If you are hesitant to try snorkelling or scuba diving in the Andaman & Nicobar Islands yet looking for something more exciting than taking a tour in a glass bottom boat, then undersea walk or helmet diving is just the thing for you. Even non-swimmers can try the sea walk.
In the Andaman & Nicobar Islands, undersea walk or helmet diving (helmet walking) is conducted at North Bay Beach near Port Blair and at Elephant Beach in Havelock Island. Here, you will walk on the sea floor at a maximum depth of seven meters during high tide and in calm water.
Your head and shoulders are encased in a helmet, quite similar to that of a pearl diver’s helmet, with a breathing devise — an air hose. The hose provides oxygen to the wearer of the helmet. The air hose is connected to a free flow supply of fresh compressed air provided from an air compressor or cylinder placed in a craft or a platform above water. So, essentially you are walking under water while breathing normally. Therefore, unlike scuba diving, you are connected to the surface and walking around, which is an advantage for non-swimmers. The transparent visor of the helmet offers an unimpeded look at your surroundings. You descend to the sea floor from the platform or boat with the help of a secured ladder.
But that does not mean you are left on your own. An underwater guide with scuba gear and secondary air source for emergency guides the helmet divers during the sea walk. Besides, another person -- a surface swimming monitor — wearing a mask, snorkels and fins, follow the helmet divers and ensures overall safety and well-being of the participants. The air supply monitor in the boat or the overhead platform ensures that the required air supply is maintained at all times when the sea walk is taking place and that a reserve air supply is always readily available. A maximum number of nine participants are taken for the sea walk at a time and the underwater activity is held for 15-20 minutes.
While a normal healthy youngster or an adult can participate in a sea walk, those suffering from certain medical conditions may not be allowed to take the walk owing to safety concerns below the water. So it is advisable to fill in the customary form honestly as any wrong information may jeopardise your well- being. As per requirements set down by the local administration, kids below 7 years are not allowed to sea walk. A child between 7 years and 15 years shall be accompanied by an adult during the underwater trail. The local administration has made it mandatory that the operator shall require all helmet divers of legal age or if a minor, a parent or legal guardian, to read and sign an assumption of risk and release of liability waiver prior to participating in the activity
As the sea walk is usually held on a first come first serve basis, do inquire about the timings from the sea walk tour operators before planning. Also remember, it is subject to weather conditions.
Prior to a helmet dive, the manager of the helmet diving company will mandatorily give you a description of the activity and information on the local marine life and conservation issues, and safety procedures.
The sea walk operators and the participants are also required to follow a few rules such as the site shall not be at a distance more than 500 meter from the nearest land, the activity held only along approved trails, at a minimum distance of 1 to 5 meters from any corals (the distance determined according to the site and the region), no touching of any coral or any form of marine life, or feeding the fish, etc.