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blackout first aid

Thread Status: Hello , There was no answer in this thread for more than 60 days.
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New Member
Aug 20, 2001
Hi everybody, this is my first post in this forum, Im new to freediving and just started to train but not too seriously due to lack of a partner, but Im working on that.
Ive got a couple of questions for you

What is the best position for your partner to watch you while training/diving on pool/sea/lake?? :confused

What is the first aid action that must be performed at someone with blackout??? :duh

Thanks and keep on diving
As a certified PADI Rescue Diver, I would say that it would depend on the location / conditions for your positioning.

Clear water always has an advantage over the very cloudy conditions I have to contend with the majority of the year for ocean diving. Pool diving is totally different.

It also depends on what training technique they are doing, or how deep they are going.

Please tell us more specifics so that we can answer your questions as best as we can.

Where we train in BC, the visibility is often near zero in the top 10m but it clears up below that. The only way to adequately support a buddy here is to use a descent line and meet the deep diver below the crud layer, somewhere between 15 and 20m.

Timing is essential so it is important to know beforehand how long your buddy is going to take. We all use stopwatches as an integral piece of freediving gear. A brightly coloured suit or at least a snorkel is handy for finding each other in dark water.

Once you spot you buddy coming up below you manoever yourself so that you are directly face to face with him or her. That makes it easier to communicate and detect signs of distress. If your buddy indicates a problem soon enough then a blackout can be avoided if you give a free ride the rest of the way to the surface.

At the very least, your proximity in the final stage of ascent provides psychological reassurance to your buddy and you are ready to hold his or her head out of water if there is a problem.

Whether you are in clear or murky water it is still best to meet your buddy on the way up. It is just easier to tell when to go down if the water is clear.

Excellent point, Tom - I had never thought of that and it sounds so logical...

Thanks for sharing this information...
Rec Freediving

I'm going to add a little to Tom's reply....it is THE way to train for depth. However, if you're out diving for fun or spearfishing, then it's not much fun to have to breath up while your buddy is down, and then devote your dive to meeting him halfway, then having to breath up all over again for your own dive. If you're out diving to look at a reef, then you may not neccesarily bring a float and line either. In these circumstances, what I do with a buddy is this: I dive, do my thing, ascend, and my buddy watches for me, if the vis is good enough. Then, when I've ascended, my buddy keeps breathing up while watching me for at least 30 seconds at the surface. There are a few stories of divers sinking unconscious after being at the surface and feeling ok. My only full SWB was at the surface, 5 seconds after I came up. Next my buddy dives, and I reciprocate. That way, we each get to do the maximum amount of dives for the time in the water, which is important in cold water. 30 metre vis might have another protocol, but I really have no experience in that.
Erik Young
Good point Erik,

Safety for recreational freediving is another topic and safety for spearfishing is another topic yet again. If you're not using a descent line and the surface visibility is bad then the best place to be for your diving buddy is at the surface scanning the horizon. If he has a SWB then he's bound to end up at the surface soon anyways if he's weighted properly.

If you're underwater looking for your buddy then your chances of finding him are really quite low. Even with a line it's easy to miss. Meanwhile, if your buddy makes it to the surface and blacks out while you're still looking for him underwater, he may be sinking below the waves by the time you return. Sounds like a Shakespearean tragedy.

One thing I've tried is to clip a float line to my weight belt. I've got a boat fender on the other end so my buddy always knows where I am. If the line gets tangled then I can always ditch the belt. I can also ditch the belt for a free ride up or to mark something I want my buddy to see. Even so, the float line method is a bit cumbersome and the drag is small but noticeable.

In the end I think it comes down to having a big bag of safety tricks and using the method most appropriate to the diving situation.


Asfor what to do if there is a blackout, usually the diver will come round by himself, as long as his head is kept above water. If he doesn't take a breath within 10 seconds or so, then give a rescue breath to help open up his airway. If that doesn't do the trick, then you'll need to start rescue breathing, get him to shore, and than CPR if necessary.Having training in at least Basic First Aid is a good idea.
Erik Young
physical blackout signs

Maybe the question should be:
if youre watching your buddy from surface (lets suppose clear enough water) , what kind of physical signals can be red as a signs of blackout?? shakes??, bubbles?? :confused:

- how do you know if a diver is ok , after suffering blackout?????
- it is dangerous to dive again after suffering swb???
- if the last answer is yes, how much should the diver wait until dive again????? :hunghover
what are the simptoms after suffering blackout??? :duh


pd. a couple of days ago I asked in a local padi center about the skin diver course, but they almost refused to give me info,arguing that open water course was better for me . Can you tell me if this course (skin diver) is good enough?????
Perhaps Peter Sheard or Kirk Krack could give a more comprehensive answer to your questions, Manglio.

Here's my shot at it:

Underwater symptoms (worsening):

(for deep dives the buddy should spot underwater, meet the diver at 10-15m and follow them up within arms length)

-something looks wrong (trust you instincts, especially if you know your buddy well)
-looking at the surface more often than normal
-panicked look "wild eyes"
-tries to ditch weightbelt
-cyanosis (blue lips and skin)
-body-buckling contractions (O2 deficient)
-stops kicking for more than a few seconds
-grabs the depth line (if there is one)
-grabs safety diver for assistance
-apparent disorientation (possible ear trauma)
-samba (shaking or convulsions) (onset of blackout)
-goes limp (blackout)
-blows air (blackout)
(when watching from the surface any of the above would be cause for concern)

Another variation is a blackout when surfacing from a deep dive or static apnea:
-signs of distress (for static it could be rapid contractions of the diaphram, grabbing the pool lip, anything that indicates the freediver is approaching his or her limit)
-samba (blackout onset)
-blows his or her air in a stuttering exhale (convulsions)
-goes limp or blacks out with continuing convulsions

Also the hypocapnia (low CO2 blackout):
-the diver may do a tuck dive and come back up within seconds unconscious
-diver over-ventilated and/or had low blood pressure for any number of reasons (dehydration, packing, etc...)

***(Also something to watch for is pulmonary oedema--spitting up blood, coughing fits, pain in chest, wheezing, feeling of fatigue and sluggishness. The diver should stop diving and rest for several weeks and see a doctor. This condition, aka lung squeeze, can lead to secondary drowning as the aveoli are coated in plasma and are not working properly. It happens most often with a big jump in depth, but can happen because of other variables, too. I've had it myself.).***

After the blackout, assuming a recovery in 10 seconds or so, symptoms might be:
-body weakness
-disorientation (there's no way I blacked out! or "what happened")
-sense of lost time
-emotional trauma of many kinds (anger, self-doubt, fear, shock)
-"bad" feeling
-fear of going deep again
-.....??????? There are many other physical, psychological and emotional effects, I'm sure.

***Erik Y. is right about seeking emergency medical help if the blackout lasts for longer than 15 seconds or is very deep (activate EMS, AR, and CPR the next step, while getting the person to shore or a solid platform for possible CPR).***

After a blackout:
-as a buddy you should watch them closely for the rest of the day, even on shore. Fortunately, a black out is usually not unpleasant for the person who experiences it, it's most often the implications that get them. Watch your buddy for signs of shock and emotional disturbance. Their brain has been starved of oxygen, thus possibly doing damage. The body has also undergone acute hypoxia, which is bad for you. (I don't know the specific effects, I'll let Peter Sheard answer that one). Everyone's physiology is different, and complications might result.
-The freediver is DONE FOR THE DAY!!!!!! See above.
-Some say that one day of rest is sufficient, others have felt the effects of a blackout for a week. When in doubt, go see a doctor and get a professional opinion.

Hope that helps (if I've missed anything, I hope the experts will let us know)

Vancouver, BC
For further info, read Kirk Krack's article on Freediving Safety at:


Also, if someone blacks out underwater, the proceedure is to grab them in the "vise" grip (a lifeguarding move). One hand cradles the back of their head and neck, the other covers their mouth and closes the jaw(and nose if there's no mask or nose clip) to prevent water from getting in. Then swim like hell for the surface.... Once on the surface, release you hold support them on their back, remove mask, nose clip and anything that might restrict breathing.

Writing this all down is one thing, but if you have the chance, take a safety course from somone like Kirk, you'll feel a lot more confident about what to do in the event of an accident. Practicing rescues underwater and all the variations is good experience.

Vancouver, BC
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