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    Diving Blackouts & Safety Systems

    April 08, 2021 5 min read

    diving blackouts overview

    Today we'll discuss freediving safety. Freediving is what we do when we are spearfishing. It's what we do when we swim in the water hunting fish. In terms of safety, we're talking about the things we have to remember when looking after ourselves and our diving buddies; it’s the responsibility that we must take on when we’re out in the water. Just like if you're mountain climbing, you'd have to make sure your ropes and your buddy's ropes are secure.

    One of the important things to watch out for when you free dive is shallow water blackout. It is when a swimmer faints due to the lack of oxygen in the brain brought on by holding the breath repeatedly for long periods of time. Without a diving buddy or an immediate rescue, the swimmer could quickly drown.


    What Happens During A Shallow Water Blackout?

    Holding your breath underwater for too long can be dangerous, here’s what can happen before and during blackout:

    1. Hyperventilation-You’re either overbreathing consciously or as a result of overexertion from prolonged swimming, causing your carbon dioxide levels to drop.
    2. Oxygen level drops -as you hold your breath, your body uses up oxygen and carbon dioxide increases. If you do this for too long, your body will be starved of oxygen.
    3. Unconsciousness - Normally, an increased level of carbon dioxide in your body triggers a breath; however, because of hyperventilation, your carbon dioxide levels were so low that there is not enough to initiate a breath causing you to lose consciousness.
    4. Water enters the airway - Once you lose consciousness, your body naturally reacts forcing a breath. This results in water filling in your lungs. Without immediate rescue, the result could be fatal.

    How To Prevent Shallow Water Blackout?

    Never Swim Alone

    In freediving, it is extremely necessary to understand the importance of diving with a responsible buddy. Sadly, a lot of shallow water blackout fatalities could have been saved if they had a competent buddy watching them.

    Above all else, it is vital that you dive with a competent buddy who watches you throughout your  entire dive. Diving with a buddy who knows what to do and has drilled it is probably the most important thing you can do for ensuring your safety. 

    Know Your Limitations

    One of the best ways to approach this is to understand your own, and your dive buddy’s abilities: how long can you swim underwater? The only way to become better at freediving is to train. Training not only helps you build up your abilities, but it also gives you the ability to understand where you're at. You quite often start off swimming less than 50 meters underwater and then after a few months, you're doing 75 meters.

    After training for a while you start to understand what occurs in your body at certain points throughout the dive. You get a chance to feel when you get the urge to breathe and how far you get past that. And what are the physical sensations that you get? How did the body feel? Were you contracting? Training gives you an understanding of what goes on in the body when you get close to running out of breath - this is a vital part of your freediving safety.

    Never PlayBreath Holding Games

    The ocean can be harsh and you always have to be very careful. You can't go out and push yourself to 100% of your capacity - even with a one dive buddy watching you. You can't even sit and work in the area of 80 or 90% of your abilities safely. Never push yourself beyond 50 or 60% of your best ability when freediving. 

    You've got to draw it back a bit so that if unexpected things happen you have capacity to deal with them safely. You may have the odd shock where you encounter a distraction or hazard - the occasional shark, a tangle in your equipment, a distracting school of fish that surround your dive buddy on the surface. Remember a lot of things are happening under the surface of the water - so you can not afford to run at maximum capacity. 

    Understand Your Abilities

    It’s all about understanding your abilities. It's no good going out there having no idea how good or comfortable you are swimming underwater.

    One of the very important things that we practice as free divers and spearfishers, is one up one down. One up, one down means one diver is down diving, taking the shot, and chasing the fish, whilst the other diver is responsible on the surface.Your dive buddy’s job is not only to watch you, but also to see that you’re safe. 

    Responsibilities Of A Diving Buddy

    For example, your dive buddy may be watching you and then notice that a bull shark is near you. You know that the bull shark, if he is very territorialcould be dangerous. But a bull shark will be intimidated, especially by two divers. So you might have to, as a safety diver, pop down there and put yourself close to your buddy to make sure that nothing occurs. 

    Another responsibility may be looking around for any boats in the area. When you've got boats coming, you make sure the boats see that there are divers in the water and that your buddy doesn't come up underneath the boat or in front of a boat.

    In the one up one down system, one buddy is on the top watching the diver and checking out that he doesn't overstay. And if by some chance he gets tangled, you can go down there and help your buddy, watch him as he comes up and make sure he's okay.

    How To Improve As A Diving Buddy

    It takes a level of competency to become an effective diving buddy. You've got to know what you're doing to be able to spot when your dive buddy is in trouble and to quickly provide rescue.

    You can learn how to improve as a diving buddy by joining freediving courses. You can also join and train with a freediving club. One of the major things that you've got to look at is changing your safety systems with the change of conditions. If you don't change your safety's system and you're still using the same safety system at 8 meters as you are at 28 - that's where you're going to run into trouble. Remember that 28 meters is a long way. At 28 meters it's probably going to be 30 seconds descending at one meter a second, which is the average descending/ascending time for most divers. 

    The diving buddy on top times the dive, he might even go out of sight, but knows his buddy is going to start coming up at a certain time. Then he goes down to meet him at 15 meters. At 15 meters he can see whether he's in trouble, and then follow him to the surface watching him. It's a matter of knowing what to do and changing the safety systems with the conditions. You would dive differently at 30 meters down compared to 25 meters. Or with changes of currents and visibility. Adapting your safety system based on the change of conditions is vital. 

    If you need additional tips and guidance on how to properly get started with spearfishing, visit theAdreno Spearfishing Blog now! You can also check out our massive range of spearfishing gear!