University of Bristol Spelæological Society

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These guidelines have been prepared in response to a large number of requests to the National Caving Association (NCA) from university and college caving clubs and authorities for a code or set of guidelines that they can use to promote safe caving.

There is a broad range of university or college based clubs in the country ranging from the well established and respected with a good continuity of members and experience to those with enthusiasm but with a less experienced membership. In many clubs it is the large annual change of membership that, in the main, causes problems.

Caving by university and college caving clubs should be seen as fitting into the tradition of British caving and the established principles of good practice to ensure both safety and concern for the cave environment. These guidelines should be seen as suitable for any group of cavers seeking to establish a caving club or an existing club of recent formation or with members of relatively little experience.

It is the adventurous nature of caving, potholing and the exploration of abandoned mines that is one of its attractions. The accident rate in caving is thankfully low but from time to time serious and fatal accidents do occur. It is therefore important that beginners who seek to go caving are aware of and accept the element of risk and take responsibility for their own actions.

Traditionally the NCA sees formal leadership systems as undesirable in recreational caving conducted by adults, which should have as its essence, individual competence and the companionship of friends unfettered by unnecessary rules and regulations.

It is therefore the intention of these guidelines to set down a broad framework for the establishment and operation of university and college clubs within the informal environment of recreational caving.


General Points for consideration

It is the adventurous nature of caving, potholing and the exploration of abandoned mines that is one of its attractions. The accident rate in caving is thankfully low but from time to time serious and fatal accidents do occur (usually attracting a large amount of publicity). It is therefore important that beginners who join clubs are aware of this element of risk. The relatively low rate of accidents should not be allowed to give rise to any sense of complacency, indeed a disproportionate number of rescue call-outs are to assist members of those clubs with least experience and in most need of a set of guidelines.

Club members should ensure that they understand the following points and if they do not they should be encouraged to ask questions of the more experienced members before agreeing to go on trips. More experienced members should take responsibility for ensuring that everyone is properly briefed for the trip. Experienced members who choose to take on responsibility for beginners should be aware of what this involves.

Note: Qualifications for leaders such as the NCA Cave Instructor Certificate (CIC) or Local Cave/Mine Leader Assessment (LCMLA) schemes were not intended for recreational caving and are not considered appropriate within the club environment. However, the syllabuses are excellent guides to training and standards of personal competence within the club environment.

Preparation for a trip

Safety during a trip

Other Points to be considered

In particular three fundamental areas of skills training which are likely to require some element of external input are:-


Caves are more often than not located in upland areas and away from public footpaths. Access to them involves crossing private land and the caves and potholes are themselves private property. It is only with the consent of owners or tenants that cavers can explore the majority of caves. This consent has often only been obtained after long negotiation and with conditions attached. It is therefore important that access procedures should be adhered to. These are described in the handbooks of the regional caving councils and in guidebooks. Access to some entrances may require knowledge of navigation techniques and maps which, at times, may have to be practiced in darkness or adverse weather conditions.

The Country Code should be adhered to.


Caves are a unique and very special part of our natural environment. Because of their slow and gradual formation over many thousands of years, fantastic passage shapes develop, breakdown occurs, sediments are deposited, beautiful calcite formations build up, and various creatures find a home. To be the first to enter such a place is an experience unlikely to be forgotten, but unfortunately one that only a few people will be privileged to enjoy.

Once a cave has been entered a process of deterioration begins. Sometimes this is extremely rapid, but usually it is steady and barely noticeable. Whatever happens, the end result is the same, a place retaining little aesthetic value and interest. Such destruction is a crime against nature and there is a moral responsibility on the part of everyone using this environment for their enjoyment, whatever their motivation and purpose, to ensure its preservation for others.

It is therefore essential that respect for the conservation of the underground environment should be encouraged on all trips. All cavers whether novice or experienced should be aware of and adhere to the NCA Conservation Code.


All equipment for traverses, ladder pitches and SRT should be suitable and in good condition. Advice on the selection, use and maintenance of equipment may be sought from specialist caving shops, technical catalogues or the NCA. A suitable system of cleaning and storage of these items after trips should be put in place.

A system of regular inspections, testing and discarding of items that have been damaged or are at the end of their safe life should be put in place. This should cover all safety items i.e. ropes, ladders, slings, lights, helmets etc. Written records should be kept which will require the individual identification of key safety items, e.g. ropes.


Cavers should remember that they owe a duty of care to other cavers in their own party and people that they meet in the course of their trip. Leaders should be aware that they have a special responsibility to act prudently when leading novices. Information on caving insurance can be obtained from the addresses given below.

National Caving Association 8/96

The above text is included in the booklet 'Guidelines for University and College Caving Clubs'.  Contact the BCA Training Committee for further details.

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