How to Keep USA Pools From Becoming A Flat Earth Society

There has been a recent push of articles regarding banning breath holding in pools lately as well as a segment on Good Morning America. This media coverage and efforts by certain interest groups has resulted in the ban of breath holding activities in New York City and Santa Barbara, California.

I do not deny that are fatalities happening in pools from people holding their breath. I can easily understand the reaction of many groups who want to ban breath holding in pools. I certainly disagree that banning these activities will lead to reducing fatalities.

In fact I believe it will increase these fatalities… Allow me to explain.

  • Swimming has risks, people die in swimming pools all across the United States every year. The aquatics industry does not ban swimming. It understands education is the key and promotes swimming instruction. These courses happen by certified swimming instructors.
  • Scuba diving has risks. To deal with those risks people must take scuba classes in order to learn how to scuba dive safely. Most of these scuba classes happen at public pools. Scuba instructors have insurance and pools are placed as additional insured on the insurance policies.
  • Freediving and breath holding have risks, and people learn how to do so safety by taking freediving courses through licensed and insured instructors just like in scuba and swimming. Freediving instructors have insurance and the pools are listed as additional insured just like scuba. These courses happen in public pools just like scuba.

As an advocate for freediving safety I am running into more and more problems by pools saying no breath holding activities and placing arbitrary bans on breath-holding – which blocks me from teaching people how to do this sport safely.

If you want to stop fatalities from drownings in the pool… you promote swimming classes. If you want to stop people fatalities while scuba diving… you promote scuba classes, if you want to stop fatalities from breath holding why would you ban breath holding and why not instead promote education? The answer is because the people writing these articles, lobbying for changes and making sweeping decisions have never taken a freediving course from licensed and insured freediving instructor who are experts in freediving safety, freediving physiology and risk management associated with freediving and breath holding.

Let me be absolutely clear here…Freediving and its associated breath-holding are safe activities if practiced properly. The way to practice this properly is to go to a freediving class taught by a licensed and insured instructor.

I have a 4 million dollar liability policy that covers teaching freediving and breath-holding. This policy is underwritten by Lloyds of London – the world’s largest specialist insurance market. So when I say freediving and breath holding is a safe activity with proper training that is not me saying this, this is also Lloyds of London saying this is safe activity. Believe me – they have been underwriting insurance for 325 years so they would not underwrite such a policy if the activity was unsafe. It is in fact considered as safe as Scuba Diving by Lloyds of London and licensed instructors get the same level of coverage as a Scuba Instructor – why?  Because Freediving is very safe with proper training, just like scuba diving is safe with proper training and swimming is safe with proper training.

There has never been a single fatality in a freediving course in the USA, but I can assure you there are fatalities in public pools during scuba courses, yet scuba courses are allowed in pool and more and more pools are banning freediving courses in response to lobbying.  The results of these recent articles has been a ban on breath-holding in 2 cities in the USA. The logical conclusions would be these groups are hoping to ban freediving and breath-holding in every pool…

This will result in the end of freediving classes which teaches people how to do the sport safely!

I’ve been teaching freediving since 2009. I have had 6 students directly save someone life from taking my freediving course. If the pools in my area had banned breath-holding I would not have been able to teach those freediving courses and those 6 students of mine would not have the knowledge of how to rescue someone from a blackout. This would have resulted in 6 more fatalities. I’m a single freediving instructor. There are easily 100 freediving instructors in the USA. If each one was like myself and had 6 students save someone that’s 600 people lives that have been saved from a freediving course. Looked at another way – 600 fatalities that would have happened because people did not have an opportunity to take a freediving class and learn how properly rescue someone from a blackout. This doesn’t even cover the number of fatalities that have been prevented by people learning how to avoid having a blackout while freediving in the first place.

Freediving and freediving spearfishing are growing like crazy. We all want to reduce the number of fatalities. Almost every week I have classes where I teach people how to perform this sport safely. The question is which is the better strategy? Make it impossible to learn how to do the sport safely by banning freediving classes in public pools and just hope this will make the issue go away or promote proper education on breath-holding through freediving classes?

If you wanted to reduce teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases would you promote abstinence or sex education?  The US spends $155 million a year in Sex Education so the answer is clear.

As a strong advocate of freediving education I invite any member of any group concerned about blackout or anyone in the aquatics industry who is interested in learning what safe freediving looks like come and sit in on the classroom and pool portion of any of my programs and no charge… We all want the same thing.

So how do we actually tackle this sensibly without blanket bans at pools all over the country?  I have 3 suggestions.

  1. Allow freediving education to be taught in pools. Require them to be licensed instructors through a recognized agency and have them list the pools as an additional insured on their policy which is exactly what pools require of scuba instructors. People have died in swimming pools during scuba classes, this has never happened during a freediving class in the USA. By disallowing freediving education in my opinion you will be increasing the number of fatalities not reducing them.
  2. Make an effort to find out what safe freediving looks like. The next time your pool hosts a freediving class ask the instructor if you can participate. I’ve made many offers to members in the aquatic industry to sit in on a course at no charge and none have taken me up on the offer. Once you sit in on a course you can see what safe freediving looks like and then be better informed on making decisions about freediving in your pool.
  3. If I were a pool manager knowing what I know about freediving, I would allow freediving if I knew the people in the pool understand and practiced safe freediving. The easiest way to confirm this is, check to see if they have taken a formal freediving course and received their certification card. This card means that the freediving instructor has tested the student and found they have the knowledge and skills to freedive safely. The certification card says you are certified to freedive with a similarly trained buddy. Clearly you can not condone someone who has taken a freediving class to jump in a pool and practice by themselves, or practice with someone who has not had the same training.

What do you think?  Let us know in the comments below.

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  • The article makes a very good argument by comparing it to scuba and swimming. Another example is marathon running - every year a few people die from heat stroke or heart failure while running marathons. But we don't ban all people from running marathons.
    My pool currently does not stop me from breath holds and freedive practice - but they know me (the guy that likes to hold his breath) - I've been doing it there for years. I'm just hoping that they don't catch wind of this "no breath holding" mania.

  • I sent this email to the "no breath hold" people ----> http://shallowwaterblackoutprevention.org/

    I'm always saddened when I hear of deaths by blackout underwater. As a certified freediver I know the dangers. But freediving is a legitimate and growing sport and it is not going away.
    Perhaps your website should also support the idea of safety and education for freedivers. Most freediving classes and practices are done at community pools. Lobbying for "no breath hold" at pools may do more harm than good - it prevents beginning freedivers from learning the proper techniques in a safe environment. Better to allow the freediving community to practice their sport in a responsible way instead of an outright ban. Pool management and lifeguards should all be required to learn the basics of freediving safety - even if they themselves don't actively participate in the sport. Public pools are for everyone and should make an effort to be safe and accommodating for all water activities, including freediving.
    As a comparison - people die every year from heat stroke or heart failure while running marathons. But we don't ban marathon running. And neither should we ban all underwater breath holds. Trained freedivers should have access to pools.
    Here is a link to an article that I believe persuasively argues for allowing freediving in pools.

    https://www.deeperblue.com/how-to-keep-usa-pools-from-becoming-a-flat-earth-society/

  • Excellent article and you are right about this ban spreading. All YMCA's ban breath holding already throughout the United States and now the bans in New York City and Santa Barbara. I too fear before long all public pools will follow suit. Let's get the word out there on freediving education. Save our pools!!!

  • I completely agree with Ted's nicely written piece. A reasonable goal would be to partner with other organizations to promote safety and prevent outright pool bans. I was encouraged that shallowwaterblackoutprevention.org had a very reasonable section under "Education>>Free Diving". It even had something from Immersion Freediving there. You might actually try to contact them. They might add information indicating that people should actually undergo formal training.

  • Great article, although I would suggest removing the abstinence vs. sex education reference. First, abstinence and sex education are not mutually exclusive. Teaching kids the benefits of abstinence as well as understanding the dangers of not having safe sex and how to have safe sex are ALL important. Second, as you can see, including in an unrelated, politically charged topic distracts the reader from your otherwise excellent article. Thanks for taking the time to write that.

  • The biggest issues are definition and enforcement or the lack thereof. No amount of eduction will help until there is uniform and clear definition of what 'breath hold' is. And for pete's sake, get rid of sex ed analogy! about 30% of the US will vehemently disagree and now we have two issues.

  • I always apply scientific approach to any real-life problem. What does the science say about breath-holding?
    How long can an exercising, immersed diver hold his or her breath without losing consciousness?
    The published literature provides insights on this question. Many studies have been done on the Ama breath-hold divers. Stanek et al. studied four AMA divers, and found that in 92 routine dives lasting from 0:15 to 0:44 min:s, arterial saturation did not drop from pre-dive values of 98%.
    It is interesting that these Ama divers do not routinely attempt heroic breath-hold times. This is their living. They are going to be breath-hold diving their entire lives, and want to do it safely.

    When Stanek et al. asked the Ama divers to hold their breath for as long as possible, they found that in 15 dives, the average breath-hold time was only 1:09 min:s, but the mean arterial saturation had dropped to 73%. Remember that once the oxygen saturation begins to falls, it does so rapidly. The authors concluded that “…it seemed that at least 60 s of breath-hold preceded the onset of desaturation of arterial blood in these divers.”

    http://divewise.org/limiting-freedives-to-60-seconds-for-safety