Freediving is one hell of a sport. It puts you in touch with the ocean, it tests your capabilities as a human and it also takes you places spiritually. Unfortunately, freediving can also be lethal if certain procedures and safety measures are not followed. The number of freediving-related deaths is almost solely associated with one thing; diving alone. So, why do some people dive alone? Is it a lack of proper education? Is it stubbornness or plain stupidity? Diana Garcia Benito, looks into the risks associated with solo freediving.

Dive In

"We have to consider the risks while practicing freediving and for safety reasons, we should never go in the water alone and choose our partners very wisely. Our buddies, have to be knowledgeable and be ready to take action if something happens. The factors that can affect those risks are multiple:

Cold: depending on the water temperature, the right selection of wetsuit is crucial. We will be feeling cold sooner than during any other aquatic sport, the vasoconstriction that occurs in our extremities, part of the mammalian dive reflex, will have a secondary effect, that our arms and legs won’t have the normal blood circulation and the regulation of temperature will change, that could lead to hypothermia. The duration of the session is also important, whenever you are starting to feel cold, it is better to end the session. Coldness can create tension in muscles, difficulty to relax, shivering and it will end in extra consumption of precious oxygen and injuries. 

Heat: the sun can affect our performance, even if we don't feel the heat. Heat strokes, exhaustion, fatigue, burnt skin, headaches, dizziness, and dehydration are just a few of the side effects of sun exposure. 

Stress: relaxation is one of the main goals in freediving, stress jeopardizes our ability to lose tension, physically and mentally. Stress causes excessive oxygen consumption and injuries. 

Tiredness: when you are tired, your system doesn’t work properly, thus how your body functions will be different and most likely not able to perform as you are used to. 

Dehydration: being in the water makes it difficult to notice how much sweat we are producing because we are in a wet environment. We will sweat without realizing, losing fluids. Immersion diuresis will cause the constant elimination of extra liquids in the form of urine. Dehydration can come from exposure to the sun and being immersed in salty water. The consequences of dehydration can be headaches, confusion, malfunction of systems, blood thickening. It is essential to drink fluids before, during, and after freediving, especially drinks with the necessary electrolytes for our system. 

Tides and currents: be aware of the type of tides and currents that exist on the freediving site and make sure to know how to plan the freediving sessions according to them.
Weather: check the weather forecast to avoid surprises and to assess the conditions. Be prepared or even cancel the session if necessary. 

Medication: always consult a doctor if you are under any medication.
General physical state: if there is any discomfort, pain, fatigue, sickness, bad feeling, or anything unusual, don't dive.
Dive site characteristics: to avoid accidents, it is fundamental to do a previous exploration and research of the site depth (even with tide changes), type of topography, visibility, entry and exit points, boat traffic, mooring buoys, etc. 
Boat traffic: always be aware of what is going on at the surface. Use a buoy and/or a flag to signal your position. 
The majority of these factors are impossible to control or to know when they will happen. The recommendation is, always being cautious and extra careful, all together with following safety protocols.
Middle ear and sinus barotraumas: equalization failure can end in ruptured tissues 
and injuries. 

Hood squeeze: when air gets trapped between your hoodie and your eardrum it can 
create a rupture, hole, or puncture in the eardrum. To prevent it, you can fill this space with water or make a tiny hole on each side of the hoodie, where your ears are. 

Mask squeeze: as you go down, the air in your mask shrinks with the pressure. If you wait too long, it will become uncomfortable and squeeze your face. Don’t forget to blow a bit of air in your mask regularly. 

Lung squeeze: due to a build-up of negative pressure inside the lungs as we go deeper underwater, lung tissue can be ruptured and fluid (mostly blood) will enter the lung air spaces. This increases the probability of blackouts because the lung’s ability to diffuse oxygen to the system will be poor. 

Trachea squeeze: the tissue surrounding the trachea can be damaged at depth if we make the wrong movements with our neck (extensions and sudden movements) or if we force equalization and we tense that area. 

DCS: an increase of nitrogen partial pressure as we go down will have as a consequence nitrogen to enter our tissues. This leads to a series of complications if the nitrogen comes out of saturation too quickly, especially neurological issues in 
freedivers. Make sure to have enough rest time between dives and if you are planning to do deep dives, make sure to follow the deep dive rules.

Nitrogen narcosis: normally beyond 40m deep, the concentration of nitrogen in a freediver will increase as one goes deeper. This increase of nitrogen concentration will be felt as a sensation of drunkenness and being in a dream scenario. Training, repetition, and experience will help you to handle narcosis, there is no other possibility to avoid it.

Other Factors That Are In Our Control

Hyperventilation: Hyperventilation doesn’t give you extra oxygen but causes a significant decrease in carbon dioxide that is the primary trigger for the urge to breathe. Hyperventilation before a dive will have serious negative consequences such as a blackout without a warning. 

Exertion of limits: freediving is a slow progress sport, where you’ll learn to know your limits, step by step. Pushing them too fast is very dangerous and can lead to severe injuries, loss of motor control, and blackouts. 


The main reason why you should never dive alone is in case of a blackout. Losing consciousness can happen underwater and even at the surface, and in both cases, someone has to be there to save you. As we read above, there can be various scenarios and factors that result in a blackout. 
As an important rule and recommendation, the main suggestion when freediving is to never freedive alone and have always a trained buddy. 
Having a buddy is mandatory. A buddy is not meant to “save your life”, remember to always respect your limit and stay safe.

But in case of a problem, your buddy will be there to rescue you. He/she will assist you in and out of the water to make sure you are safe. As mentioned earlier, choosing a partner to freedive has to be done carefully. Someone who has skills and you trust will be a good choice. We always work as a team, take care of each other, give tips, and cheer one another. The safety part is not the only one, having someone next to you encourages you to do your best and share the moment. 

No matter how experienced someone is, freediving alone is a bad idea. There are too many stories of lost souls, who were incredible underwater and yet, never came back. Training, snorkeling, spearfishing, taking photos, it does not matter, you are freediving and your safety is at risk therefore you need a buddy. Never forget this". 

Here Are Some Real-Life Experiences

Thibault Guignes "I believe that we should share our experiences, good or bad so that the community can learn from them. That is why I decided to share this story with you that happened to me while diving in the Blue Hole in Dahab, in November 2020. 

I was diving with a buddy, just the two of us. My buddy went for an 85m dive CWT with monofin while I was doing the safety. This dive was 10m shallower than my buddy’s Personal Best, but it was the first time going back there after one month break for my buddy.
 After 1:30 of dive time, I felt the pull on the line signaling that my buddy was starting the ascent followed by a brief moment of slack in the line. Just one or two seconds and then the line was in tension again with nothing special to be felt while holding it.

I deduced that my buddy had probably had the lanyard stuck around the tennis ball and/or bottom plate when starting the ascent, pulled a bit the bottom-weight, and got free as the slack disappeared very quickly. I kept checking the line, which was normal, but still had the feeling something might be off on the dive due to this slack, so I decided to go a bit earlier and deeper for the safety.

I went down to 40m. Visibility was 25m and I still could not see my buddy or hear the sound of the monofin ascending. I did not stay waiting as I became sure something was wrong and sprinted back to the surface, checked the line, and felt that my buddy was hanging on the line at 85m.
 I remained calm and started pulling the line from the surface while asking for assistance from other freedivers diving in the Blue Hole next to us. I can't  thank enough Gary McGrath, David Mellor, and Stefan Randig for helping me rescuing my buddy. Without them, I am not sure the outcome would have been the same.

We pulled the line as fast as we could. While the others were finishing to pull the line with the freediver hanging by the lanyard, I exited the Blue Hole and went to get the oxygen and other items that we might need to rescue the victim. Thank you to all that helped with this.
 I will spare the details of the rest of the rescue which are very standard and not so relevant in the story and will just say that in the end, my buddy had only a small lung’s squeeze and was discharged from hospital in the evening and fully recovered after a few days.

The total dive time was 5:27 and around 2min were spent at 85m.
 My personal interpretation of what happened at the bottom, based on the testimonial of my buddy and my personal observations is that my buddy got the tennis ball that we were using as a blocker. The tennis ball was a bit soft and got stuck in between the foot pockets of the monofin and when starting the ascent pulled up a little bit the bottom weight. According to my buddy, he attempted to remove the monofin and could not.

I believe that a combination of narcosis and panic made the diver unable to realize he was not really stuck at the bottom, trying to remove the monofin and ending up blacking out at the bottom instead of just untangle himself.
 Indeed, when we retrieved the victim by pulling the line, the victim was attached by the lanyard to the line and the monofin was definitely not blocked anymore in the line. And if it had been so blocked that a diver could not unblock it himself, I don’t believe that just pulling the line from the surface would have unblocked magically the diver.

Now what happened exactly at the bottom is not really the point of this writing. The idea is to learn from it. I would like to make two recommendations based on this experience: use a proper blocker instead of a tennis ball. Their shape is designed to avoid your lanyard getting entangled and they are rigid and should not get stuck between the foot pockets of your monofin. Have a signal with your buddies to signal if someone is stuck at the bottom. It could be three short pulls, or pulling continuously, or whatever you decide might be relevant, as far as you communicate about it with your buddy and that you are ready for the possibility. I hope this will help prevent other issues of the same nature. I wish you all beautiful and safe dives".

Livio Berra "It was a normal day, doing a coaching session with one person. The session was going well, the instructions were clear about how to perform each dive.
 Coming towards the end of the session she asked me if I could film her, and I immediately accepted,  because at the same time this video could be used as a “correction” to watch later.

We agreed the line would be at 20m, I would follow her down and up. Just a normal dive to 20m, touching the tennis ball and coming back up.
 She prepared herself, started the descent and I followed her. Her technique was good, she was comfortable at this depth but arriving at 20m, she let go of the line and started “posing” for the video.

After a few seconds, I signaled to her to come back to the line and go up. As she started pulling up, I could see she was rushing. I knew she was panicking because she used too much energy and oxygen at 20m. I came very close to her ready to react. I could see her eyes wide open which is a sign of stress. I tried to reassure her but she was still rushing and looking towards the surface.

Around 7m from the surface, she lost consciousness. I grabbed her, came back to the surface, did the blow/tap/talk and she came back to life.
 I explained to her that her behavior down there was wrong. I explained to her she had a blackout and the reason why. She couldn't remember anything between pulling the line and breathing at the surface. Hopefully, she understood the importance of security and sticking to the plan. Knowing your limits is the key".

Avoid A Blackout


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