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This sport is dangerous

Bill McIntyre

San Clemente, CA
Staff member
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Jan 27, 2005
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For probably 20 years or so I've kept an emergency contact list on my boat. When someone new comes aboard I have him fill it out with his the name, phone number and relationship of the person that he would like me to call if he is injured or killed. If you have a boat I highly recommend something like this. Many times all we have is our buddy's cell number, but he probably won't answer if he's dead.

But anyway, I was just looking at the list and there are 56 names on it. I'm afraid I'm not perfect at getting people to sign, so there are a lot of people who were on my boat who are not on the list.

Of the 56 names on the list, 5 are dead. One death was not diving related, but the other 4 were diving deaths. One was lobster diving and the other 3 were spearfishing. Luckily, none of the deaths occurred while diving on my boat, but that is mostly just a matter of chance. I've lost track of a lot of people on the list so some of them may be dead too, but I don't know that.

We've all heard warnings that diving is dangerous, and we've heard of deaths somewhere, but mostly it's not anyone we know. But when I look at a list of people who have actually been on my boat who are now dead it sort of personalizes it. Its not just abstract- it actually happens.
I'll leave it to others to say how to be safe- a freedive course, always dive with a buddy, never push your limits, quit diving after you turn 80, etc. But think about it.

And Merry Christmas.
:)
 
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Andrew the fish

Well-Known Member
Oct 17, 2010
398
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Burnaby BC Canada
Bill, thank you, duly noted. Can you please elaborate, kind of look back and figure what were you doing differently? Any different mind set, decision-making etc. Or, if you remember those unfortunate fellas, what would set them aside? Age? Fitness level? Attitude? Or perhaps some particular way of spearfishing? What makes some people get killed? I for one cannot accept that this is pure rulette gamble.
 
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Bill McIntyre

Bill McIntyre

San Clemente, CA
Staff member
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Jan 27, 2005
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Andrew, this is going to be a long post and there is no single cause of death, but in at least two cases pride might be involved. All of the divers were younger than I am and better divers with longer breath holds.

One was diving at night for lobster at Santa Barbara Island. I think he was in relatively shallow water up close to the island where caves extend back into the rock. There were large swells that night and his buddies think he was driven up into a cave by the surge and held there until he drowned. They found him on the bottom at the cave entrance. It hard to know how having a buddy close by would have helped. Maybe the buddy would have been driven into the cave too?

Another one had been on my boat quite a few times. I think its fair to describe him as a hard-ass no-nonsence sort of guy. He had been a US Navy UDT diver during the Vietnam war, floating down muddy rivers to blow up bamboo bridges built by the Viet Cong. One time when he was not with me I shot a 54 pound white sea bass that wrapped in thick kelp on the bottom. The depth was within my capability at that time, but the visibility on the bottom was about two feet and then the current came up. Ordinarily I would have held onto kelp to avoid having to kick while breathing up, but the current took all the kelp below the surface so I had to kick just to stay in place and of course this didn't help my bottom time. I got my hand on the shaft once and decided that this fish wasn't worth my life, so I went back to the boat and got a pony bottle to safely retrieve it. When I got home I posted this story on the old Freedivelist. I got a private email from this guy telling me that I wasn't a real freediver if I used a tank to retrieve the fish. He said he would never do a thing like that and If he did he sure as hell wouldn't admit it on the internet. We never dove together again. Some years later he built a house in a fishing village on the Pacific Coast of Baja and moved down there. I heard this story second hand, but apparently he was diving with a buddy in the same area, but not keeping a close eye on one another. His body was found on the bottom near a yellowtail the he had shot that had wrapped up in the kelp. I guess he was a pure freedive to the end.

The third one was a guy who had been on my boat many times, but in this case he and I and a third guy were on a trip to La Paz in Baja. I didn't want to go because I didn't have a gun that was really big enough for the trip, but he talked me into it. The third guy had taken a couple of yellowfin tuna and a few wahoo and I had taken one wahoo. My friend was probably the best diver of the three of us but he just hadn't had any luck and he was a competitive sort of guy. It didn't help that the third guy was sort of an asshole and was rubbing it in. So my friend started doing what neither I nor the third guy could do- diving to the bottom and shooting big pargo. Pargo are notorious for being very powerful and running into caves where they are hard to retrieve.

It was the afternoon of the third and last day of the trip. My ears clogged up so that I couldn't dive past ten feet so I called to the driver of the panga to pick me up. He was right next to my friend but he came over to get me. By the time I got my float line and float into the boat, the third guy also called for a pickup, so we went to get him. After we picked him up, we headed back to my friend's float but by the time we got to it it was obvious that he could not have held his breath for as long as we had the float in sight. The third guy and I along with the panga driver jumped in. I went to the float and saw that his gun was hanging below it with no shaft in it. The gun should have been floating without the shaft, so something was holding it down. The water was very clear and I could barely see a dark spot on the bottom. When I dove as far as my ears would permit, I could see him kneeling on the bottom with his head and shoulders under a ledge at about 90 feet deep. Even if I had been willing to break my eardrums, there is no way I can dive to 90 feet, much less bring up a body from that depth. Luckily the panga driver was a very good diver so he dove and retrieved the body. He said my friend had his hands on his shaft with one wrap of cable around his hand as if he had been trying to pull a fish out. There was no fish on the slip tip, but we guess that he must have shot a pargo and was trying to retrieve it when it came off. The shaft wasn't hung up in the rocks. While we were attempting CPR, the panga driver pulled it up.

Feel free to comment or criticize. The obvious thing is that we should have had a better buddy system. But if either I or the third guy had been overhead watching, we couldn't have saved him. We couldn't dive that deep. I realize that a huge majority of blackouts occur at or near the surface, but he seems to have blacked out on the bottom. Some people have told me that he must have blacked out while pulling the fish up, but I think its highly unlikely that the fish could have arranged him balanced on his knees with his head and shoulders under the ledge. This was one of those cases where your buddy has to be better than you. This was many years before the Freedive Recovery Vest was invented, but I think there is a good chance it could have saved him.

The fourth guy died on a trip to Mexico, but I wasn't there and don't have any details.

I hope the has been helpful.
 

Andrew the fish

Well-Known Member
Oct 17, 2010
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Burnaby BC Canada
thank you Bill. I had very similar situation with strong current that I could barely outswim, on a kelp field. I lost my goody bag filled with catch of the day, I saw it sinking but I was exhausted and needed surface time. It was hard decision not to go chasing the bag. I was looking at it being flown sideways and swiftly taken it right into maze of kelp. I hear your story and see how it was.
 

Andrew the fish

Well-Known Member
Oct 17, 2010
398
65
68
Burnaby BC Canada
One was diving at night for lobster at Santa Barbara Island. I think he was in relatively shallow water up close to the island where caves extend back into the rock. There were large swells that night and his buddies think he was driven up into a cave by the surge and held there until he drowned. They found him on the bottom at the cave entrance. It hard to know how having a buddy close by would have helped. Maybe the buddy would have been driven into the cave too
Bill, you familiar with swiss cheese model? Seems like all holes lined up for him that night. Swell, night, caves, and being close to shore. There was a lot going against him. I think it was a concussion. He did not see the rock and was driven into it by the swell, knocked out and drowned.
 
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Andrew the fish

Well-Known Member
Oct 17, 2010
398
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Burnaby BC Canada
It didn't help that the third guy was sort of an asshole and was rubbing it in. So my friend started doing what neither I nor the third guy could do
Feel free to comment or criticize. The obvious thing is that we should have had a better buddy system. But if either I or the third guy had been overhead watching, we couldn't have saved him. We couldn't dive that deep.
I say, the "third guy" would have been alive if there was no buddy system at all. He didn't catch anything - who cares, there would have been nobody to rub it in. No dicks to size up. No "ego dives". Sorry for so many posts, I am trying to think it through.
 

billder99

Doyle
Dec 23, 2006
91
14
98
62
Loreto, Baja Sur, Mexico
Wait a minute... quit diving after 80? :oops: That's my ambition in life to continue diving like some of my old buddies well into my 80s. If I drown or meet other dive-related death, oh well... gotta go sometime, might as well be doing what I love.

In seriousness... good heads-up on always being cognizant of dive safety.
 

7BDiver

New Member
Sep 5, 2019
10
2
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Sandpoint Idaho
So what kind of safety and buddy system practices have you really seen make the difference in bad situations or where the skill level is varied greatly?
 
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Bill McIntyre

Bill McIntyre

San Clemente, CA
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Jan 27, 2005
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The “quit diving after 80” was a poke at me. I’ll be 81 in January and I’m not getting any better or safer. The season here is about over and I guess I’ll see how I feel in March.
 
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Bill McIntyre

Bill McIntyre

San Clemente, CA
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Jan 27, 2005
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So what kind of safety and buddy system practices have you really seen make the difference in bad situations or where the skill level is varied greatly?
I hesitate to reply since I don't follow my own advice all the time, but I'll take a stab at it.

I guess the most obvious would be the standard advice to dive one-up one-down and make sure your buddy has fully recovered before you dive. But it seems like almost no one in Southern California does that. I've had a lot of PFI and FII graduates on my boat who didn't do that. Our excuse is kelp and poor visibility. I've watched my buddy disappear into kelp with 10 foot vis and waited for him to surface. About the time I think he should be up, I look 10 years across the surface and there he is. What if he hadn't surfaced? Where would I have gone looking for him? If he had been using a float line then I could have followed it, but I might not have reached him in time to save him. And many divers prefer reels in the kelp.

Another thing to consider- even if your buddy is at least as good as you are, he's not going to be at his best when he sees you on the bottom dying. He isn't going to properly breath up and he isn't going to be relaxed. I suspect that is why Terry Maas invented the Freedive Recovery vest. His teen age son was diving with a buddy on the Kona coast. The water was clear and his buddy could see him from the surface, but he couldn't reach him.

I try to get my divers to compromise. We may not be staying close to each other while hunting, but we should look around and keep track of our locations so we can see someone wave for help. I think the biggest danger we face is when a white sea bass wraps the shooting line in kelp on the bottom and we have to dive to cut it out. Then we should call for someone to come watch us while we dive. Of course we still won't be able to see the guy on the bottom, but we'll know that he is pretty close to under us, and might see him black out just before surfacing. But we are back to varying skill levels. At age 80 I'm not going to be a lot of help if the fish is very deep, while everyone who dives with me could help me if I try to cut out a fish. Does the mean I shouldn't be trying to shoot fish? Maybe so. I hope we have a third guy on the boat and he can come watch the guy on the fish. I've seen guys on my boat turn down help when they had a fish tied up deep and there was a current. When they got back in the boat I read them the riot act and told them not to do that on my boat. Even if they don't care about their families, I don't want to use that emergency contact number that they gave me.

Another precaution is so general that its almost meaningless, but just don't take chances or push your limits. For instance Ive never felt a contraction that so many people talk about. Maybe I just don't get them no matter what, but maybe its because I'm so cautious. I don't like to surface feeling like I barely got there. My bottom times suck and I'm sure it costs me some fish, but I'm alive.

Last week I was diving with two friends on a high spot a couple of miles north of an island that is 50 miles off the mainland. There was a mild current, not enough to hurt my breath hold very much, but after a while my calves started feeling like they were cramping. In prior years I might have kept diving, but the nearest land was over 50 miles down current so I got back in the boat. My buddies shot 7 nice yellowtail to 35 pounds and I was really tempted to get back in the water, but then one of my young buddies came swimming up from down current of the boat and seemed to be glad to grab the end of the 100 foot current line that I put out when there is any current. I decided that this was no current for old men so I stayed in the boat and took photos they brought back fish.

But that reminds me of what I said earlier about kelp and poor vis being our excuse for a poor buddy system. We're so used to using that excuse that we don't change when the situation is different at open water spots with little or no kelp and poor visibility.

I doubt that this has been much help, but I don't have a lot of great ideas. If you do, please feel to comment or even criticize me. I've been married for 57 years so I'm used to criticism.

On final thing- I wish I could afford to buy a Freedive Recovery vest for every diver on my boat. I wear one every time I dive. I realize that it isn't a sure thing, but I think it might have saved two of the guys I mentioned in my original post. Unfortunately, Terry Maas is ceasing sales to the public at the end of this year, although I think he still will be selling another version to the military Special Operations forces. Yes, it costs $950 US, but a lot of my friends who don't wear the vest carry spearguns that cost way more than that. If you buy one is will be warranted through 2005. No, I'm not on commission.

Edit- I'm told that FII tells students not buy the FRV because it will cause them to push their limits. This seems inconsistent since a big part of the class is to learn to push their limits. I suspect that it could be a concern that students might not take the course if they bought an FRV, but I'm a cynic. You should take the course AND buy an FRV.
 

7BDiver

New Member
Sep 5, 2019
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Sandpoint Idaho
Thanks Bill, nothing is better than wisdom from someone that has been there and done it.

What kind of underwater signaling devices have you tried or recommend? The biggest concern I have with my brothers when we dive is keeping track of each other, they don't really care about pushing limits at all but tend to wander off quite a ways which is problematic on a large deep lake. What are some close calls you have had personally and what got you into trouble. Something you just had to have underwater or fatigue related?
 

Kodama

Well-Known Member
Jun 20, 2016
343
138
58
Belgium - California
www.eastwind.be
Good tread.
Some of my weights are painted with a fluorescent paint containing tritium. When the sun is not shining bright i ‘charge’ it for a couple of seconds with my dive light before taking deeper dives so my buddy can easily spot me and see towards where I am moving.

I have seen some divers painting a large white triangle on the back of their wetsuit for the same reason.
 
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Bill McIntyre

Bill McIntyre

San Clemente, CA
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Jan 27, 2005
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7B diver, I'm not sure its useful for me to babble on about close calls. I probably don't even remember the ones that didn't scare the hell out of me. But I will address a couple of your questions.

I'm not aware of underwater signaling devices or how they could be useful for freedivers anyway. In my scuba days we used to bang on our tanks with an ab iron or the metal butt of a knife. Of course you still couldn't tell what direction the sound was coming from, but at least you knew someone wanted to get your attention. As a freedive, I have a whistle attached to my FRV and I use that to try to get attention from the boat or other divers on the surface.

The thing I most want to have underwater is a knife. If I got to a dive spot and found that I had not brought it along, I might not go in the water. Spearfishermen are so much in danger of tangling in lines. My primary knife is on my left forearm where I can see it and get to it instantly. In the unlikely event that my right hand is tangled, I have another knife in a pocket in my wet suit on my left thigh. Both knifes had loops of bungee cord on them so that I can't drop them. My hand goes through that loop as I take the knife out of the sheath. The bungee cord on the knife on my forearm also stretches over the end of the sheath to keep it from falling out. If I drop the knife its dangling from my wrist. And with divers in Southern California kelp, it lets us drop the knife when we want to. After cutting away at kelp for a while, we often come to the time when we want to use both hands to grab the fish. I can just drop the knife without bothering to take time to put it back in the sheath.
 

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cdavis

Well-Known Member
Jan 21, 2003
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VERY good thread. Bill's right, its dangerous.

Sometimes it takes a lot of years to accumulate enough scares to really see the pattern. I've been diving 55 years and been involved in 3 maybe 4 open water BOs. Also know two maybe 3 diving buddies who have had open water BOs on other boats. Nobody I know well is dead , but I know all too well that's mostly luck, although PFI courses helped a lot. I've gotten to the place that I insist on diving a tight buddy system. We lucky to dive clear water and can almost always see our buddy on the bottom. If for some reason a perfect buddy system isn't possible, the FRV goes on.

Funny, unless I think about it, I don't feel like what I do is dangerous, at least for me. Its easier to think about it now.

I do the same record thing with divers on my boat, although I don't keep the records (wish I had). My nightmare is having to use that list because somebody died.
 
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Mr. X

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Sad to read that Terry Maas's Freediver Recovery Vest will no longer be sold to the public. Perhaps more work and hassle than military contracts. Developing this idea has got to have a future. I would think reducing the cost and making it simpler might be the critical things for mass market adoption.

Bill, didn't you develop a homemade recovery belt with CO2 capsules and pull-pin activation? Perhaps something like that but with a small electronic activator.

I dive alone and am quite comfortable with that. As I get older, it occurs to me that one day I may not come back from a dive. I think I am ok with that too. There are worse ways to die. I really enjoy spearfishing, so at least I would be in "pursuit of happiness".
 
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Bill McIntyre

Bill McIntyre

San Clemente, CA
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Jan 27, 2005
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Mr X, I never developed anything, but you may be thinking of that Carter float. Riffe used to make something similar with two 16 cartridges. I've carried one or the other on my belt or at least 20 years. It has enough CO2 to fully inflate at some depth, and then the extra gas vents off as it ascends. Its amazing how it can rip fish out of the kelp. And when it can't, it at least holds them off the bottom so that we can see what kelp needs to be cut. And it can be orally inflated on the surface and attached to your line to make a spot where a fish is tied up. But if you tried to attache some sort of device to trigger it when a depth or time was exceeded, it would become too bulky to wear on your belt as well as very expensive. I don't think its a practical alternative.
 
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