Despite the risk of experiencing a fatal blackout while freediving or spearfishing, I meet a lot of divers who continue to choose to dive alone. Let’s examine a few of the reasons divers have given me for why they feel freediving solo is safe for them.
“I’ve never had a blackout because I’m very careful and I know what I’m doing.” If a diver is being careful, he does not dive alone, as this sets him up to die if he does blackout, since no one is around to perform a rescue. Gene Higa was on the Nationals 1999 Championship Team and certainly knew what he was doing. But he died during the 2004 Nationals in Hawaii when he blacked out on the surface and sank to the bottom in 85 ft of water, where his body was later found. He left behind a wife and young son. He was diving alone.
“It’s the young, aggressive guys who get into trouble. I know my limits.” Recently in the Florida Keys a 59-year-old experienced freediver was diving for lobster without supervision in about 15 ft of water. When he failed to surface his buddies started looking for him. They found his body on the bottom a short distance away and resuscitative efforts failed. The autopsy revealed he died of shallow water blackout (SWB). He left behind a wife and daughter.
“I’ve been diving solo for many years without a problem – I’m aware of the risks and I’m willing to take them.” In January 2002 Mauricio Solis went for his last dive. Despite his girlfriend’s pleas against it, he regularly chose to dive solo. He promised her he would never push it and was not known to be a daredevil in the water. Yet, he died from SWB while diving alone. His girlfriend, Susan, continues to grieve.
“I feel the differences as my oxygen depletes and I automatically know when it’s time to head up, no matter how deep I am.” Bill Cardet has many years experience as a freediver and spearfisher and also successfully completed a Performance Freediving International intermediate level class. He was diving in 50 ft of water with Sheri Daye with a total dive time of 1:30 – an average time for this depth for Bill. He recalls, “What scares me the most about this incident is that this was just a normal dive that I have done thousands of times.” When Bill blacked out at the surface and began sinking, Sheri jumped into action and rescued her buddy.
I receive emails and calls from all over the world with reports of fatal and near-fatal freedive incidents. There are literally hundreds of other examples that prove beyond any doubt that no diver can predict blackout 100% of the time, and no diver, no matter how experienced or how safe or how trained he may be, can know for certain he will not experience a fatal blackout while diving alone.
Divers may make the decision to take that risk. But my impression is not so much that they are willing to die as they think statistically this is something that will happen to the other guy and not them because they have abilities and training and intuition enough to remain out of harm’s way. Statistics do not support this. Many fatalities involve divers with substantial training and/or experience who surely did not plan to die while diving.
No diver makes the decision of accepting risk for himself alone. When a diver goes out spearfishing solo or without the direct supervision of a buddy, he also makes the decision to potentially leave his children fatherless, his wife a widow, his parents childless, and his friends and family grief stricken.
If you freedive and spearfish, please check out the safety information available on this site and get educated on how to enjoy this sport safely. Many families, mine included, enjoy this great sport on a regular basis and put fish on the table while practicing safe diving.
After losing Mauricio, his girlfriend Susan said, “I just hope that if other freedivers, like Mauricio, choose to dive alone and think they are being safe, the danger is beyond your control.”