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dropping that weight belt.

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give me gills!
Jun 18, 2003
I had a near death experience the other day when I went down to 140'.

I was ascending around 50ft or so when I realized I won't make it. I hit around 30ft, to my surprise, and knew that shallow water blackout was coming. My vision started to fade and began turning white. I was panicking, swimming up as fast as I can, thinking if I take it easy I may have more time. I fought with the fact that I'm going to die. I fought with the fact that I was diving alone and there was no help. I remember thinking, "I will NEVER NEVER NEVER do this alone... So, this is how it feels." The pain I was feeling began to disappear. I slowly lost connection with my body. The only pain came from my mind, thoughts of dying.

Miraculously I hit the surface, took a huge breath in, and told my self I'll most likely fade so I better lay on my back. I regained control of my body and my state of mind.

On my surface swim back I came across an interesting fact. It never occurred once to drop my belt.

This is where I seek advice and also suggests one. How do you train yourself to drop the weight in state of panic?

I am a first hand believer that in state of panic dropping your weight will never come across your mind. I believe in order to achieve this you must train yourself so it becomes 2nd nature. Not quite sure how but perhaps getting used to dropping your belt frequently?

I would love to hear if any others had been in similar situations or found a way to overcome this problem. I also hope that besides calling me stupid, trust me when I say I have learned my lesson, my experience can bring extra awareness in other diver's mind. Don't put your self in a situation where you can't get out of alone. WITH OR WITHOUT A BUDDY. Make sure your buddy is paying attention and he or she is physically able to get you out of it. Otherwise...

We have local solo spear fishermen die here on Cayman Islands nearly every other month. :( You don't hear about it unless you talk to the locals. It sucks. “Oh, we pulled a body out of those caves just a couple of weeks ago”, “They found a freediver's leg floating by the shore. They think it’s the remain of Mr. Xxxxx after he went missing freediving alone. His boat was found without him a little while earlier” or even one’s like “Yeah we think he was diving alone, he just disappeared a few weeks ago.”

Did these guys drop their weight belt?

Anyways, God bless Freedivers, Spear Fishermen, and all those who love the water.

150' solo! Take care of yourself man, you are progressing so far so fast. Glad you didn't get injured (or worse).

My understanding is that most diving fatalities are found with their belt on, so you are not alone.

As far as ditching the belt is concerned, I have gotten used to thinking about the belt option during ascent. Since I usually try to ascend with my arms hanging, the belt is never too far from reach and I will actually put my hands on the buckle or even un-buckle the belt and hold the ends in my hands if I feel strained (my rationale is that if I BO, I'll hopefully lose my grip on the belt and continue to ascend). Once I'm well beyond neutral (say 20') I stop thinking about the belt and start thinking about my posture as I exit the water. If I'm in discomfort, I'll bend my knees and arch a little so that if I BO, I have a decent chance of ending up on my back. However, this preparation in the last 20' probably isn't much of an issue since I never dive alone. I've seen my buddies in action and I'm confident that I'd survive a BO if I even made it within sight of the surface (not that I want to test this theory).

I'm very conservative about taking these kinds of precautions. Although I've gone for the belt a few times, I was nevery really close to a BO any of those times. My rationale is that if I start to fade, I have already mapped out the appropriate course of action (i.e. drop the belt) and that it won't take much thought. Luckily, I've never had a reason to actually drop the belt.

Also, the belt probably only moves the neutral buoyancy depth by about 20' or so (i.e you go positive at 50' instead of 30'), so it's not a sure thing and if you're ascending quickly it only buys you a few seconds (say 5 to 10 seconds).
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Rule 1: Never dive alone. And for many of us that means we dive less than we want.

I like to remove and hold my belt when I start feeling the urge to breath. I figuire I'll drop it if I BO. This makes for a lot of practice so ditching the belt becomes a soothing routine. I feel that training for a dangerous situation keeps you focused on the correct procedures, pulling you out of the panic mode. If you do it a lot you can remove the belt effeciently and smoothly. It just takes a moment to strap it back on. I also take a back-up belt to the dive site so I won't be as concerned about losing a belt and ruining a day of diving.
I like to ascend with arms down, too. Pezman-nice comment on the posture.
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Mate I know hoe you feel I had a very similar experience a few years back although I wasnt wearing any belt to ditch. I often spearfish alone but never even consider pushing for bottom time or depth, i just find the fish as shallow as I can and take it easy. However diving with others is totally different.

Your lucky the man upstairs was looking down on you. Take care


Very scary story. Made me think if i could possibly drop my weight belt in case of panic. I came to conclusion that at the point when i'm starting to feel the panic coming, i possibly could drop my weights but at that moment i would feel stooped to do that. And when the actual panic would hit me there is no way i would remember to drop my belt. The precautions pezman descriped would be very necessary for me, i should defenetely unbuckle the belt before the actual panic would hit me.
We usually wear very thick suits here and with my normal alone diving weights i'm boyant up to 20 m, this would make it very likely that if i would pass out i would float up to surface. This however might not help at all if i dont have a buddy there to help me. Dithching the belt would make the ascending much more easier and faster and therefore both time and precious oxygen saving.
I have to start dooing both mental and actual underwater practising when possible, on ditching the weights in case of prioblems.

Glad you are alive. Take care and God bless.

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Hey guys.

I was just thinking what my buddy would have to do. He's got his own wrist belts he sawed togather tight. :duh

Good thing it's only a pound on each arm.
never dive alone.. but you know that now and you won't do it again

I had a very similar experience earlier this summer. I was diving at around 30m, not alone but well.. alone really as the viz was rubbish and neither of my buddies could dive to 30m at that point. I turned at the bottom and just panicked and really thought i was not moving up at all. I instinctively put my hands to my belt and yanked it open... this WAS instinctive for several reasons.. I do a lot of scuba and have occasionly had to pull the belt off a student who was having trouble staying at the surface, I also once had a major scare with a flooded drysuit and had to ditch all my own weight to stay afloat. I also usually ascend freediving with a hand on my belt buckle if I feel even slightly uncomfortable. I think that is a good way to train yourself to pull it open in time of panic..

on this occasion, it didn't work. Sure the belt opened easily and fell of my waist. It then slipped between my feet and lay draped across my monofin all the way to the top.. I got my head around this and decided panic wasn't going to help so somehow got to the top finning like a madwoman and pulling on the line... I was actually fine at the top but my buddy wondered why my belt was around my ankle.

Lessons - work on making weight removal in a panic second nature. even better don't wear any weight. and make sure the weight you do have attached to you is easy to dump.

If you do end up opening your belt, open it wide and chuck it away rather than waiting for it to fall off neatly - it might not!

sure scared me.... now I'm trying to dive with less and less weight and hopefully eventually won't need any.. I'm down to 1.4kg!
good luck and don't have nightmares

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Blackout = exhaling?


My hat is off to you for sharing your experiences. I think the lessons are clear to all.

Calculating boyancy is based on regular breath holding. Mind you; if you lose consciousness, you will exhale. Sink. Die.

Or am I mistaken?

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Hi Simen.

It's not quite that bad if you blackout. The boyancy increases rapidly last 10 meters of ascend. Reagardless if you do wear any weights, its likely that you are quite boyant at the surface and even if you exhale you shouldn't sink. Because of the fact that you might exhale when you blackout you should never dive with snorkel in your mouth, since it provides direct tunnel to your mouth and your lungs.
not quite that scary Simen, as long as you have someone who can help you if black out.

Auto-release belt

Caymandiver, thanks for your honest post. Many would be ashamed or embarassed to be that honest. An authentic reality check reminder for us all.

That weight ditching thing gives me an idea. One could devise an automatic buckle that spring open based on time above a certain depth, or from not over-riding the release. This release could be configured many ways. The buckle would certainly be a little bulkier than normal, as it would contain either a pressure-sensitive membrane/trigger, or AA battery and miniature solenoid. An over-ride could even be configure to be hand-held (hands over head), via wire or wireless trigger. The imagination's the limit.

I read somewhere on this forum that panic generates adrenaline, and that consumes oxygen at an accelerated rate. Therefore panic is very counter productive. But this is logical thinking, and panic is emotion. It takes a particular state of mind to subdue emotion with logic. But hey, I've been there myself. One must constantly consider the "what if's".

Dive safe,

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How about a system that inflates automaically if the weight belt is dropped. Like an engine kill line on jet ski's.

Should also guarantee that you end up facing upwards.

Just a thought.
A rapid-inflating bouyancy device is a good idea, would be especially easy to incorporate into the shoulder harnesses, as Shaneshac said it would be helpful if it kept your head out of water if you went out... but I think the most important element here is dumping the weightbelt. It seems most of the fatalities still have their belts on when they are found.

I've got a pretty good idea for an auto release, and it would be very easy to combine with a simple bouyancy collar. Perhaps you guys have seen the SOSpenders that some offshore sailors wear? I was just wondering if anyone has seen anything like this around at all?

Guess the object is not to black out, but if you can have an extra safety measure, why not? I dive with a 5mm and 7kg of lead, I'm still a rookie but I'm not keen on passing out with that on me!:D

now I'm trying to dive with less and less weight and hopefully eventually won't need any.. I'm down to 1.4kg!

Hey Sam, how thick is your suit? And thanks for the advice on throwing the belt away rather then dropping it. I can imagine having the belt caught on your mono fin could be quite scary.
Hook breathing

Just as important as getting to the surface is to hook breathe as soon as you break the surface. Exhale the stale air and then take in half a breath and squeeze the air down like you are crushing a sponge, or trying to get rid of constipation. Do this a few times, then take the huge breaths. Blackouts happpen on the surface, too, especially if you packed and then did not exhale at all on the way up. Our group religiously hook breathes now and we have never had another incident since.
There are a number of posts that explain this better than I. If you do a search on "hook" or "hook breathing" it should make things more clear. Basically it means that you take a half breath and try and force it down into your stomach. It is the same principle as sitting on the toilet and trying really hard to defecate. Hold it for a few seconds, do another, and then take your big, deep recovery breaths. It is very important that you try and make this second nature upon surfacing. Hope that helps.
How much weight should a person wear? Moreover, for the shallower dives (<60ft/20m), how do you adjust your buoyancy?
How much weight should a person wear? Moreover, for the shallower dives (<60ft/20m), how do you adjust your buoyancy?

That's a great question free float. I wondered if there was the "right weight" for a person.

I don't have the answer but I think it has much to do with what kind of expeirence you are looking to have underwater. ;) I recall in Terry Mass's book, "Freedive!" he says you should have enough weight so you are neutral at 15ft. However in Kirk Krack's "Master Freediver" manual it says you should be neutral at 30ft.

I'm trying to get used to diving without any weight, warm water and thin suit makes it hard to stay a float with weights. But there are times when I like to wear a 3mm shorty and put on more weight so I can sink faster in shallow cave dives, 35ft average, or during shallow snorkel dives, 12ft max. When I do deeper dives I'm usally going fast enough so I sink without kicking after around 45ft. If I had a boat to take out with me on a dive I would love to jump off the boat with a 30lbs rock just so I can ride it like a sled!:D

I like to play around and do short no air to little air dives. I'm getting way better at this. At first I was barly doing 30 seconds on my first dive with no air. Now I'm pullin 1 min comfortable. I actually enjoy diving with little or no air greatly. :t

I don't know if all that helped at all but if I had my 2 cents in it would be to play around with diffrent weights and have fun while your at it. Just remeber it's okay to drop your weight belt as long as you explain the coral you just dented that it saved your life! :)
i dont know if this applies to anyone else, but when i dive in freshwater, i dont have any lead on my belt, and i'm still neutral at 11m, this is wearing my 5mm omer, so the point of dropping my belt has never been an issue for me (all i have on it is a knife/shears)

now, should be the appropriate course of actions incase i encounter an "almost at the edge" situation?

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