Every time I go spearfishing I always have to face that question: how deep am I willing to go? I know it’s not the ideal question that a spearo should ask themselves. Rather it’s how much pressure is safe for your body and vital organs?
The quick answer as to the ideal depth that spearfishers should not exceed is a range between 5 and 25 meters. Less than 5 meters is too shallow to find any decent fish and more than 25 meters is just too dangerous. Whether you’re doing this for fun or as a source of income, you need to be aware of the risks.
It’s all about finding your sweet spot. Some people can dive to great depths, but which depth you can equalize to is the right depth for you. This is not a competition and you need to be aware of the dangers that come with great depths.
Spearfishing at 5 Meters Deep
For most beginners starting spearfishing at 5 meters seems too easy and unchallenging to be even entertained. They look at the more experienced spearos taking risks and going to depths of 20 and 25 meters and the novice in them feels like they’re missing out. Like the good fish swim near the bottom of the ocean or something. Which of course is not true. If anything, it’s the other way round.
Truth is, there’s nothing wrong with knowing your limits and respecting the increasing pressure underwater every extra meter you surpass. As a novice, you need to understand what goes on in your body and how the pressure is like. At 5 meters, you get just about the same pressure as the normal atmosphere above the water. What this means is your body will not be subjected to the extra pressure that might impact your lungs, blood pressure, or cardiovascular system.
So how about the fish you meet at this depth? For the most part, you’ll come across the most common species from groupers to trouts depending on whether you’re spearfishing in fresh or saltwater. It’s true you might run into large schools of fish at this depth, but you have the advantage of having better visibility and the ability to spend a longer time underwater without having to equalize or encountering nasty incidents when getting out of the water.
Spearfishing at 10 Meters Deep
Doubling your depth threshold underwater automatically doubles the pressure around you. Pressure not only affects your skin and impacts the suit you choose, it also can wreak havoc on your internal organs. At 10 meters you start to feel the change in the water temperature. Even in warm regions, the water temperature drops the further away from the surface you go. So if you think you can go spearfishing in your swimsuit at 10 meters depth, think again.
Your lungs will probably be the first vital organ that alerts you to the increasing pressure underwater. In normal atmospheric pressure, your lungs need to expand to fill up with air then contract to expel it after extracting oxygen. But in double atmosphere pressure, your lungs will struggle to expand as the excessive pressure tries to crush them. To protect your lungs from collapsing, more blood will rush to that area to equalize the pressure inside your lungs and keep them functional.
At this depth, you can start to come across some decent fish species. Large hogfish and groupers roam in schools at this depth. However, visibility tends to drop at this depth and you’ll need to turn on your underwater light to zoom in on your targets. In most bodies of freshwater such as lakes and ponds, 10 meters is usually the deepest part of these waterways. So you might encounter some really big fish down there.
Spearfishing at 15 Meters Deep
Now we’re getting serious about spearfishing. At 15 meters you’re swimming in two and a half times the regular atmosphere. By now you’ve had hundreds of diving hours under your belt and you’re getting confident with your abilities not just to withstand pressure but also handle yourself underwater. But if a 10 meters depth made you feel like your lungs were being crushed, you should see what 15 meters under the ocean surface will do to your body.
As you probably know there are many cavities in our skull. These are called the cranial airspace. They include the sinuses, laryngeal, middle ear, and pharyngeal. As with air-filled cavities, the more pressure you are exposed to the more unstable the pressure inside these cavities gets.
Take the middle ear airspace for example. It helps you maintain your balance in whatever position you’re in. Whether you’re on your back or on your feet, your middle ear keeps you aware of your place. Extra pressure on your middle ear not only disrupts that balance but can also cause searing pain if you don’t’ equalize.
Visibility around 15 meters is impacted by the number of pollutants in the water. Most bodies of water become dark at this depth. It’s worth noting that it’s mostly saltwater that allows you to dive at this depth.
Spearfishing at 20 Meters Deep
You’re getting close to the big league now. If you can dive to 20 meters underwater chasing those rare fish, your body is approaching athletic form. Naturally, age and body shape in addition to your general health play a major role in helping you swim at this depth. In other words, you need to be in great health and not suffer from any conditions such as blood pressure or heart problems.
It stands to reason that you should get the OK from your doctor before you venture to this great depth. Besides your lungs and cranial space, your heart gets a taste of what it’s like to toil under this great pressure. To counter the great pressure (4 times the normal atmospheric pressure), your heart pumps more blood into your lungs, near your cranial cavities and around your skin areas.
Even if you’re standing still in the water, your heart has to work a double shift to keep your body from giving in to the extreme water pressure. But of course, you’re not still at all. You’re engaged in a high-speed chase as you go after that rare yellowtail you just spotted. This increases the risks of course. We’ll elaborate on those risks below. But now let’s see what it’s like to push yourself to the limits at 25 meters deep.
Spearfishing at 25 Meters deep
You’ve made it. You’ve challenged your body, gotten over your doubts, and taken your mental and physical game to the next level. This is the maximum your body can go underwater while it still helps you chase fish. Naturally, not everyone can make it to this depth. Again, this is not a competition and you don’t have to prove anything to yourself or anyone else.
If your body can handle such great pressure, that’s a testimony to your great physical condition and stamina. You’re battling with 5 times the normal atmosphere and your body is reaching its limit. In addition, you have to face several hazards at this depth. These include:
- Diminished Visibility: At this depth, you can barely see anything in front of your nose without turning your light on. This can be dangerous since large predators tend to swim around you and they’re used to the dark unlike you.
- Prolonged Dives: The longer you stay at this depth the higher the risk of fainting or blacking out. In addition, you’ll need to equalize before you leave such great depths and move up toward the surface.
- Large Fish: You go down with a spear to hunt some rare fish, but you might end up hunted instead. Sharks can sense your presence even if they can’t see you and they’ll zero in on you when you least expect them.
What Are the Risks?
Before you push your body to endure extreme pressure just so you have bragging rights, you need to consider the risks and dangers that come with every extra meter you dive. We’ll go through the most common risks here so that you know what you’re getting yourself in and whether that rare fish is worth the risk.
- Decompression Sickness: If you’ve been following closely you’ll no doubt have noticed that we elaborated on the impact of increased pressure on your body. As you dive deeper you’ll need breathing equipment. Your body absorbs more nitrogen. This nitrogen turns into bubbles in your tissue if you change pressure too fast. This can lead to tissue damage or in severe cases can be fatal.
- Drowning: Even if you’re an excellent swimmer, underwater is a whole different world with its own laws and hazards. Getting disoriented for staying too long under high pressure can lead to blacking out and drowning.
- Rip Currents: You’re swimming close to the shore as instructed but a current might sweep you out into the ocean and put your life in danger. This is why you should never go spearfishing on your own. Always get tips from local experts about the hazards of diving in these waters.
- Ear Damage: Another side effect of exposing your ears to such great pressure underwater is getting ear damage. Unfortunately, sometimes this damage is permanent. This means you could lose hearing in one or both ears for good if you’re not careful and take unnecessary risks.
How Long Do You Need to Hold Your Breath for Spearfishing?
Believe it or not, some people brag about how long they can hold their breath underwater. Naturally, these are novices who still have no experience nor appreciation of the risks involved with diving. However, there’s no clear cut answer to this question.
It’s all about your stamina and physical fitness. Just as some people cannot dive below the 5 meters mark without experiencing a blackout, not everyone can hold their breath for more than 2 minutes.
Unless you’re a sea turtle that can hold its breath for 10 hours straight, you shouldn’t push your lungs to their limits. Always remember that spearfishing is a fun sport meant to be enjoyed not to put yourself at risk.