The Safety Measures
I have always wondered how it is possible that every other sport counts with multiple or even redundant "layers" or protective devices for bodily protection. Think of bicycling, pads, helmets, elbow protectors, etc. Go in your mind to any other sport activity like for instance, gymnastics where they land on a softened pad, or even ping-pong with their goggles for eyes protection, etc. Parachutists have a reserve parachute… just in case. I can go on and on. But let’s go back to the water!
Come to think of it, I believe that the ONLY sport where the athlete is almost left with no other defense against something gone wrong (besides his human, thus, fallible surface partner) is precisely our Freediving Sport, which is considered the one sport with the highest fatality rate of them all!
It is NOT my intention to disparage or criticize in any conceivable way our loyal "week-end warrior companion" who goes Freediving or spear fishing with us! His or her loyalty is not in question whatsoever, but let’s consider some of the interfering elements that, if present, might alter the final consequence of what began as an "incident" and could end as an "accident". And more often than not, a fatal one, at that.
No one expects to suffer a blackout. Many don’t even consider it a possibility! But, as much as a fall can (and eventually WILL) occur to a cyclist, or a spill on a skating ring will inevitably happen to any of those marvelous champions, etc, so it will be, sooner or later, in a lesser or greater measure that "our" private mishap is going to hit us, partially or completely.
When I am using the term "partially" I am referring to our nicely named "SAMBA" but even the nicest, almost innocuous version of a hypoxique state can rapidly progress into a full-blown Blackout IF immediate and effective exterior (someone else’s) help is not provided.
Neither it is my intention to dissect one by one the "golden safety rules" that supposedly will help us in preventing or cope with a blackout. Let’s just refresh them.
- Avoid excessive hyperventilation.
- Stay within a conservative dive profile.
- Don’t take more than 3-4 slow deep breaths.
- Rest between dives; allow yourself to recover for 3-5 minutes before diving again.
- Don’t push yourself to go deeper and/or to stay longer than your level and experience allows.
- Be positively buoyant from the last 10mts (33 feet) to the surface
- Never, ever free dive alone. Always free dive with a buddy.
I said I wasn’t going to do it "one by one", but I can’t help myself to pick up a couple of them just to prove my point!
I like "Avoid excessive hyperventilation". A little redundancy in here, how do you do not "exceed" your ventilation IF you hyperventilating? Which is the point where you are hyperventilating "excessively"? We all know how the water temperature or nervousness, or plain excitement as we want to go back down there to finish off that beautiful grouper which is just about to shed the spear and go his merry way out of our sight, can influence the way we hyperventilate. In other words, exterior and subjective factor can and do alter our behavior and make us commit mistakes.
Number 5 can so easily be overridden just by the mere presence of a nice, fat potential prey looking up at us…. some 15 feet deeper than our "usual" maximum depth level. Oops!!!?? I have to retrieve that spear shaft stuck in the cave, just a little deeper than my experience allows me, etc, etc. These are the "imponderable", the unexpected, the things that just happen, and can put us in serious trouble!
What about the one mentioning "be positive buoyant" for the last 33 feet, so our ascent will be "guaranteed"…did we ditched the weight belt before…or not? Oh, God please make me float FACE UP and not the contrary, to see if I can make it on my own…!
And last, but not least, the most important of them all, the "dive buddy" that we wish could be a little godly omnipresent. But, hey, he is just like us, same DNA guys!
Unless he is always, (did I say always?) keeping a constant surveillance upon us, from start to end and this means checking out for our total and complete recovery on surface, not just checking out if we broke surface and going his merry way behind that "other" grouper that he saw from the surface while, with the other eye, checking on us…
In between the few points I have just touched in this article "wannabe" there are so many shades, variations, alternatives that I would need a Pentium 4 to cover them all!
The truth to the matter is that, despite all our diligence and efforts in planning and conducting our free diving in the observance of all these, and many more, safety rules, Freediving is in itself, by its own nature, a sport (thanks God!) where the "unexpected" is part of the attraction.
So many factors can interfere with our safety, loss of permanent visual contact with our buddy because of reduced visibility, depth, inappropriate surface position of the spotter by reason of currents, distractions that will make a proper intersection and recovery difficult if not impossible when the spotter is not, by any reason, well ventilated and alert, having taken into consideration all of the above, etc.
I always repeat another instructor’s comment on this subject when I am giving my lessons:?? "Same ocean, same day, doesn’t count, guys".
So many of us have succumbed to this Freediving and spear fishing scourge that shallow water blackout is, all along while being literally surrounded by companions, in the water, but NOT in the right spot at the right time.
Until the diving industry begin rethinking it’s policy and at the same time they give us all the "Star Trek" like equipment, start equipping us with the comparable safety equipment that everybody else has, we will continue to die,?? more of us,?? more often.
Such specialized safety gear, specific to our unique needs, conceived solely with the very particular conditions that freedivers and underwater hunters frequently face already exists.?? It has been patented, and since its conception in 1997 could have helped save hundreds of lives.
I have heard some freedivers tell me that: "No one ANTICIPATES having a Shallow Water Blackout therefore, according to their point of view, they wouldn’t know when to go for the safety device. Well I responded that "no one anticipates either, let’s say… having a car accident, but they have air bags and wear their safety belts….
Likewise, no one anticipates that their home will ever catch fire, but they all buy home insurance… the examples are endless!
I still haven’t heard a parachutist saying: "Today, guys, I don’t anticipate that my principal parachute is not going to open, so I won’t carry my reserve parachute…"
In all of these cases and a myriad of others that neither time nor space allows me to discuss here, all the implicated persons HAD their precautions taken, ranging from air bags (that they wish they NEVER need but love to have them IF they did!) to countless other in different scenarios.
So, why do we freedivers and spearhunters continue to "gamble" with the possibilities with no effective, reliable, self controlled safety device that is conceived to be used ON TOP and in conjunction with ALL the other well established safety measures?
I propose to you all, Freedivers as well as spear fishermen, to discuss this safety equipment possibilities, I propose to you to open to discussion its merits or lack thereof.
Many others have extensively written about Shallow Water Blackouts, we all are acquainted with its tragically death toll,?? little time passes without knowing of another victim, and believe me, the ones we do know about constitute only a small fractions of the ones we don’t. Not everyone that dies of a SWB has someone with a computer to put the bad news on an e-mail. Think of all the other underdeveloped countries, South America, the Antilles Islands, etc. Many, many, places in the world where accidents that we will never know about are happening.
I would propose to examine this approach, to consider this new and unprecedented safety device to the best test possible… our professional scrutiny. Let’s dissect all the PROS and CONS and let’s see what we come up with.
The alternative of continue to ignore our greatest killer is unthinkable.
Our lives might very well depend on it, some day….