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How to communicate with your Freediving Buddy (Watch Video)

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One of the most important abilities in freediving – for yours and your buddy’s safety and peace of mind – is proper communication while underwater. It is a skill that often gets ignored or oversimplified, which can lead to confusion and mistakes that can prove to be very dangerous. The buddy system, with its correct communication techniques, is designed to ensure freedivers know where their partner is at all times, and what the dive plan and breath hold is. Safety is paramount.

Listening to your freediving buddy is the first and most important step in learning how to communicate effectively. Patience is key – just as in everyday life when, during a conversation, you are merely waiting for the other person to pause so you can talk instead, below the surface can often be the same and you can miss what your buddy is trying to say to you. Ego and human psychology also play huge parts in freediving – for example your dive buddy might be all smiles and talking confidently, but he or she might be panicking quietly and not want you to know. You really need to listen, to take notice, and properly observe your partner, because when you fully focus on your buddy you can usually tell how they are really feeling, even if they are saying something different.

Any and all communication with your buddy must be unambiguous and absolutely crystal clear – their confidence in you is of paramount importance so that they can relax and be reassured that they will be in safe hands throughout the dive. If you partner is new to you, do not be complacent and think that they will be used to or expecting your methods. Explain beforehand what you are going to do and make sure you understand each other.

As an example, during freediving competitions the buddy is not allowed to touch the freediver as they ascend to the surface. However during Go Freediving exercises we practise safety methods and one is where the buddy assists the diver at the surface post-dive or after breath hold. As the freediver holds the poolside or buoy, the buddy will place a hand beneath the diver’s upper arm or armpit and advise them to breathe while using their name. This is taught for reassurance and because if the diver blacks out or has some kind of hypoxic fit once at the surface, the buddy will be there holding them to ensure the diver’s airways do not become submerged. This subtle difference will need to be explained to the diver pre-dive.

Here’s Emma Farrell in a short instruction video, explaining how to communicate with your freediving buddy:

Before the dive or breath hold: communicating with your freediving buddy

There should be absolutely no confusion during a dive, so take your time before you enter the water to go through everything you need to with your buddy. Explain the dive itself, the breath hold and ask what the diver expects the buddy to do. The diver should give clear, concise instructions and the buddy should repeat them back to the diver so both go into the water knowing they are on the same page.

More information about buddying is contained in The Beginner’s Guide to Freediving, specifically chapter six (Safety for Freediving); we also provide in-depth input about the system on every freediving course. There are, however, some important points to remember for effective communication during pool and open water disciplines – and we list them here to get you started:

Static Apnea

  • What position does the diver want or where do they want to be held prior to the breath hold?
  • Is a countdown or any type of preparation wanted?
  • During the breath hold, how does the diver want to be held?
  • If taps are going to be given, when and how?
  • Some divers require verbal coaching as support. If so, what do they want to be told?
  • Verbal communication should be loud and clear, taps firm and equally clear.

Dynamic Apnea

  • Is a countdown or any type of preparation wanted?
  • What position does the diver want or where do they want to be held prior to the swim?
  • Is a marker required on the bottom of the pool/seabed? If so, at what distance?
  • Does the diver require any sound, at a precise distance, while submerged (e.g. tapping the pool steps with a hard object)?
  • Post-dive, what surfacing support is required? For example, a buoy or float at the pool’s surface or assistance to reach the side of the swimming pool?

Constant Weight/ Free Immersion

  • Is a countdown or any type of preparation wanted?
  • At depth, is non-verbal communication requested by the diver when the buddy meets them?

It is imperative that the diver sticks to the dive plan at all times. A buddy will have planned their dive to perfectly complement the diver’s, so it is hugely important that the diver does not deviate by, for example, descending even deeper or staying submerged for longer than agreed. There is not a major issue if it is a static or dynamic as the buddy will be able to breathe, but nonetheless confusion should be kept to a minimum during all dives. During a pool session, if the diver decides to aim for a personal best it should be mentioned and acknowledged during the dive plan before anybody enters the water.

How to communicate with your freediving buddy underwater

At Go Freediving we place great importance on non-verbal communication while submerged, and it forms a huge part of our training with students. This means it becomes normal to ‘talk’ to each other non-verbally, and reinforces the safety aspect too. One of our instructors, David Mellor, takes part in this short video filmed during a RAID Freediver course where he demonstrates the hand signals we use to communicate and ensure diver safety:

The hand signals used to communicate while submerged have been developed and honed by scuba divers over many years. Due to the nature of freediving, where equipment and the dive profile are frequently very different to scuba, freedivers and their buddies use traditional hand signals – as seen in the video above – but we also use a further unique set of signals to communicate too.

Experience and intuition in learning how to communicate with your freediving buddy

As in everyday life, the more time you spend around people above and below the water while freediving, the more adept you become at noticing subtle hints and signs from their body language. This is ideal for improving safety and communication skills. Reassurance is everything, so if a freediver knows their buddy can be relied upon completely during a dive, particularly if it is one to a great depth or for a long time period, then they will relax more. Only by practising the art of non-verbal communication can you gain the experience and awareness that brings about safer and infinitely more enjoyable freediving.


Find out more about free diving at www.gofreediving.co.uk

Emma Farrell is one of the world's leading freediving instructors and the author of the stunning book 'One Breath, a Reflection on Freediving.' Teaching freediving internationally since 2003, she is a founding member of the AIDA Education Commission, writing courses that are taught worldwide, has written her own standalone courses, and has appeared numerous times on television and across other media. She is a freediving judge, has competed internationally, and has worked with gold medal winning Olympic and Paralympic cyclists and swimmers to improve their performance since 2010 using her unique program of freediving and yoga techniques. Find out more about Emma at www.gofreediving.co.uk.

Blogs

CCMI alumni learn to freedive from world record holder Tanya Streeter

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CCMI

CCMI’s 25th anniversary celebrations included Tanya Streeter leading a freediving clinic for CCMI alumni, giving Festival of Seas keynote address

To help celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Central Caribbean Marine Institute (CCMI), the organisation enlisted the help of world record holding freediver and former Cayman resident Tanya Streeter. Invited to give the keynote speech at the annual Festival of Seas gala on 4 November 2023, Tanya eagerly agreed to also host a freediving clinic for young Caymanians who participated in education programmes at CCMI to give back to the Cayman community.

CCMI

Returning to the island where she was born and raised, Tanya led a half-day freediving clinic at Sunset House with the support of Sunset Divers. CCMI education programme alumni were invited to register, and 11 Caymanians, ages 16-26 representing a span of 10 years of taking part in the range of CCMI education programmes, attended the clinic. Some of the alumni participated in more than one CCMI programme over the years, and several are now employed in a related industry in the Cayman Islands, a testament to the importance of CCMI’s scholarship opportunities for Caymanian students.

CCMI

When asked what it meant to Tanya to host this freediving clinic in Grand Cayman, she said, “I cannot overstate what a huge personal impact it has on me to come back to have this opportunity to work with young Caymanians. They are associated with CCMI, so they know about the ocean and about how important ocean health is here for us. But to be able to connect with young people in a realm that I’m good at and is important to me, and to see them grow a little bit personally, is huge. It’s my absolute favourite thing to do!”

CCMI

Called ‘the world’s most perfect athlete’ in 2002 by Sports Illustrated, Tanya discovered her record-breaking gift for freediving in 1997, and in the following decade broke 10 world records, many of them previously held by men. To this day, she still holds the longest-standing world record in the sport, having dived on a single breath to a depth of 525ft/160m in the No Limits discipline off the coast of the Turks and Caicos Islands in August 2002. If anyone is qualified to help others begin their journey into freediving, Tanya Streeter is at the top of the list.

CCMI

The clinic started with a briefing and a meditation session, led by Tanya, to get the mind and body ready to freedive. Participants practiced meditation exercises, breathing techniques to help open the diaphragm and work the lungs and muscles, and important stretches. Next, Tanya gave an in-water safety briefing, which emphasized buddy pairs, proper in-water breathing techniques, and not pushing oneself too hard. In total the group spent about 90 minutes in the water in selected buddy pairs practicing freediving while under the watchful eye of CCMI’s in water safety teams. Tanya spent several moments with each freediver individually, observing them, and offering underwater support and topside coaching. After everyone had one-on-one coaching time with Tanya, the group snorkeled to the famous Sunset House mermaid statue, practicing their new, finely tuned freediving skills to dive to the mermaid (a depth of about 45-50 ft).

CCMI

Before the clinic, participants had a wide range of skills and experiences in the water. Tanya provided one-on-one coaching, speaking to each person’s comfort level. One participant said it felt like it was only the two of them in the ocean. Tanya’s constructive corrections in the water helped participants realize instant success in their form and dives!

CCMI

The following night, Tanya gave the keynote address to the more than 350 attendees at CCMI’s Festival of Seas gala at the Kimpton Seafire Resort & Spa. A passionate voice for the preservation of the marine environment, Tanya announced she would serve as a CCMI ambassador, focusing her energy on engaging the youth and young people in efforts to protect the ocean. She left attendees with the realization that the connection we have with the ocean is meaningful, and it paves the way to create protections and policies that will sustain the marine environment for the future.

CCMI

While Tanya enjoys using her platform to communicate about the importance of marine conservation, she is very passionate about working with youth and introducing them to the ocean through freediving. “To see those barriers people are facing and to push through and grow even in a hour, and hour and a half. That’s huge. It’s absolutely my favourite thing to do.”

For more information about CCMI, please visit www.reefresearch.org.

About CCMI

CCMI is a not-for-profit organization founded in 1998 to protect the future of coral reefs, envisioning a world with vibrant oceans and healthy coral reef ecosystems. We seek to be the Caribbean’s premier marine research institute by delivering cutting edge research, transforming conservation strategy and developing education programmes of excellence – discovering and promoting real solutions to declining ocean health. Our plan is to invigorate key species and understand key ocean processes that drive reef resilience. We support early career scientists who are INNOVATING ways to improve coral reef health. We are TRANSFORMING conservation strategy and work to inspire the CHANGE that is needed to achieve our mission. CCMI are PIONEERS in the region working to reverse the declines of coral reefs.

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Equipment

Oceanic+ Now Has Freedive Mode on Apple Watch Ultra

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Oceanic is thrilled to enhance your underwater adventures with the launch of Oceanic+ 2.0. This updated version of the app is filled with practical new features designed to enrich the diving experience.

Divers can now use their Apple Watch Ultra and Apple Watch Ultra 2 for freediving to 130 feet (40 meters). The new Freedive mode is packed with advanced features specific to training and freediving with custom alarms for target depth, max dive time, sequential depth, surface time, and max session time. For each alarm, the diver will receive both haptic and visual notifications. Additional features include surface heart rate tracking, heart rate training zones, surface data, and more.

Freedive mode includes a feature called “Stealth mode” which will automatically dim the screen while underwater. Stealth mode disables all haptics and alarms and reduces the display brightness by 90% while diving. This clever feature ensures freedivers won’t startle the fish during their dive. When back on the surface, the display automatically goes back to normal brightness, keeping all surface alarms intact to help fine-tune training.

With a simple click of the logbook, a detailed view of each individual dive made is shown. This includes the total session time, max dive time, max depth achieved, total number of dives, and coldest water temperature. Also seen is each dive on a map with a start and ending point.

While the Apple Watch Ultra is great for real-time critical data, Oceanic+ on iPhone offers a closer view of freedives in much more detail. All dives are automatically saved in the logbook, showing individual session statistics with detailed dive information, and an overall summary. This includes ascent and descent times, heart rate data from each session to provide a recovery assessment, relaxation improvement, and enhancing carbon dioxide recovery resistance.

In addition to Freediving Mode on Apple Watch Ultra, Oceanic+ has received many new enhancements for an enriched diving experience. The new “Activity Map” on Oceanic+ allows divers to visualize their dives on a global mat, showing hotspots with color-coded indicators for different modes, such as scuba or freedive. Divers can also enter beginning and ending tank pressure and tank type in their Oceanic+ logbook, as well as easily export all dives to their preferred logbook.

“Oceanic+ continues to expand its capabilities,” said Mike Huish, CEO of Huish Outdoors. “Now with Freedive mode on Apple Watch Ultra and the many additional improvements to the app including advanced photo and video color-correction, Oceanic+ improves the way we will share our underwater adventures.”

Planning for dives is now easier with Diver Generated Content™ which provides real-time water temperatures at various depths as reported by our diverse diving community. The new Weight Planner assists divers in determining the right amount of ballast needed for their dive.

The updated logbook allows divers to instantly share their dive stories. Dive photos and videos taken with the Oceanic+ Dive Housing are now seamlessly integrated into their logs, allowing divers to overlay their dive profile alongside visuals to tell a complete story.

Oceanic+ 2.0 also includes advanced editing capabilities for photos and videos taken with the patent-pending Oceanic+ Dive Housing. The free version includes automatic color correction for both photos and videos, while the premium version allows access to advanced editing – adjust blue or green color dominance in images and videos; utilize keyframes to make color corrections throughout videos; and the ability to apply color correction to imported media, even if taken with other devices.

The Oceanic+ app is subscription-based and includes a free version and a paid subscription for more advanced photo and dive computer features as well as freediving. The Oceanic+ app can be downloaded here.

About Oceanic

Founded in 1972 by industry pioneer Bob Hollis, Oceanic is a global dive leader committed to providing modern, reliable, accessible, and easy-to-use dive equipment to recreational divers so they can focus on what matters most: exploring the underwater world and appreciating the wonders of marine life. For over 50 years this philosophy has been woven into everything Oceanic does and is the foremost reason the company is considered a best-in-class, recreational dive brand. Recreational divers of all experience levels benefit from the large selection of products like regulators, computers, and BCDs for all types of diving, as well as masks, snorkels, fins, bags, and accessories for watersport newcomers and veterans alike. Oceanic is one of Huish Outdoors’ premier dive brands. To learn more, please visit oceanicworldwide.com.

About Huish Outdoors

Since 2011, Huish Outdoors has been passionate about the outdoors and connecting people to their adventure dreams. Huish Outdoors unites the world’s best diving and outdoor brands – Atomic Aquatics®, BARE®, BARE Exowear, Hollis®, Oceanic®, Oceanic+, Stahlsac®, Suunto®, and Zeagle® – all under one roof, showcasing the best there is in outdoor sports from deep trenches to snowy peaks. From research to development, the Huish Outdoor brands combine leading design with advanced materials and proven technologies to define what’s next in diving. In partnership with retail partners and distributors across the globe, the company is working together to grow the above- and below-water adventures industries. For more information, please visit huishoutdoors.com.

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