Establishing a healthy safety culture in the sport of freediving begins by teaching our children good habits from the get-go. But sometimes parents who move into a coastal community don’t know how to do this. At a dinner party recently in Jupiter, Florida, I was seated at a table with a fun couple from Colorado. They had moved into the area with their family a few months earlier and told me they were really enjoying their first taste of coastal living. In conversing with them I learned they had a 12-year-old son who was having a lot of fun discovering the sport of freediving and spearfishing with one of his friends. They were thrilled about this and talked about what an idyllic childhood these boys were having. My ears perked up and over the course of dinner that evening I asked the following questions:
1. Have they been taught freedive safety?
2. Do you and your child understand freedive risk management?
3. Did you know there are freedive courses to help keep your child safe?
4. Did your son take a boater safety certification course?
5. Do the boys have a Personal Floatation Device for each passenger onboard?
6. Do the boys display a divers down flag when diving?
7. Does your boat have a VHF radio onboard and do they know how to use it?
What I discovered really concerned me. Neither the couple or their son were aware there were rules and regulations associated with boating, nor did they realize there were risks in freediving and that there are safety guidelines to help minimize those risks. In the days following our conversation, these parents took action to ensure their son and his friend were educated, certified, and had the proper equipment. The mom plans to take a freedive course with her son so she will have a better understanding of what he’s doing and how to help him be a safer diver. They thanked me and said they thought it was no accident I was seated at their table.
This experience got me thinking. How often do we who are knowledgeable about freediving/spearfishing fail to recognize that our knowledge could be hugely valuable to those who are new to the sport? In fact, our sharing freediving safety tips may save another’s life! In the next series of blogs, I thought I would share my knowledge in answer to those questions discussed over the dinner table that night and would encourage others to share their own ideas and tips in the comments section below. Helping new freedivers learn and practice safety is good for the sport. But I want to address Question 1 right now:
FIVE BASIC FREEDIVING SAFETY TIPS
Who’s Your Designated Diver?
It’s important to dive under the direct and constant supervision of a dive partner who remains at the surface watching you constantly, even if tempted by the trophy fish of a lifetime. Your partner should have your safety as his most important mission. He should be someone you trust with your life, because he may well be called to save it if you experience a blackout underwater. If you dive to 100 ft and your buddy can only do 40 ft, who is going to rescue you if you get into trouble at depth? If you are diving with someone whose skills are not at your level, you should restrict your diving to their abilities to ensure you have an opportunity to be rescued if you blackout.
Lose the Dead Weight
Freediver blackout can occur anywhere in the water column, but it most often occurs on ascent at a depth of 30 ft or shallower. If you are weighted to be neutrally buoyant at 30 ft, you are more likely to float up to the surface if you blackout at a depth of 30 ft or shallower. Properly weighting gives you a much greater chance of survival, as others are better able to find you quickly and administer aid. In order to be properly weighted adjust your weights while on the surface so that you are positively buoyant after fully exhaling. You cannot count on releasing your weight belt if you feel you are in trouble. Many excellent freedivers and spearfishers, who surely did not want to die, have been found lifeless on the bottom with their weight belts firmly in place.
Easy Does It
Divers Alert Network finds, from the reports submitted to their Breath-hold Incident Database, the most common contributing trigger to fatal breath-hold events is hyperventilation. Hyperventilation is any breathing in excess of your body’s metabolic needs. In freediving, deep slow breathing is used to help the diver relax, but it also allows the diver to offload an excess of CO2 – the buildup of which, during a breath-hold, is the trigger that tells the body it is time to breathe. Offloading CO2 can make a dive more comfortable, but it can also make the dive more deadly. Without the trigger to breathe, it is easy to stay down longer and unknowingly diminish your oxygen supplies to the point you are unable to make it back to the surface safely.
Even after you surface and inhale, you are still at risk for blacking out. In fact, many blackouts occur at the surface. You should watch your buddy for a full 30 seconds after he/she surfaces before you begin your dive. Although you inhale a deep breath of air after you surface, your oxygen-starved brain will not receive this newly inhaled oxygen until your heart has time to circulate it to the brain. It takes about 30 seconds for this to be accomplished.
Take a Break
During a breath-hold dive, your body receives a build-up of CO2 and a depletion of O2. After surfacing it is very important that a diver takes the time to offload the excess CO2 accumulation, and to replenish depleted oxygen stores. The time it takes for this to be accomplished is about twice the duration of your last dive, i.e. if you’re down for 1 min, you should rest at the surface for 2 min. The best way to do this is to time your surface intervals.
Dive safely, friends, and share your knowledge of freedive safety with other divers!