View Full Version : Safety thoughts & observations, Oregon free diving

06-13-2014, 02:10 AM
I've been thinking about safety esp given a few factors that are found (or not found) in the Pac NW, so I'm posting it in our forum.

o What is NOT found easily in the Pac NW is free dive training. (rarely scheduled vs California or Florida!)

o What IS found in the Pac NW is poor viz and gnarly wave conditions, esp on the coast (eg Oregon), which means buddy monitoring can be challenging even with the best of intentions. This makes self-reliant safety disciplines even more vital. My experience is with Oregon free divers. I haven't been around WA and BC free divers.

I still consider myself a newbie free diver/spearo since I started free early this year after decades of scuba. I have some Level 1 FII safety training (thanks to Ian Elstrom aka "Transporter").

My attitude toward safety is informed by 44 years of scuba diving and alpine climbing including extreme first ascents in Alaska, and other adventure sports, without a single substantial injury (cuts, bruises, and a bit of frostbite doesn't count ;-) I'm only still alive due to objective assessments of risks, safety disciplines and establishing muscle memory to do critical procedures reliably, even in difficult situations.

Driving back from the coast recently I was reflecting on a pattern I'm seeing after diving with or just chatting with a fair number of Oregon free divers, and learning from some expert free divers and an instructor.

As my buddy Jeff has noted, driving to the coast is objectively more dangerous than diving. True that for well-trained divers, but as I've been free diving I've been seeing some divers that do not 'fasten their seat belt" so to speak. How many of you think it's OK to drive without a seat belt because (a) hey, accidents aren't really that frequent, and (b) you can navigate curves well? Not many I'd reckon...

SWB's or sambas aren't that frequent either, but the consequences can easily be more disastrous than a car accident.

The list of risky practices I've personally observed:

1. Diving with snorkel in mouth. (Deadly for several reasons)

2. Not doing recovery aka 'hook' breaths at surfacing.
2a. Talking or shouting immediately at surfacing, or blowing out hard to clear a water-laden snorkel (see #1).

(90%+ of SWBs happen at surface within the 1st 30 seconds, because pO2 drops dramatically in the last few meters at the same time as you're getting low on O2.)

3. Not keeping to a 2 or 3:1 surface-recovery-time ratio.

4. Ignorance of the several different, NON-intuitive, life-saving, in-water holds/grips and procedures for SWB and Samba buddy rescues, at surface and below surface.

5. "Taught by a friend" who did not cover essentials, lending false confidence to the newbie. Or "kinda been ignoring what he told me" .

Best practices:

1. FII, PFI or other free dive training. (The above list is wholly inadequate vs instruction.)



www.facebook.com/pages/Elstrom-Freedive-Instruction/363017187132550 <<< Oregon instructor Ian - please let him know if you want to commit to a class.

2. Wearing an FRV (Max is a NW lead-by-example for this new technology.) http://www.spearboard.com/showthread.php?t=172292

Some useful Do's and Don'ts on the utube...

Do's www.youtube.com/watch?v=3gDCipRAQr4

Don'ts www.youtube.com/watch?v=-lG9vi1Jwgo

Hoping that instructors will schedule something soon in PDX or SEA or ...

Don't mean to be preachy, just want y'all to be safe out there. Life is too precious and free spearo :gun: is just too much fun not to keep doing it for a longgg time.


North Star
06-13-2014, 03:27 AM
Thanks Leigh. I appreciate your safety conscious attitude. Education is the key to safety, and the discipline to follow the rules consistently is the key to survival.

We have not lost a PNW diver that I know of, so let's all work at keeping it that way, by encouraging each other to safe practices, and by having the humility to receive guidance from others regarding how we can be more safe.

Be sure to check this link: http://freediversafety.com/safetytips.html

NW Spearo
06-13-2014, 11:11 AM
Thank you very much! This is great information.

North Star
06-13-2014, 02:16 PM
I posted this a while back in another thread I could not find, so here it is again.

The guy who put this together, Michael Burton, died from SWB. Had he had an FRV (as he recommended) he would still be alive. Had he refused to dive without a buddy, which he recommended, he would still be alive. His buddy had to go back to the boat, and he just kept diving solo. That's when he died.

You can know the rules, but if you don't have the discipline to follow them, then they do you no good. Michael was a great diver, had taken a class, and was well experienced.


The Idiot's Guide to Freedive Spearfishing Safety

(This guide is by no means exhaustive nor meant as a replacement to formal training by qualified instructors!)

If you're reading this you already know how awesome this sport is. Between the thrill of the hunt, the serenity of, and connection with, the underwater world, and the ability to put food on the table, there are many good reasons to engage in this lifestyle. With the many positives comes the reality that this can also be a deadly activity if not done with the proper knowledge and discipline. What is particularly tragic about the vast majority of the deaths and injuries in this realm are that they could have been avoided by following some pretty simple guidelines.

”A successful dive trip is one where you make it back safely to your family and friends.”

Buddy Diving

Having a dive buddy is essential to safe diving. Not only are they there to support you in the case of an accident or injury but you help keep one another accountable to the tenants of safe diving.

Have a buddy that understands safe diving and that knows CPR (recruit your dive partners to take Freediving and CPR courses with you).

When diving have one buddy stay at the surface while the other dives (consider sharing a gun).

Be on the same page as your buddy. Go over the dive plan before getting in the water.

Watch your buddy when they surface and wait several seconds (around 20) after an OK sign before assuming that all is well.

When possible, meet your buddy half-way on deeper/longer dives.

Bring an unconscious diver to the surface by cupping your hands under their chin and the lower-back of their head.

While at the surface with a blacked-out diver tilt them on their back, remove their mask (and weightbelt if necessary), and blow on the upper part of their face while tapping them, talking to them between blowing. Most divers will resume breathing on their own as long as this is done very soon following black out.

Be ready to tilt your partners head in the event that they puke.

If your buddy does not start breathing on their own within 20 seconds then immediately move them to the boat or shore, if possible, to administer CPR.
Avoid administering CPR on the water surface whenever possible. Water-surface CPR is very difficult as water is prone to entering the nose/mouth which further complicates the situation.

If you or your partner blackout or lose motor control (Samba) during a dive session stop diving for the day. Blackouts can be subtle including temporary loss of vision or a weird head-rush.


Proper breathing is essential to safe diving. Holding your breath while doing demanding activities underwater can be a quick recipe for disaster if not done correctly.

Breathe normally (in a relaxed manner) at the surface.

Never hyperventilate prior to a dive (avoid breathing quickly or exaggerating length of breaths).

Remove your snorkel as you start your dive.

Recover at the surface for twice as long as your dive time (or even longer for deeper dives).

Avoid explosive breathing when you resurface. Take controlled breaths and remain relaxed.

Recovery breaths should start with a few "Hook breaths" (hold an inhale for a couple seconds while drawing blood to your head using the “constipation squeeze”).

Avoid panicked ascents if you end up staying down too long. Ascend in a fluid and controlled manner to avoid blackout.

Blue-tinted lips, tingling/burn in the extremeties, seeing stars, feeling euphoric/weird can all be warning signs of low oxygen (Hypoxia).

Loss of consciousness often comes suddenly and with no warning!
Proper Weighting

Being properly weighted not only helps increase the odds of your survival but makes diving generally more effective and enjoyable.

It’s better to be too light than too heavy. More weight means more danger.

Always rig your weight belt/harness in a way that can be easily dumped in case of an emergency.

When diving deeper water your goal should be at least neutral buoyancy at 30 feet/9 meters.

The thicker your wetsuit, the more compression (and loss of buoyancy) that you will experience at depth.

Remember to alter your weight when you change wetsuits, body composition, or water type (salt vs fresh).

To allow you to dive with less weight, consider holding onto reef/rocks/kelp while at the bottom.

Gun Safety

If diving deep underwater without oxygen was dangerous enough then adding a weapon designed to kill really puts it over the top.

Never point a loaded gun anywhere near another person.

Never trust or rely on a mechanical safety.

Keep your finger off the trigger until you are ready to shoot.

Wait to load your gun until you are in the water and ready to hunt and unload in the water once you are done hunting.

Never shoot what you can't positively identify.

Secure your spear so that nobody accidentally stabs themselves on the boat, shore, or home.

Consider using a tip cover to block the tip of your spear when out of the water.

When shooting larger multi-banded guns, lock your elbow and damper the rear of your gun with your hand to avoid being struck in the face.

Be ready and willing to ditch your gun if you are having trouble getting to the surface.

Routinely inspect and clean your gun, especially paying attention to any cracks forming around your handle.

Avoid metal wishbones when possible and be careful when loading them as fingers have been severed by them.

General Safety

In addition to the specific areas that have been outlined, there are several general safety guidelines when spearfishing.

Pay careful attention to the weather and avoid diving when surge/current/chop is bad.

Equalize early and often. Don't wait until it hurts to do so and be ready to stop/abort your descent if your ear(s) is stuck.

Always carry a knife (or two) in case of entanglement.

Use a dive flag whenever possible to inform passing boats of your presence (it’s the law in many places).

Always have a person manning the boat in situations of current to avoid getting stranded in the water.

Avoid handling larger fish with fight left in them. Let them tire out or quickly brain them while they are stunned.

When braining fish be very careful as it can be easy to slip or overpenetrate your fish and stab your arm/hand/thigh.

Educate yourself on, and be aware of, the pain points (teeth, spikes, spines) that your target fish have.

Consider a break-away rigging or a reel so that you are not fighting your fish all the way to the surface.

Avoid entering into caves too deeply or at all, especially in surge or current situations.

When possible, avoid keeping your stringer on your person, especially in shark infested water. Consider returning them to the boat or keeping them connected to a float.

Consider the Freedivers Recovery Vest as a potential purchase.

General Health

In addition to following a set of rules/guidelines, it's important to take care of your body in general.

Stay well hydrated before, during, and after your dive sessions.

Eat a good meal before extended dive sessions keeping a 2 hour gap between a full meal and a dive. Eat some snacks to keep your energy up during the dive.

Get good sleep and avoid too much alcohol the night prior to a dive.

Consider cancelling a dive if you are sick and remember to factor your sickness into the length and depth of your dives.

Never freedive after doing any scuba diving the same day.

Many health factors such as aenemia, smoking, history of seizures or blackouts, concussions, medications, etc. should all be taken into account and extra vigilence should be shown in light of them.

Consider seeing doctors with knowledge of physiology in the context of diving.

06-13-2014, 11:23 PM
NorthStar's post.

Yea, that. The FRV is a big expense at first look ($1350); but I bought one and will not be "leaving home without it".

North Star
06-14-2014, 12:11 AM
Yea, that. The FRV is a big expense at first look ($1350); but I bought one and will not be "leaving home without it".

Good move Todd. You will be a lot safer with it. Just consider it cheap life insurance. :thumps:

06-14-2014, 11:50 PM
What are the safety tips for instances like this?



North Star
06-15-2014, 01:25 AM
What are the safety tips for instances like this?



Ummm... don't jump off of cliffs into shark infested waters?

I couldn't believe how long it took him to swim back to shore.

Deutschland Spearo
06-15-2014, 02:11 AM
Yea, that. The FRV is a big expense at first look ($1350); but I bought one and will not be "leaving home without it".

Best investment we can make as freedivers. I will not dive without one now.

Good post Max, it was so ironic that OC/Michael had created that post shortly before he died from SWB, just knowing these things won't save your life, practicing them while diving will.

North Star
06-15-2014, 02:13 AM

Kyle M
06-15-2014, 04:10 PM
Good reminder thread guys. That shark video has been shown to be fake. Guys please let us know how the FRV works, good or bad. Hopefully it's never needed.

06-15-2014, 09:19 PM
Since I was very likely the reason this post got started, I did some reading and gave spitting my snorkel a try yesterday.

I gotta say it felt pretty weird at first, but I started to get used to it by the end.

Definitely ate a lot more salt water this way....I was able to keep all the water out with a full time snorkel.

On the flip side, I think I had some longer breath holds...couldn't verify because I didn't realize I had to clear the old Pyle.

Had a nice day at Barview, got to ride in a zodiac for the first time thanks to Jeff.

I'll continue to try to get used to the no snorkel thing, hopefully it will get better :)


North Star
06-15-2014, 11:09 PM
John - I dove for decades with my snorkel in - all of this freedive class/ safety stuff wasn't even heard of then. I have to admit that it was a hard switch for me when I gained further education later in life. You really have to learn a new set of habits to dive snorkel out, and sometimes I still don't do it right.

06-19-2014, 12:17 AM
OP - A couple more things I've thought of that are kind of PNW'ey:

1. Snorkel viz: When there's a bit of chop/waves, it can be hard to locate your buddy after surfacing. Suggestion. Many snorkels are all-black and virtually invisible at even short distances. Solution: Get some fluorescent orange tape and apply to the top several inches of your snorkel.

2. Reels and float-lines: I know some spearos really love their reels and not having to fuss with a float line, but objectively, it adds at least some risk. Your buddy no longer has a higher-visibility always-at-surface object to find/track you in our low-viz waters and chop, let alone find you u/w. Limp line mgt is more challenging https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EkVNjV7RhLI). Solution: consider a high-viz-color vinyl float line with bright yellow crab-float, inflatable buoy, or Banks board... for find-ability by your buddy, plus visibility for boats. For a really slick kelp-bed float, www.neptonicsystems.com/kelp-carrot.php (Speardeals.com is out of stock currently)

....and imho, newbies should stay away from reels, experienced spearos can do well with them. If you decide to stick with reel-only, even more important to consider an FRV, imho.

Vinyl float lines are safest, foam-filled rope next safest, and hardware store poly rope the least safe as it is limp, sinks some, and more prone to tangles. (haha, I tried it once, retired it.)

06-19-2014, 12:24 AM
I don't know that a reel would drown me, but my experience angling with a level wind makes me think it will at least give me a headache:)

06-23-2014, 09:18 AM
OP: Proud of my son's first-ever spearfishing experience on Sunday at BV. He even remembered to do his recovery breaths before saying "I got a fish!!!"... his first ever.

North Star
06-23-2014, 02:37 PM
OP: Proud of my son's first-ever spearfishing experience on Sunday at BV. He even remembered to do his recovery breaths before saying "I got a fish!!!"... his first ever.

Somebody trained him well (thanks dad) and he learned his lesson well - safety comes before celebration. Great to see a safety conscious attitude passed from father to son.:thumps:

07-01-2014, 10:23 PM
OP: Regards snorkel visibility. Had a chance to try my and my son's snorkel visibility with dayglo orange tape on the top 5" or so. Wow, what a difference in quickly spotting your buddy! (vs a little patch of faded tape, or all-black). (And don't worry, reds are the first to fade to gray underwater, so our dumb rockfish won't get spooked by a little tape :-)

07-24-2014, 09:22 AM
Spotted on Seattle BottomSounders free diving/spearo club thread on Yahoo groups:

Chris Bustad of Phase3Freediving is having a Freediver course on September
6 in Tacoma, check it out on Performance Freediving International website
http://www.performancefreediving.com/cgi-bin/pfi_upcoming.py, or contact
him directly http://phase3freediving.com/ He is a great guy and a very
competent instructor!

Awesome Cindy Gonzalez of SCUBA Shoppe in Auburn is also offering
freediving courses via her SSI instructor. Check it out with her about the

07-25-2014, 09:28 AM
Spotted on Seattle BottomSounders free diving/spearo club thread on Yahoo groups:

Chris Bustad of Phase3Freediving is having a Freediver course on September
6 in Tacoma, check it out on Performance Freediving International website
http://www.performancefreediving.com/cgi-bin/pfi_upcoming.py, or contact
him directly http://phase3freediving.com/ He is a great guy and a very
competent instructor!

Awesome Cindy Gonzalez of SCUBA Shoppe in Auburn is also offering
freediving courses via her SSI instructor. Check it out with her about the

I can vouch for Chris, he's who I took my course with. Great instructor.

07-25-2014, 05:41 PM
I'll be sure to give it a look. I've tried setting something up with Ian, but I imagine he is too busy with the monday through friday grind to get in the water for a class. Thanks and good eye on spotting it!

09-07-2014, 11:49 PM
Finally ordered my FRV !! :thumps:(with the spearboard discount). Should have it this week in time for the tuna expedition.:gun:


P.S. This is the email I received on ordering. good causes supported.

Hi Leigh,

Congratulations on the purchase of your FRV. I know you will see the benefits of the FRV, I have been diving with it for the last couple years in kelp and in the open blue and it always makes me feel a little safer. I am a graduate of the PFI Freediver courses as well, but the FRV is definitely something I will never dive without. One more tool to hopefully insure I get home safely to my family. It does not impede with my ability to secure fish, I have harvested White Sea Bass in the kelp and Tuna and Yellowtail in the blue.
One of the most important things to remember, read the manual, review and re read again. There are always new updates Terry adds that is essential for the FRV user to acknowledge.
I am the founder of a spearfishing non profit, Diving For A Cause. It is with Tony Grogan and Terry Maas support and direction that $50 from the sale of the FRV you just purchased, supports the donations Diving For A Cause brings on its journeys.
Thank you Leigh for your DFAC support with this purchase!
Special Thank You to Tony and Terry for your ongoing support of DFAC!

Feel free to take a look at our website

Safe diving
Colleen Gallagher
On Sep 7, 2014, at 5:15 PM, Terry Maas <tmaas@west.net> wrote:

> Leigh,
> Thank you for your recent Spearboard Special Freedivers Recovery Vest purchase
> Tony Grogan, the owner of Spearboard has generously provided his forum to promote this offer. In addition, he has directed me to send $100 of the proceeds to two worthy freediving non-profits. Dive Wise (Divewise.org) and Diving for a Cause (divingforacause.org) will each receive $50 to promote their missions.
> Thank you,
> Terry Maas, Oceanic Safety Systems

Colleen Gallagher
650 464-1583

North Star
09-08-2014, 12:04 AM
Good for you Leigh. Glad you have a FRV now, let us know what you think.

01-03-2015, 12:30 PM
OP: I've got a lot more experience now than when I started this thread, so I wanted to reinforce the level of conviction on a couple thoughts above.

1. Putting dayglo orange tape on the top half of your snorkel is one of the best possible things you can do for PacNW buddy visibility (complementary to a floatline/buoy). The typical black snorkel, dark camo hood and black mask is quite fricking hard to spot by comparison, especially with any wave action and/or even modest distance.

2. If you dive gun with reel style, and no floatline, IMO you are effectively invisible and you are solo diving. Assume your buddy WILL lose track of where you are. Especially important for reel-only divers to wear an FRV. Diving with a floatline and bright colored buoy makes you easy to spot and check on, even at some distance, even with wave action.
For my life, my risk choices, I'm ALWAYS rock'in a float line and at least a bright color crab buoy or better. Another advantage of a line/buoy is using a speed stringer and quickly rack your fish on the line, they float back to the buoy and you can dive unencumbered by bulky fish on your waist.

01-04-2015, 01:36 AM
I'll attest to the utility of orange tape on the snorkel. I was definitely surprised how much easier it made spotting your dive buddy.

05-22-2015, 12:52 PM
FRV update news:
1. more streamlined vest for $250 upgrade cost.
2. De-salting procedure for spring cylinder. Fresh water rinse NOT good enough.

From email from Terry Maas:

You all are among the first to purchase the FRV MK-II. We now are proud to offer the newest streamlined version. For early purchasers such as you, we will upgrade your current vest to the streamlined vest at our cost--$250, which includes new code upgrades, testing and return shipping.

One serious item we have become aware of is possible corrosion build up within the spring chamber of the actuator. PLEASE READ PAGES 27 AND 28 OF THE MANUAL, which addresses this issue. Basically, you need to soak the FRV actuator is a special anti-salt solution--plain water is not good enough. You need to then release the spring by dry firing (pulling the manual activation cord with no cylinders) and then lubricate the spring chamber.

Also, users of the earlier version have charge plugs without cords, and some of you have forgotten them and ruined your units. Please tape the plug to the charger so you don't forget to use it. Remember to recharge the battery every 3 months during the off seasons.

Return your FRV with a check to:
552 N. Victoria Ave
Ventura, Ca, 93003

05-23-2015, 01:05 AM
Spend couple hundred bucks for taking a class and do it right. It is very worth it better than risky your life out there

11-29-2015, 02:16 PM
The Fall 2015 Neah bay tragedy (from kelp entanglement) prompted me to put together in one place the safety suggestions from 3 Spearboard threads plus a bit from BottomSounders yahoo group thread. The theme being u/w safety, especially kelp/line entanglement hazards (as opposed to say boat safety which has been covered in another thread.)
Marcus [the deceased Neah Bay diver] had his stringer attached to his belt, as well as his only cutting device. He ended up getting tangled up, ditched his belt (and in turn his only cutting tool), and got tangled again. His buddy had zero experience. This is the info I got from the person that recovered him.

Can we all agree that there is no good reason on earth to freedive with fish stringer attached to your body?

Instead… Use a float line and speed stringer, http://www.neptonicsystems.com/speed-stringer-kit.php or take fish back to your float or yak as needed.

If a crab float on your float line is too bulky for slipping through the kelp, don’t be tempted to ditch the float line, or switch to a reel (aka invisibility cloak), try the carrot float at http://www.neptonicsystems.com/kelp-carrot.php It can reduce drag without going float-less. in Pac NW reels are only for very experienced divers, and even then they are riskier than float lining it.

carrying two knives is vital for safety. But also where and how you carry them is important. Knives should be within reach of either hand. Also should be placed where they do not create a snag hazard.

Two knives, people, one on the arm, the other on the leg. Never on the weight belt, because when you ditch the belt you ditch the knife too.

If kelp is thick:
1. before entering a thick patch u/w spot your surfacing route, or better yet don't even enter that thick a spot, dive the edges, go in not too far, come back out same path or a pre-spotted path. A float line kind of enforces that discipline. With a reel, temptation is greater.
2. don't use a stringer on your belt in these conditions, that's asking for a tangle. If he had a bunch of fish that could have caused the entanglement. Whether or not it was a factor for Marcus, it's risky to carry fish that way in thick kelp. Clip your fish to your floatline buoy or yak or use a speed stringer.

Another type of hazard is at jetties, which often have lost fishing line. I've had to cut fishing line at Barview. I like at least one of the knives to be on upper non-dominant arm with handle facing down. Easy to look at and grab/re-sheathe. Mako wetsuit has a nice built in backup knife pocket on the right thigh, very streamlined. For bluewater a big old scuba knife on the calf works good and blade is long enough for putting down big fish, but is somewhat of a tangle hazard for kelp/reef diving. Better if knife is on inside of leg, but even better is the Mako pocket, which cannot entangle at all.
Another good tip for a commonly used freedive/spearing site. Recon by scuba and clean fishing line out first. One story of getting entangled twice badly on such a recon, incuding wire cable fishing line. With scuba plenty of time to cut the lines. I’ve cut and removed fishing line on scuba at Barview several times.

... and yes Neah, like Oregon coast is a wild place, not like gentle parts of Puget Sound. Get experienced and go with savvy divers. His buddy was in a tough spot being a new diver.
Bull kelp is where the fish are, but kelp is also dangerous. Scattered kelp is seldom a problem, but when it gets really dense, (lots of vertical stalks close together) I stay out of it, and just dive the edges.

My rule of thumb is this: If I cannot swim between the vertical stalks at the bottom without having to push them aside to get through, it is a no-go for me.That means vertical stalks should be no closer than about 2 feet apart. This does not guarantee a tangle free dive, but at least there is a reasonable probability of avoiding entanglement.

Move slowly through the kelp, and avoid a lot of twisting and turning while in it. Be streamlined, without gear sticking out that can get snagged. For example, put your knife on the inside of your leg. Don't use fins with buckles.

If you feel a snag, back up, don't try to surge forward to get away. Backing up will often release the tension and allow the kelp to come free.

If you have to surface through a mat of kelp on the surface, look up for a hole in the mat, or at least a thin spot, and angle toward it. If there is no such spot, hold your hands together over your head to make a wedge (like you would do if you were diving into a pool head first) and it will make a hole for you to come up through, pushing the kelp to either side.

But it is best, if the mat on the surface is thick, to plan your dive so as to surface outside the mat.

The mat of kelp on the surface will not be so thick if you dive at high tide instead of low tide.

Look the kelp patch over and make an assessment of it's size and density and shape before you go under it. Plan for your exit before you make your decent. If the patch is long and narrow, dive perpendicular to it, exiting the other side, and work your way back and forth across it's narrow dimension.

When you are diving in kelp, practice an extra conservative dive profile, so you have some time to cut yourself free if you get tangled on the way up. That saved my bacon once.

You cannot break a stalk of kelp by pulling on it. But you can snap it by bending it sharply. Serrated blade works faster than smooth blade.

Finally, if it is too thick, just stay out of it all together. Dive the edges and the clear patches.
IF you’re using scuba fins instead of free dive foot pocket finds set up your fin straps so the loose ends are on the inside versus outside and/or duct tape over the buckles.

Use dog chain style clips (requiring your thumb to open the clip) not the "D style" with the spring loaded clip. Those can snap onto a kelp stalk all by themselves. We used to call them suicide clips.
Don't hesitate to ditch your gun if it gets hung up, mine did multiple times with the Gopro mount on it.
Now I almost always go out with floatline and float, even in very thick kelp. It does impact dive mobility, but I think about it as a brake/reminder to limit the amount of diving I do under/through large overhead obstructions. If I really want to ditch my float I can tie it off to kelp with a tuna clip and a ~4ft section of light rope/cord. I always keep at least a floatline on my gun, I ditch it all the time. Or try the Neptonics carrot float.

Diving deep is fun and a great way to challenge ourselves. However I always say that the most important aspects to hunting Neah Bay are not being stupid with your gun and being comfortable in current and kelp. I bet I've had a couple trips with multiple days of ling and rockfish limits without ever firing my gun deeper than 15 feet.

I think this is a great place to advocate for using a float line on your gun rather than a reel.
A bright colored line makes it possible for a buddy/search crew to locate you if there were an emergency. And your buddy, or a live boat, can easily keep track of your location. With a reel you are nearly invisible.

2. PAY ATTENTION to current and surge when around holes/structure. You can get blown into a hole and stuck there permanently. Not good. Think and assess first, and approach holes carefully.

3. Always wear two knives in different locations on your body. PNW fishing line is no joke, and you need a way to cut free even if you blow it and drop one knife. I carry a fish killer on my left arm and a larger knife on the inside of my calf. Only ever had to use one - yet.
When introducing someone to spearing up here, be sure they are comfortable in the water. The ocean is no place to break in a new diver. I started my sons out in the pool, then we went to lakes, then to the river. It was after all of that, learning about gear, technique, current, and complete comfort in the water, that I introduced them to the ocean. All three of them told me they were really glad the ocean was not their first experience at diving. It might be OK in Florida or some other warm water, calm seas, and high visibility location, but not up here. Assess your new buddies skill level carefully. He can kill both you and himself. I have always told my boys: you have to be able to self rescue, you cannot depend on others to save you, and if you don't think you can do so, then stay out of the water. Don't look to another diver to keep you safe.

And as you said, don't be afraid to bag a dive if conditions are bad, or if you yourself are doing bad or it doesn't feel right. Live to dive another day, and don't let anybody talk you into going in if you don't feel that your skill level matches the conditions. And in addition - don't pressure or mock another diver who bags a dive at any point. Affirm every diver when he backs off, and respect his safety decisions. He will dive with you again in the future if you do.__________________

nec timor nec temeritas (neither fear nor foolhardiness.)

a new diver just take them out on really nice days to begin with (few and far between up here I know). It is the only place they will learn the conditions they'll be facing. I'm talking surf and surge mainly, which just can't be simulated in other bodies of water. Some will freak out, which I agree is dangerous. But good conditions will minimize that danger and aid you in calming them and exiting safely if need be. Always dive to the skills of the lowest common denominator! And remember, not all your friends are cut out to dive here, and that's ok! Just don't sell it as such. To sum it all up, I live by what my father (who taught me how to dive) told me about our play ground: "It's all about respect, never turn your back on the ocean."
I find that jetty dives between the two jetties a good place to introduce new divers to the conditions up here. Pick a calm day, and the water between the two jetties can be really calm. They are not far from land, and don't have to enter and exit through a shore break, which is where a lot of new guys get into trouble. But you have to dive at hi tide for the best vis, and current can really rip once it the tide changes. PAY ATTENTION to the time as to when the tide changes, and don't put a newbie in ripping current. Start the dive an hour before hi tide and end it an hour after. There is a reason for the old adage: "you can't swim against the tide." Smaller tidal changes produce less current; don't start them when there is a 9 foot change between low and high tide. A good first experience in the ocean hooks them for life, and that's the goal.

following all these points that have been mentioned will allow you to very safely navigate the awesome kelp beds we can have here, BUT, once you pull the trigger you enter a whole new world of potential problems. Personally, by far the biggest messes I have gotten into involved still alive fish and the unbelievable snarl they can get you into in moments. There are shots that are instant tangles, so it takes experience and judgement to hold off on those. The kelp here is mostly much sparser than the Straits area. When it is super dense, great hunting is often along the outside edges of the beds. And if you find yourself with your rig all entwined, and you are not, take time and come up with a safe solution.

a bad float line is better than the best reel as far as safety is concerned. It's not hard at all to picture about a thousand different life-endangering situations with shooting line and reel line.

One of the things I like most about having float line is that I can drop my gun at any time with no repercussions. No worry about the reel fowling. No worry about getting fouled in the reel line. No worry that current or kelp will drag down my gun from the surface. No worry about even dragging the gun against the reel on the way up. Just drop it and go. I haven't hunted in particularly heavy kelp, but I have hunted through some thick cattails and lilies and weeds. No sweat. Just detach the float, tie it off, and pull the float line through the nasty stuff.

I would raise cautious argument here about a couple points: good float lines do not tangle on the kelp for the most part, that rarely happens; floats and stringers do. A tiny dog float [or Neptonics carrot float] at the end to keep the float line high should not complicate things to any significance. We dove around here for a few years with floats and lines before Pablo Pizarro and I started working with reels. We were inconvenienced somewhat but for the most part just fine. We also always recommended inexperienced divers do not use reels until absolutely familiar and experienced with our local conditions.

Reflective tape around the tip of the snorkel, the underside of the fins, and a white speargun handle or some white tape around the grip or along the barrel are essential around here for those who care to put protective factors around themselves and their gear.

I agree we all make our own decisions in life and the sports we practice. I also believe our cultural and individual sense of self-reliance and independence do not exempt any of us from being accountable for how our choices and actions impact others who may have to risk themselves to save you or will have to deal with survivor's guilt and trauma. We owe it to ourselves, loved ones, and water brethren to be as safe as good council allows for. That includes saying no to diving with folks who do not have compatible practices in the water. Only when we are willing to take a deep and honest look at the psychology of the sport will we be able to clearly define what level of safety we are willing to deal with.

North Star
11-29-2015, 10:33 PM
Good synthesis Leigh.:toast:

02-06-2016, 12:10 AM
Bump. I've asked the moderator for sticky status for this thread, but hasn't happened.

07-05-2016, 11:02 AM
SWB Report - Trained buddy Saves a Life

July, 2016: Below is a quite important SWB report, a rare occurrence in Pacific NW, afaik, but the consequences are so dire, rare is irrelevant. This reinforces the need for free dive safety training, diving with a _trained_buddy, and wearing an FRV. Location; Puget Sound. Conditions: Quite tough current, swell and chop, likely the major causal factor due to exertion + impaired snorkel breathing _during surface intervals, plus only partial lung-fill before drop - in turn likely causing lower O2 blood-saturation and lower O2 lung-stored volume, than normal at start of the drop. A lesson: No solid breathe-up; No drops. Also, an FRV makes SWB-recovery positioning by a buddy as easy as pie - one pull on the manual-inflate tab. Wt-belt drop another consideration.

One SWB, one saved life by a trained buddy! Way to go Inosia!

Excerpts from WA Freedivers FB page follow. (Also posting in the 'safety observations thread, to keep that store of knowledge for Pac NW growing.)

Anastasia Strebkova: Today a friend saved my life.
During an ordinary dive, a bit less than 12 meters and a bit more than 40 sec (with my warmed-up average 1:30), no urge to breath, totally comfortable the whole time, tangled at the bottom, no panic at all, untangled, grabbed a nice crab, going up. Next thing I see is my buddy's face.
My buddy saw me surfacing, hanging for 6 sec and losing it.
There was NOTHING telling me it's coming. [[[No factors which could contribute to the blackout: depths, bottom time, pushing limits<<< well, not quite accurate, read on, I think Ana would retract the no factors part]]], repeated urge to breath, there was no urge to breath at all.
Obviously, there is no "diving conservatively" thing. It just hits.
Inosia Pati, you nailed that. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Inosia Pati
I’ll start off with an apology, for my version being jumbled, for writing it like a story, for the mistakes I made as it all happened and for the spelling and grammatical errors I’m sure to miss. I took the courses, I dove for years, I practiced a rescue a time or two and then I had to use it all to help my dive partner in their time of need. I’m ashamed of the mistakes I made, for the things I didn’t do fast enough and for hesitating. I’m telling this to you in hopes that if you ever find yourself in the same situation you’ll be a little more prepared.
So we’re diving pier legs for crabs. This involves breathing up in 1.5-2ft chop between barnacle covered legs. Dropping down through 20ft of murk, finding visibility at the last 6ft, getting your bearings and making your way leg to leg looking for a big enough crab to take home. Crab or crabs secured, you swim through the murk back to the surface and do your best not to come up under a horizontal beam. Once at surface you measure your crab, check to see if it’s soft and then bag or release. Take the dive float from your partner and watch for them as they take their turn.
Ana went down on the leg directly in front of me. She’ll go down this leg and depending on what’s going on down below she’ll come up on the leg 25ft to my right or 25ft to the left. So I sit there and I scan back and forth holding the dive float with my hands. She comes up to my right and I start swimming over to her. I’m catching glimpses of her actions as I swim towards her. She takes her breath after hitting surface, through the chop and swimming I do not know if she’s taken one or six breaths, but I see her put her face back in the water. I’m close enough now to see what she’s doing underwater. She has a crab in her hand and she’s pulling her measuring tool up to make sure it’s a legal size. I’m right next to her at this point and I turn around to grab the bag attached to the float in preparation. When I turn back to look at Ana I see that she’s moving a tad bit sluggish as she brings her measuring tool around to measure the crab, and then the tool just falls out of her hand. It hasn’t clicked yet, I’m waiting for the hand to snatch the tool back up but she doesn’t move, she’s not moving at all.
I yank her up by the shoulder and yell her name, but her head just slumps forward. I’ve let go of the float by now, I didn’t clip it to myself from the start and now it’s floating away somewhere behind me. I flip Ana onto her back and position myself to support her. I manage to yell her name again before getting in position, the whole time wondering if she’s just testing me. Mind you that everything I’m about to do from start to finish was done with the questioning idea that maybe she’s just testing me and the growing realization that this is the real thing and it’s time to pull out all the stops. Ana’s on her back, I’m on her left. My left hand is holding her jaw and its one job above all else is to keep her head above water. My right arm is cradled under and around her back while my right hand is used to tap the side of her face. Before I put my right arm into place I take her mask off. Neither of us are in the right place or direction to take the surf very well in our current entanglement. And between every wave I’m alternating between following the rescue steps and using both hands to brace her head above water and kicking like hell to keep a wave from covering her face. Her mask is off, I’m yelling in her ear and tapping her face. I manage to blow across her face before having to brace her for the next wave. Come on Ana, I’ve done all the steps you can stop testing me now. She’s still not up, another round of tap, yell blow and brace. It’s jumbled at this point, somewhere I turned her around head towards the open ocean because it’s starting to be a struggle to keep her out of the water between the waves and I can at least keep the water from going directly into her nose in this direction. Ian’s in my head, “You have to tap harder”, blow, tap harder, and yell. She’s still not awake. We’re going in, I turn her towards shore, I’m giving her one more round, dropping belts and start working our way in. I push the four minute timer to the back of things to worry about because it’s not going to help me here. My calves are cramping, my calves have been cramping, I feel like the biggest idiot for not having dropped the belts from the start. I’m exerting so much to keep her head above the waves. [[Note: If Ana had an FRV on, the rescuer could have pulled the manual inflate, putting her in a great face up position almost instantly with no exertion/cramping and with some protection from the chop/splashes.]] I give her one more blow, tap and Ana response with “I’m fine”.
I had so many failures here that I sat on shore for a while to take in the view and the lesson. That float should have been clipped off, I’ve had to use a float for more than just holding fish before. It’s a safety device, and I left mine out of reach. I questioned what was in front of me, I didn’t believe it was real and as a result waited too long to take the steps that should have been done at the start. What if she hadn’t woken up when she did, I already cramped up and hadn’t even started moving us to shore. I didn’t hydrate myself, I hardly stretched I didn’t drop our belts. I watched a video of a free dive instructor testing one of his students or dive partners with a simulated b/o. He showed all the signs, loss of form into LMC and in came the rescue. This isn’t at all to push blame or anything of the like, that’s all my own and I put my name on it. I just couldn’t help thinking or maybe hoping it was a test as well. Now, that float is clipped off, both of my hands are ready and don’t ever test me unless you want to lose a weight belt.
I learned from this, if there was something that you were missing in your game plan, I hope this helped fill in the gaps a little. I’ve seen people attacking solo divers since this incident, and likewise solo’s defending themselves. I’m not going to feed into any of that. We hear about the ones who didn’t make it and every now and then about the ones who did, lessons are learned from both so I’m putting this out there for others to take from it what they will. Thank you Ian for doing that rescue refresher with me, I think it’s something we all as dive partners should do every now and again to make sure we’re ready. Before taking the dive course I didn’t know what to do for a black out and I wasn’t the only one, I hope that’s something we could change in the dive community.
I stood on the shore staring at the ocean lamenting my actions and choices when Ana came up beside me and said, “You trained what to do to save a life and that’s what you did, so don’t be so sad about it”. Thank you Ana for always giving me that kick in the butt.
Ana: U/W times were from 55 to 1:10. Surface intervals were at least 3 min, since we were diving one up one down.
I don't remember anything after about half way in ascent. I am going up and the next second I am in Inocia's hands. [[note: due to an already impaired ascent, Ana may not have been cognizant enough to do the PFI/FII prescribed 'recovery-breaths'. Important to make recovery breaths an _every time, 'muscle-memory' routine.]]
The only thing I can think of, >>>! because of the big chop and swell, I had water in my snorkel all the time and could not do full breath ups and take a full inhale before dives.<<<! I was diving on half breath all the time. <<<!
At the last dive I took a gopro with me, because I saw a huge school of fish at the bottom, which looked very beautiful in the darkness. I wanted to take a picture and check how my new silver 4 would work with such low light. It was on a stick, and on my way all the time when I tried to untangle the crab gauge line which stuck in the crack of a piling. Again, I didn't even get nervous about it, because I could drop my belt with the gauge at any point of time; it happend right after I reached the bottom and circled the "leg", and it took 15 sec to take it out. After untangling, I decided to skip the photography part until next drop and never powered on the camera. I swam along the bottom, saw a nice crab, took it and decided not to stay longer and go up.
Anastasia Strebkova The only reason I post it at all is solely for "user education". Feel free to share in a freediving group
Chris Bustad This is a great example of why we should NEVER freedive without trained buddy. You don't know when it's going to happen, and having someone that knows how to deal with it with you is what will keep you alive.

Anastasia Strebkova >>>You can add the physical activity to it. We were fighting strong current, swimming against it it all the time. That increased CO2 saturation + no ability to do a normal breathup to clean up the CO2 before dive and do full inhale. That might contribute too.
4 min surface interval. you can hardly call it a breathup since we fought current and swell/chop on surface to stay in one spot and watch for a buddy. <<<<
Leigh Anderson Thanks for the report. And saving Ana! Pls post on SB pnw too. Also note that yanking an FRV's manual inflate would have made the rescue a piece of cake. Due to Ana's dive time (only 40secs), i'm reconsidering my policy of only using my FRV for bluewater/Baja. I really didn't think my usual PNW dives of 30 ft and 40secs could result in an SWB. Now I know, it can. SWB is not just for clear-water divers doing 70-90 ft+ all the time.
Inosia Pati She showed me her dive watch and it read something like 41 - 48 secs. I seen her take a breath, how many she took in total I can not confirm. Intervals between dives were running on average 4mins +.
Inosia Pati I'm not with any of those groups at the moment but you guys are more then welcome to repost it there if you like.
First off thanks Inosia for saving Ana. Most rescues aren't perfect and the bottom line is the bottom line. Good job.
I had trouble reconciling why Ana blacked out until I heard the "C" word. I believe current is a major contributing factor of SWB in freedivers. Swimming in current puts the diver at an oxygen deficit. Lower than usual oxygen during the breath up due to swimming in current needs to be compensated for somehow.
First off thanks Inosia for saving Ana. Most rescues aren't perfect and the bottom line is the bottom line. Good job. I had trouble reconciling why Ana blacked out until I heard the "C" word. I believe current is a major contributing factor of SWB in freedivers. Swimming in current puts the diver at an oxygen deficit. Lower than usual oxygen during the breath up due to swimming in current needs to be compensated for somehow.
Jaap Verbaas Interesting idea, but does it reconcile with no reported urge to breathe? Pre-dive swimming would likely lead to earlier contractions because of a CO2 buildup. If I am on the treadmill with an oximeter I need to go quite hard to lower oxygen saturation, and at an aerobic output (98% saturation) I can still hold my breath for a while but get contractions right away. Our blood is 70 % of our oxygen storage, way more than the lungs hold. I guess a lot of this is different per diver, I usually get contractions, maybe Ana doesn't get them?
Anastasia Strebkova I get contractions, I am a human. No urge to breath at 40+ seconds is probably correlated to a half dive time [[Ana stated that her normal warmed-up dive times are much longer than the ~40-seconds SWB drop.]]
Dave Forcucci Not sure the physiology can be explained but there is a correlation between current and SWB. Even Natalia's incident mentions ripping currents.

Tags: blackout, pacific northwest, safety, swb

North Star
07-06-2016, 03:34 PM
Thanks Leigh. Current kills my bottom time. If you are fighting current, and chop inhibits your breathing, then you have a combination for diving with depleted oxygen levels. Evaluate whether you should dive at all under those conditions.

Good rescue. All's well that ends well. And yes, FRV for every dive.