We all heard many top freedivers and instructors say it: “freediving is a very safe sport, as long as you follow the basic safety rules”. But what are these rules? Some are obvious, some less obvious, and some others you might only learn the hard way – so let's avoid that and find out here! Lily Crespy explains.

Never Dive Alone

Let's start with the first, most important and most obvious rule: never dive alone! There is no such thing as a “risk-free” or “easy” dive. You can never expect the unexpected. Let's not forget about all those who lost their lives, including freediving champions: from Patrick Musimu who was found dead in his pool at home while practicing static on his own, to Natalia Molchanova who disappeared during a fun-dive in Ibiza, most likely taken by some strong current. I myself, as a brand new instructor, got my ankle tangled in the surface line once when I was attaching my buoy to the mooring line as I was about to teach a session to some students. With some current that day, the line got immediately put in tension, and I couldn't do anything: I tried to untangle my foot but couldn't, was too far away from the mooring line to undo the carabiner, and I didn't have a knife on me. Trapped there while doing the most routine of acts... Even if I managed to stay calm at first, after a while the brain goes into panic mode and you can't think straight. I thought “that's it, this is how I'm going to die, trapped at 3m of depth like an idiot...!”. If it wasn't for another instructor who was there, saw what happened, and came down to help, I don't know what would have happened.

So yes: the first rule is never to dive alone. Nobody is invincible, and nobody can predict everything. Always go with a buddy, and by a buddy, we mean someone who knows what type of dive you're doing, who is not distracted and watches you the whole time, and who knows the rescue procedures in case of a problem.

Practice Your Rescue Skills Regularly

Too many people learn them in their freediving courses and then go on to train for years with their buddies while never doing rescue scenarios ever again. Make sure you don't get rusty when it comes to safety: if shit hits the fan, you want to be sure that you will know exactly what to do, react quickly but in a calm and controlled manner. So, once in a while, ask your buddy to act as a blacked-out diver so you can practice your rescue skills. Or even better, tell him to surprise you with it, so you check that you can also recognize the signs and act quickly even when you haven't been warned ahead. Also, if you are training with a new buddy, somebody you've never dived with, there is absolutely no shame in asking “can we do a couple of rescue practices at the beginning of the session, one time each?”, just to double-check that this person knows what they're doing. Later on during your deep dive, you will be putting your safety in their hands, so it's nice to have that peace of mind that they are actually able to do a good rescue, should you ever need it. You'll feel that much more relaxed during your dive if you know that your buddy is well-trained and has your back.

You Are Responsible To Ensure Everything Will Go Smoothly

So, dive conservatively, progress slowly avoiding making big jumps in depth/distance/time. If a dive makes you really stressed or nervous before you attempt it, it's probably because you are not quite ready yet for this depth.

Follow the basic common-sense rules: never keep the snorkel in your mouth, always dive with a float so you can rest at the end of your dive and also signal yourself to other water-users on the surface, use a lanyard, make sure to stay well-hydrated, don't go diving if you feel sick or tired, check the weather, etc...

If you are drifting while diving from a buoy, you must ensure that the boat is following you closely during the entire session, and that the captain is keeping an eye on you at all times. You should also know the emergency signal to do in the water in case of problem so the boat can come get you fast, and you should always have the necessary resuscitation and first aid equipment on the boat according to local laws.

Be reactive and flexible: if current picks up, or if you are getting cold, abort the session. If you came to training with a new PB-attempt in mind but after your warm-up dives you realize you are actually feeling tired or cold that day, maybe you should change your plans and do easier, shallower dives, focusing for example on technique or relaxation instead during that session.

As a safety diver, be honest with yourself and with others, and don't be afraid to speak up. It is your right to refuse to safety someone if you feel you don't have the physical ability or the experience to safety such a dive, or if you feel they are taking unnecessary risks and you don't want to be involved.

Be Prepared For Any Scenario

Make a clear evacuation plan and have all the people diving with you aware of it. This should include information such as phone number of emergency services, closest hospital, recompression chamber, police, search and rescue, dive insurance, emergency contacts of the divers. Know what is the procedure to follow in case of an accident: who to call first, what are the steps and in which order to follow them. How long does it take to evacuate someone to the closest hospital (to make sure for example you have enough oxygen for the trip there)? And whatever information you think is necessary according to the local laws and regulations, and according to the logistics of how and where you are diving.

Obviously – but let's say it anyway – you should always have an oxygen tank at the ready, with proper masks and ambu-bag. Ideally, also think about investing in an AED, naso/oro-pharyngeal airways, and of course, know how to use them. Don't forget to refresh your Emergency First Response course regularly!

Regarding the set-up: for deep dives you should obviously have experienced safety divers, ideally at least two or three of them. And a sonar (if you can't afford to buy your own DivEye counterballast system, and maybe even an underwater scooter for deep safety dives.

Finally, there are things we may not always think of as novice freedivers, but that some people learned the hard way before us and that we can all learn from as a community.

Do you remember that famous accidental -139m dive by Guillaume Néry? Well, since then, most people know that using electric tape is not exactly the most reliable or safest way to mark your rope. Choose marker pen instead, or both. If you decide to still use electric tape, make sure to “count” out loud every meter when you see the tapes pass as you drop the rope. And double-check the closest “5-meter” markers before and after the chosen depth once you have set the line, just to be sure no mistake has been made.

For a certain period, I was facing a huge mental block when it came to deep dives in Free Immersion. To the point where I was having nightmares of the most horrible scenarios the night before a deep dive. Ranging from having the rope break or the buoy deflate and start to sink while I was still at the bottom with no fins on and pulling on “emptiness”, to getting trapped at depth in a fishing net or line... Lovely, right? Out of this, I took the positive which is that it gave me more awareness of safety, and a “be prepared for the unexpected” approach.

So, first of all, make sure all your knots are secure. As an instructor, you should have been taught to make the basic knots properly during your instructor course, but if you feel you need it, take a crash-course with a sailor or a climber, they are knot experts! And then, when it comes to knots, have a spare. And then a spare of the spare. Ask yourself “what if?”. What if the D-ring under my buoy snaps? What if my carabiner accidentally opens and my knot comes out? For this reason, I personally always make an extra knot just in case with the slack of my rope, to one of the handles on the side of the buoy. It's a second anchor point in case the main knot under my buoy gives out for a reason or another. For the same reason, I always make sure the very end of my rope is securely attached inside my buoy.

If you are going to dive in places famous for ghost nets or abandoned fishing lines floating around, I would always carry a knife on me during dives. Actually, we could argue that all freedivers should always have a knife on them on their dives, even though very few of us actually do.

Take care of your equipment. Check it regularly and keep it in top shape, replace it if needed, don't wait until an accident happens.

So far I heard already of two or three instances now where the freediver somehow got the tennis ball that was used as a stopper at the end of the line, wedged between the foot pockets of their monofin during the turn. Sometimes the first kick after the turn is so powerful that the ball is firmly stuck and the freediver cannot dislodge it. Two options then: either swim up carrying 8 to 14 kgs on average between your feet, or stay down and wait for the safeties to realize something is wrong and to pull you up from the surface. In either case, the story would most likely end very badly. So try using a proper line stopper if at all possible, many brands now commercialize them. And if really the tennis ball is your only option, make sure it is properly secured and taped, cannot move at all, and remove the tape regularly to check the state of the ball itself and replace it if needed.

In Conclusion

All in all and in conclusion, I would say that safety starts with you, and if you use common sense and follow all the basic rules, there is no reason why you should ever get in trouble. But that said, you can never predict everything, so it's also important to be prepared ahead in case of an accident. Be smart, and trust your gut instinct: if it doesn't feel right, then it probably isn't, and if you think you should act, do it! “Better safe than sorry” as they say :) Wishing you all many nice and safe dives!

Freediving Blackout Caught On Video

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