Guidelines for Safe Freediving

Compiled by Volker Hoehne

  1. Recognize that freedive hunting is a solo activity - This means that it is unlikely that help will be there for many threats to your safety. The use of whistles, agreed upon call signals, or even sticking close the boat may give you peace of mind, but let's face it, in a real emergency, you could be long dead before your fellow divers will even know that there is trouble. You are solely responsible for your own well-being.
  2. Recognize that underwater blackout can come on quickly and with few warning signs - Don't assume that you can avoid blackout by changing the dive profile mid-dive. I have kidded myself thinking that I could avoid blackout by simply lightening up my level of exertion if I started to get a bit dizzy. However, loss of consciousness can occur so quickly, there may be no time to react to its onset.
  3. Don't "pump up" before a dive - Hyperventilation prior to the dive will suppress your body's feedback system that tells you it is time to come up for air.
  4. Recognize that diving when you are fatigued will lower your body's ability to handle stress - A given dive on day 4 of a trip will be more difficult for your body to handle than it was on day 2.
  5. If a fish has holed up with your spear, get some help or use a spotter before attempting to retrieve it - Recognize that high effort dives such as this are not part of your normal dive profile. This rule is especially important to follow since most fish always seem to hole up just at or below your maximum diving depth.
  6. If you are practiced enough to manage depths of 40 feet or more, you must acknowledge that extra time is required to get back to the surface. This extra time must be factored into your decision on when to end the dive.
  7. No fish is worth dying for.
  8. Finally, realize that errant diving decisions on your part will affect many others besides you - A diving accident will not only have a devastating emotional effect on your friends and family, you might also inadvertently create a legal nightmare for those who have helped facilitate your dive trip.
And I (Volker) add:
  • Overweighing - Diving heavy makes it that much more difficult to get to the surface if you have a problem, and makes it harder for your buddies to get to you.
  • Always get help if a fish "holes up" - The exertion and adrenaline are priming you for SWB. No fish is worth dying for but this is probably the #1 cause of deaths in this sport.
  • Don't pool train without a spotter - If you do "static" (no exertion) apnea training, have a clear system by which your buddy knows if you're OK. Have them tap you on the shoulder every 15 seconds and move a finger back and forth as a signal that you're "OK". This is the number two way people get killed.
  • Always dive with a flag - Even then keep an eye out for boaters. There are a lot of idiots out there.
  • If you have to use a reel be very careful - Stick to the floatline/float setup whenever possible.
  • Don't go if conditions look marginal - Too many people drown every year on the North Coast when the weather turns just a little worse. Go have a nice breakfast instead.