by Julie Richardson
I met Terry Maas shortly after my boys’ freedive accident in 2008 when we worked together in creating a reenactment video of their near-fatal incident to further freedive safety education. While working with him on the video, I learned Terry has a deep passion for safety in our sport, and was working on a very ambitious project – the Freediver Recovery Vest (FRV). This device would deliver a freediver to the surface if he exceeds either his preset depth or time limits. As Terry is an advisor to DiveWise, I have closely followed the progress of his FRV project. In 2011 he released the first version and recently he has released a more streamlined version, the FRV MKII.
So, how does it work?
Several award-winning spearfishermen in the USA tested the vest, evaluating everything you the user would want to know. Here is what they found:
Joe Tobin is a paramedic and avid freediver and spearfisherman who holds state and world spearfishing records. He recently evaluated the FRV and described its function.
“This streamlined device is similar to an inflatable life vest. It contains a sophisticated software system that is user programmable and can be set with time and depth limit parameters. Once these self programmed parameters are exceeded, the vest’s innovative compressed air cylinder will self inflate the integral high volume air bladder and return the diver to the surface in a face up position. The goal of the Freediver’s Recovery Vest is to save critical time lost after a blackout in trying to locate and retrieve the unconscious diver. If an unconscious diver can be brought to the surface promptly after exceeding his self programmed time or depth profile, then rescue by his dive buddy can begin promptly and greatly enhance the chances of survival for the SWB victim.”
One feature important to Joe was the ability of a blackout victim who had been brought to the surface by the vest to receive rescue breathing. He was impressed at how much buoyancy the vest provided and at how easily he could administer rescue breathing to a floating victim.
What do the Pros Say?
Vice-national, three-time Pacific Coast Spearfishing Champion, and USA Spearfishing Team member Dan Silviera tested the FRV for fit, streamlining, and ease of use. He found the unit to fit comfortably due to its adjustable size and stretchy neoprene. Dan’s dive profiles were exactly 33 to 34 seconds for a 33 meter dive whether he was wearing the vest or not, so drag was not an issue. While diving with the vest, Dan reported completely forgetting he was wearing it and he found it easy to use after a brief review of its functionality.
If you still wonder whether you want a vest added to your spearfishing routine, you might be most interested in the experience of OMER’s Mark Laboccetta. After a brief in-water trial he was impressed enough with the vest to ask Terry for permission to use it in the annual three-day spearfishing tournament in Wilmington, NC. Mark never dived less than 50 ft in this tournament; his deepest dive was 100 ft. Did it interfere with his performance? Mark answers, “It obviously didn’t hinder my diving ability because by the end of the tournament I had the highest overall score.”
Yes, the FRV is an expensive piece of equipment, but divers have garages full of pricey equipment to enhance their dive performance. In a sport with inherent safety risks, why not also invest in equipment designed to keep you safe? I like what Mark Laboccetta had to say, “It is a nice feeling, particularly when diving more aggressively, to know that should your buddy have his guard down, and should the unthinkable happen, you might come out of it just fine. This feeling is hard to put a price on and I’ve been spearfishing/freediving for over 20 years.” Mark knows well how quickly a great day of spearfishing can turn deadly. He has experienced a near-fatal blackout himself and has a keen appreciation for just how important it is to have a reliable backup like the FRV when things go wrong.
My boys now dive with the protection of the FRV MKII. After suffering the trauma of nearly losing both boys to blackout, I know just how essential and valuable a life-saving device can be to a freediver. If it sounds expensive to you, consider this: the price tag of $1500 each is far less than their father and I paid for their medevac and hospitalization subsequent to their near-fatal double blackout.
In the years after the boys’ accident I have worried a lot while my boys are out diving. But I have now purchased something invaluable: safety for my sons as they pursue their passion for spearfishing, and peace of mind for myself.
For more information visit Oceanic Safety Systems.