The Ultimate Guide to Freediving Safety

Many people who have never tried freediving think it is a dangerous activity. But statistically, freediving is a very safe "extreme" sport. There has only been one recorded death in freediving competitions, in around 80,000 competitive freedives globally. When you learn about freediving properly and follow freediving safety rules, there is no reason you should ever experience any danger in the water, and the sport has so many benefits! 

From improving your mental health to fitness benefits, freediving is an activity that most people can enjoy safely to some level. In this article, we dive deeper into freediving safety, answer some frequent concerns about freediving, and discuss the benefits of this amazing sport. Could freediving be your next hobby?

Freediving safety: What are the potential injuries and risks of freediving?

While injuries are rare during freediving, there are several potential ones to be aware of (like in any other sport). Here are the main risks, and how to avoid them:

  • Middle Ear Barotrauma

When freedivers fail to equalize properly, they risk middle ear barotrauma, which can lead to lasting damage. 

How we avoid it: Regular equalization, including on the surface and continuously during descent.

  • Loss of Motor Control (LMC)

LMC can occur due to low oxygen levels during breath-holding. Symptoms of this include confusion, loss of body control, speech difficulties, and spasms. Although LMC usually resolves quickly without lasting effects, water entering the airway during an episode poses a risk. We learn about this aspect of freediving safety and how to help someone in this situation during a freediving course.

How we avoid it: Progress slowly when adding depth to dives. Do not push your limits.

Have a fear of scuba diving? Read this: 7 Ways to Overcome Your Fear of Scuba Diving.

  • Blackout

The risk of blackouts is a common freediving safety concern that people have before they learn to freedive. Oxygen deprivation from breath-holding can lead to a blackout, which is similar to fainting. Blackouts can occur both underwater and on the surface. If a diver blacks out underwater, their buddy closes their airway and brings them to the surface safely. The diver will usually come back to consciousness on their own at the surface or just by talking and tapping them.

How we avoid it: Progress slowly when adding depth to dives. Do not push your limits. 

If you dive within your limits, there is no reason to ever experience a blackout.

  • Decompression Sickness (DCS)

While it is much less common in freediving than in scuba diving, there is still a risk of decompression sickness, especially for deep freedivers

How we avoid it: Deep divers should take sufficient breaks between dives and avoid multiple deep dives in one day. Never freedive straight after scuba diving.

  • Mask Squeeze

Failure to equalize the air space between the face and mask can result in a mask squeeze, which can cause some bruising around the eyes and face.

How we avoid it: Exhale slightly through the nose when feeling pressure during descent.

  • Trachea Squeeze

Negative pressure in the trachea during freediving can rupture blood vessels, causing throat irritation, coughing a small amount of blood, or mild pain. While usually mild, it is advisable to refrain from diving for a while and to consult a physician. 

How we avoid it: To minimize the risk, avoid excessive neck stretching and looking upwards during dives.

  • Lung Squeeze

Lung barotrauma, or lung squeeze, is a severe condition resulting from pressure on lung gas spaces during freediving, particularly at depths exceeding 30 meters (100 feet). Symptoms include shortness of breath, coughing, dizziness, fatigue, and coughing up pink, foamy blood. Severity varies but it can be potentially fatal (although extremely rare).

How we avoid it: Never dive beyond a depth in which you are comfortable, progress slowly when adding depth. This allows the body to adapt to the increased pressure of diving deeper.

  • Pre-existing medical issues

Pre-existing medical issues relating to the lungs or heart, or being on some medications, can be dangerous when freediving and are an important aspect of freediving safety to consider. Before signing up for a freediving course, you will be asked to fill out a medical questionnaire, in which you will answer questions about your current health.

How we avoid it: If you have an issue that might affect you in the water, it is important to check with a physician before going freediving to make sure you will be safe underwater.

  • Weather and marine life/debris

Environmental conditions are an aspect of freediving safety to be aware of before every dive. Strong winds and waves, or thunderstorms can be dangerous when freediving. Hazardous diving areas, discarded fishing gear, and debris from boats or trash can also be a risk to consider.

How we avoid it: It is important to freedive away from areas with rocks, boats, or other hazards, and with easy access to the shore. Pick calm days in a safe location for freediving and avoid touching any marine life and debris.

How about learning to freediving somewhere amazing: Discover The 6 Best Places to go Freediving in Italy

What are the benefits of freediving?

Now that we have covered the common freediving safety concerns and risks, we will take a look at the many benefits that freediving brings us! Here are the main ones:

Physical Benefits:

1. Improved Lung Capacity

Freediving requires controlled breathing techniques, which can gradually increase lung capacity. Through consistent training, divers can significantly enhance their ability to hold their breath for extended periods, leading to better respiratory efficiency.

2. Enhanced Cardiovascular Health

The cardiovascular system experiences significant benefits from freediving. As divers descend and ascend, the heart rate adjusts to meet the oxygen demands of the body. This improves cardiovascular endurance and promotes heart health.

3. Increased Strength and Flexibility

Freediving engages various muscle groups, particularly in the core, legs, and arms. Constant movements such as kicking and pulling against water resistance contribute to muscle toning and strengthening. Moreover, the flexibility required to freedive efficiently can enhance overall flexibility.

Mental Benefits:

1. Enhanced Mental Discipline

Freediving demands mental focus and discipline, as divers must maintain calmness and concentration while learning to trust their abilities. This mental discipline enhances your freediving safety and transcends into daily life, helping you to develop better decision-making skills and heightened self-awareness.

2. Increased Confidence

Overcoming personal challenges and pushing boundaries underwater instill a sense of accomplishment and confidence. As divers achieve new depths, they develop a belief in their abilities, which translates into improved self-esteem.

3. Stress Relief

Relaxation associated with breathing for freediving and holding your breath can reduce stress and anxiety levels. The serene underwater environment also promotes mindfulness, allowing divers to disconnect from daily pressures and experience a sense of tranquility.

Prefer to stay on the surface? Check this out: 6 Benefits of Swimming (and How to Get Better at it).

Spiritual Benefits:

1. Connection with Nature

Freediving allows individuals to immerse themselves in the awe-inspiring beauty of the underwater world. This intimate connection with nature fosters reverence and appreciation for the marine environment, inspiring a desire to protect and conserve the ocean.

2. Spiritual Growth

Many freedivers describe their underwater experiences as deeply spiritual, transcending the physical realm and tapping into a higher consciousness. The sense of unity with the ocean and its inhabitants can lead to profound moments of introspection, fostering spiritual growth and enlightenment.

Learn to freedive safely

By taking the SSI Freediver program, you will learn how to enjoy freediving and stay safe while doing it. You will learn all about freediving safety, how to progress in the sport safely, and how to look out and provide safety to other freedivers if they ever need it.

Find out more here: Learn how to freedive – Start your SSI Freediver course today!