In the dead of winter, the siren song of a tropical destination beckons especially strong. So it’s no surprise that the high season for many Caribbean hot spots — including diving destinations — peaks in the winter. That’s great for getting away from the cold, but how does a desperate diver get away from the crowds, too? Consider an increasingly popular way to experience the sport: technical diving.
The more common form, recreational diving, refers to depths up to 130 feet, while technical diving — or tec diving, as it’s often called — spans depths from that point and deeper (although 150 feet is generally considered the minimum depth). The greater depths mean divers need more equipment, specific training and, frankly, stronger nerves, because you can’t just swim to the surface if a problem arises.
But it’s all worth it, says Claude Connell, a North Florida-based diver with more than 3,000 dives — more than half of them tec dives — under his belt. Tec diving opens up a “whole other world,” Connell says. “The big fish are where nobody goes. There are interesting shipwrecks down there, and you get to see things that other people haven’t seen. And it’s very technically challenging — you do it just to see if you can do it.”
Connell compares the difference between tec and recreational diving like “the difference between being an astronaut and flying the Cessna.” That’s not much of an exaggeration: Certification requires a PADI open water diving certificate, about 30 hours of classroom training, and 10 open water dives just to start (some training courses vary).
As far as equipment goes, you need an extra of almost everything — tanks, masks, regulators. You have to learn the correct mix of gas (at greater depths, you need more than just oxygen). And any diver is aware of the importance of decompression, but it’s crucial, and more time-consuming, in tec diving.
Once you’ve conquered all that, tec diving opens up opportunities to explore rarely seen ancient shipwrecks, mysterious caves, and interesting sea life. Here are some top spots:
Florida (see our Florida Travel Guide)
The Sunshine State boasts the largest and most active cave diving community in the United States. This site, despite its dated appearance, is a good place to start, with a long list of sites, directions, and tips.
Cayman Islands (see our Grand Cayman Travel Guide)
Not surprisingly, this world-renowned as a dive site is a perennial winner for tec diving. Dive shop Dive Cayman, with three locations, also offers classes.
Thailand (see our Thailand Travel Guide)
Unbeknownst to many divers, Thailand is sprinkled with caves and caverns from north to south, many of which have never been fully explored, as well as dozens of shipwrecks. Visit ThailandTechDiving.com for more info.