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Apnea Safety

When people hear about freediving, they often think of publicized apnea-related deaths. Safety (in all forms of apnea sports) is one of the most pressing issues we face. What many people don’t know is that through uncompromising dedication to safety competitive freediving boasts a quite favorable safety record. Unfortunately, not all forms of apnea sports can say the same. For this reason, USAA intends to help foster a future in which no apnea deaths occur (regardless of sport) and an overall reduction in the frequency of other safety-related occurrences is attained.

Safety issues in freediving, like other sports, are multiple and varied. They may range from life-threatening issues such as shallow water blackout to issues of extreme discomfort including the use improper equalization techniques. Not diving with a buddy, however, is arguably one of the most dangerous oversights a diver can make. To fully recognize and address the dangers associated with freediving, a responsible freediver will enroll in a training course that specifically covers such topics and will steward the necessity of safety within their own circle of divers.

The following list is hoped to lend food for thought for those interested or participating in any apnea activity. The list is not comprehensive and is in no way a substitute for proper formal training.

Top Ten List of Ways to Avoid Problems while Freediving

10. Be properly equipped for the environment, duration, type and temperature of your freediving outing.
9. Provide adequate time for proper warm up and adaptation to the environment.
8. Never dive while feeling ill, uneasy, or overly tired. Pushing beyond your capabilities can only lead to trouble.
7. Pursue formal training and educate yourself about freediving risks and hazards.
6. Increase depth and time of dives cautiously and in conservative increments.
5. Make working dives well within maximum capabilities. Training gains and greater capabilities should be viewed as increased safety margins and not as increases in working dive capabilities. Advancing working dive capabilities should be done cautiously and conservatively.
4. Always equalize properly while freediving. You should never push deeper while diving hoping you can make your ears clear or thinking you just need to endure it. Permanent damage can result from such attempts. Best to take it easy so you can dive again tomorrow.
3. Be properly weighted to provide positive buoyancy while on the surface.
2. Never diver alone.
1. Practice proper buddy procedures. You should never allow a diver to be
unattended upon reaching the surface after a dive. You should never be out of arm’s reach of the diver at the surface. Ideally, meeting a buddy at depth on their ascent is preferred on difficult or target dives. Know hand signals and make sure you and your buddy are well versed in your emergency plan prior to initiating your diving session.

Preparation is not always akin to prevention, but having safety equipment available and being educated on rescue techniques will allow you to better deal with a problem in the unlikely event one happens. And remember, only you can make the decision what is safe for you to do. When in doubt, just don’t do it.

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Pictures provided by Rebecca Garrett, Deron Verbeck, Tec Clark and Jon Zeaman.