Once or twice a year, we hear of an elite level diver who died while spearfishing alone. Sadly, most of those experienced divers have been in the sport long enough to have had some exposure to or formal training in safety protocols. In other words, they fully understand the risks that come with ignoring freediving safety protocols. Just as if they were driving without wearing a seat belt or driving under the influence, those divers made the fatal decision to spearfish without a buddy. Whether they believed their experience, amassed from hundreds of dives to much greater depths, would allow them to safely dive “within their limits” and handle any dangerous situations that might arise, or whether they believed shallow water blackout fatalities only happen to other people, we’ll never know. They are no longer with us.
So what happens when you’re spearfishing with an experienced diver you (prior to the session) admire, but the diver is not diving safely? How do you handle those awkward situations? Given that such divers are more experienced and older than we are, shouldn’t we follow their lead? In a word, no.
Every spearfishing session should start with a few safety drills, such as LMC rescue on the surface or blackout underwater. This is a great time to warm up and refresh some of the important safety techniques learned in your formal training. Also, this first five to ten minutes of diving sets the tone for the rest of the session. You know you’re both on the same page, and your dive buddy is putting safety (i.e., your life) first.
Above photo: FII-certified freedivers Dylan Currier and Cory Fults practice shallow water blackout rescue drills on the surface. Image by Perrin James Franta.
By asking new dive buddies beforehand if they are formally trained in freediving safety procedures and asking to practice a few safety drills at the start of the session, you’re addressing any safety concerns before entering the water with them. Never assume an older, more experienced spearo will always follow the safety rules or is formally trained in safety procedures.During the session, if you notice your partner is distracted by the environment, a friendly reminder before you start your dive like, “Hey, safety, are you watching me?” should bring your partner’s focus back to the number one job. If your partner remains distracted, then it’s time to pull the plug. If you value your life and your buddy won’t follow the safety procedures, then you must finish the dive session. There is a real and present risk that one of you may not come home that night. It’s not only the unsafe diver who’s at risk; you are too because your partner doesn’t have your back. A few minutes of uncomfortable conversation with your dive buddy to end the session is a million times easier than explaining to a hysterical, grieving mother, father, spouse, or child how a loved one died under your watch.
While unsafe and unethical spearos commonly are blacklisted from spearfishing trips, safe spearos become highly sought-after dive buddies, not because they pass the vibe check or are killer spearos but because they have proven an unwavering commitment to following safety protocols. You know that person has your back. Those are the people you should admire.
FreediveSafe! offers formal freediving and spearfishing training to the local community at no cost. To register your interest in an upcoming event, please preregister at www.freedivesafe.org.