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Ice Freediving

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Well-Known Member
Sep 18, 2003
The weather and the water here in Toronto are cooling off here towards winter. The Lake (Lake Ontario) is down to 40F/5C now, and I got thinking about what I was going to do once the ice goes over. I know there are some crazies out there who cut holes in the ice and dive underneath... and now I wanna do that! :D There's this nice little quarry not to far from here (Innerkip) where I'm going to try it this winter. Max depth there is only 30 feet or so, but that should do for starters.

My question to you ice freedivers is: what safety setup do you use? I was thinking about a vertical line, like I normally use, with a leash originally, however I think I read that Jon tried that and didn't like it too well due to the carabiener binding on the vertical line or something. Obviously I'll have a buddy along.

So before you icediving guys and gals get too numb to type, give me your wisdom!

Thanks in advance,


Actually, I use a normal ice-harness, just like the ones we use for scuba.

I drop a weighted line to the bottom and tie off the top end on the surface. I use a carabiner attached to the line so I can swim up and down it freely. There is some flex in the line and I have about 1.5-2 meters of rope on my harness to play with. This allows me to move around to explore and take pictures without ever getting myself into trouble.

I am sure that I could get away with a less secure system if the water were clearer, but it isn't that nice in the lakes where I get to ice dive.

Here is a picture of me in my harness under the ice. You can see where one end of the line is tied into my harness on one end and the other end goes off to my main down-line.

I hope this helps. I have other pictures I can post if needed.

BTW: I hope to get Ted out and under the ice this year. Last winter we just dove the few openwater spots we could find so that we could spear.

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Fantastic. Thanks Jon. I don't have an ice harness tho. Do you think it would work as well attached to my belt or wrist?

This quarry is reputed to have over 50' viz in the winter when the ice is over. If that's the case I should be able to get some great pics! It's one of those quarry's set up for scuba and snorkeling with lots of stuff on the bottom. Boats, cars, planes, busses ect. But we can't spear here!:waterwork It seems that there is no spearing allowed in Ontario at all. Oh well, whattya do? I'll get my chance to try spearing sometime. In the meantime I'm gonna keep diving till I can cut a hole in the ice and dive some more! Gotta find warmer gloves and an ice cap tho.... ;)

Anyone else who has ice freediving tips Please Post!!

I am sure that you could attach your line in other ways. I go out when the other scuba divers go, since there are other people around to cut the whole for me.:D Since the harnesses are already there, and the scuba divers tend to stir things up, I use them.

If I were going to dive in a clearer lake I would go with just a wrist lanyard- if it were snug.;)

I love my 3-finger Picasso mitts that I bought from the DB scuba store. The ice mask I picked up form some Alaskan mining supply place. If run a search on this site you can find the thread where we posted the link.

Hot water helps to pour into the suit to re-warm and stay in for a long time. I would also make sure that you tie the surface line off really well. We drill a second hole and secure the line to a 2x4 underneath the hole.

One time I just had it tied to a tree and my line tender, I was on scuba at the time, told me that my labrador had untied it and ran off with the free end in her mouth. :duh Luckily, my students and I were blissfully unaware during our entire dive.

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Man !!!!Kudu's to you guys!!!!SSheeeeeeeeez, Ice diving..and you say us Cape Town spearo's are crazy to dive with great whites around !!
Good luck anyway Aaron, let us know what it's about!

well, day after day you guys/gals on DB continue to make me realize how lucky i am to be here in sunny Miami, florida. i went out today to do a little spearing and was discussing with Rolando how people will do just about anything to get their feet wet. and it has now been proven! , for the thousandth time! have fun and dive safe.
by the way if any of you ever want to come down to miami and do a little "sane" diving. let me know, you will be welcome on my boat anytime.


My wife and I got a good laugh out of your video! It's still 'kinda scary' for me anytime I dive into the dark.... I'm sure I'll have a very similar reaction on my first ice dive! But there are a couple months yet!

I hold my opinion that you guys are crazy for spearing in water that is also inhabited my a large number of things that can eat you.... however I'm not saying I would stay out of the water if I was there either! That would definatly fall under the "pretty scary" catagory too!

I'll post for sure on my first baptism my ice ;) !!

If luck is on my side I just may get to Miami for a couple days this winter. I'll let you know if I do!

I drove down to the lake today to go diving as well, but it was pretty rough. Not nice big powerful waves like in the ocean, but little choppy 3-4 footers that are really close. I put my float/flag (modified boogie board) in the water and it got smashed by the first wave. So I threw it up on shore and went for a bit of a swim, but the vis was terrible even out 800-1000 feet offshore. So I stripped everything off my board and surfed for a bit! Not an entirely wasted day! I'm sure the water will be alot calmer and clearer under the ice though...

Any ice diving tips or stories anyone else may have are more than welcome!

Cheers all,
Well, the time has come. Ice is covering everything but the open areas of the Great Lakes in this area. I did a dive the other day here in Toronto with Freefloat, and the water temp was 34F/1C... I figure it can't get much colder than that!

So I'm getting set up, and we're going to try it out a week from Saturday. (Jan. 31)

Jon, I know you said that you normally dive with the scuba divers so that you have a ready-made hole, however what do they use to cut the hole in the first place?? This is my biggest concern at this point! The ice will likely be about 10-12 inches thick I imagine.

Cool Story...
I was talking to some scuba divers the other day about an ice dive they did in Tobermory a few years ago. They cut a hole over the wreck of the Sweepstakes in Big Tub harbour, through about 8 inches of clear black ice. Swimming away from the hole, they encountered a hockey game in progress... which they were able to watch very clearly from right underneath! The hockey players thought their spectators were pretty cool too!

I don't even wanna hear from you divers in Florida, Hawaii, SA, or anywhere else that has water temps above 70F right now!! :vangry :D

Scuba ice divers use a chainsaw. Some larger organized ice dives also erect a nice warm tent for surfacing divers to thaw out in. They have pretty strict protocols i nplace regarding number of divers and tenders, a "safety" divre suited up and reasy to jump in to rescue, etc. It's more than just the lines tying the diving divre off.

Gee I wish I could freedive/ice dive with you, but there's just no way I could make it on the 31st...
That would be one cool view of a hockey game!

We use chain saws to cut the hole. We cut a triangle because it requires the fewest cuts, for those geometry type people out there;) , and also makes it much easier to crawl back out of the hole if you have a bunch of gear on- square holes don't give you as much of an angle to push off from. I know of some divers who will just use an ice auger and drill dozens of holes in the shape of a triangle. It works, but is much more time consuming.

If it's going to be a big hole we will then slice the triangle in half, since two smaller chunks of ice are easier to deal with.

We push the ice chunks under the water and they set up against the surface ice outside of the hole. As the day goes on the ice chunks get smaller and smaller. We pull them back into place at the end of the day, mark the whole area off with police tape, and put up some barricades so the snowmobilers don't end up taking a dip.:D I have heard of some people pulling the chunks of ice out of the hole, but since they can weigh hundreds of pounds this is a lot of extra work. I have never had a block of ice move on me underwater in the almost 25 years that I have been ice diving. Actually, at the end of the day we need to pry he blocks loose because they freeze to the bottom surface of the ice.

One thing we need to do is put a little liquid dishwashing soap in the hole after we cut it- this helps to disperse the oil from the chainsaw blade.

For scuba, the divers are tethered to the surface and then the lines are tended by other divers. For Freediving I tie off a down-line to the surface and have a weight belt hanging off the end of it. I can then go up and down it like a normal training rope. The tether that goes to the line is attached by a carabineer, just like a competition diver. I use a little bit longer leaders than allowed in competition.

Hope this helps. I plan to get Ted under the ice next month. If he bails on me, I’ll just go back to my scuba diver back up.

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Now I just need a chainsaw and I'll be set!

Jon, I'll use a setup almost exactly like that for starters. We'll be able to pull ourselves off the bottom as well to avoid silting everything up.

I think Jurgen is the only one who's gonna try it Larissa! So don't feel left out!

I'll let you all know how it goes!

Sounds good.

Here's a better shot of the ice chunk. Its at the top of the frame. We just move it there and leave it for the hole day. At the end of the day we'll swim a rope around it and pull it back into the hole to take up space. There's always a few inches of openwater around it at the end of the day so make sure you mark it and block it off when your done.

One advantage of doing this with my scuba buddies is that they rent out a beach house that has hot showers in it for the post-dive warm up! They also put on a big fish boil so there's lot's to eat when your done- not to mention the fact that they are the ones who own the chainsaw.

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The scuba divers always have the best setup eh?? There is a warm change house, but I don't know about the fish boil!! That's what I'll have to do, find out when they're going and tag along.


Just got back from a full day of diving. I have some better pictures of my set-up.

I set everything up pretty much like you would a competition down line. The top rope is tied into the ice. Since the ice is over a foot thick I am not worried about it cutting through. I run it through a few times and tie it off on top. The secondary hole was easily cut with an ice auger.

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The line goes almost all the way down to the bottom, where the weights are tied off to it. The reason for this is so I can move the line around, away from the hole, when I am at the bottom, but as I come back to the surface I automatically get funnelled to the opening. The line is also marked every 10' for my own information.

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I ride the line up and down with my wrist line. I went away from using a full ice-diving harness because it seemed like over-kill.

Now, I just use the noose-end on my line to go over my wrist and hold me to the down-line, to which it is attached by carabiner.

I don't use a locking biner because I want to be able to clip in and out if I were to ever have a problem.

If we had a lake around here that was acutally deep, and enough divers who wanted to go deep, we could easily set-up a diver retrieval system under the ice. We wouldn't even need any floats since we could just tie everything off to the surface if the ice. :D One day we might actually have enough freedivers around these parts to warrent such a device- one day.

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Here's another shot of my line.

You can see how bright it is close to the hole. We shovel it off so that it shines brightly under water. The lines that are shoveled into the snow are for directing divers back to the hole if they were to ever lose their line- which is not very likely.

Since we have had one of the worst/best winters in some time here, we have a lot of snow and that makes it much darker than my pictures from past years.

You can even make out my monofin from under the ice because it is so clear.:cool:

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Here's a better shot of the ice block that we push underwater after we cut it. I actually needed a pry bar to move it since it freezes in place under the ice once it sets there for a minute or two. It is very important to replaceit when you are done so the hole will freeze over solid and not claim any snowmobilers.

You can even see the chainsaw blade marks in the side of it from when the hole was cut.

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Once we get the block moving again, she slides up into place.

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