by Wayne Judge
There are many aspects of breath-hold diving where safe practices can be introduced that would improve overall safety, but if there was one single factor, which handled correctly could prevent all SWB drownings then that is the obvious place to start. There is such a factor. We have had a maxim that has been passed down for years and if adhered with good sense can bring about such a safe diving environment that the diver can make even serious mistakes in his estimation of effort or dive times and he will still survive. It is:
NEVER DIVE ALONE
This one safety precaution practiced with integrity is the backbone of freediving safety. For this statement to be really effective it should also include, “Ensure you and your dive buddy have the knowledge and are drilled on how to recognize and handle sambas and blackouts.”
Never Dive Alone breaks down when:
It is interpreted to mean that one must only enter the water with a dive buddy and perhaps presume he exits the water with that same buddy, despite going their own ways whilst diving.
It means that one need only dive in loose proximity to a buddy not necessarily keeping constant view.
One watches most of the dives and not ALL dives.
Divers go off by themselves, for reasons like, “other divers spook the fish” or “I don’t want anyone to know of this spot.”
Most of the ocean fatalities in the last few years had other divers in the water, but no one actually watching the victim at the time of blackout.
There can only be one safe interpretation of “never dive alone” and that is: MAKE SURE ALL DIVES ARE WATCHED CAREFULLY FROM BEGINNING TO END AND A SHORT TIME AFTER SURFACING.
THE BUDDY SYSTEM
The basic of the buddy system is: one diver up, one diver down. The diver on the surface has the job of caring for the well being of the diver below. Where possible it is good to keep the diver in sight, however if the visibility level in the water doesn’t allow for this, then the surface diver follows the diver’s float line and the diver below surfaces up this line. When the diver is surfacing, the safety diver should watch for any signs of hypoxia. These can include:
– Diver stops moving or inexplicably alters pace or direction.
– Diver exhales much of his air before reaching surface.
– Diver shakes or appears to have a fit. (samba)
– Diver has trouble taking breath (samba, loss of motor control of diaphragm.)
– Diver surfaces but goes under again.
If a diver is diving depths that he considers deep or is diving excess of 15 metres it is good practice to signal his buddy that he is okay. Just making the okay signal will indicate he is not blacking out or losing control of the body due to a samba.
If a diver is returning to the surface but is worried he may have overstayed his time below, he should unfasten his weight belt and hold the end as he swims up. If he blacks out he will let the end go and his belt will drop, leaving him very buoyant and he will continue to rise to the surface. This helps his buddy too. If he sees the diver holding onto the end of his weight belt, he knows to be prepared for a rescue.
The safe use of a dive watch is to time your own surface time intervals, to ensure full recoveries, and to time your buddy’s dive time to accurately predict his surfacing and take action if it is delayed.
Diving and spearfishing is much safer when you know your buddy’s dive habits, but in the case of an unfamiliar dive buddy, you must communicate and establish a safe working relationship.
This is the first and most important principle in freediving and spearfishing safety. Misapplying it or not applying it courts tragedy. And on the opposite side of the coin, diving with a competent dive buddy is some of the best fun available and working together as a team will help you find more fish together.