Diving Without Time
Dive watches are becoming increasingly popular within the spearfishing world, and I believe they pack massive benefits when used correctly. However, like most of my ideas regarding spearfishing topics, my opinion on dive watches may come across as controversial.
I don't believe you need a dive watch, and I would go so far as to say that using a dive watch has the potential to do more harm than good. Whilst I have used a dive watch sporadically throughout my time, I have never personally owned one. As such, my experience comes from using friend’s watches, or using the devices provided on freediving courses.
I was prompted to write this article after more than a few people at the start of their spearfishing journey messaged me to ask what dive watch they needed for spearfishing.
I've been spearfishing for about 15 years now. I had started after watching a friend who was involved in the sport, and instantly I was hooked.
Prior to spearfishing, I already had a massive connection with the ocean, which I had gained from snorkelling at a young age, and jumping off big cliffs around Torquay into the ocean. This involved avoiding rocks both above and below the water, which was dangerous stuff.
I had already been spearfishing for a couple of years before completing a PADI scuba course for my birthday. This was when I began to learn more about the technical side of diving, and whilst most of this wasn't too relevant to spearfishing or freediving, it did put a dive computer on my wrist and teach me to keep an eye on my depth. From then on, I wasn't too enthused by scuba diving. Lugging all the gear around seemed incredibly restricting and unnatural after years of spearfishing. Nonetheless, it was a fantastic experience.
The next time I used a dive watch was on a spearfishing trip in Fiji, where I trialled one for a week and a half of diving, and subsequently on freediving courses I completed in Malta and the UK. I enjoyed the novelty of having a dive watch and the ability to precisely calculate depth instead of just going “yeahhh that’s about 12m”. I have also since borrowed friend's watches whilst diving in the UK, Australia, Thailand and the Philippines.
I can understand how dive watches can be beneficial to spearos, and I have witnessed this through my primary dive buddy Andy. He purchased a dive watch, and this pushed him to accentuate his diving through deeper dives and extended bottom times. It's an excellent device for sure and used correctly.
Here's what I don't like about dive watches. I have unfortunately witnessed individuals become fixated on the digits that dive watches produce, which I believe is dangerous because it can mislead and distract a diver from the dangers of depth and breath-hold.
I'd go one step further by stating that dive watches can, and have, killed people. I dive each day according to the day. I do not time each dive, nor do I record the depths to which I’m diving. I play each day as it comes. Some days, I feel more comfortable and will go deeper. Other days I don't. Now whilst I have a rubbish conception of time in the water (sorry to anyone who has done a 6 hour + dive with me waiting for me to come back to shore), I do have my GoPro recording some dives, so I know roughly what my bottom times are.
Some clips show me on the bottom for 20 seconds. Other dives have shown me on the bottom for close to 2 minutes when distracted by marine life, deep in thought or waiting for a fish to come in to be shot.
I instinctively listen to my body. Without the dive watch, I am less focused on comparing myself to previous performances and more focused on just listening to what my body is saying. Each day is uniquely different and your body’s condition, its fuel (food and drink), mental state, water temperature, visibility, fish life, the weather, location with also differ day to day all of these things play a factor in your breath-hold.
I generally believe no two dives are the same. Whilst they may be incredibly similar, all it takes is one extra fish on the bottom that manages to grab your attention to be enough to impact your breath-hold.
This is because distractions or tasks can allow you to ignore the body's natural alarm system. Some of the longest dives I have on camera are me watching a strange interaction or waiting for that fish just hanging on the edge to come in that little closer.
Having a dive watch on your wrist allows you to concentrate on exactly how long you've been holding your breath and at what depth you are at. This is why I find them so dangerous, as divers can become so fixated on the numbers and achieving certain goals instead of listening to their body’s innate response to the dive time and depth. Hence, unless you are explicitly capable of seeing the numbers as only a useful set of data and not a standard level of achievement, dive watches can be a dangerous tool.
Let's say you can dive all day to 20m with a minute on the bottom each dive. If you are diving in 14m and you begin to feel slightly uncomfortable, you may check your watch and discover that you've only been holding your breath for 20 seconds. You will see the depth and time displayed and decide to hold for at least another 40 seconds as expected from a typical dive. This is where watches can be bloody dangerous.
Another situation where I find dive watches to be dangerous is when dives are combined with a competitive and self-determined personality. This is a personality trait that I sometimes apply to really random things but thankfully, not spearfishing anymore. By constantly seeking to beat previously recorded times, it can land you in a world of trouble. Some dive watches will calculate surface rest times and provide the user with a beep to let them know when it's safe to dive again. They may also lock until sufficient time has passed to prevent you from diving before a reasonable surface rest interval. This is an excellent feature, but again you shouldn't disregard what your body tells you just because your watch says it's okay to dive.
Other funky features of dive watches, such as water temperature, may indicate to you when it's likely to encounter certain species of fish, which is of course a general timekeeping piece. To summarise, I think dive watches are an excellent tool for spearfishing if the individual uses them as a guide and not as a target. I do think they can absolutely improve the safety of a spearo.
However, you should always listen to your body first and foremost. It's trying to keep you alive, so pay attention! Don't hold yourself to the performance of your past dives and understand that your performance in the water will fluctuate from day to day, which is totally normal and perfectly okay.
You should only attempt deep dives and personal bests in the company of experienced/trained friends with ideal conditions.
If you are just getting into spearfishing, I’d advise you to not bother with a dive watch to begin with, focus on developing basic snorkel and hunting techniques, as you progress then maybe consider a freediving course and have a play with one there. You can also borrow one off a mate or rent one before committing to purchasing one, as you progress further in your spearfishing journey.
As I said, I've been spearfishing for 15 years, and I have never owned a freediving/spearfishing watch, and yet I rarely go hungry (unless there's a greedy no-good thieving seal about).
Wet Mammal’s Top Tip: Remove your watch before you try removing your wetsuit jacket! Sounds obvious, but if you know someone with a dive watch, I bet they've got themselves into a pickle.
Why don't I have a dive watch? In part, because I'm a tight arse, and I genuinely don't have a need for it for the ground of NSW that I frequently dive. It's enough to get a delicious feed from, and that's all I'm after. If I lived in areas that required deeper and longer dives, I would be more likely to purchase and use one. On the other hand, I don't know if I could trust myself diving solo and become distracted by the digits. I also enjoy going for long dives and having the excuse of not knowing what the time was if I missed important dates. With a timepiece on my wrist, the claim wouldn't stand as well. Perhaps I wrote this whole article to convince close friends and family they are dangerous so I can keep arriving late to meetings while still wet.
Ultimately, a lot of spearfishing comes down to knowing your limitations and discovering your limits gently in good conditions and with qualified or capable people.
Get Wet, Stay Safe, Stay Fed