NSS-CDS Training Program


New standards, better divers

September 13, 2019: The NSS-CDS Board has approved one of the most significant standards revisions in the past several decades. This is the culmination of several years’ work by Training Committee members. It reflects a broad consensus among several of our leading instructors.

Why re-invent the wheel?

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” A standards revision of this magnitude is not something we take lightly. Were there not pressing needs, we’d happily leave well enough alone.

The steps which used to lead to full Cave Diver certification represented the best guess we could make in the mid-1980s as to how students should learn. Since then, much has changed in terms of:

  • Who is learning to cave dive.
  • Their prior training and experience.
  • The equipment and procedures modern cave divers use.

Most important, we realize now what we considered adequate training in the 1980s doesn’t come close to what students need. For example:

  • In 1989, we saw nothing wrong with students going halfway through the 16 dives required for full Cave Diver certification wearing nothing more than a single cylinder.
  • Today we realize the importance of students not only using complete cave diving gear for all 16 dives but having training and experience in sidemount, doubles or CCRs before this training even begins.

So what changes have we made? Here is a quick overview:

  • The Cavern Diver course is no longer a prerequisite for, nor does it count toward any level of Cave Diver certification. We are returning the course to what we originally intended. This is, a training and awareness program for open-water sport divers using single-tank, recreational gear.
  • In place of the four steps leading to full open-circuit Cave Diver certification, we now have just two. This reflects how most students learn today.
  • Before students can even begin the process, they must be able to demonstrate either formal training in using sidemount or doubles, or equivalent experience. They must also demonstrate proficiency in buoyancy control, trim and propulsion.
  • For those students who lack prior training in sidemount or doubles, or who need further work on their buoyancy, trim and propulsion skills, we are introducing a special non-certification program to help get them up to speed.

Let’s look at each area in greater detail.

Everything in one place

If you look through the old standards, you’ll see for every course we list requirements for items such as minimum age and required equipment. The catch is, except for Cavern Diver or specialized equipment unique to one course, these are always the same. This creates two problems:

  • It wastes paper and makes standards more ponderous to wade through.
  • If we need to change these requirements, we must do so in up to a dozen different places. And, should we miss a place…

To prevent this, we’ve collected these requirements in a new section entitled Standards Applying to all NSS-CDS Training Programs. We’ve listed any exceptions to these in individual course standards.

Invest some time looking through this section. You will notice several changes. Among them:

  • The minimum age for all NSS-CDS courses is now 18. Why? A lot of CDS training takes place in Florida. Recently, a Florida court ruled parents cannot sign away a minor’s right to sue for negligence. This makes any minor waivers invalid. It makes teaching minors a risk the Section can’t afford.
  • We no longer list specific textbooks students must read. Current CDS training materials are woefully out of date. We plan to replace them before year’s end. Thus, any texts we list in Standards now may not be available in six months. What we plan to do instead is provide an up-to-date list of approved training materials and eLearning courses on the CDS website.

You will also see we have more detailed requirements for items such as:

  • Knowledge assessment
  • Control and supervision
  • Pre-dive requirements
  • Dive and skill conduct

Getting objective

The old standards defined academic learning in terms of broad topic areas instructors should teach. They provided no specific, measurable objectives regarding what students must learn.

As you will see in the revised standards for entry-level Cave Diver training, we now provide specific learning objectives for both knowledge development and skill performance. As we revise the standards for other courses, we will do this as well.

We present academic learning objectives as questions students must be able to answer. Understandably, you may wonder what the answers are.

Don’t worry. We have a database full of content which answers these questions. Over the next few months, you will see this content manifest itself in new student manuals, eLearning, homework, quizzes, exams and PowerPoints.

Cavern Diver: Back to basics

You should have a good idea of the changes taking place here. A few additional items worth noting:

  • In keeping with its goal of being a course aimed primarily at open-water sport divers, students may only take this course while using single cylinders. (Instructors must still be in full cave gear.)
  • This is the only course where equipment requirements differ substantially from those listed in Standards Applying to all NSS-CDS Training Programs.
  • Because students can no longer go directly from Cavern Diver to Basic Cave Diver, the skill performance requirements, while high, are not quite as stringent. Where cave students must be excellent, Cavern students need only be very, very good. As long as they don’t pose a risk to the environment, themselves or others, this is adequate.

CDS Basics Orientation

This is the program for students with little or no prior training or experience in sidemount, doubles or CCR. It is also for students who can’t pass the initial screening process for buoyancy, trim and propulsion skills. Some things worth noting:

  • It is not a certification course. Students may get a certificate of completion; however, they will not get a certification card. This is so no one mistakes them for being qualified to do anything in an overhead environment.
  • We don’t call it a “course.” Instead, it’s an orientation or experience.
  • The program can take place anywhere similar in size and depth to a spring basin. This includes large swimming pools and training tanks too deep to stand.
  • Instructors can teach CDS Basics concurrently with Technical Sidemount or other courses from recognized technical diver training organizations. This can result in non-overhead certification from someone other than the CDS.

Apprentice Cave Diver

This program replaces the old combination of Cavern plus Basic Cave. Instructors have the option to extend the Limits of Training so it can also replace the old Apprentice Cave Diver course. Some things worth noting:

  • As you already know, students can only take this course using sidemount or doubles. They must also document prior training or equivalent experience using this equipment.
  • Even when students possess prior sidemount/doubles experience, if they cannot pass the screening process for buoyancy, trim and propulsion skills, they must complete and pass the CDS Basics orientation before continuing.
  • The Rule of Sixths? Gone. This is a long-outdated holdover from when most students dove double or single aluminum 80s. It doesn’t work when students can be in any of a wide range of cylinders. The new standard is 1,400 liters/50 cubic feet, or one-third the available starting volume, whichever is less.
  • There is a maximum penetration limit of 300 m/1,000 ft.

Beyond this, the Limits of Training are largely the same as they were for the old Basic Cave Diver. However, by meeting additional requirements, qualified instructors may expand these limits in terms of:

  • Usable penetration gas.
  • Penetration distance.
  • Decompression.
  • Non-complex navigation.

You will see the procedure for this in the revised standards.

What else?

The bulk of the changes appear in the Standards sections leading up to full Cave Diver. This content is almost entirely brand-new.

Past this, we’ve made minor changes throughout, mostly in terms of correcting errors in spelling, grammar and format. Where numerical values or units of measure appear, we now follow the guidelines appearing in the Associated Press Stylebook for displaying metric and US Standard values.

We have dropped two courses from standards, as no one has used them in several years. These are:

  • Overhead Nitrox
  • Cavern Diver Instructor Institute

As you no doubt know, we just completed a major overhaul to the Training section of the NSS-CDS website. Current NSS-CDS Instructors are now able to download the new standards and the Apprentice Cave Diver Statement of Understanding from there.

NSS-CDS Instructors may begin using the new standards immediately. They must begin using them no later than January 1. This allows time to complete any courses currently in progress, as well as to update websites and other information regarding classes.