold weather, and it is highly recommended that you bring a spare strap (fin and mask) and a spare mask.

Safe Diving - Most operator's will practice handling free flowing regulators during the check-out dive. Since you will not have access to a decompression chamber, dives will a maximum dive depth of 60 feet. It’s extremely important to stick to the dive plan. We cannot emphasis enough the importance of following the dive guide’s safety rules.

Weights - Your expedition company will supply all lead weight for the trip. You must supply a webbing type or large pocket type belt with quick release buckle, or another type of quick release weight system. Prior to coming on the trip, it is important that you become familiar with all the equipment you will be using in Antarctica. This requires that you complete several dives with all the equipment you will be using. This will also allow you to fine-tune your buoyancy and trim characteristics, and make a note of how much weight you will need when diving with all the equipment to be used in Antarctica.

Instruments, Gauges and Computers - You must have one analog tank pressure indicator. Some electronic instruments will not function well in sub-freezing temperatures. Liquid crystal displays may be slow to display and batteries will also run low sooner.H-valve

Tank & Valves - The tanks you will probably use are 12L steel tanks. They are fitted with an "H" valve configuration, with DIN or Yoke (INT) adaptable connections. This will allow for the attachment of a primary and a secondary backup regulator, which allows for either regulator to be independently isolated if there is a malfunction or a free flow.

Certification Requirements - All divers must be trained, certified scuba divers with proof of certification beyond entry level, i.e. Advanced Diver certification or equivalent rating, issued by a recognized scuba training organization. In addition to this it is extremely important that adequate training and experience is gained in drysuit diving, and in the use of other new and unfamiliar equipment to be used in Antarctica. To ensure your safety and enjoyment and to avoid any unnecessary problems on the trip, recent diving experience and evidence of a minimum of 20 logged dives using a drysuit are usually required prior to your voyage.


Standard Safe Diving Practices

When diving, you will be expected to abide by standard safe diving practices. These practices have been compiled to reinforce what you have learned and are intended to increase your comfort and safety in diving.

As a certified diver, you should:

  1. Maintain good mental and physical fitness for diving. Avoid being under the influence of alcohol or dangerous drugs when diving. Keep proficient in diving skills, striving to increase them through continuing education and reviewing them in controlled conditions after inactivity.
  2. Become familiar with your dive sites and obtain formal diving orientation from a knowledgeable, Antarctic source. If diving conditions are worse than those in which you are experienced, postpone diving or consider advice on an alternate site with better conditions. Engage only in diving activities that are consistent with your training and experience.
  3. Use complete, well maintained, reliable equipment with which you are familiar; and inspect it for correct fit and function prior to each dive. Deny use of your equipment to uncertified divers. Always have a buoyancy device and submersible pressure gauge when scuba diving. Recognize the desirability of an alternate source of air and a low-pressure buoyancy control inflation system.
  4. Listen carefully to dive briefings and directions, and respect the advice of those supervising your diving activities.
  5. Adhere to the buddy system throughout every dive. Plan dives, including communications, procedures for reuniting in case of separation, and emergency procedures, with your buddy.
  6. Be proficient in dive table usage. Make all dives no-decompression dives and allow a margin of safety. Have means to monitor depth and time under water. Limit maximum depth to your level of training and experience. Ascend at a rate of 18 meters/60 feet per minute.
  7. Maintain proper buoyancy. Adjust weighting at the surface for neutral buoyancy with no air in the buoyancy control device. Maintain neutral buoyancy while under water. Be buoyant for surface swimming and resting. Have weights clear for easy removal, and establish buoyancy when in distress while diving.
  8. Breathe properly for diving. Never breath-hold or skip breathe when breathing compressed air (scuba diving), and avoid excessive hyperventilation when breath-hold diving (snorkeling). Avoid overexertion while under the water and dive within your limitations.
  9. Use a boat, float, or other surface support station whenever feasible.
  10. Know and obey local diving laws and regulations, including fish and game and dive flag laws.
  11. The Dive Master on your voyage in Antarctica is your best source of information for participating in safe diving practices in this area.


Staying Warm
The best way to stay warm is to dress in layers.

The function of the undergarments is to trap air against your body to be warmed. The colder the water, the more (or thicker) layers of undergarments are required. It is recommended that you wear two or three layers, depending on your suit.

Underwear - Since the first layer is next to the skin, it should consist of materials which will not hold moisture to the body. Polypropylene, wool or silk is recommended. Cotton should be avoided.

Insulation Layer - As the second layer you should wear thick insulating material, such as fleece, synthetic pile, thinsulate or similar. This layer may be modified depending on activity level and environmental conditions. Wool and polypropylene are the most popular fabrics since they facilitate transport of moisture to the outer layers.

Outer Layer - As the final and outer layer you may wish to wear a windproof shell, which may or may not contain insulation. The one piece jump suit style is the most common and comfortable configuration of dive wear and is available in a variety of thicknesses depending on your dry suit, your susceptibility to cold and the water temperature. Its primary function is to keep out wind and precipitation. Breathable fabrics are advantageous since they allow the passage of body moisture.

Exposure Protection Underwater (Ice Caps) - Neoprene drysuits are the best as they are thermally insulated. Thick (6.6 mm) neoprene mittens or dry gloves are preferable, as the hands are very susceptible to freezing. Most operator's will have hot water in thermoses that can be used to heat up gloves before entering the water. To protect our heads and the bare skin on your face, we use special neoprene ICE Caps (underlayer) which are worn under your dry-hood and are recommended (about $30- $40 U.S.). We found that having TWO protection layers worked better then one.

Vaseline can also be used on exposed skin before entering the water as well. We personally would rather use ICE Caps underneath our standard cold water hoods instead of smearing a petroleum product all over our face which makes for a messy cleanup. In fact we do recommend using Vaseline around your lips to help protect them from the icy waters which is the only really exposed skin surface that the ICE Cap cannot really protect.

  • View Ice Cap
  • Sizes: S , M, L & XL
  • Manufactures: (UK) | (Germany) - Camaro Ice Diving Hood
    Waterproof USA (H1 2mm Ice Hood)

    Unfortunately, Henderson discontinued its Ice Cap line. Some dealers may still have some stock, but they
    are hard to find. The Camaro Ice Diving Hood is the closest in style to the Henderson Ice Cap, but I'm pretty sure it is only sold in Europe.

Drysuit Accessories (hoods/gloves) - If a hood is not attached to your dry suit you will need to bring one. A 7 mm neoprene hood with face and neck seal is recommended. Doubling up 2 hoods may also work well for some people. Regular 5 or 7 mm neoprene semidry mitts may be worn with any dry suit and are relatively easy to use. Three finger mitts are much warmer than five finger gloves and are the preferred option by most ice divers. 5 finger gloves are not usually recommended unless they are attached to the suit with a ring system and can provide enough warmth.

Special dry gloves that seal against rings on the arm of the drysuit are available. To prevent glove squeeze, and to promote warmth, short pieces of surgical tubing or straws can be inserted under the wrist seals to provide a conduit for air to exchange from the suit to the gloves. This type of glove requires additional practice to use, as they can come off your hand if not used correctly.

Pre/Post-dive Wear - It is important to bring a warm hat and some warm wind and water proof gloves to wear before, and especially after the dive. You may also wish to bring wind and water proof spray jacket and pants to keep the cold wind off your wet dry suit - Clothing in Antarctica (Cool Antarctica).


Conversion Factors

Conversion Calculators ( Length, Weight, Pressure, Volume, Temperature )

1 ft = 30.5 cm 
1 in = 25.4 mm
1 fathom = 1.83 m/6 ft 
1 m = 3.28 ft
1 cm = 0.394 in
1 m = 0.55 fathoms
Nautical Mile
1 n mile = 1.852 km/6080 ft  1 km = 0.54 n mile
1 lb = 454 g 1 kg = 2.21 lb
1 ftsq  = 929 cmsq 1 msq = 10.8 ftsq
1 cubic ft = 0.03 cubic meters
1 cubic ft = 28.32 liters
1 gallon = 4.55 liters
1 cubic meter = 35.31 cubic ft
1 liter = 0.22 gallons
1 atm = 14.7 psi  
Wind speed
1 knot = 1.7 ft/0.51 meters per second 1 mph = 1.61 kph
Fresh water freezes at 0C/32F and boils at 100C/212F
To convert from Celsius to Fahrenheit: (Degrees C x 1.8) + 32


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