How to Ice Dive (The Complete Ice Diving Guide to Safety, Benefits, Gear, and Locations)

Ice diving is an adventure unlike any other. It’s a highly technical recreational activity that requires proper training and the right gear to be enjoyed safely.
How to Ice Dive

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Ice diving is an out-of-this-world adventure. Here you’ll find yourself submerged in an environment only a few get to experience. Aside from the cold water, you go under a sheet of ice, making it one of the riskiest forms of diving.

However, proper training and the right equipment minimize the danger. And you will be better prepared when you know more before diving into it.

You’ll need the right gear to protect your body from frigid temperatures. And a competent surface team will assist you every step of the way.

Ice diving isn’t a common activity so you’ll also need to find the best destinations that will make your trip worth it. You’ll get to experience surreal clarity unlike regular scuba diving can give you. So if you haven’t figured out why people go ice diving, you soon will.

What Is Ice Diving?

Ice diving is a form of advanced diving where you dive into a body of water that has a frozen surface. It’s scuba diving under the ice.

It offers unique experiences that you can’t get from other types of technical diving.

Ice-cold water will envelop you when ice diving. You can also encounter sea creatures that thrive in the cold. And the high underwater visibility will leave you in awe.

How Does Ice Diving Work?

While only one person goes down into the water, ice diving is really a team activity.

You only have a single entry point from the surface. Because of the frozen surface, you need to drill a hole to serve as the entry and exit point. This is where the surface team will be located.

The surface team will guide and assist divers. Equipped with the proper equipment and gear, divers descend into the freezing water.

Every diver is attached to a lifeline to ensure they’ll be able to return to the entry point. Dive time is also limited because of the cold temperatures.

How Cold Is Ice Diving?

The water in ice diving is extremely cold. After all, it takes freezing temperatures to turn the water’s surface into ice. But depending on where you’re ice diving, there are some variations in the temperature.

In Antarctica, the water temperature is usually 0°C (32°F). Meanwhile, you can expect temperatures of 5°C (41 °F) to 0°C (32 °F) in the Arctic.

How Long Can You Ice Dive?

Ice diving is limited to 30 minutes or less with recreational equipment. The temperature and frozen surface make it too dangerous to do it longer. It also ensures divers have enough time and oxygen to handle emergencies.

Is Ice Diving Dangerous?

Ice diving has very real dangers associated with it, which is why it’s recommended for skilled divers only. It’s also a team sport that is critical for the diver in emergency cases. The right gear, teamwork, and minimizing risks are keys to enjoying ice diving.

Risks of Ice Diving

Ice diving has risks to watch out for. While it’s impossible to predict these hazards, steps can be taken to minimize the danger.

  • Frostbite: Skin tissues freeze when exposed to ice-cold water, low-quality gear, or both. Extremities like fingers, toes, ears, and nose are usually the parts easily affected.
  • Hypothermia: Staying underwater for too long can cause your body to lose heat at a high rate. If not treated immediately, the low body temperature can lead to death.
  • Freezing Regulators: The icy water can sometimes cause air tanks or regulators to freeze. Using quality equipment and regular maintenance can prevent this from happening.
  • Trapped by Moving Ice or Strong Undercurrents: Surfaces can crack and move with the current. This causes divers to lose track of the dive hole. Meanwhile, strong undercurrents can pull the diver deeper or farther into the water.
  • Animal Attacks: Animals like sharks or polar bears inhabit some ice diving locations. They may attack the diver or the surface crew.

Is Ice Diving Good for You?

Despite the risks, ice diving has several physical and psycho-emotional benefits. That’s why people continue to ice dive even if it can be dangerous. The benefits can have long-term effects that will improve overall well-being.

Benefits of Ice Diving

The benefits of ice diving have been proven and backed up by science. So while the icy depths might give you the shivers, you can experience the following if you give it a try:

  • Improves Blood Circulation: The cold water jolts the heart and causes it to pump more blood. This leads to stronger blood circulation into your organs. This allows them to function better and flush out toxins and other bad stuff in your body.
  • Boosts Metabolism: Your body is triggered to produce more heat when you’re in a cold environment. This is a natural response to regulate your body temperature and keep you alive. And generating heat requires more energy to do, so you burn more calories.
  • Improves Mood and Reduces Stress: As a form of exercise, it causes your body to release endorphins. These happy hormones give you a feeling of elation and make you feel good. The cold water has been also linked to having a calming effect on the body, reducing stress in the process.
  • Improves Immune System: Cold-water shock happens when your body is suddenly exposed to extremely cold water. This triggers an immune response where your body releases white blood cells due to environmental change. This puts your body on alert and fights off any threats like illnesses and infections.
  • Gives You Better Sleep: Exposure to cold water stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system. This system is responsible for repairing your body through rest. So at the end of the day, you get deeper sleep because your body needs to rest and repair itself.

Equipment for Ice Diving

Like any diving activity, you need the right equipment to keep you alive and safe underwater. But ice diving requires gear that will let you penetrate the ice and protect you from the extreme cold.

Can You Ice Dive in a Dry Suit?

When ice diving, you definitely need a dry suit. You can’t let the cold water penetrate your suit, you’d suffer from hypothermia in no time. A high-quality dry suit will keep your body temperature normal. This will allow you to function properly physically and mentally.

Is Ice Diving in a Wetsuit Possible?

Wetsuits use water to insulate the body which is fine in normal water temperatures. But this can be detrimental in ice diving where the water is extremely cold.

However, it’s still possible to ice dive in a wetsuit.

The only condition is that it should be at least 5 mm (1/5~7/32 in) thick. But your extremities are still vulnerable to frostbite. So you should use semidry gloves and a hood with a wetsuit.

Best Dry Suit for Ice Diving

Dry suits keep your body warm when you’re ice diving. But unlike wetsuits, dry suits are dependent on air and insulating undergarments.

Aside from regulating body heat, dry suits also give more controlled buoyancy. This is all thanks to the layer of air within the suit.

The best dry suits keep the water and cold out of your body so you can enjoy every minute of ice diving. They’re typically made of the following materials:

  • Neoprene: It’s a thick synthetic rubber that has effective insulating properties. They have a snug fit that allows a better range of motion. You’ll often find neoprene dry suits that have seals on the neck and wrist.
  • Trilaminate: This material functions like a membrane. It also has more space for bulky undergarments. You wear it as a loose outer layer and often have latex seals to prevent the water from seeping in.

Gloves for Ice Diving

When it comes to ice diving, you’ll need dry gloves instead of your typical diving gloves. Regular diving gloves don’t offer any heat retention properties. Wearing these when ice diving can result in frostbite.

Dry gloves have a sealing mechanism. Velcro and ring seals are common. But some gloves are already attached to the dry suit.

Aside from keeping you dry and warm, dry gloves should offer comfort and dexterity. You’ll need to be able to use your hands properly to dive and operate your equipment.

Dry gloves come in 5- or 3-finger options. The 3-finger types are also called dive mitts. Either option is effective, it’ll just come down to your preference.

Ice Diving Hood

When it comes to protecting your head, ice diving hoods should have a snug fit to prevent water from flowing in. It should also keep you dry and warm at all times.

Ice diving hoods are also thicker, usually made of neoprene or trilaminate. Double layer protection is a common feature that you should also look for.

Best Ice Diving Regulator

Ice diving regulators help you breathe when there’s high pressure and compressed air. It regulates pressure to let you breathe normally.

Because it’s a piece of critical equipment, you shouldn’t skimp on quality. Always choose high-quality regulators that are designed for cold water. To find the best ice diving regulator, look for the following features:

  • Deutsche Industrie Norm (DIN) Valve: DIN valves screw directly into the tank. This makes it more secure in high-pressure and cold environments.
  • Environmentally Sealed: This features a seal around the regulator. It protects the device from contamination and provides added insulation to prevent freezing.
  • Balanced: Regardless of how much air is left in the tank, you get a consistent airflow.
  • Diaphragm Type: The internal parts are sealed and protected from water so when ice diving, you won’t run the risk of the equipment freezing.
  • Multiple Ports: Having multiple ports gives you a backup when your equipment freezes.
  • Insulating Metals: Choose metals like nickel or brass. These metals provide additional insulation. So they won’t freeze unlike lightweight materials like titanium and carbon fiber.
  • Adjustable Flow Rate: When diving in ice-cold water, you’ll need more air. Regulators with an adjustable flow rate will allow you to breathe in more air when needed.

Where Can I Do Ice Diving?

There are several ice diving locations in the world that you can go to. In these locations, you can expect the climate to be freezing, not just in the water. You can find ice diving sites in North America, Europe, and of course, Antarctica.

Best Ice Diving Locations

The best ice diving locations in the world offer more than just a frozen lake and ice-cold water. You get rare sea creatures, shipwrecks, and even submerged icebergs. It’s an experience that you won’t get with your regular diving sites.

Ice Diving in USA

The USA isn’t known for its ice diving locations. This is despite having several states that have extremely cold weather. The only place where you can find a great ice diving location is in Alaska.

However, the Hudson River in New York does offer ice diving opportunities. While it isn’t one of the best ice diving locations in the world, it can still provide a good experience.

Ice Diving in Alaska

In Alaska, you’ll find the best ice diving site in Summit Lake. It has one of the longest periods for ice diving. The lake can freeze as early as October and usually lasts until May.

What makes Summit Lake a beautiful destination is its bright and clear ice cover. It’s almost opaque, giving the surface crew or non-divers a unique perspective of the lake.

Ice Diving in Canada

Canada has ice diving locations for beginners and experienced divers alike. And while the country is more known for its skiing destinations, its ice diving sites are nothing to scoff at either.

  • Great Lakes: If you’re still new to ice diving, the Great Lakes is where you can train and build on your diving skills. It has quarries where beginners can practice. Meanwhile, Tobermory is where experienced ice divers go. It has plenty of shipwrecks that attract a lot of divers, making it Canada’s diving capital.
  • Baffin Island: The island has icebergs frozen into place by winter’s frigid touch. You can also find polar bears, ring seals, and narwhales in the area.

Ice Diving in Europe

Of all the continents, Europe has the most and the best ice diving destinations in the world. Look no further than these countries:

  • Switzerland: Several frozen lakes await you in Switzerland. Lioson is the most popular, and it offers crystal clear and mesmerizing blue waters.
  • France: The French Alps isn’t just known for skiing, they also have ice diving spots. And because they’re in remote locations, you can expect the ice to be pure and clear.
  • Finland: The winter season is long and cold in Finland. This makes it one of the best destinations for winter sports, including ice diving. There are hundreds of ice diving operators in the country located in lakes or geoparks.
  • Russia: In Russia, you can ice dive into the sea instead of freshwater lakes. When the White Sea freezes in wintertime, you get to dive into a different marine environment. Here you’ll find an abundance of marine life, including white whales.

Why Do People Ice Dive?

People have different reasons to ice dive. Aside from the physical benefits, it’s a recreational sport that immerses you in an environment unlike any other. And for professional photographers, it offers an opportunity to capture surreal images.

Some of the physical and mental benefits are:

  • Improved blood circulation and metabolism.
  • Decreased stress levels.
  • Better sleep.

Then there’s the incredible visibility in ice diving locations. Because the ice decreases water flow, you can easily see all around you.

You can also get up close and personal with marine life that thrives in cold conditions. Combine this with the freezing temperatures and you get an almost out-of-this-world experience.