Some people just aren’t content with floating around on the surface of the water. The pull to dive down and feel immersed in the blue is something many people experience, and as people who spend a lot of time around the sea, a lot of yacht crew enjoy doing some free-diving in order to be able to explore better what lies beneath. Some also do it as a quick and easy way to clean the hull without having to get kitted up with dive gear. Personally, I spent a long and enjoyable summer being based in Greece with a very absent owner, and we were all in the water most days, having freediving competitions to see who could go the deepest and the longest. Sound familiar? However, I wish I had known then what I know now, and what I want to share with all of you. I knew there were dangers, but I had no idea how easy it could be to die, and not in the way you would necessarily expect.
We’ve all seen footage of professional free-divers hyperventilating before a dive to flood their body with as much oxygen as possible in order to stay down for longer. I’ve employed this practice many times myself. However, this method can lead to a deadly watery end thanks to a variety of different blackouts that are easily brought on. The most common, and probably the most applicable type of blackout for us here, is a ‘shallow water’ blackout.
Hyperventilation (or ‘over-breathing’) involves breathing faster and deeper than the body needs. Doing this in order to increase oxygen saturation is actually a misconception, when in fact normal breathing already leads to 98-99% oxygen saturation of the blood. What actually happens when you do this, is you are delaying the body’s natural breathing mechanism. The primary urge to breathe is triggered by rising CO2 levels in the blood, not just lack of O2. Hyperventilation artificially depletes the resting concentration of CO2, causing a low blood CO2 condition called Hypocapnia. The result is that in simple terms, you don’t feel the urge to breathe as normal, and you black out before you can reach the surface and drown.
There are many other types of blackout, and ways that free-diving can quite easily kill you, and if you are a fan of this sport, I highly suggest you start doing some pretty serious research into it in order to stay safe. The fact is – HYPERVENTILATION WILL INCREASE YOUR RISK OF DROWNING.
I have heard through friends still in the industry that there have been a few crew deaths from freediving in the last few years, which is tragic, and so avoidable if you are better educated about it. Please tell your friends about this article, do your research and never, ever dive alone. If you do black out whilst underwater, it doesn’t have to be the end, as long as your buddy divers are staying sharp and you are rescued in time. Stay safe.