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Rescue Procedures for SWB

Thread Status: Hello , There was no answer in this thread for more than 60 days.
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Aug 17, 2002
hi everybody

recently i met quite a few freedivers from all over the place and had one good learning experience after the other.

the issue of safety procedures became more and more important for me. especially since i'm involved or around more and more samba/bo scenarios.

one question is : how often do you practise rescue procedures?

second question : what are your rescue procedures?

feel free to go into detail as i think that this might really help many of us.

for those who think that a swb is a 'bring the diver to te surface-turn him on his back-wait for him to breathe'-affair, here is the short story of a freediver i had the opportunity to dive with 2 weeks ago:

two experienced freedivers, both diving 50-65m, do some deeper training dives. upon ascent from 50+m the diver experiences heavy lactic acid buildup and starts to struggle. he starts pulling himself up on the rope at around 35m, waiting to see his spotter at 20m. they are diving in a lake, so vis is somewhere around a few meters. the diver makes it to the spotter and bo's 10m below the surface. the spotter takes the diver up to the surface, turns him around, takes his mask off. the diver doesn't breathe for 3!! minutes. complications on the surface were liquid vomit in the divers mouth and a probable laryngospasm (closing of the vocal chords) which didn't release.
the diver resumed breathing/coughing after 3 minutes and medical checks didn't show any after effects.

there were many factors which should have led to a cancellation of the dive in the first place, as the diver himself admits.

anyway, that incident just tells me that a detailed training in rescue procedures should be conducted by all, who take their own and their buddy's safety serious.
i know that there is first class training available, but for those of us who don't have access to a course like this, a discussion in this forum would surely help everyone (except those who are experienced enough).

there are some articles on the deeperblue.net already, which are the basis for my personal safety-awareness and training, so maybe this thread gives another opportunity to continue a safety discussion.

please share

regards and safe diving everyone


before talking about safety procedures in the event of an incident, i think it's important to do everything we can to prevent them from happening in the first place...

to be perfectly blunt, anyone who blacks-out 10m below the surface is diving far beyond his capabilities, and should rethink his attitude towards freediving.

personally, i would have strong reservations about diving with someone who allow themselves to get into that situation.


Alun i agree someone blacking out at 10m is obivous that this guy was diving too far past his limits.

I disagree that a blackout at 10m means the diver was far beyond his limits. Here is an example. My friend Tyler had a pb of 42m in cw, which he did easily. On this day he wanted to try for 45m. Right now, tell me if this is far 'beyond his limit'?

The dive should have taken 1'20 - 1'25. It lasted for 2'18, and he blacked out at around 6m.

What happened? According to his computer, he hung at the bottom for 15 seconds, which he did not plan, and he doesn't remember either; obviously he was extremely narked. Then, due to the narcosis, he was so dizzy that he ascended in a spiral around the line, covering only 0.6 m/s (or even less). He was still spiralling around the line when he reached the safety freedivers. At that point his legs became so tired that he slowed even more.

His pb was 42m (easy), he tried for 45m, and had a deep blackout. He was not diving far beyond his limits. He had also done a 3'00 hang at 37m, successfully, before!

Eric Fattah
BC, Canada

That is scary Eric does this Narcosis thing happen in warm water or is it a cold water thing. 1:20 for a 45m dive thats a rocket. it takes me 1:15 -1:20 to dive 60ft Hmmmmm a bit slow maybe. It feels fast to me but should I speed this up.

Narcosis at such a 'shallow' depth of 45m typically only happens in very cold, dark water. In warm water narcosis only seems to come into play over 60m down (but each person is particular in that respect).

Eric Fattah
BC, Canada

Lucky im in relatively warm water then, and im diving no where near 60m so :cool:

by blacking out 10m below the surface you have exceeded your limits, by definition.

"Right now, tell me if this is far 'beyond his limit'?"....

no-one can answer that question by simply comparing those two numbers. only your friend could answer that question because only he knows his own mind/body, and only he knows about the million other factors that need to be taken into consideration when choosing an appropriate target depth.

blacking out just before surfacing (or whenever) certainly means that the diver has exceeded his/her limit. the question is are you always aware when doing a max attempt that everything is 100% perfect? if you are, you wouldn't need safety divers anyway.

alun, i fully agree with you that avoiding a bo is most preferable. but not diving with anybody cause they might get into that situation would mean, that i would need a permanent buddy (or not dive at all). unfortunately that doesn't happen for me. a permanent buddy for me is someone who dives at approx my level and hangs around my area for a week at least (i'm living in a tourist place. not too many freedivers around here).

eric, a similar situation you described a 2 week dive buddy of mine experienced. he did a hang at 50m which he realised after 10 seconds before going for an ascent. and the hang wasn't planned at all. he said that at some point he realised that he was still at the bottom and that he better get moving. we were also thinking of narcosis in that case.

about my intentions with this post: i would like to hear some opinions on rescue procedures. i'm sure we all agree that avoiding a bo is the number one solution. but when it happens, and you are the spotter, what do you do?

i would like to know about the following issues:

1. when spotting at depth (10-15m) what is your procedure to time your descent?

2. what kind of handsignals or other means of communication between diver and spotter do you use?

3. when the diver blacks out, in which way is he brought to the surface (shoulders, hand over mouth, etc.)?

these are a few topics i've been discussing with some others recently, but would like to hear more opinions.

thanx a lot

i can tell you what we do here during those very rare events:

1. when spotting at depth (10-15m) what is your procedure to time your descent?

... we usually aim to meet at 15m. for most depths, we wait for a tug on the line at the bottom, and then leave the surface 10-20secs after that. for deep depths, we try to work out the timings more accurately... we aim to leave the surface about 40secs before the dive is due to finish. we work out the timings roughly in our head by knowing the target depth (which is decided before the dive!) and the dive speed (about 1m/s - makes the calculation easy!).

2. what kind of handsignals or other means of communication between diver and spotter do you use?

....we dont use any hand signals... we dive together often and know each other very well. for us, all it takes is just a quick look at the face to judge the level of anxiety or whatever. if you dive with new people all the time, then i guess it's harder. eye contact is probably the most important thing.

3. when the diver blacks out, in which way is he brought to the surface (shoulders, hand over mouth, etc.)?

.... over the last 3 years, we've never had a diver B/O at depth, only at the surface (2 times). if it did happen at depth, then we would position ourselves to the side of the casualty and cover his mouth with one hand and hold the back of his head with the other- then fin like hell! :eek:

... at the surface, we just lay the casualty on his back, remove the mask, open the airways and blow on his face and talk to him- telling him "it's ok, breathe, you're at the surface, breathe..." etc

i think it's all pretty standard stuff...?

but above all, we do our best to avoid these situations by diving conservatively, and collectively as a group we try to discourage anyone from trying anything too ambitious (usually!)

This thread is getting me pretty upset.

A diver plans on diving to a depth within his limits. Something happens down there (narcosis, or mechanical problem in variable disciplines). As a result, the dive takes far longer than expected. Then, the diver blacks out. It's as sure as hell that the diver did NOT WANT to spend that long down there, but something happened which was not planned, and which did not happen on previous dives to a similar depth.

My friend was diving within his limits. He had a good breath, he had a good descent. There was no reason for him to turn around.

It's kind of like saying that Audrey, by diving for 9'44, was diving 'beyond' her limits. Like my friend, she did not PLAN on spending that long down there.

Like Yasemin Dalkilic said:
"If you haven't had a problem down there, then you haven't dived deep enough times."

Eric Fattah
BC, Canada
I’m really interested in this thread. Thanks Roland for starting it. I admit, that I haven’t paid enough attention to diving/drowning rescue techniques as much as I should have. Now I am responsible for a family of divers and it’s a priority.

I hope this isn't too off the topic, but while taking my one and only freedive class, the instructor also taught classes on Oxygen Equipment. Certification to use I believe. He said some really interesting things about it, like he has given it to SWB freedivers before and he takes it on all his class water sessions. I asked if it was something he recommended for a recreational person like myself to have on the boat when on freediving trip and he said definitely.

He also said some interesting things about how oxygen therapy can help all kinds of aliments even recovery from colds/flu etc..

I am really naïve about this, but I assume that in a SWB case, the mask of oxygen equipment would be placed over the individual nose and mouth and maintain for a time period while unconscious and after?

How would you use it and do you think its an important tool? Where do you get certified and purchase the equipment? It’s not really practical for me to take the instructors oxygen class, because of distance.
Fatal Flaw

I think what Eric is trying to get at is the inherent flaw in the buddy system, it only works if the diver actually reaches the buddy's spotting depth. Think about that for a second.

Every good safety plan has contingencies. You try to anticipate what could go wrong and have a plan for what to do if that happens. Of course, there are things that happen that you could never anticipate, but ignoring the obvious is no excuse.

Let's deconstruct the traditional buddy diving plan, which most of us still use for line diving:

Diver goes down, buddy goes down to spot. After a minute, no sign of diver, buddy's air runs out and he has to surface.

The contingency is..... uh,....go back up, hope your diver surfaced away from the line, if not, hyperventilate like crazy, try to dive to 40m in the hope of seeing your diver...then what? :waterwork

It's very unlikely that in your panic you can carry your diver 40m back to the surface without putting yourself in danger. Remember the first rule of water rescue, rescue yourself first, otherwise you can't do crap for your victim.

Basically, you're left on the surface with a feeling that must be one of the worst in the world--utter helplessness.

It doesn't matter if the diver was diving beyond his limits, if he got tangled in some fishing line, or got so narked he decided to play with the fish, or simply forgot about kicking back up, it's all academic by that point.

Eric no longer dives past 70m in practice because of the dangers of narcosis. No one seems to have heeded that lesson he learned the hard way. You can't imagine the expression on his face when he surfaced from 88m and was thrilled that he was alive, because he had serious doubts on the way back up. Yet many other divers dive with only the buddy systems do depths that are as deep or deeper. And a lot can happen between 40 and 100m down. And the risk is still there, even if Eric is only going to 60 or 70m.

I have had many a long wait at 20m, hoping to seem him coming up the line. That's a lot of faith in an imperfect safety system. So far he's been there every time. And that's the usual proof of the buddy safety system. "Well nothing bad has every happened...so it's safe," is what some people seem to say.

For me the next best solution is the DRUMS. We're working on having a system ready by spring. It's costly and will take a lot of time to make, but having a constant connection with your diver, a line of communication of a sort, is miles ahead of the traditional buddy system. There can be complications with the DRUMS, but at least you can tell if you're diver is taking too long at depth and then haul him up like a fish.

I think it's time we stop giving everyone the false illusion of complete safety when line diving that's being taught in clinics around the world. "As long as your buddy meets you at 10-15m that's all the safety you need."

Baloney. We need to improve! And until we can use the DRUMS, be conservative and hope for the best. What other contingency is there? Faith? (Tell me that you would be okay with the idea if suddenly all passenger jets stopped using radar and avoidance systems, just because the only thing worth worrying about was take off and landing. For every deep dive, there's only 10-15m of safety, no matter how deep you're going, be it 40m or 80m.)

And in my opinion, the only thing scuba divers can do effectively (assuming they don't get narked) is keep a diver close to the line and give verbal and visual cues to get back to the surface. Otherwise they are a body retrieval system.

Last edited:
I'm still pondering this idea of a 'bad buddy' who blacks out deep, and how some people would 'refuse' to dive with such a person.

I think we can make a good analogy; blacking out at 10m is like being the driver in a car accident.

If you get in a car accident, does it mean you're stupid? It COULD mean you acted stupidly, or it could also mean you were extremely unlucky, and got sandwiched with no escape. A good driver/diver will be less likely to get into an accident, but he will never be immune. Even if we was not driving/diving 'far beyond his limit' i.e. far faster (or deeper) than he should; even if he was driving well below the speed limit he can still get into an accident.

So, if someone has a car accident (or blackout at 10m), what does it tell us? Does it tell us that he was driving/diving stupidly? No. He might have been driving/diving stupidly but maybe not.

When you get into a car, with a friend driving, do you ask your friend 'have you ever been in a car accident, because if so I don't want to drive(dive) with you!'

At the same time, if your friend gets into a car accident every week, then you are probably right in being suspicious about driving with him. Likewise, if someone blacks out at 10m every week, you might have second thoughts about diving with them (or at least give them a lecture).

But the occasional car accident/deep blackout, doesn't tell you anything about the person. It may have been caused by circumstances beyond their control, and you should not judge them based on things out of their control.

Eric Fattah
BC, Canada
DRUMS, but at least you can tell if you're diver is taking too long at depth and then haul him up like a fish

What is this DRUMS? Kind of sounds like a fishing reel. The least drag for letting line out I know of is a spinning reel with the face open.
whooaa... let's not get carried away here... there was no mention of refusing to dive with anyone, and no-one was calling anyone stupid...

ok, so we have two cases here...
car accidents that are caused by the driver, and
car accidents caused by other external factors

i totally accept that occasionally accidents will be caused by external factors beyond the control of the diver who is diving within his limits, eg entanglement or equipment failure. (having said that, good preparation and planning should eliminate most of those... eg carrying a knife, pre-dive equipment checks etc.)

but, the vast majority of accidents are simply the result of poor judgement on behalf of the diver... diving too deep or for too long. we've all been there sometime or other. you can either refuse to accept that you dived too deep and put it down to plain 'bad luck' or you can take it on the chin and learn from it.

in the original example, there was no mention of anything unusual happening, so my conclusion based on those facts were that he simply dived too deep.

i dont class narcosis as an 'unusual' factor beyond the control of the diver, because it's a fairly progressive phenomenon and with *experience* you usually know when to expect it and you become accustomed to the growing sensations. with that experience you can make a wise decision about your target depth and whether you should abort the dive or whatever. knowing whether you have sufficient experience is where the good judgement comes in.

i wouldnt have a problem with someone having a major black-out who then goes away accepting that he dived too deep, and decides to take things easier, but i would have a problem with someone who puts himself at risk by consistently pushing himself. it puts an enormous burden and responsibility on the buddies who have to be there to pick up the pieces.

that's my view, and i accept that other people may disagree.

... anyway, this 'debate' is becoming somewhat off-topic, so i'm going to leave it there.

Hi all

Just signed up.

On the issue of rescue procedures I've added a fishfinder/depth sounder to the DRUMS unit. Reason being that whilst diving off the shelf we've been getting 'grey suits' i.e., bull sharks, at depth which have often harrassed me. I remember one Xmas day it was like the raptor scene from Jurassic Park in which there wasn't one but two!

Anyway, the sounder not only tells the surface operator where I am (a fish icon with a depth) but also if we have any unwelcomed vistors. Depending on outlay the sounders can tell you ssuch things as surface temperature, thermocline, and bottom depth and topography, the last being especially important if you're vary your dive sites a lot. I recommend a sounder with a narrow cone, as opposed to dual cones for greater resolution. An othe significant advantage, if you use a surface safety diver, is that you know exactly when to deploy them.

On another note, as things have evolved considerably since early last year we've gotten rid of the two reference lines and are now using two lifelines. The first connected to the hand reel the other connected to the high-speed/load line-hauler/coiler. The idea behind this is that since I can dive head-first (constant or variable) verticality is easily achieved. In deep water we simply drift and in the shallows we find current free shelter. If the current is too strong we always dive shallow.

In constant, I necessarily work on spatial awreness in the inverted position to maintain verticality (at leats untill I pick up some speed) as I don't use ballast to assist in the descent. But if I make an error it matters little from a safety point of view as I simply don't get to go as deep.

In variable too we use a similar configuration. I now simply free-fall with the weight much as was done in olden days. This necessarily implies we use a stop or go system, i.e., there is no braking. The dive is either a go or no go since once we pass from the air to water transition, in respect to equalization, it is only a matter of psychology and keeping the Eustachian tubes patent. I abort the descent by simply letting go of the weight; it requires no effort to hold onto or let go of the weight. Within seconds (<3") I am ascended. If we use the electric hauler we can reach speeds of 3m/s (a hell of a ride!). The drag forces in this case can be as much as 30kg considering my drag profile and -ve buoyancy.

Townsville, Australia
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So you're saying that you don't use a descent line at all? Just the two lifelines?

Eric Fattah
BC, Canada
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