A growing number of REEF surveyors are participating in the Volunteer Fish Survey Project by freediving. They find that the lack of scuba equipment frees them of many of the hassles of getting in the water, and they are able to have closer encounters with marine life because of the lack of bubbles.

When you submit a REEF survey done by freediving, please mark an Average Depth of 'Snorkel', and a Maximum Depth of whatever your actual max depth was.

We've consulted with some of our freediving surveyors and asked them for tips and helpful hints to share with others who engage in this method of gathering data for the Volunteer Fish Survey Project.

Chuck and Kara Curry have these tips:

  • Always dive with a buddy.  When diving below 20’ or so, we always have one person at the surface acting as a safety buddy while the other person does their dive.This is usually the first point emphasized in a freediving course. 
  • When we survey while freediving we limit our depth based on visibility that day.  Even if we have the ability to dive deeper, our rule is that the person on the surface should always be able to see their buddy for their entire dive.
  • Take a freediving course. Though the dividing line between diving under the surface while snorkeling and freediving is not clearly defined, many training agencies say you’re freediving when you dive below 33’ and/or your dive lasts for more than 30 seconds. As with SCUBA certification, there are some important safety considerations, skills and freedive physiology to learn before you start holding your breath and diving down.
  • Take a float with a dive flag so you’re visible to boats. We use a surfboard leash to trail our float when we’re surveying in shallow water. When we get in deeper water and start alternating dives, the leash gets tucked away and the person on the surface holds the float. The float also serves as a buoyant resting place for a diver returning to the surface. We attach our survey slates to the float (we use dog bones) once we start our deeper dives. We also use the float to attach a water bottle, the water shoes we wear to enter the water, a zinc oxide stick, and a camera (when we take one).
  • We talk about how we want to cover a site before getting in the water. If we are familiar with the site we usually have a plan for the different habitat types and areas that we want to visit.
  • Typically, we start by snorkel surveying in the shallows and then work our way into deeper water, slowly increasing our depth and breath-hold times as we go. After we’ve reached our depth limit and/or number of deep dives for the session, we work our way back into shallow water, diving and surveying as we go, until we reach the exit.
  • Surveying while freediving can take you quite a distance from shore into deep water. It’s important to keep an eye on the wind, current and waves. Be sure to save plenty of energy to kick back to shore even if conditions deteriorate.
  • While shallow, we both have our slates on a wrist strap. We mark as we go and call out any exciting finds to our buddy. While in deeper water and alternating dives, the returning diver communicates what new species they saw and points out where to look for them before the other diver takes their turn. We mark our slates at the surface float in between dives.
  • Even in deep water, there’s often lots to see from the surface so the surveying never stops!

Matt Dowell, one of our freediving volunteer surveyors in California also adds:

  • One thing, more of a comment than a tip, is that while snorkeling or free diving will limit your access to some species, it will increase access to others. You'll be able to see some of the more skittish-behaviored species, and assess more easily shallow water habitat that is often overlooked by SCUBA divers but is rich in fish species nonetheless.