BUDDY DIVING SAVED ME FROM SHALLOW WATER BLACKOUT
by Bill Cardet
I was freediving off Miami, Florida in about 50-feet of water. My dive partner, Sheri, and I had both been through Kirk Kracks’ Performance Freediving class. We were spearfishing together as we had many times in the past. We are both committed to staying with and backing up our partner in a “one up and one down” rotation.
My previous dive had been a little longer than usual for me at 1 minute 50 seconds. I felt good and relaxed. After a surface interval of close to 3 minutes, I started my next dive. Just before starting my ascent, I spotted a hogfish and speared it. The fish got tangled in a lobster pot line so I freed it. Then my shaft caught the line so I had to free it also. I felt OK coming up, not in any major distress. The next thing I remember is Sheri close behind me asking if I was all right. I had no idea what she was talking about until she said I had been sinking and she had to pull me back up. I felt fine and if she had not told me what had happened I would not have known.
I have spent much time since analyzing what had happened. I have done a lot of freediving and this was relatively shallow compared to some of the depths we have done. I was wearing 8 lbs of weight with a shorty 3mm wetsuit. At the surface with a full inhalation I was positively buoyant. My dive partner said that she had watched me surface and then glanced down to see what I had speared. When she looked back up, I was sinking. She immediately dropped her gun, swam down, and pulled me back up.
I believe that upon surfacing I exhaled and then blacked out prior to my next inhalation. Since I no longer had a lungful of air I was negatively buoyant and sank. The dive had lasted 1 minute 30 seconds, an average time for this depth. I am convinced that our commitment to stay close together and the knowledge of what to do in the event of a shallow water blackout (thanks to Kirk’s class) saved my life.
What scares me the most about this incident is that this was just a normal dive that I have done thousands of times. I have since lowered the amount of weight I wear and try to be neutral at about 30′. This makes spearfishing harder but increases the safety factor. I also am now getting into the habit of doing “hook breaths” even after relatively shallow dives. This is a quick inhalation followed by pressurizing the air in your lungs (using your tongue to prevent air movement) prior to exhalation. Several of these immediately upon surfacing can help to prevent a blackout. This incident has certainly reinforced the need to dive with a partner under direct supervision. If she had not been watching me closely the day could easily have had a different ending.