The first and most important rule of Freediving is never freedive alone.
As with Scuba Diving, it is vitally important to have a buddy to dive with for the sake of safety. Although freediving has a reputation amongst the public as dangerous, it is a safe sport when the proper guidelines are followed. Whether you are training or just freediving recreationally, proper safety is a must.
So why do some people continue to solo freedive?
- I do not have a buddy – This can be a real problem for many freedivers. It is already hard enough to find a training buddy, never mind when you go on a vacation and just want to explore a coral reef that is 5+ meters deep. Your family or friends may not be freedivers, and there is even less of a chance that some stranger on the beach is. Sites like Freedive Earth and our own DeeperBlue.com Forums can help you locate a potential freediving buddy near you.
- I know my limits – Yes, we know our personal bests. We know the depths, distances, and breath hold times that are easily achievable. But even the slightest changes to our diet, health, or diving conditions can affect these limits that we are so absolutely sure of. There are plenty of stories out there of experienced spearfishers and freedivers that are competitors and professionals, yet still, blackout when diving nowhere near their personal best.
- I am just doing easy dives – Easy dives fall within the “I know my limits” category. You could be diving not even a quarter of your personal best time, but as mentioned above, the slightest changes can make those “easy” dives not so easy. There are plenty of circumstances, which we will discover below, where depth and breath hold time make no difference in safety.
Why should you NEVER freedive alone?
Blackouts occur at any depth, even at the surface, and can affect anyone at any time, whether you are an amateur or a competitive freediver. There are many factors that influence an oncoming blackout, including carbohydrate depletion due to prolonged exertion, deliberate or accidental hyperventilation, or blackouts due to the change in partial pressure of oxygen in the lungs during ascent. No one is able to predict when they will occur, and just because you are experienced, it does not mean that you are immune to them.
There are usually no signs of an oncoming blackout, so it is not likely you will see one coming and be able to rescue yourself. Blackouts can be and usually are fatal when experienced alone due to drowning, but with a buddy to bring you to the surface and keep your airways clear, the chances of fatality decrease immensely.
Typically, freedivers think that lung squeezes, or pulmonary barotrauma, occur at deeper depths due to the lungs reaching their residual volume, but that is not always true. When lung squeezes occur in shallow water, with some occurring as shallow as 4m (13 ft), it is usually due to repetitive dives with shorter surface intervals. With how potentially painful and dangerous lung squeezes can be, your freediving buddy is essential to help you to the shore and monitor you.
Depending on where you freedive, boats are capable of turning your dive into a horrific disaster. For boat captains, it is already difficult to see where they are going and what is in the water, depending on the type of boat they are operating and sea conditions. Even lone snorkelers at the surface can be at risk. But you are at even more of a risk if you are mid-dive, completely alone, and a boat arrives in your vicinity. Having a diving buddy helps prevent that with the “one-up, one-down” rule, and their presence will help deter a boat from passing directly over you.
Currents have the potential of making recreational freediving less safe. Whether it impacts your breathe-up or forces you to exert yourself more staying in one place and fighting the current, the risk of becoming exhausted early and accidental hyperventilation rises. Vertical currents are another danger to freedivers since they have the ability to drag you down no matter how hard you kick. With the extra risks and impacts that currents have on your freediving, it is essential to have proper safety in case things go sour.
With the presence of stray fishing lines and nets at depth, it is not unheard of to get a part of your body or equipment entangled. This is the main reason why some freedivers always dive with a diving knife attached to them. If you do not carry a dive knife with you, or panic and cannot free yourself, your buddy should be able to spot this and come to your aid. You cannot rely only on your ability to take care of yourself because when panic sets in, even the most rational of us can turn irrational.
Cramps can affect you in any part of your body. In a pool, the surface is usually close, but at depth? Swimming with one fin is already extra work, and when you add stress to the mix, it takes away any control you have over your breath-hold. Utilizing a proper buddy can help you ascend with a cramp, stretch it out, and also help tow you back to shore if it is particularly long-lasting and painful.
What will you choose?
Even with all of the reasons listed above, there are freedivers who continue to choose to freedive solo. There are a staggering number of stories that are recounted by spearos and the friends and family of those who freedived alone and never came back. You are now an informed freediver. You are responsible for your body and your health; no one else. It is up to you to make the ultimate decision: will you train or explore the underwater world alone and leave your well-being up to fate? Or will you wait to dive until you have proper safety, and keep your loved one’s minds at ease?
Do you have any other reasons to avoid solo freediving? Leave them in the comments and create awareness!