Understand The Risks Of Spearfishing:
Spearfishing can be a very dangerous hobby if you’re negligent, or fail to give the ocean the respect it deserves. This page will cover the Health and Safety aspects to Spearfishing in the UK that you need to be aware of to ensure your safety.
Disclaimer – the sea is unpredictable and there is always a chance that something could go drastically wrong, even if you’re doing everything as safely as possible. It’s very important to understand this, especially for a novice Spearo. Following the advice on this page will help to keep you as safe as possible, but understand and respect that you are entering a potentially dangerous environment.
You should try to dive with at least one other person every time you go Spearfishing. Having a dive buddy can be crucial to your safety. In the past this has been the difference between someone coming back or not. Having a dive buddy in the water with you simply gives you an extra chance of survival when things for wrong. So it’s important to keep in regular contact, tell your buddy if you’ve got a problem or aren’t feeling well, and tell them where you are intended on moving on to. Keep in mind, having a dive buddy doesn’t excuse you from needing a float. You both need to have a float each in the water.
I understand it’s not always possible to go diving with someone else. Sometimes you’ll get the perfect weather and tide, and your dive buddy has promised his wife he’d spend the day with her at IKEA! So when faced with diving alone, make sure you know the tides, know the area and its geography well, and be extra vigilant.
Always Dive With a Float (SMB):
Something that often be overlooked by novice Spearos is diving with a Float or Surface Marker Buoy (SMB). The float is there to signal to the world that a diver is in that immediate area. Anyone with any level of boating training will know a divers float and flag when they see it, and will avoid the area. Unfortunately, not everyone with a boat or jet-ski has such training. If you see, or hear a vessel getting too close you should immediately surface, return to your float, and make your presence known.
Never Load A Speargun Out Of The Water:
Spearguns are a tool for catching fish, nothing else. There is no conceivable reason as to why anyone would need to load a Speargun out of the water. When Spearfishing from the shore or a boat, wait until you are fully in the water and ready to dive before loading your Speargun.
Never Point Your Speargun At Anyone:
Whether your gun is loaded or unloaded, never point it anyone in or out of the water. Spearguns are an incredibly dangerous piece of equipment and can be used to cause extreme harm. It is your responsibility as its user to ensure the safety of others around you. Even an unloaded Speargun still has a sharp spear at the end of it. So, all it could take is one large swell to launch you forward into your dive buddy, and you could find yourself in a bad situation.
Never Shoot At The Surface:
Before firing your Speargun you should make sure you can see where the spears going to go. Firing a Speargun towards the surface can be incredibly dangerous for yourself, other divers, and anyone in the area in general. If you shoot your gun directly upwards, its going to come straight back down at you. Spears are often top heavy, so it’s sharp tip will descend first. If your shot were to break the surface, a lot of variables can affect how it will travel. Variables such as swell, length of gun line, and potentially even strong winds. As stated in the previous section, it is your responsibility as the Spearguns user to ensure the safety of others around you. And you can’t do this when you can’t see where the spear will end up.
Check The Weather:
Weather is often the reason why you can or can’t go Spearfishing in the UK. Even if the weather looks perfect, keep an eye out for possible changes that could come into play whilst you’re in the water. It doesn’t take long for high wind speeds to pick up at sea, and with it comes big swells. A big swell can cause nausea and disorientation. Two things that can quickly turn your pleasant dive into a nightmare. High winds can also cause the visibility of the water to rapidly deteriorate. So be vigilant for potential weather fronts moving into your area.
Fog is also something that can quickly descend, so it’s important to have a compass of some sort to guide you back to shore. In cases where heavy fog is present return to your dive float, rewind your float line, mount the float and swim towards the shore. This will make you a larger target in the water so you are more visible to boats also navigating the fog.
I find XC Weather a great resources for checking wind speeds and other variables. Check it out below:
Always Dive With a Compass:
In the exact event in the last section, a compass can be vital to your safety when fog descends. A lot of dive watches will have a built in compass, but regardless it’s always good to have a physical compass strapped to your float. They are very inexpensive and can be the difference to you making it back to shore or not. Check out our Getting Started page for examples of compasses you could use.
Check The Tides:
Before thinking about going Spearfishing on any given day, check the tides of the area to make sure it’s safe. Tide charts will tell you very accurately what time high and low tide will be on each day. If you are unsure on factors such as when slack water will be or which direction the tide is pushing. Consult with other local divers, fisherman, or even the Coast Guard.
If you find yourself caught in a strong tide, do not swim directly against it. Swimming against the tide will quickly cause fatigue, which can put you in a very dangerous situation. Always swim diagonally to the tide in the direction of the shore. If the tide is pulling you straight out to see, still swim diagonally towards the shore, not straight to the closest point. Some areas in the UK such as Portland Bill will have extremely strong tides more often than not. When diving these areas only dive during the slack water time, or with boat cover.
I find the following Website Tide Times very useful for checking tides:
Look Up When Surfacing:
When you’ve finished your dive and you’re coming back up to the surface, always look directly up. There could be obstructions you hadn’t noticed during the dive such as nets or loose rope. There could even be swimmers or other divers overhead. Boats are something to also look out for, but more often than not you’ll hear a boat come from miles away before you see it. Regardless, you should always be vigilant.
Simple Gear Maintenance:
Making sure you Spearfishing gear is fit for purpose before a dive is one of the easiest ways to ensure your safety. For example, making sure float line is strong and doesn’t have any tears or snags in it can be the difference between losing your float at sea or not. Making sure your knife isn’t stuck in its sheaf due to rust can be crucial when you may need it. Even when diving from a boat, making sure the pontoons are pumped up fully and that the engine is fastened to the outboard tightly can be crucial to your safety. Good maintenance of your equipment in general will only improve your safety, and the quality of your dives.
Don’t Push Beyond Your Limits:
Knowing your limits as a diver is invaluable to your safety. Within the Spearfishing community there is a dangerous ethos around deep diving and long bottom times. Everyone is different, and some people are just able to hold their breathe longer than others. Some people are able to dive deeper than others. So, it’s important to recognise your personal limits and know what you’re comfortable doing. Don’t feel pressured into trying to hold your breathe longer just for the sake of saying you did a two minute bottom time. Equally, don’t find a deep spot and try to dive 25m to the bottom just to be able to say that you did it. Deep diving and long bottom times aren’t what make a good Spearo. Trust your body and listen to it. When it’s time to come up, come up. If you’re diving and can’t reach the bottom before you need to resurface for air, find a shallower spot.
Remove Your Snorkel From Your Mouth When Diving:
This is often overlooked as a method of making sure you don’t spook fish whilst you dive to the bottom. Removing your Snorkel when you dive down is actually a simple, but effective action you can take to increase your safety in the water. If you suffer from Shallow Water Blackout (SWB), by having a snorkel in your mouth you are more likely to take water into your lungs. It can also obstruct your dive buddy from providing essential rescue breaths,. In this situation, every second counts.
Fish Stringers On Weightbelts:
Your Fish Stringer should not be attached to your weightbelt. Although it’s much more convenient to have it on your belt so you don’t have to return to your float every time you catch a fish. Having it attached to you is a huge risk to your safety. The fish stringer could easily get caught on rocks and weed on the ocean bed – and has actually happened many times. Getting your fish stringer caught at any depth can be detrimental to your health and safety. Also, any Seals in the area are going to be attracted to your catch. It’s quite common to see Seals in certain areas, and it’s just as common for them to take an interest it your catch. With your catch being on your persons, you’re going to attract unwanted attention. If by chance a large bull decides he wants your catch, there’s not a lot you can do to stop him. So protect yourself, and put your fish stringer on your float.
BSA Safety Booklet:
The British Spearfishing Association have recently published a free, pocket sized health and safety booklet. This document contains a lot of vital health and safety information that can help to keep you safe whilst Spearfishing. It looks at Shallow Water Blackout (SWB) in great detail and is definitely something you should check out.
Download it below: