Certification courses teach freedivers excellent skills for freediving on the line, but how do we apply these skills off of the line? Whether we are exploring lush reefs or gliding alongside majestic sea turtles, our technique, buddy system, and the general environment as a whole change, which means that we need to adapt our skills and knowledge when fun diving. Here are our tips for freediving off of the line safely.
Never Dive Alone
This is the most important rule of freediving but is often misunderstood. A proper dive buddy is one that is a trained freediver who knows rescue techniques. This means that a group of snorkelers you are swimming with are not buddies. Neither is a group of scuba divers below you. If you blackout at depth, most snorkelers will not be able to reach you, and scuba divers cannot bring you up without risking their own safety.
Know The Conditions
If you are diving in open water, there are many variables that you have to consider. Entry/exit points, boat traffic, current, waves, wind, etc. Make sure that you have an emergency plan in place in case something happens and you have to get to a medical facility. If there is boat traffic, make sure to take a buoy or a brightly-colored float to alert boats of your presence. If you are unsure, ask a nearby dive shop about the conditions, or better yet, hire a guide or take a freediving fun diving tour if available.
It is always smart to have a wetsuit, or at least some kind of body coverage when diving in open water. Apart from providing warmth, wetsuits or rash guards also provide protection from the sun, bites, stings, and cuts. Taking a snorkel with you so that you can keep eyes on your buddy at all times while they are diving is essential. A dive knife is also something useful to have on your belt in the case of possible entanglement in fishing lines or kelp. You may find it helpful to bring a buoy with you to rest on, and if you have a line, you can descend free immersion for more bottom time; just make sure to have the buoy secured to a mooring line or a boat.
Stay At Safe Depths
A good rule to dive by when freediving off of the line is staying at one-half or two-thirds of your personal best, or shallower. This means that if you are a 20m (65ft) diver, you should stay at or above 10-15m (32-49ft), and 40m (131ft) divers should dive no deeper than 20-25m (65-82ft). Make sure to weight yourself properly and always keep your dives in a comfortable range.
It is essential to never dive at the same time as your buddy. Always adhere to the one-up, one-down buddy system and keep a constant, watchful eye on the diver at depth. Make sure to communicate with your buddy if you will be doing a longer dive or checking something out at depth. If you are a deeper diver than your buddy, respect their limits and dive shallower, as they will not be able to rescue you if something happens to you at those deeper depths. If it is a longer dive, it is a good idea for the buddy to provide the diver with safety from 10m (32ft) or so.
Mind Your Surroundings
When you are on a line, the proper technique for descending is with your head facing straight ahead, and not looking up. But when you are diving along a reef wall or uneven terrain, it is important to look where you are going and avoid crashing into something. Make sure to look up and check on your trajectory every once in a while to avoid any painful injuries. And, as always make sure never to touch any sea life, whether it is corals or sea creatures.
Mind Your Body
With our long fins and distorted vision from our masks, we are a serious liability in the water. Other divers, coral, and sandy bottoms are not safe from us unless we maintain body awareness and remember that our fins are an extra meter-long extension of us. Avoid accidentally kicking other divers, damaging coral, and kicking up sand when other divers are around.
If you are interested in exploring strictly fun diving further, Pure Apnea offers courses in purely recreational freediving. As fun as recreational freediving can be, there needs to be much more emphasis on staying as safe as possible, as you are no longer tethered to a line. But with the right safety, technique, and buddy, you can drive the other snorkelers on your snorkeling tours wild with jealousy with your depth and sleekness.