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How Do Competitive Freedivers Stay Safe?

Breath-hold diving as a whole, particularly spearfishing, does not have a good safety record due to the large percentage of breath-hold divers who are untrained, but that’s simply not the case with competitive freediving.

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by Dean Laffan. Header image courtesy of Justin Bruhn Pure Underwater Imaging

If it gets to the point in recreational or technical diving where you must hold your breath to reach the surface, something has gone very wrong. But there is one form of diving where not only is this accepted, but indeed mandatory. That is, of course, freediving.

The Global Underwater Explorers’ (GUE) system was fundamentally designed as a way for divers to conduct their dives in the safest possible manner—all while having fun! As said often by George Irvine, Director of the Woodville Karst Plains Project (WKPP) during their record breaking explorations in Wakulla Springs in Florida, “DIR is an attitude about diving that starts with safety. There is no reason for anyone to get killed diving.” 

The term DIR itself—an acronym for “Doing it Right”—was an evolution of the Hogarthian approach to cave diving, and both contained many of the tenets of the modern GUE system. As we all know, those principles are just as applicable to recreational single tank diving as they are to more advanced diving such as mixed gas, rebreathers, and cave diving.

This attitude that Irvine mentions is based on, above all else, safety. As the old adage says, “Going down is optional; coming up is mandatory.” This is even more true when diving on a single breath.

It turns out there are some obvious parallels between the way safety is handled in freediving and GUE protocols. In cave diving, Sheck’s original Golden Rules as codified in his “Little Blue Book,” published in 1979, are still a wonderfully effective framework for safe cave diving.

Sheck Exley and his original ‘Little Blue Book’ of the golden rules for cave diving. Photo courtesy of aquaCORPS archive.

They included:

1. ALWAYS USE A SINGLE, CONTINUOUS GUIDELINE FROM THE ENTRANCE OF THE CAVE THROUGHOUT THE DIVE.

2. ALWAYS USE THE “THIRD RULE” IN PLANNING YOUR AIR SUPPLY. ie., reserve at least two-thirds of your beginning gas supply for the exit. 

3. AVOID DEEP DIVING IN CAVES [Ed. note: On air!] and; 

5. AWAYS USE AT LEAST THREE LIGHTS PER DIVER.

But, there’s an unstated rule in Sheck’s book clearly recognized by the training agencies since the early days: Be trained in cavern or cave diving and dive within the limits of your training. 

These days, of course, it is hard to imagine scenarios without a final rule: “NEVER CAVE DIVE ALONE,” at least from the GUE perspective. Mr. Irvine was also fond of saying that “Diving is a sport to be enjoyed with friends. There is never a reason to solo dive. Diving solo removes any ‘second chance’ you will ever have.” 

So, what does all this have to do with freediving?  

Ted Harty’s Freediving Summit

In early February of 2022, well known US freediving coach—who is widely accepted as the ‘World’s Greatest Evangelist’ for freediving safety—Ted Harty unveiled a virtual freediving summit with a stunning array of guests. The roster included legendary world champions such as Alexey Molchanov and William Truebridge, James Nestor (the author of the books Deep and Breath), author/podcaster Ben Greenfield, representatives from all of the major freediving training agencies, and many more freediving notables. There are over 30 hours of interviews, and you can check it out here
Harty’s interviews and his focus on safety got me thinking about how the two fields of scuba and freediving approach the broad topic of safety. I’m also thinking about the specifics of safe diving practices in freediving, some of which may seem counterintuitive to scuba divers, but once understood, make a lot of sense. 

Ted Harty is so passionate about and obsessed with safety for breath-hold diving that he created an entire free, online course to learn about those hazards! As his own site highlights, this is NOT a replacement for a real freediving course, but it’s a good primer and, in my opinion, has without a doubt saved lives and encouraged people to take proper freedive training courses.

InDepth chief Michael Menduno suggested I write this article since a lot of technical divers, who are a bunch of giant nerds, might dig on how the freediving family safely completes thousands of breath-hold dives, many to depths of over 100 m/328 ft, in such reliably safe fashion. It should be noted that there have only been two fatalities in competitive freediving over the last 30 years. By way of comparison, on average there have been about 20 rebreather fatalities annually over the last ten years, not including open circuit tech fatalities.

By way of background, I was originally, like many of us, a wide eyed, single tank, air diving ocean diver. I did some years of that, and then took a break from diving for a while as I found new obsessions: skydiving, skiing, and flying. But, I returned to my first love to pursue tech diving and mixed gas, but really fell in love with caves. After some more years doing that I finally semi-retired as family and my own business took precedence. 

However, in 2018, I treated myself to a long overdue intro course to freediving (See InDepth: Deep into DEEP Week) and oh, man, I became instantly obsessed. So, I thought I might try and translate some freediving safety geekitude into something that might tweak the interest of you, the readers of InDepth, whom we freedivers fondly call ‘bubble blowers.’ Oh, sit down, rebreather divers, we get it. So away we go.


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Everything You Wanted To Know About Safety In Freediving But Were Too Busy Breathing Up To Ask

Unlike Sheck’s Golden Rules for safe cave diving, there is no one Bible of safety in freediving, but there is a handful of generally agreed upon principles taught by the handful of major certifying freediving bodies, which could be summarised as:

1. Never dive or train alone.

2. Always practice ‘one up one down.’

3. Only dive with a buddy who can actually rescue you if required.

So, is freediving safe? It depends. 

According to Harty’s research, at least 50-60 people die each year in the United States as a result of drowning while breath-hold diving. But wait, before you say “That’s a huge number,” let me point out that an estimated 90 percent of those deaths are by untrained divers, and the vast majority of them are spearfishers who have never taken a course. This is tragic because on Day 1 of the most basic freediving course, you learn all the counterintuitive ways in which you can die freediving and how to avoid them.

Sound familiar? Isn’t that exactly how cave diving was viewed in the 70s and 80s? Untrained divers, sadly ignorant of a few simple rules, blundered into an seemingly benign environment that quickly overwhelmed them, and they perished. At the time, the public and the authorities considered cave diving akin to playing Russian Roulette. In Australia in the 1970s, the government was on the verge of banning cave diving outright. 

Responsible training agencies quickly sprang up, such as the National Speleology Society-Cave Diving Section (NSS-CDS) in the USA and the Cave Diving Association of Australia (CDAA). By providing cave specific training for divers, they codified practices, procedures, and standards that took cave diving off the front pages. But far more importantly, the training agencies provided a safe path for divers to take knowledge from ocean diving and apply it to cave diving. Today, cave diving is a relatively safe activity. And, so is freediving.

The result of death in breath-hold diving is always drowning. But the precipitating factor is typically a hypoxic incident (AKA blackout) underwater, where absent a buddy, the result is almost always death by drowning. It is this hypoxic blackout which all of our safety procedures are geared to mitigate. Let’s look at how we do that. Unlike scuba, a large component of freediving happens in both the pool as well the ocean. Grab your towel, flip flops, and bathers, because we are going to start off our discussion of freediving safety in the pool.

Pool Training and Competition

Freedivers pool training with an ‘active spotter’ as safety. Photo by Creative Commons

Compared to open ocean diving to depth, training and competitions in pools are relatively straightforward. In a club or social setting, divers take turns actively diving/training in the pool while being observed by a fellow diver acting as a topside safety. This level of safety overview is easily achieved in 25 m/82 ft of a gin-clear indoor pool. However, other environments or larger pools may change the protocol. For instance, as the number of divers in the pool lanes increases, more safety/observers may be added as is appropriate. For some specific training exercises where a diver is pushing their hypoxic limits, their buddy may provide an active, one-to-one direct observation, swimming overhead on snorkel, just a meter above the diver, ready to assist in a second.

For this reason, Rule #1 in freediving is never dive or train alone. You are just as drowned alone in your backyard pool as you are on the open ocean where, in both cases, you passed out from hypoxia without a buddy there to perform the simple act of lifting your face out of the water.

In 2011, highly accomplished Belgian freediver Patrick Musimu was found drowned in his own pool following his practice of solo training. Patrick had previously achieved a No Limits dive to 209 m/686 ft, so he was far from a beginner. 


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Without a doubt, the most shocking accident was in 2015 when the legendary Natalia Molchanova disappeared during a private lesson in Spain. At the time, she was the absolute rockstar of all freediving. How good was she? At the time of her disappearance, she held 41 world records and 23 Gold Medals. In fact, her Static (STA) World Record of 9m:02s set in 2013 still stands today in 2022, and she holds the next four World Records under that. 

The next closest woman in history to Natalia is Ericson Lotta with a breath-hold of 6:31. So Natalia was roughly 50% better than any other woman in history and was the first woman to cross 100 m/328 ft depth in Constant Weight (CWT). You may be familiar with this discipline, wherein a diver swims down the line on fins, and then back up wearing a monofin. Oh, by the way, Natalia did not even take up freediving until the age of 40! However, none of that superhuman ability was enough to save her on a solo dive that fateful day as she dove to the inconsequential depth of only 40 m/131 ft. Sadly, despite a lengthy search, her body was never recovered.

If solo diving and training can claim the likes of those elite athletes, it can certainly happen to anyone. If you have been cave and tech diving long enough, you know of (if not know personally) famous and not-so-famous divers who have perished on solo dives. To invert one of the most famous marketing slogans of all time, “Just (Don’t) do it!”

Tap. Talk. Blow

Tap, talk, blow. Photo by Ted Harty


Recovery of a blacked-out diver might sound extreme at first glance, but in most cases is relatively straightforward. The diver is positioned face up out of the water. The buddy taps their cheek gently, says, “Breathe, Dean … breathe, Dean” and blows gently sideways across the face. Why blow across the face? We humans have receptors around the eyes, nose, and lips that are sensitive to air and water. When we submerge, these same receptors are what tells our lizard brain that we are underwater and contributes to our urge not to breathe. 

These receptors are also what triggers the mammalian diving reflex that helps us freedive. The stimulation of both touch and talk combined with the air running over those facial receptors tell the lizard brain, “Hey you are no longer submerged; you can breathe now.” Breathing usually recommences with little trouble or ill effect. On rare occasions, the diver may need a rescue breath or two. The rescuer seals over the nose and mouth and gently blows. Occasionally, positive pressure O2 may be administered via a standard O2 mask. In spite of instant recovery, protocol insists that immediately following any blackout, the diver exits the water and is finished diving until the next day. This applies to competition diving as well as club and social diving.

Ocean Training and Competition 

Photo by Lorenzo Mittiga

In depths shallower than 20 m/65 ft with good visibility, it is generally accepted that reasonably experienced freedivers can safely dive without a line and buoy. Deeper than that, experts recommend using a line. This is a simple system of buoy, 10 mm line, and a bottom plate to terminate the line at depth.


The top of the line is fixed to a float about the size of a car tire inner tube wrapped in PVC fabric or something similar. The diver wears a lanyard which is composed of a steel wire about 1 m/33 in long. One end of the lanyard has a Velcro wrap which affixes to the diver’s wrist, and the other end has a wide gated aluminium shark clip that snaps onto the line. The large gate size of the clip means it is free to run up and down the line with virtually no friction This lanyard ensures that no matter what happens to the diver, any safety diver going down the line MUST run into the diver at some point. 

Three photos above depicting floats, a lanyard and target by 2bfreequipment.

No Need for Speed

It is a curiosity that regardless of a diver’s gender, size, experience, or skill, thanks to the hydrodynamics of a human moving through water, we all make about the same speed of ~1 m/sec both up and down. This holds true for beginners to world champions. For example, during his world record dive to 130 m/427 ft on a monofin, Alelexy Molchanov took exactly 130 seconds to reach 130 m and 140 seconds to make the return journey to the surface. I travel at the same speed in the water column; although, sad to say, to barely one-third of that depth! The cool part about this is that we can therefore easily calculate on-the-fly when we, as safety diving buddies, need to leave the surface to meet our diver.

Let’s say Charly and Dean are medium-level experienced freedivers. Charly is planning a dive to 50 m/164 ft. The divers have agreed that Dean will meet Charly at 15 m/49 ft on her way back up. So, it takes very simple math to work out what we do. Charly will take 50 seconds to reach 50 m and another 35 seconds to reach 15 m on ascent. So, she will be at 15 on ascent 85 seconds after she leaves the surface. It will take Dean 15 seconds to dive down to 15 m from the surface, so if Dean leaves the surface at 85 seconds – 15 seconds (70 seconds after Charly commences her dive) they will both arrive at 15 m together, Charly from below, Dean from above. To ensure they meet as agreed, Dean simply pushes Go on the stopwatch function of his freedive computer as Charly submerges. 

Shallow Water Blackout

It doesn’t really matter to what absolute depth you can dive; the point about risk is that if you can usually dive to 50 m and back, then the bottom at 50 m is only the halfway point of your dive. You are very unlikely to need rescuing here. It is the final part of the dive, where your PO2 levels are lowest due to consumption and decreasing ambient pressure, that the risk of blackout is greatest. The shallower the water, the greater the risk, for reasons many tech divers would understand intrinsically. But, newbie freedivers will not fully grasp the physics of the mechanism of this insidious danger—the one that claims all those lives of spearos I mentioned earlier—which is Shallow Water Blackout (SWB). This article by Harty on Deeper Blue has some great commentary but also check the short video of two actual spearfishing blackouts. Very sobering to see.


Even anyone completely untrained in any form of diving can appreciate that if you hold your breath long enough, and deny the urge to breathe long enough, you may pass out from hypoxia. This is your classic pool tragedy of teenage kids playing in their own backyard pool, or a swimmer at the local pool observed to be doing laps underwater and minutes later is found in that crowded pool to be drowned on the bottom. This is not SWB, it is simply hypoxia. You can also cause yourself to do that by just lying on your bed or sitting on your couch holding your breath. The critical difference is that you are not underwater. So, on the couch, after a few brief seconds, you gasp back to consciousness perhaps not even aware that you blacked out.

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SWB is the sudden onset hypoxia caused by falling arterial PO2 due to rapidly declining surrounding hydrostatic pressure, which drives down the partial pressure of O2 available to the cells. The diver leaves the surface with a single breath of air—and, therefore, a finite and limited amount of O2 in their bloodstream to drive physical activity and brain function. Even if they have depleted their O2 levels significantly at, say, 30 m, they are still under the hydrostatic pressure of 4 ATA so their PPO2 is elevated by that fact. The problem occurs when, as they ascend, not only do they continue to consume their O2 by exertion, but the rapidly decreasing hydrostatic pressure means their PO2 is dropping from that as well. So, it’s a double whammy. And, as we all know, it is in the last 10 m/30 ft that the percentage reduction of partial pressure is greatest, when 2 ATA at 10 m/33 ft becomes 1 ATA on the surface. That last 10 m creates a huge 50% reduction in partial pressure. So, you may not be surprised to learn that many blackouts happen even after the diver surfaces. They may even indicate they are OK before losing consciousness seconds later.

For this reason, I do not not ever take my eyes off my diver, at least for a minimum of 30 seconds after they surface. I’m talking to them, gauging their lucidity, assessing their verbal responses, watching their face and coordination of hand movements and looking for facial tics or other abnormal behaviour.

I also insist that my buddies and I perform the exact same surface protocol as competition divers.

1. Remove any facial equipment (mask or goggles and possibly nose clip)
2. Make eye contact with me
3. Give me the classic OK sign with circled thumb and finger

4. Say out loud “I’m OK”


Why do I do this?  Well, if you do plan to take part in even club competitions, this is the protocol you must follow, and is the same for the world championships, so why not establish that habit from the get go? But, way more importantly, it gives me a benchmark of how you behave upon surfacing when you are not hypoxic.

Let’s say Charly has been diving with Dean for a year, and EVERY time Charly surfaces in either the pool or the ocean, she performs the above protocol in that exact order every single time. Then one day she performs the hand signal OK and the verbal OK in reverse order, or gives the hand signal and does not verbalise at all—maybe she just nods instead. That is a klaxon warning sign that Charly may well be on the verge of a hypoxic incident. 

Why would she not do the very thing she has done hundreds of times in a row? Now, I’m going to watch Charly even more closely than usual and not leave her for at least 60 seconds. I might hand her a water bottle and suggest she take a drink just to observe her hand-eye coordination. With that, I’m gauging her speech and general responsiveness. Only when I’m happy will I go about preparing for my dive as she gets ready to safety me.  Surface protocols are an excellent field tool for alerting a buddy when to pay particular attention to a possibly hypoxic diver.

We also weight ourselves to be neutral not on the surface, but at 10 m/33 ft. This means you have to work a little harder to get off the surface, but it also means that if you blackout at or around 10 m it is highly probable that your upward momentum will take you through 10 m where you will rise to the surface. This does not negate the need of a buddy, but it does make sure that if you blackout on the surface or even close to it, you will stay on the surface and will not sink out of sight into deep water and drown. 

This is another risk factor for those ocean spearfishermen I mentioned earlier, who are notoriously overweighted, as their prevailing mindset is to get down to the fish as fast as possible. So, when they blackout out at 5 m/15 ft holding their prized fish, and the “same ocean” buddy is not there, they sink back to the ocean floor and are lost.


It is a fortunate wrinkle in human biology that when you blackout underwater, you do not immediately drown. When you hold your breath and submerge, you close your epiglottis so you are not containing the pressure of all that air in your lungs with your cheeks. Try it now. Take a deep breath and hold it. You can open your mouth and air does not come rushing out because you have sealed it in with your throat, not your mouth. When freedivers blackout, the glottis remains closed, and no water enters the lungs (almost always). So, when recovery is achieved, there is no coughing up of water or other near drowning complications—just a few deep breaths, a rapid clearing of the mind—usually followed by the words, “What just happened?” Most freedivers have no warning of the blackout and no memory of it afterwards.

World Class Competitions

Photo by Lorenzo Mittiga

Let’s finish off by reviewing what happens at high profile events such as Vertical Blue run by the legendary Constant Weight No Fins (CNF) multiple world champion William Truebridge. William has run his event in Dean’s Blue Hole in the Bahamas since 2008. It is the Wimbledon of freediving.

In the 90s and into the early 2000s, there was a period where it was not uncommon for freediving organizers to have closed circuit rebreather (CCR) divers stationed at various points in the water column to act as safeties in case something went wrong on very deep dives. Over time, it became apparent that this was a limited safety concept. Getting a deep CCR diver into position in time for the athlete to begin their dive meant that the CCR diver had already incurred a significant decompression obligation for their entire dive. Plus, in practical terms, they were limited in how far up and down they could move in the water column before endangering themselves. As Mr. Mackey from South Park might say “Yo-Yoing at 80m is bad, M’kay?”

When you also understand that the danger is in the top of the water column, you don’t often see deep CCR or open circuit support divers in freediving anymore. All safeties are highly capable freedivers who are able to arrive ‘on station’ on time at predetermined depths and provide any help required to get the diver to the surface.

In fact, the major global certifying agency for freediving, AIDA—Association Internationale pour le Développement de l’Apnée (AIDA), in English, the International Association for the Development of Apnea—has specifically disallowed the use deep CCR or scuba safety divers. However this is one notable—and completely understandable—exception to this practice, and that is Kirk Krack.

Krack is the founder of Performance Freediving International (PFI). Apart from being an early leader in freedive training in general and the man who (literally) wrote the book on freediving safety, he is also the pioneer in the field of what he has coined as “technical freediving.” Krack’s interest in using nitrox as a pre-breathe in freediving came as a result of his decades of experience as a leading technical diving instructor trainer and diver. 


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It is Krack’s unparalleled expert knowledge of mixed gas diving that makes his Deja Blue freediving competition the only one in the world where deep CCR and scuba support divers are sanctioned to operate. Aside from all that, he is also the ‘go-to guy’ in Hollywood for working with actors on breath-hold. He has trained the likes of Tom Cruise and Margot Robbie, and has just come off a marathon three year job of directing all the breath-hold work for James Cameron on his upcoming Avatar 2 film, a large portion of which is set underwater. All the actors had to perform on breath-hold. More on that in a future article. If you ever get the chance to meet Krack, don’t pass it up!

James Cameron speaking with Kirk Krack on the Avatar set. Photo courtesy: Lightstorm Entertainment / Disney

Bring on the Scooters

Bring on the scooters!

As cave divers discovered 20 years ago, scooters are a silver bullet when it comes to moving through the water efficiently. These days, when you watch a diver coming up the line from a deep dive, often the first support diver to haul into view of the Dive Eye camera is on a scooter. The advantages are obvious to us who have used them—speeds of up 60-100 m/min with zero exertion to the diver, reduced O2 consumption by the safety diver, and increased capacity to either hang for a diver arriving late to the pre-agreed spot or better provide physical assistance if required.

Safeties appear in a staggered fashion. On, say, a 100 m dive, the first deep safety may arrive at 40 m, then another at 30 m, and one more at 20m. The lead safety diver is right in front of the diver, face-to-face only 1 m  away. They are highly experienced and looking for tell-tale signs that a diver is struggling. They watch them like a hawk all the way to the surface and stay right beside the diver until they complete their surface protocol and get a white card.

If you watch the videos on the surface you will see that the safeties all have their hands up in the air above the water. This indicates to the judges that no one is supporting the diver under the water. If a safety even touches a diver, the diver is DQ’d. So they maintain a watch but from a safe distance.

Worst Case Scenario

So, no matter how unlikely it is that a diver may be rendered unable to swim at, say, 90 m/294 ft, what if it happens? When you watch the likes of Alessia Zecchini, Alexy, and Thibault Gignes dive to 100 m/326 ft plus and back on YouTube,who is taking the video? Well, in the last five years, an underwater camera system has been perfected called Diveye, which looks like a torpedo on a tail-mounted cable. The cable provides both raising and lowering of the device, sends video up, and allows control by the remote operators. This camera means the judges and safety team have a real-time view of the diver even in the dark of 130 m/424 ft out of sight of the surface.

When you look at a deep freedive on YouTube, you will see that white dive line disappearing down into the deepening blue. But this is just part of a simple, yet very effective diver safety system called a counter-ballast. You may have noticed that the bottom of the line terminates in a large round plate of between 200-300 mm/1 ft in diameter. This plate sits horizontally in the water on the end of the line which means the shark clip connecting the athlete to the line cannot jump off that line at the bottom. When that dive line exits the water at the surface, it runs up vertically a few feet then into a pulley mounted on an arm. It exits the pulley horizontally, travels a few meters to another pulley where it goes vertically back down into the water. A heavy weight is attached to this end of the rope, and friction brakes lock the rope into place.


In the extreme scenario—if a diver needed rescuing from depth—the topside safety director would call for the counter ballast to be dropped. When the order is given to release the brakes, the weight falls down at the non-diver end of the counter-ballast and, in doing so, rapidly pulls the other end of the rope up. No matter where the diver is in the water column, at some point the plate will collect his shark clip, and the diver— along with the plate—will be hauled to the surface. Recovery speed is about 1.2 m/sec. Smaller versions of these counter-ballasts are also available for sport divers.

Even in a club diving environment, the scenario is similar. We use the same sized bottom plate and shark clips to attach to the line. The top of the line attaches to a buoy via a very simple pulley with a one way friction lock. If a diver needs rescuing, the topside buddy simply puts one foot on the buoy near the pulley and hauls in the rope, hand over hand. Again, this is deceptively easy and quick. We are not pulling up the actual weight of the diver, but his submerged weight—about 10 kg/22 lbs at most. If one diver gets tired from hauling, another takes over. Recovery is approximately 1m/3 ft per sec.

Let me conclude this article by answering my original question: Is competitive freediving a safe sport?

In all the various competitions conducted throughout the world in the last 30 years, there have only been two deaths. In 2002, French freediver Audrey Mestre tried to break a No Limits world record set by Tanya Streeter, a British-Caymanian-American world champion. When Audrey reached the bottom at 171 m/558 ft, the lift bag, which was to transport her back to surface, would not inflate. It appears that the gas cylinder wasn’t appropriately checked before the performance—it was empty—an oversight that was the subject of speculation, but was never shown to be more than horrific human error. The mistake cost the diver her life. It was the first, but unfortunately not the last, real death in competitive freediving.

In 2013, leading American freediver Nick Mevoli died while competing at Vertical Blue in the Bahamas. Two days prior to his fatal dive, he had attempted a dive to 96 m/315 ft but had to turn back at 80 m/260 ft after suffering an upper respiratory squeeze. Two days later, he attempted a CNF (Constant Weight No Fins) dive to 72 m/236 ft. He began to turn back at 68 meters, but appeared to change his mind and dived downward again, he then did turn the dive and regained the surface under his own power. However, he was immediately visibly distressed and within seconds passed out. Safety divers immediately grabbed him and recovered him to the platform, but he instantly lost pulse and respiration. Resuscitation attempts were unsuccessful, and he died of pulmonary edema. Subsequently, it became known he had experienced prior squeezes which may have predisposed him to the fatal injury on that day. 

 
I don’t personally know of any club level/sport freedivers who have died while diving with friends. Like tech and cave diving, the freediving tribe is a fairly close family, so deaths among trained sport freedivers are, in practical terms, unheard of and as rare as that in competition.

So, as you can see, we freedivers have a wide range of very effective safety protocols which we use to conduct our dives safely. However, sadly, humans do not possess gills, so every time—whether we submerge ourselves via single tank ocean, twin tank cave, rebreathers at 100 m, or freediving—we never forget our training. We do not take chances, and we do not break hard won rules. The underwater realm is a beautiful place to be, but we are visitors, only afforded that journey by our training and discipline. It’s important to respect that at all times.

Dive Deeper:

InDepth: Is Freediving Safe? by Ted Harty

InDepth: Deep Into DEEP WEEK by Dean laffan

Thanks to Ted Harty for the inspiration and advice for this article 

Ted’s Freediving Summit here 

Ted’s Freediving Safety website 

Ted’s Freediving School 

Big thanks to Kirk Krack for providing me with some ‘inside baseball’ on the safety procedures at major freediving events and his own Deja Blue competition in the Bahamas. 

About the Deja Blue Competition

Kirk Krack: Writing The Book on Freediving

Video interview with Kirk at Oztek  

I am very grateful to all of those who gave permission for me to use their awesome photography. 

Melbourne Freedivers 

Erez Beatus from Apnea International

Deeper Blue Deeper Blue 

Ted Harty from Immersion Freediving

Pure Underwater Imaging by Justin Bruhn

2bfreeequipment

To explore additional stories, videos and webinars on freediving click: FREE


Dean Laffan: Fuelled by a boyhood fascination with the books and TV shows of Australian diving pioneers like Ron and Valerie Taylor, Neville Coleman, and Ben Cropp, Dean took a scuba course as soon as he left school and has never left the water since. After discovering GUE in 2001, he was instantly sure he had found his ‘tribe.’ He was one of the organisers of the very first GUE class in Australia run by Jarrod Jablonski.

After many technical and cave dives, including some ground-breaking cave diving expeditions to the Nullabor, it was only in 2018 that he finally fulfilled a long-held ambition to take up freediving, which has now become an obsession.Dean is also the co-host of the OZDive Show Podcast, with Sue Crowe and Michael Menduno, which features great one hour presentations by outstanding experts in technical diving, cave diving and freediving. Find the OZDive Show Podcast here.

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Project Divers Are We

Diving projects aka expeditions—think Bill Stone’s Wakulla Springs 1987 project, or the original explorations of the Woodville Karst Plain’s Project (WKPP)—helped give birth to technical diving….

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Header image: Divers positioning a decompression habitat during a recent GUE Project Diver core module. Photo by SJ Alice Bennett, courtesy of GUE.

Diving projects, or expeditions—think Bill Stone’s Wakulla Springs 1987 project, or the original explorations of the Woodville Karst Plain’s Project (WKPP)—helped give birth to technical diving, and today continue as an important focal point and organizing principle for communities like Global Underwater Explorers (GUE). The organization this year unveiled a new Project Diver program, intended to elevate “community-led project dives to an entirely new level of sophistication.” Here, authors Guy Shockey and Francesco Cameli discuss the power of projects and take us behind the scenes of the new program.


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