Spearfishing is a dangerous sport. As a father, and having seen firsthand some particularly nasty spearfishing accidents in my time, I realize just how many things could go wrong. Because it’s easy to forget just how dangerous spearfishing is.
As a kid my mum would often come sit on the headland watching me swim out towards the horizon. Of course, she probably couldn’t have done much except call the authorities if I got into a spearfishing accident, but it gave her a sense of relief knowing someone was watching my back when I was out spearfishing alone.
There’s so many things that could go wrong.
- You’re in an unfamiliar environment completely out of your comfort zone.
- You’re sharing your space with some of the deadliest predators in the ocean.
- You’re decked out with spearfishing gear that’s designed to kill.
One wrong move, and that easy afternoon spearfishing trip could turn disastrous.
Search YouTube and you’ll find no shortage of people who have accidentally shot their friends, been attacked by sharks, or worse, have suffered from shallow water blackouts and lost their lives. It’s tragic. You need to be careful when you’re in the water to avoid a spearfishing accident of your own. Today, I’d like to cover a few pointers to stay safe when you’re spearfishing.
Tips for avoiding spearfishing accidents
Don’t point your speargun at anyone
Just like the first rule of gun safety, when you’ve got a loaded speargun for god’s sake don’t point it at anybody. It’s just not safe. If it misfires you’re going to be looking at a friend who’s just been impaled by your spear. And the same goes for pointing it at yourself.
Misfires are one of the most common spearfishing accidents, as the safety switch and trigger are only small locking devices that hold the entire force of the bands from releasing. Over time, these safety switches can fail (especially on cheaper spearguns), and the shaft can release while the safety is still on, without the trigger being pulled. And like Jarrod Ditmars, whose misfire on the surface cost his life, you need to be very careful when handling your speargun.
Don’t get in the water when conditions are bad
I don’t care how fit you are, or how tough you think you are. The ocean is a beast, and if the conditions aren’t safe, do not get in the water. It won’t be a good dive anyway, as you’ll be fighting the currents and rough seas.
Yes, it may suck because that was your one day to go spearfishing this week. But it’s not worth it to risk your life for a couple of fish. I lost a friend almost 15 years ago now, disappearing without a trace after his boat capsized in a storm. At least, that’s what we think happened, his body was never recovered, and only pieces of the boat washed ashore. It’s just not worth it to push the limits of mother nature.
Don’t go spearfishing without a dive float and flag
Make sure you’ve got a dive float and diver below flag on your towline. Getting run down by a boat is not how I want to end it all (for the record, I want to be 132, in my bed with a bottle of whiskey), and it’s important other boats can see where you’re spearfishing in the water.
This is critical in high-traffic boating areas, just having a flag drops your risk of a spearfishing accident dramatically. But not only that, a floatline gives you something to hang onto should you get a cramp or need a break from swimming, and also somewhere secure to store your catch. Because you’re not the biggest predator anymore…
Don’t forget about the sharks in the water
I love sharks. I’m at the local aquarium far more than I’d like to admit just watching these giants of the deep swim around. But they’re a menace should they decide they want your catch, and they’re undeniably fast in the water.
When you’re spearfishing, you need to have eyes on the back of your head. A dive buddy also works. Constantly scan the water to ensure there’s no sharks sneaking up on you. It’s also important to kill your fish as soon as you catch them (the vibrations from a dying fish attract sharks far quicker than blood), and be prepared to stand up to a shark with a good poke in the nose should they get too close.
Don’t push yourself to a shallow water blackout
Finally, I want to cover the biggest risk of all. The shallow water blackout. When you’ve held your breath for too long your body shuts down, and you lose consciousness. Often it happens right at the surface, but it can turn deadly fast if you’ve not got a buddy.
The trouble is, the risk for shallow water blackouts increases as you get better at holding your breath for spearfishing. You push the limits further, and suddenly you’re gone. To combat these, make sure you’ve got a dive buddy watching your back as you dive, you take adequate time on the surface to recover before your next dive, and remember that there’s no warning before you blackout.
Avoiding these spearfishing accidents is rather simple. Use your common sense when you’re spearfishing, don’t push your limits, have safeguards in place and be aware of the dangers you’re facing on a dive, and above all, never point your speargun at anyone. Just don’t be dumb. That’s how you’ll stay safe.