If you can't Swim
Try Helmet Diving in Bermuda
So you are wondering what helmet diving in Bermuda is all about? You want to see and experience the spectacular underwater life, but unfortunately you are not a good swimmer.
You've tried snorkeling, but you think you end up gulping so much water that you can hardly concentrate while trying to locate a fish in the water.
And scuba diving is no option either because you never tried that earlier and learning that from scratch will defeat the purpose anyway.
Well, before you resign to a glass-bottom boat ride or an island tour, consider helmet diving in Bermuda. This is also known as bell diving. There are no lessons or swimming ability required. All you need is just a sense of adventure.
This is like an underwater walk on the ocean floor! In fact, if this is the first time you are trying Helmet diving, this could probably be the best walk you have ever taken in your life!
So how does it work? You wear a helmet with a glass that you can see through. You can freely breathe inside as fresh air is pumped in through a hose that comes right from above the water level. Inside the helmet your head stays dry and you don't have to worry about water getting in through your nose or mouth. You can even adjust the glasses. The heavy helmet feels weightless under the water. So once your breathing is taken care of, the underwater world is all yours to explore at ease.
Over the last many years that my family and I had been coming to this island, we have signed up with virtually all the best Helmet diving centers in Bermuda. These diving shops routinely take visitors from ages 8 to 85, usually on three-hour excursions.
However, out of the entire excursion time, the underwater walk lasts only for about 25 to 30 minutes. This is because the operators take small groups under the water by turn.
Here is one of our experiences of helmet diving in Bermuda.
We made our reservation with one of the best dive operators that schedules routine helmet diving in Bermuda by boat. We were taken to an excellent water area close to the western end of the island.
In a group of six, we slowly climbed down the ladder until the water was at shoulder level. Paul was our guide. As he placed the helmets over our heads we heard bubbles rising in the water. We slowly stepped down until we touched the sea floor some 12 feet below the surface. So you see, it's not too deep.
The helmets, which weigh 14 to 18 pounds above water, felt weightless down here. Paul handed us a long bar that we needed to hold on to. This is to keep our group of six together so the underwater video cameras could film us.
The remaining passengers on board watched our underwater walk as they awaited their turns. Paul gave each of us an open mussel. In no time a group of sergeant majors and butterfly fish targeted our offerings.
We spotted angelfish, red squirrel fish and a sparkling parrotfish that were following us. They waved their fins in front of our helmet glasses and swiftly swam off as we tried to reach out for them. Paul signed at us that we walk forward. He soon curled his thumb and forefinger to indicate a coral. We saw a sleeping coral that looked like a tree on a winter day.
We noticed another coral that was fully awake and agile. It was greenish and fluffy with tiny flowery heads. It looked like as if it was waiting for some planktons to float by. Planktons are small microscopic sea organisms which some corals feed on. Paul gave each of us a magnifying glass so that we could see through it, as he offered a tiny piece of fish to the coral. It quickly grabbed the food with its small tentacles and swallowed it.
As we walked along the soft sand, Paul pointed towards another coral, shaking his hand and saying "Ouch!" indicating that it was a stinging coral. Those corals use their stinging abilities to paralyze the planktons.
We stopped besides a sponge. Paul pointed towards its breathing holes and sprinkled some sand above them. The sponge exhaled a puff of water and the sand scattered. We spotted a sea cucumber. Paul held it so we could touch its soft skin.
All too soon in about 25 minutes, it was time to head back to the boat for hot shower and dry towels. After the showers, as we sat on the open deck we learned from the guides that there are two giant hogfish named Theodore and Samantha who love mussels. A few lucky people are able to hand-feed them whenever they show up.
The most rewarding moments for Paul is when he gets amputees and blind people to helmet dive under the water, those who can only dream of diving.
On one occasion, a large fish came right into the arms of a blind man who could feel the entire fish with his two hands. As soon as he came out of the water, he was yelling with excitement saying "I saw everything!!".
Underwater helmet diving in Bermuda can be a very special experience for those who have vision. It's no different for those who don't.
Well, if you think it’s worth considering a helmet dive because this can be a great way to experience Bermuda's marine life, I can help you with the best options.
A note of caution
: If you have heart related or other pre-existing medical complications, I would suggest that you stay out of it. Although the dive takes place in shallow waters and the compressed air inside the helmet is not known to cause any problems in this safe venture, there have been a few unfortunate instances. In one such instance in June 2011, a 52 year old lady who came to Bermuda by a cruise ship, had collapsed after she came out of the water. She complained of breathlessness and was given oxygen and CPR on board the helmet diving boat operated by Hartley's. She was later transferred to King Edward VIII Hospital where she was pronounced dead. If you are not a swimmer, you may be sometimes conscious that air is continuously being pumped into the helmet as you descend. This may lead to some anxiety.
Here are some well known helmet dive operators in Bermuda
The 40-foot boat leaves from the dockyard at the western end and close to the moongate at the Heritage Wharf. There are usually two trips, one in the morning and the other in the afternoon. They usually operate between April to November, and six days a week.
The boat operates from the Dockyard on some days of the week. On other days, it leaves from the Flatts Village public dock in Hamilton parish next to the Aquarium.
The boat leaves from Ordnance island in St. George at the eastern end. They operate from Monday through Friday between April and November.