Ice diving In the White Sea, Ice, Polar, High Arctic, Arctic Circle, Scuba Diving, Arctic Expeditions, Northern Russia,
Arctic Circle Dive Centre, Travel Guide
In February 2010, Eco-Photo Explorers returned from one of the most exciting and demanding expeditions we have ever undertaken. We were ice diving in the frigid waters of the White Sea in Northern Russia along with award winning professional photographer Franco Banfi. Our expedition was hosted by Waterproof Expeditions.
So where is the White Sea?
The White Sea (Russian: Бе́лое мо́ре, Finnish: Vienanmeri) is an inlet of the Barents Sea on the northwest coast of Russia. It is surrounded by Karelia to the west, the Kola peninsula to the north, and the Kanin Peninsula to the northeast. The entire body of the White Sea is under Russian sovereignty and considered to be internal waters of Russia. The White Sea is made-up of four main bays and gulfs.
- Kandalaksha Gulf
- Onega Bay (connects to the White Sea-Baltic Canal near Belomorsk)
- Dvina Bay (connects to the Northern Dvina River near Arkangel'sk)
- Mezen Bay (connects to the Mezen River)
Nestled in the White Sea are a large number of islands, although most are small in size. The Solovetsky Islands (Russian: Солове́цкие острова́, Соловки́) are considered the main island group and are located between the Kandalaksha Gulf and Onega Bay. The Solovetsky Islands were also designated as an UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1992. Kiy-Island (Russian: Кий-остров) in Onega Bay is noteworthy due to a historic monastery - Krestny Monastery (Russian: Кий-островский Крестный монастырь) which is visited by thousands of tourists each year. Velikiy Island, located close to the shore, is the largest island in the Kandalaksha Gulf. The White Sea is one of four seas named in English after common color terms - the others being the Black Sea, the Red Sea and the Yellow Sea.
The White Sea is the only sea in Europe that freezes every year. Clear water, natural beauty of the Russian north, the wonderful underwater world, a well-found base and experienced instructors, make the Arctic Circle the world’s ice diving capital.
The White Sea is one of the most beautiful among the seas of northern Russia. The nature here is untouched by man, and the local animal life is rich and unique. Being part of Russia’s inland sea it belongs to the Arctic Ocean basin. Every winter Greenland seals make their rookeries in the northern part of the White Sea and their calves are born there. In summer birds team-up on uninhabited islands to hatch eggs and rear their chicks. The sea is also home to beluga (White whales). The deserted seashores and numerous uninhabited islands provide scenic panoramas. Steep rocky shores are alternated with flat strips of taiga and mixed forest. You may even catch sight of the incredible aurora borealis!
The underwater world of the White Sea boasts an array of magnificent sea life and excellent scenery with fantastic underwater ice formations, caverns and fissures and even shipwrecks! The underwater environment is exquisite with soft corals, sponges, starfish, crabs, hermit crabs, sea urchins, shrimps and sea anemones. Underwater rocks provide dwelling places for cod, wolf fish, sea perch, butterfish and flounders. In winter lancet fish, tomcod, flounder and pinogor will allow you to approach very closely.
The White Sea winter is long and severe, and can be very unpredictable. Appropriate dressing above and below the water is a must! The mean temperature in February is about 5°F (-15°C) and may fall as low as -22°F (-40°C). The ice may be up to 5ft (1.5m) thick. At times, warm air from the Atlantic raises the air temperature to a comfortable 43°F (+6°C).
The temperature of the water in winter is about 30-28°F (-1°C to -2°C). The salinity of the White Sea is 27.5–28 parts per thousand, lower than the mean salinity of the Arctic Ocean. Tides are regular and have a daily cycle. Divers can enjoy water visibility in a range from 49-164ft (15–50m).
Arctic Circle Dive Centre
The Arctic Circle PADI Dive Centre will be your Base Camp of operations while diving the White Sea and is situated on the Arctic Circle parallel of latitude that runs approximately 66° 33’39’’ north of the Equator. The center is the red dot in the map to the right.
It is one of the best places in the world to discover sea ice diving. The dive instructors have many years of diving experience in all types of Arctic conditions, even the most severe.
The day usually begins with a substantial breakfast at 0800
hours (8 AM). A comprehensive briefing follows, providing
information on diving sites, weather conditions, water
temperature and visibility, etc. Snowmobiles are used to ferry
divers to mobile ice camps. Depending on the current location of
ice camp, this journey will
take between 10 to 30 minutes.
Travelers stay in comfortable wooden guesthouses overlooking the frozen sea, experience exquisite Russian food, enjoy traditional Russian beverages, and after an arduous day of ice diving, relax and unwind in a Russian banya (steam bath). The guesthouses offer accommodation in two types of room:
- Comfort: Twin room with toilet, basin and shower
- Economy: Twin room with common bio-toilet, and shared basin (per two rooms).
- Triple accommodation (with an extra bed) is possible on
No single supplement if prepared to share.
A common room or saloon is located in one of the guesthouses where daily meals are served and offers guests a place to rest and relax. Also available is a music center, karaoke, VCR, and a collection of English language videos and records.
- Check-in: 0600 (6 AM)
- Check-out: 2300 (11 PM)
Check-in and check-out time can be changed according to your transport schedule upon your advanced request and there is no extra payment for early check-in or late check-out.
Accommodation packages include full board (Russian and international cuisine): buffet breakfast, three-course lunch or packed lunch on diving site, and dinner (set menu). Cold snacks, tea, coffee, hot chocolate, and soft drinks are available around the clock. Should you need a vegetarian menu or have other special dietary requirements please inform the expedition operator at time of booking.
The Russian steam bath (banya) is available daily. A visit to a traditional Russian steam bath provides a unique opportunity to get rid of anxiety and nervousness. It brings you peace of mind and serenity, cleans your skin and makes you feel more youthful. Herbal teas and liqueurs are offered during your banya session.
The dive centre team includes a medical attendant with vast experience with military rescue teams and expeditions. Oxygen and a comprehensive first aid kit are also available.
The electricity outlets are European sockets 220-V with two round plugs. UK socket adapters are available.
A satellite phone and internet is available for use. Rates on request.
Arctic Circle PADI Dive Center
Nilmaguba, Louhsky District, Karelia Republic, Russia 115191
Contact: Diana Sarukhanova
Spoken languages: English, Russian
Open: 0900 to 1700
Local Time: GMT +3 Moscow, Saint Petersburg
The Arctic Circle Moscow office (RuDIVE Group)
bdl.1, 19A , Suvorovskaya str.,
Moscow, Russia, 107023
Tel. +7 (495) 925-7799
- Eco-Photo Explorers Trip Log & Photo Gallery: Diving Russia’s High Arctic: Beneath the White Sea
- Arctic Circle White Sea Ice Diving Season Photo Gallery (February 2009)
- Tourism portal for Regions of Karelia
- Local Time (Karelia)
Ice Diving Information
Snowmobiles with towed sledges are used to ferry divers and equipment to and from the dive site. Divers will sit on 2 benches one in front of the other. Each bench can accommodate up to 3 to 4 divers. Since the sledge is open to the elements (wind, cold and snow) and can take anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes to get to the dive site, it is extremely important to be well dressed. It is key to protect your face, chest and hands!
All diving is done using mobile ice camps (mobile wagons). These mobile wagons are comfortable warm wooden huts that have self-governing heating systems that maintains the above-zero temperature during severe Arctic conditions (as low as -22°F/-30°C). The huts are fully stocked with all the necessary equipment and accessories. Hot tea and coffee with sandwiches will be served and are a welcome treat.
If you are not a qualified ice diver you can take the PADI Ice Diving Course during the trip.
- The average length of one dive is 30-40 minutes
- There is no Nitrox, only air is used
- Depth is rope dependant, usually not more than about 65ft
Maximum allowed depth is 98ft (30m)
- Water visibility: 49-164ft (15-50m)
- Thickness of ice: up to 5ft (1.5m)
- Water temperature: 30-28°F (-1°C to -2°C)
- Air temperature: 43°F to -22°F (+6°C to -30°C)
- During periods of severe frost, dives can be made from a heated compartment placed over the maina (ice hole)
- Ladders are not used to get out of the dive holes, there will be people available to help divers exit the holes.
- Dry suit (neoprene dry suites are highly recommended)
- Warm dry undergarments (recommend two sets if possible)
- Two unfreezing regulators (regulators must have been serviced just prior to the trip)
- BCD (preferably with integrated weight system)
- Mask, fins and safety tube
- Gloves (three-finger mitts or dry gloves with rings are highly recommended)
- Diving computer
- Powerful dive light, preferably rechargeable. Batteries (if needed) may be bought locally
All equipment listed above can be purchased or rented, but we strongly recommend that you bring your own gear. Make sure you double check it before you depart on your trip. You can also read our scuba diving information web page about diving in Antarctica. Please note, this diving information can be applied to diving in all polar regions.
Ice Diving Technique:
Divers penetrate under ice through sawed rectangular holes and go down in buddy teams. A safety rope is tied to the waist of each diver, and the divers hold the rope. A tender person on the surface holds the rope, and the end is fixed by an ice-screw. In total, there are at least 6 people involved in the diving process: two divers, two tenders, and two people providing general help.
Safety has been a priory since the very first day of the Dive Centre. The severe northern environment with low temperatures and ice covered terrain requires the utmost attention towards safety standards. To this day, there has not been a single accident in the history of the centre.
The first pair of divers usually enter the water within 30-40 minutes of arrival at the mobile ice camp. At 1400 hours (2 pm) lunch is delivered to the ice camp and everybody retreats to the common room module to eat and relax, and to share thoughts and impressions. The second diving session is scheduled for the afternoon and the return to base camp is usually around 1800 hours (6 pm).
Possible Dive Locations:
There are a wide variety of underwater rocky landscapes within the vicinity of the Arctic Circle Dive Center. Straits with rapid currents for drift diving and wrecks, offer additional experiences.
At the Cape Kindo site, the water depth increases very gradually. A gentle slope reaching 50–70m with a very well outlined belt of Laminaria and other kelps represents the relief. Hermit crabs, crabs and starfish populate the seabed, including the cold-water species Urasterias and Pteraster. This is the place to meet the big predatory gastropods of the White Sea such as Neptunea and Bukcinum.
In the vicinity of Krestovi Islands, there is a rock overgrown with sea anemones (Actinia metridium) and a bank with very beautiful soft corals, more sea anemones (Actinia sp) and sponges. Here one can come across hermit crabs, starfish (Urasteria sp) and a rare brittle star (Ophiuroidea gorgonacephalus) with the exotic name of the ‘Head of Gorgon’.
The top of the bank is 14–18m below sea level. The steep northern slope of the bank extends to a depth of more than 50m. A gentler southern slope reaches 28–30m and the bank diameter is about 15–20m. Here you will also find a shipwreck, a fishing vessel with body length of 12m, overgrown with Ascidiacea sp and sea anemones (Actinia sp).
At the entrance to Guba Nilmo, near Isle Ploshkin, the sunken ship Yaroslavets lies at a depth of 22m. The ship has a body length of 22m.
During dives at Isle Kastyan you will see a virtually vertical wall perfectly lighted by the midday sun. You will see bright Actinia sp and Ascidiacea sp, gastropods and Nudibranchiata molluscs moving unhurriedly on the rock shelves. Your attention will also be drawn to starfish on the seabed as well as to middle-sized lancet fish hiding in the rock crevices.
Drift diving is performed in the Strait of Velikaya Salma near to islands of Kandalaksha National Park. The speed of tidal current here reaches 2m/sec. You will float over forests of Laminaria, purple-fish, and colorful sponges, as well as meadows of shell rock overgrown with Ascidiacea sp and hydroids.
At Biofilter Bay diving is organized near to vertical rocks overlooking picturesque stone blocks covering the seabed. Local dwellers are starfish and Ascidiacea sp, and one can come across Nudibranchiata molluscs, gastropods and bivalve molluscs. The name, ‘the bio-filter bay’, comes from the numerous water filtering aquatic animals that inhabit this area. The bay is free from sea currents.
Site for training dives. Training dives are performed in the neighborhood of the dive center pier. This is the ideal place to practice dry-suit-diving techniques and underwater swimming. The bed of the sea is flat here and 7–10m deep. There is no sea current. Despite the very smooth and plain relief of the seabed, there is a host of things to look at, including soles, big hermit-crabs, Nudibranchiata molluscs, starfish, eel-like Pholidae sp, tittlebat and bullheads.
Russian Visa Information
According to the Russian Federation law, all foreign nationals are required to have entry visas to travel to the Russian Federation. Russian entry visas can be obtained at local Russian Embassy or Consulate, proper authorization (invitation) from the Passport and Visa Department (UVIR) of the Ministry of Internal Affairs or specially authorized travel agencies is required.
For your convenience, the information pertaining to the visa application process is detailed here. NOTE: SINCE THIS PROCESS CAN CHANGE DAY TO DAY, ALWAYS CHECK WITH YOUR LOCAL AUTHORITIES FOR THE MOST UP TO DATE INFORMATION. ECO-PHOTO EXPLORERS IS NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR INACCURATE INFORMATION. In order to obtain a Russian entry visa the following documents must be submitted to the Russian Consulate in your country of residence:
- A completed visa application (two per person). All entries on the form must be typed or printed in block letters in English or Russian and signed by the applicant. Incomplete visa application forms will not be processed.
- A national passport valid for at least one month after the date of intended departure from Russia. Holders of travel documents other than passports (Permits to re-enter the United States of America, Refugee Travel Document, etc.) must apply in person with a documentary proof of their legal status.
- Three standard passport-size pictures of the applicant, signed on the back by the applicant.
- The following documents:
- Invitation Tourist Visa (provided by The Arctic Circle Dive Center);
- Standard tourist confirmation from the hosting Russian tourist company registered with the MFA of Russia (fax copy);
- Original voucher issued by an authorized travel agency,
indicating full name of the traveler, date of birth, passport
number, dates of entry and departure, name of the hosting Russian
A hotel reservation alone is not valid for obtaining a tourist visa. The invitations must be on letterheads and contain full name of the invited person, his/her date of birth, passport number, period of stay in Russia and cities to be visited. The invitations must be signed by authorized persons and sealed.
- Bank Money Order, Postal Money Order or Certified (by the Bank) Company Check payable to the Russian Consulate General for visa processing. Personal checks and cash are not accepted.
To locate embassies of the Russian Federation or a consular office that serves your region and to obtain further information, please contact the Russian Consulate directly or visit www.russianembassy.net or www.russianconsulate.com.
Global Visa and Passport Service Professionals
Passport and visa expediter providing fast processing of passport applications, renewals and replacement. The following companies are the most experienced and well-established passport and visa companies in the world.
Travisa | CIBT
For British Citizens:
- For information regarding UK passports contact the United Kingdom Passport Service.
- For flight reservation, information and Russian entry visas please contact Overseas Business Travel.
The U.S. Embassy in Moscow:
White Sea Diving Schedule & Trip Information - Reservations are required to reserve your spot on all expeditions. Please contact us for further details by using our online form. Due to unforeseen circumstances, dates can change without notice, please verify your trip before making any airfare or accommodation arrangements.
- Trip Dates: Trips runs from February to April.
- Rates: See below, depends on room type | Referrer: Eco-Photo Explorers
- Rates Include: Accommodation in Twin room, Meals full board including mineral water and soft drinks; Ice diving program (2 dives a day); A daily Russian steam bath; Tank and weights; All land and boat transportation at the Dive Centre; Services of diving guides.
- Rates Do Not Include: Alcoholic beverages; Diving gear hire (other than tanks and weights); Tips for the Dive Centre staff; Optional tours, transfers and guide services in St.Petersburg, Moscow and Kuusamo. PADI Ice Diving Course + Certificate Supplements (for non qualified Ice Divers).
- General Notes: Itineraries can be tailor made on
request; Overnight stays, tours and transfers in Moscow, St.
Petersburg or Kuusamo can be arranged; The number of days in the
program can be changed upon request.
All prices and fares are quoted in Euro per person. The rates are based on current tariffs and are subject to change due to unforeseen circumstances. While the expedition company will do everything possible to maintain the listed prices, if it is necessary to levy surcharge they reserve the right to do so and notification will be given at the time of initial invoicing.
- How to get to the Arctic Circle Lodge? There are
various possibilities to get to the Arctic Lodge. You can go by
train from Moscow and St. Petersburg or fly up to Murmansk. The
most easy way we recommend is to fly via Helsinki to Kusaamo.
Please contact us or your travel agent for international flight
reservations, and inform us of your arrival date, time and
flight number so that the expedition company can book hotel and
airport transfers for you.
If you prefer to stay longer in Moscow, St. Petersburg or Kuusamo the expedition company will be glad to book accommodation and arrange a special programme for you. This could include, for example, city sightseeing, theatre visits, etc.
- Where to fly to? Finnair flies directly from London Heathrow to Kuusamo, other flights might have a stopover via Helsinki. The expedition company representative will meet you at the Kuusamo airport upon your arrival. We recommend spending one night in Ruka before taking the long drive to the lodge. The best and cheapest way to Ruka is by bus, which is available outside the airport. Make sure you know find out the schedule before leaving. You can take a taxi, but it will be much more expensive! The transfer to the Arctic Circle Diving Lodge will take about 5-8 hours and is a beautiful ride through the wilderness of Finland and Russia and will pass the Finnish/Russian border at Sala.
- Diving Baggage: The free baggage allowance varies per airline. Usually it is 30 kg in business class and 20 kg in economy class. Please check with your airline about the excess luggage rules as well as the rules for carrying sport or scuba equipment.
2013 Ultimate White Sea Photo Expedition
|Trip Date||Comfort Double Room||Ice Diving Course|
|17 Mar 2013 (8
24 Mar 2013 (8 days)
Join award winning professional photographer Franco Banfi on
an expedition to the White Sea, one of the best places in the world for
sea ice diving. Part of northern Russia’s inland sea the White Sea
belongs to the Arctic Ocean basin and is the only sea in Europe to
freeze every year. Nature here is untouched by man and the wildlife is
rich and unique. We experience this on an exciting husky safari on our
way to the lodge. Every winter Greenland seals make their rookeries in
the northern part of the White Sea and their calves are born there. The
sea is also home to white beluga whales.
Please contact us for further details by using our online form. If you call the expedition company directly, please tell them you were referred to them by Eco-Photo Explorers.
Expedition Log & Photo Gallery: Diving Russia’s High Arctic: Beneath the White Sea
Base Camp: Arctic Circle Diving Lodge
DAN Diving Insurance is highly recommended for all divers...
Please note, Eco-Photo Explorers is acting only as an authorized referral agent for the expedition company (Waterproof Expeditions). The expedition company is solely responsible for the services advertised, including, but not limited to, trip availability, price terms and conditions, and all other legal obligations.
All customer requests and information sent to Eco-Photo Explorers will always be forwarded to the expedition company in good faith. Eco-Photo Explorers will also try to assist customers should the tour operator not communicate back to them in a reasonable amount of time.
Waterproof Expeditions specializes in unique photography, diving, snorkeling, and cruise experiences to some of the world’s most remote and exotic destinations. Ideal for explorers and divers alike, all trips are designed around the element of water – underwater, above and beyond. Please contact us by using our online form.
diving insurance is
highly recommended for all divers...
Published Articles, Images & Covers
the White Sea: Diving Russia's Arctic
Sportdiving Magazine (Australian, Aug/Sept 2011, Issue 147)
Magazine Article (pdf)
Beneath the White Sea: Diving Russia’s High Arctic
Underwater Journal (January 2011, Online Issue)
Web Article (pdf) | Complete Issue (pdf)
the White Sea: Diving Russia's Arctic
Advanced Diver Magazine (June 2010, Online Issue)
Web Article (pdf)
Diving Russia’s High Arctic: Beneath the White Sea
Underwater Photography Guide (December 2010, Online Issue)
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