Freediving or breath-holding diving is sport and recreation that may involve inherent risks. These risks can be minimized by following proper safety procedures and using common sense. Your best safety is to receive proper instruction and always follow the buddy system while freediving.
The following is an article written by CAFA Founder Kirk Krack. The article "Being a proper buddy" will explain what you can do as a buddy to ensure that your Freediving is as safe as possible.
Being a Proper Buddy!
Reprinted from Freediver Magazine Issue#11
In my last article ďBlackout- Now what?Ē I discussed the procedures in taking care of our diving partner should they suffer from a samba or blackout. Since that article and during the writing of this one I learned the unfortunate news of my friend and freediving partner Craig Molle who died while training in static apnea. His death can be blamed on over-enthusiasm as Craig was trying to rely on the pool staff to watch him while he practiced.
This reliance on the pool staff to do a job that could only effectively be done by a proper buddy was wrong. But more often than we think, people try to skirt the use of a proper buddy when it is the only real safe way of performing any forms of apnea.
In this article Iíd like to look at what we can do as freediving buddies, to better insure the fun and safety in three of the main forms of freediving that are commonly used for training and competitions. They are static apnea, dynamic apnea and constant ballast.
Static apnea is a part of freediving competitions and significant way to train for all freediving disciplines. Static apnea is simple breath-hold at the waterís surface for time. Because of the lack of depth or movement, some newcomers to freediving donít realize the dangerous realities that can happen to its participants including a near-blackout / samba or a total blackout.
Timing and signals are an important safety aspect in static apnea. Signals are given based on a target time that the individual intends to reach. These signals ask a question (are you OK?) and a response (ím OK!). One minute before the target time signals will be given every thirty-seconds. If the breath-holder feels good, he/she can exceed the target time with signals now coming in fifteen-second intervals.
In establishing the taps and signals, both the safety freediver and breath-holder need to agree on the specific signals and be clear of their meaning and the strength at which the signals are given and returned. For example; two taps are given, but the return signal is weak. The safety freediver should immediately give another two taps to ensure the coherence of the breath-holder. If the return signal is once again weak then he/she should be assisted up and the safety freediver should be prepared to give temporary care to the breath-holder until they recover fully. Further static apnea should be discontinued for the day.
Safety freedivers must be aware of many body signals that may prompt us to up-coming problems or the natural progression of the breath-hold. Contractions are one of the first to signal increased difficulty as the time of the breath-hold progresses. The number of contractions and their strength should be observed in order to know your partners habits.
A relaxed floating position is how most static breath-holds are practiced. As time increases, freedivers may become active and seem uncomfortable. Itís important to know that the safety freediver can signal anytime they think necessary to maintain the safety of the breath-holder. Some may steadily exhale air in the water before coming up; while a sign of trouble may be the intermittent release of air with contractions.
During recovery at the surface in static apnea, like constant ballast or other disciplines, participants can seemingly be fine yet still undergo a blackout. For this reason they should be watched carefully for a period of up to thirty-seconds.
Dynamic apnea, being the distance covered horizontally on one-breath, has similar safety concerns as Static Apnea. Because of the work required with dynamic apnea and the fact that it isnít performed under increasing or decreasing pressure, carbon dioxide increase becomes an overpowering factor in the distance that can be achieved.
Safety for dynamic apnea is simple in that the safety diver should follow the freediver on the surface and lend him / her floatation aid for assistance. Problems with dynamic apnea arenít usually a blackout under the water, but a samba or blackout upon surfacing and trying to recover. Here the individual may experience a samba and having a flutter board or float of some kind will help in supporting the individual at the surface if they surface in deeper water.
Although the problems will likely occur at the surface, the safety freediver should watch for different signs and symptoms of an impending blackout in the water. Many participants may speed up during the last lengths of dynamic, much like participants of static become active. This is a way of fighting or shifting the uncomfortable feelings away to achieve the target distance or time. Watch for changes in kicking rhythm and power and also a relaxing of the body. All may be signs of an impending blackout in the water.
Although unlikely, a blackout can occur under the water. Diligent observation should be taken to insure the safety of the participant.
The most respected form of freediving is constant ballast due to the incredible effort required by the individuals who practice it. With this effort comes the possibilities of hypoxic problems and can be further exacerbated by such things as depth, visibility, surface conditions, cold, current and many other factors.
Being prepared and keenly observant of your partner is important to insure a piece of mind. This is especially true in areas where visibility is limited or the depth of the dives has them out of sight for a while. Timing of descents and ascents will give you a feel for the amount of time it should take to complete a dive and approximately when you can expect to see them again. Any changes in this should have the safety freediver getting ready to lend a hand. If the safety diver keeps a hand on the line at the surface, he / she should be able to feel the pull of the line as the freediver begins his/her ascent. During ascent, especially if a slight current is present, be prepared to observe the area around your dive site in case the freediver drifts off the line.
Most cases of shallow water blackout occur on the surface and this problem is easily handled if proper buoyancy guidelines have been followed and the safety diver is ready to respond quickly. Meeting your partner at depth during extended range dives when they trying for a personal best or intentionally staying down for a longer duration is a good idea. All this should be communicated before hand so appropriate safety can be arranged. Time their dive and at an appropriate time, meet them at a predetermined depth (such as 10-20 meters) to help guide and/or assist in this most critical zone. Itís very reassuring as a freediver to have your buddy meet you and to know that if you need their assistance it is just a simple head-nod away. If you need their help, nod Ďnoí with your head and let them give you some assistance to the surface so you can relax and avoid hypoxic problems.
Being a proper buddy means understanding and learning your partnersí freediving style and habits. Learn how they descend and more importantly ascend. Do they drop their arms at certain depths to relax? Do they slow or stop their kick when nearing the surface? Getting to know your partners body language will help in knowing when to assist and when not to.
All of these recommendations will help you and your freediving partner be more confident and enjoy your dives and training sessions.
Take care and safe freediving to all.
CAFA President / Founder
Updated 5 January 2001