(Carlo Forni – Editor in Chief)
It is the most debated topic on the security front, and on which no final solution has yet been reached: the ascent from the dive with or without a mouthpiece. The didactics, generally born from pure freediving, strongly indicate the solution without the snorkel, but for spearfishing is this choice the safest? Let’s reopen the debate, this time in the most careful and analytical way possible, and give voice to the undisputed international spearfishing champions in of yesterday and today, who are firmly oriented towards the use of the snorkel during the ascent from the dive. We wanted to give space to all of them and to Gabriele Delbene, the world record holder of Abyssal Spearfishing (-62.4 meters), who with his Global Ascent Maneuver since the early 90s has been struggling to underline its importance. This does not want to be a polemical, but instead constructive, treatment, in the will to analyze again a topic too important to be forgotten. An intense work by the editorial staff of Apneapassion, fundamental, even if it was useful to save one single life!
Global Ascent Maneuver
(by Gabriele Delbene)
Inhale with your nose every couple of seconds throughout the ascent and relax by gently exhaling into the mouthpiece 30 cm from the surface. This in a nutshell is the simple practice of the “Global Ascent Maneuver” or GAM.
This maneuver for the safety of the spearo increases apnea right at the most critical moment, the ascent, and also gives the concrete possibility to recover from a possible syncope afloat breathing in the snorkel, the most statistically frequent situation. It is a natural habit of simple learning and execution, used very often even unwittingly by the most expert fishermen. I began to understand its safety advantages in 1989, when a well-known spearo told me about an illuminating episode that took away any doubts about how to use the snorkel while spearfishing. At the time, although the rule of mouthpiece prevailed, it was also very fashionable to ventilate with the mouthpiece detached from the strap of the mask and then hold it in your hand or put it on your belt for the whole dive. This excellent agonist who fished in solitude told me that he had awakened from a syncope at least a hundred meters away from the buoy. He was fishing deep and realized he was in great difficulty in ascending. Then the black out. From the reconstruction of the facts, the spearo syncopated a few meters below the surface and by inertia reached the air with the flooded snorkel and floated due to the very positive setup, remaining for the whole time of the respiratory arrest in the position with the belly under and the mouthpiece inserted in the mouth. Upon the involuntary resumption of respiratory stimuli, our survivor first swallowed a few cubic centimeters of sea water (practically physiological solution) contained in the mouthpiece, but then he also sucked in a very important volume of air which slowly brought him back to consciousness. From that story I understood that I would never take the mouthpiece out of my mouth again and this was the basic pillar of my subsequent considerations on Global Ascent Maneuver (GAM). As I summarized in the introduction, a basic aspect of the GAM is to breathe in the air of the mask with the nose while ascending, and the other in the facilitated emptying of the mouthpiece. Now we will analyze the first phase in more detail.
Phase 1: the recovery of air from the mask
The Global Ascent Maneuver is divided into two phases. The first is the recovery of air from the mask and the second is the facilitated expiration. In the first phase you will simply have to breathe-in with your nose every couple of seconds on the way up, something very similar to what the child does with a cold runny nose. But why should we do this and what advantages does it bring?
During the first seconds of the dive, in the descent to the bottom, we are forced to compensate the mask to avoid the famous sucker effect. The surface pressure equal to an atmosphere increases by one atmosphere every ten meters of depth. This means that at the initial average volume of a mask quantifiable in about 150 cubic centimeters (go to the Super Test of the masks), we should add another 150 cubic centimeters every 10 meters of depth, blowing them inside, otherwise the mask will crush on the face. Where does the air introduced into the mask come from and what characteristics does it have? We know that the air space between the mouth and the bronchi welcomes at least one liter of air. We also know that gaseous exchanges occur in the pulmonary alveoli, the most capillary branches of the bronchioles where blood contact occurs. Then in the tracheobronchial area, in the first seconds of apnea rich oxygenated air will be stationed, the last to have entered during the final forced inspiration, and which has not yet moved, mixed, nor has it been “worked” by the exchanges. Descending, in those about 35/40 seconds that the spearo will take to reach 30 meters, 150cc every ten meters are moved from this liter of air. So in the mask there will be 600cc (150 initials plus 450 insufflated) of air reduced to a quarter of their volume which allows that quota to keep the shape of the mask unchanged. On the bottom, the gaseous exchanges continue between the air molecules trapped in the alveoli. There is also a blood behaviour known as blood shift. A large mass of blood flows and stagnates in the pulmonary circulation, with a protective function against crushing of the organs, but which with its hydropneumatic action contributes, together with the onset of diaphragmatic contractions, to mix the alveolar air rich at this point of CO2 (anhydride carbon) with the oxygenated one that is located between the mouth and bronchioles. From this mixing, however, the volume of air enclosed in the mask remains excluded, which, even if in communication with everything else, practically becomes a substantially isolated space. In fact, the communication between mask and internal air spaces is ensured only by the passage that flows into the nostrils, a tortuous and narrow gooseneck that hinders spontaneous flows. Imagine a heated apartment: if you open a window from where cold air enters, the first rooms to cool down will be those with the doors wide open and only later the ones with the door ajar. On the ascent it happens that the pressure decreases quickly and therefore the air in the mask in a few seconds would quadruple its volume reaching the surface. If we do not voluntarily recover it by moving such air towards the lungs, it will simply come out of the mask and we will lose it. In fact, without mainly voluntary action, the air will tend to go upwards, it will be easier to overcome the weak resistance at the exit offered by the mask than to return downwards through the narrow neck-shaped channel that starts from the nostrils. By observing some less experienced spearos, it will be easy to identify the dispersion in the form of a very long trail of micro bubbles that comes out of the mask from the moment of detachment from the bottom to the surface. Adding all those micro bubbles we will get half a liter of air. It is exactly as if we were constantly and slightly exhaling on the ascent. From now on, try to notice in the videos the ascents of the apnea champions and those of the less experienced apnea fishermen. You will see that the samples very rarely disperse air. So those who do not recover it are letting go of the equivalent of almost half a liter of air which, on a medium-sized person, represent 10%, 15% of the total of their air supply. If we accept the concept that the greater supply of air and therefore of O2 (oxygen) has a proportional role with the time of apnea, from the theoretical point of view then the total apnea time would probably be missing almost the same percentages. So potentially a one and a half minute apnea performed at 30m of bottom with air recovery could gain another 10 of those 90 seconds going to one minute and 40 seconds.
The advantage in the critical moment
But those seconds earned when they are made available?
Here is one of the great advantages of the Global Ascent Maneuver; in fact, this gain of oxygen and time occurs in the critical moment par excellence, the last seconds of the ascent. The feeling of sudden well-being that occurs only a few seconds after you have started to “breathe” from the nose after detaching it from the bottom is unmistakable for those who practice it. This could also be explained by the fact that it would take a few seconds in the presence of the diaphragmatic contractions to remix the richly oxygenated pure air coming from the mask, which would slowly take the place of that now spoiled inside the alveoli. A few additional seconds to allow this supply to reach the alveoli and then a few seconds for the O2 to spread and reach the brain. To try to give a physiological explanation, I can only hypothesize that in the ascent just the instantaneous and inverse failure of the blood compartmentalization creates a blood “stagnation” which for Boyle’s law will create a greater intrathoracic overpressure functional to the continuation of the gas exchanges against the theoretical osmotic gradient.
Phase 2: simplified exhalation without respiratory effort
The second phase is called facilitated exhalation and takes place about 20 \ 30 cm from the surface. It simply consists of relaxing by gently breathing out and holding the mouthpiece in your mouth. In those last tenths of a second that separate us from the surface, we voluntarily stop holding the air. This will not involve ANY EXPIRATORY EFFORT but only abandonment, relaxation. In fact, only our voluntary action will keep us in this forced inhalation condition. The air is transferred to the mouthpiece, expands expelling the water out. The air flow at the beginning of the exhalation is light and controlled. The larger volume will come out once it reaches the surface by completing the exhalation. We will therefore find ourselves floating with a free snorkel without having made ANY FURTHER MUSCLE CONTRACT (expiratory effort). I remember that the most ancient technique involved reaching afloat and then spitting vigorously the water still present in the mouthpiece which, being at that moment under gravity, had a certain weight to overcome in order to be expelled. This effort could make the difference between staying conscious or going into syncope in the most critical phase. It was easy to understand when all this happened by observing, but also by listening to a freediver on the surface. You could see a puff of vertical water similar to that of a whale accompanied by an unmistakable dry and pouring noise. Subsequently the teaching decided, by virtue of this, not to make this effort by exhaling without holding the mouthpiece in the mouth. For the pure freediver there are nothing but advantages. The freedivers know that they train in groups on the cable relying at least on the presence at the surface of a partner ready to intervene. The snorkel makes friction in motion during the long paths of pure apnea and constitutes an obstacle. Furthermore, there is no need not to lose eye contact with the continuous observation of the surrounding environment, an aspect that is really important for the spearo.
Fishing in pairs with a single speargun
We must dutifully reiterate that fishing in pairs with a single rifle and floating attitude even in complete exhalation is the ONLY INFALLIBLE FORM OF PREVENTION from the results of syncopal accidents. We also know that it is not always easy to give up our passion because the favorite companion may not be there that day. From an educational point of view, it is all too obvious that the FIRST POINT is to develop spearfishing teaching to be always in pairs with a single loaded rifle. While doing this, however, one must not forget reality. Currently how many are those who adopt real fishing in pairs checking each dive? Let’s say a 5% to be generous. Fishing alone, a very human mistake, that can cost us our lives.
In the realistic case where the spearo is alone and in syncope, floating on the surface, after a few seconds of blackout, an involuntary stimulus to breathing would push him to inhale deeply. IF, BUT ONLY IF he has had in this moment of panic the presence of spirit and the lucidity to do it, he will have put himself in the best position to breathe. He will have abandoned leads, mask and snorkel to float face up in the classic position of the dead afloat. The point is this. Syncope is treacherous, you know. It often arrives even a few seconds after the ventilation position has been reached.
Possible scenarios in the syncopal accident
At this point there are 3 possible scenarios.
SCENARIO 1: WITHOUT THE SNORKEL, and therefore with a free mouth, the function of the snorkel to maintain communication between the immersed mouth and the air is missing, the spearo inhales only water that floods the lungs, makes the setup negative and the diver sinks or in any case, if he has a very positive base setup, he drowns on the surface.
SCENARIO 2: WITH FLOODED SNORKEL, (about 5% of hypothetical cases), the diver by inertia reaches the surface, floats face down forced by the balance of the limbs. Even if he faints a few meters below the surface he exhales and therefore only floods the snorkel. In fact, the respiratory block associated with the glossa pharyngeal reflex withdraws the tongue and temporarily closes the glottis and the face-down position also prevents water access until the moment of the arrival of the involuntary respiratory stimulus that occurs in the unconscious phase after some seconds. At this point the spearo inhales a few cubic centimeters of water, but also a lot of air which gives him the opportunity to recover on his own, as happened in the episode described in the introduction.
SCENARIO 3: WITH EMPTY SNORKEL (95% of hypothetical cases), which is also the statistically most frequent situation. The diver is in sync afloat, sometimes even several seconds after having re-emerged, the mouthpiece well held in position by the teeth is completely emptied, the mouth does not flood because it behaves like a glass placed vertically with the bottom turned towards the top. When the involuntary stimuli is generated, he begins to breathe calmly, returning to consciousness after a few seconds.
Freediving and spearfishing didactics require important differences. Currently spearos who have trained with freediving courses are encouraged to use an unsafe solution without the snorkel in their mouth. There are dozens of cases of people who have awakened after a syncope only because they have kept the airways in communication with the air. Since the 90s I have been teaching the Global Ascent Maneuver in my personal teaching dedicated to spearfishing and also one of my students, Fulvio Mancaruso has saved himself from certain death using the MGR. The time has come to change the protocols also of other didactics in the face of the evidence reported by the case studies and deductions. Together with 8 doctors we conducted a scientific experiment on the maneuver that could not find any weak point in the advanced hypotheses. The same recovery of air from the mask during the ascent phase of the dive has long been criticized by Apnea Academy didactic. I am particularly pleased that today such technique is finally taught in their courses. I think we should review the teaching of the use of the snorkel for spearos, with the same willingness to listen and experiment that was finally used to adopt phase 1 of the MAG, the recovery of the air from the mask used in the descent phase to equalize it.
The great Champions pro ascent with the snorkel
(by Carlo Forni)
The Global Ascent Maneuver is very interesting and Gabriele Delbene’s explanations somewhat convincing. But such an important journalistic treatise cannot be based on the experience and considerations of a single athlete, albeit 2004 Team Vice-World Champion and 1999 Team European Vice-Champion, particularly expert in deep fishing and record holder of Abyssal Spearfishing, graduate in science of osteopathy and in motor sciences, therefore with in-depth medical knowledge, and who in any case has subjected and tested his teaching by confronting 8 doctors. We wanted to go further and consult the greatest international champions of yesterday and today in the world of spearfishing, rather than analyzing their ascent technique: José Amengual, Pedro Carbonell, Jody Lot, Oscar Cervantes, Daniel Gospic, Giacomo De Mola, Stefano Bellani and Riccardo Molteni. All of them strongly acknowledged the importance on the safety front of using the snorkel when ascending from the dive. We have published the comments of some of them and created a short video collection with images that show how all of them hold the snorkel in the mouth during the ascent phase and uses phase 2 of the Global Ascent Maneuver. We hope these evidences and professional testimonials help to reopen the topic of safety didactic in spearfishing, highlighting the important differences compared to freediving. We will always be here to give voice also to those, among champions and experts, who would like to highlight aspects that in some way, however, support the non-use of the snorkel in the ascent phase (email@example.com).
Pedro Carbonell – 3 times World Champion and 4 times Euro-African Champion
“Nobody actually told me to fish with the snorkel in my mouth, but I always did it, it’s almost instinctive, natural. I must say that, by the way, although I never had a syncope (a Taravana yes, but with a support boat, when I was 19 years old), I know two cases that by using the technique with the snorkel in the mouth during the ascent from the dive have saved their lives. The first, during a competition, told me that he found himself at 200 meters from the buoy, on a day with little current, and therefore he estimated that he had lost consciousness for at least 20 minutes. Only having the mouthpiece in his mouth allowed him to breathe again and not to drown. This solution saved his life. Another case was of a spearo who told me that he was fishing on a landslide, and that he woke up 100 meters from the coast. He was certainly fainted and even here the snorkel in the mouth in the ascent saved his life.
The release of air is automatic if it is done a few centimeters from the surface, and does not require any additional effort, on the contrary. What is important is also to position the snorkel well, not laterally, but posteriorly, with the tube blocked at 3-4 centimeters in length thanks to the mask buckle.
It is essential to distinguish between pure freediving and spearfishing, the difference is great and the teaching cannot be the same. It is clear that by practicing pure apnea the snorkel can be a nuisance for several reasons, but we also know that there is always surface support when trying the performance. This is not the case for spearfishing. It is unthinkable to imagine going back, among other things, with your head back in the hope that, in case of fainting, the body will remain afloat upwards. In my opinion it is impossible. The natural position of the body if you lose your senses due to syncope is the one with the belly under, and in that case the snorkel in your mouth can save your life.
I can confirm that Josè Amengual has always spearfished with the snorkel in his mouth in the ascent phase, and honestly all the athletes and champions I know use the same technique.”
Giacomo De Mola – Master de Palma title 2019 and 2020 and current Euro-African team Champion
“I personally keep the snorkel in the mouth all the time. I believe that if the spearo is victim of syncope on the surface, he will not be seen by his companion or boatman or in an extreme situation in which he is only in the water (which is not recommended, but happens) with the snorkel in your mouth he has the possibility, albeit remote, to start breathing again autonomously and have the airways in contact with the air.
Without the snorkel in such situations (from experience, I have happened to save several friends in this situation) the diver finds himself face down on the surface of the sea and without help he would remain in this position and would drown.
All of this, provided that the snorkel is emptied in the last 10-20 centimeters, before the head comes out of the water, as if looking at the sky and at the same time effortlessly emptying the snorkel from the water. So, in this position, the spearo will not have to expel the column of water vertically inside the snorkel, which instead could cause syncope in extreme situations. This technique, if it becomes a habit, in my opinion could save us in extreme situations.”
Daniel Gospic – World Champion and 2 times Euro African Champion
“99% of my dives are with the mouthpiece in my mouth. Sometimes I take it off, because especially in the den it seems strange to fish with the snorkel, but then when I go back up I put it back in my mouth. There are two reasons why I do it. One of simple practicality and effectiveness of the catch, because when I go up I am already in a forward position with my face and I can continue to scrutinize the seabed without interruptions. A second element, fundamental for all spearos, is safety. Keeping the snorkel in the mouth when re-emerging can make the difference if you lose consciousness. At that point, if you have emptied the snorkel from the water a few tens of cm before the surface, and therefore without any effort, you will almost always be on the surface in a horizontal position and belly down. In case of fainting, on some occasions we will be able to automatically resume breathing without obstructions thanks to the mouthpiece emptied of water. I myself have heard of a spearo who, holding the snorkel in his mouth, passed out for syncope, was found several minutes later and 100 meters from his moored boat.
The snorkel always serves as a protection that separates the lungs from the sea water. Even if you come out of the water with a wavy sea, or because of the simple wave that can be generated by the support boat, not having the snorkel in place determines the possibility that your mouth will flood with the water of the wave, just at the most critical moment in which you are recovering perhaps from a challenging dive. I voluntarily position myself in the last few centimeters of the ascent with my body partially horizontal to find myself in the most correct and safe position. I believe in this safety solution with the snorkel in the mouth, which differs from the practices of freediving, where you always have support on the surface and always go up and down vertically, while in fishing you move horizontally underwater, so that even a possible fishing partner may not spot you on the surface. “
Stefano Bellani – World and Euro-African Champion
“I respect organizations like Apnea Academy (and other schools) that has created a real teaching for freediving and safety at sea and that has done an extraordinary job for the safety of those who go to sea. I am convinced, however, that there are important differences between freediving and spearfishing that require some different aspects of teaching, also to protect those who trained with freediving and then became spearos, or even spearfishing instructors.
What should be highlighted is the difference between freediving and spearfishing. In the first, the performance is often brought to the limit and, above all, with one or more companions waiting at the surface. The snorkel is removed from the strap of the mask to be more hydrodynamic, and the goal is 100% deep-water performance. In spearfishing it would be important to be at least two, and in any case this works by fishing alternately with a single speargun, and even in that case in deep dives it often happened to me, with misty water, not to see my fishing partner go back up because he had moved by carrying out an underwater fishing action. Among other things, we know that unfortunately the spearo is a loner and therefore in case of syncope on the surface no one will be able to help him. At this point ascending in the last meter with the snorkel in the mouth and the face absolutely facing upwards, exhaling slightly, with the tube that will be facing downwards and so it will practically empty itself without requiring any effort, will allow us to find ourselves with the head out of the water, the tube emptied and the possibility to breathe in immediately to recover air, with the exhalation already carried out, gaining 1 or 2 seconds. To this will be added the key point: the snorkel as a lifeline in case of syncope.
It is clear to me that in deep dives, where obviously there is a greater risk of syncope, if ballasted correctly, and therefore positive as per teaching, returning to the surface and with the snorkel in the mouth you have a chance to save yourself even after losing consciousness. The brain, in fact, after a time varying from 10 seconds onwards will stimulate the restart of breathing even if the subject is still unconscious. I know several people who have saved themselves in this way. A friend of mine in particular, years ago saved himself in this way, even recovering several minutes after passing out, and finding himself in the middle of the sea away from the anchored dinghy. He had lost consciousness, but the mouthpiece emptied of water had allowed him to breathe again a little later, still unconscious, and to recover his senses again minutes later. I also had fishing companions who returned to the surface apparently in good condition, after a few breaths suddenly passed out. If they were alone they would have drowned, but with the snorkel in their mouth they would probably have floated and would have recovered later.
It is clear that keeping the snorkel in your mouth can save in those cases where the spearo reached the surface and was able to breathe. So even if this technique served to save a single life, it would justify the commitment to learn how to practice it.
This is my comment that I will want and will certainly deepen in a service dedicated exclusively to safety that I will propose in the pages of Apneapassion.com ”
Oscar Cervantes – Current Euro-African Champion and 3 victories in the Master de Palma
Apneapassion: There have been medical scientific experiments that would seem to show that the face-down position is the statistically most frequent position in the case of a syncope of an spearo. Have you ever passed out?
Oscar Cervantes: It happened to me and I also saw people with me pass out.
AP: In your opinion, what would be the position of the body in that unfortunate event?
OC: Rigid body and chin down.
AP: We all quite agree that the syncope that catches the spearo occurs near the surface and in most cases even several seconds after re-emerging. Obviously, fishing in pairs (constant companion check) with a single speargun is the only precaution that can give very high chances of success in the rescue operation. In the event, however, that you may find yourself floating unconscious after a syncope, there seem to be numerous testimonies of people who awakened by themselves breathing in the snorkel, sometimes even at a certain distance from where the syncope occurred. As you know, after a time that can oscillate between a few seconds and a minute after the respiratory arrest, the stimulus to breathing resumes even if we are passed out. What would you think if you didn’t have the snorkel in your mouth at the time?
OC: I think it is better to keep the snorkel in your mouth, and in fact I always prefer to do so, and I think it is also a good solution for safety.
AP: In addition to you, we interviewed other Champions who use GAM. Gabriele Delbene, who tried to describe and teach this practice since many years, claims to have understood in 1989 that the snorkel in the mouth could save his life. This happened following the story of a well-known agonist who, passed out after a bad syncope, woke up breathing in the mouthpiece more than 100 meters away from where he had emerged in difficulty. Have you ever heard the story of someone who has woken up from his lonely syncope with the snorkel in his mouth?
OC: Yes, several times and in particular by one of my fishing companions who one day went fishing alone and woke up about 25 minutes after the syncope 500 meters from the boat.
AP: Imagining for a moment to be able to insert the MAG into the didactics of spearfishing, or to have to teach the student to go belly up to the sky when, among other things, the mind is blurred, in your opinion which of these two situations would guarantee more safety?
OC: I always recommend carrying the snorkel in your mouth, it is much safer and more comfortable.
Riccardo Molteni – Team World Champion and Italian Champion
“I state that I am not a doctor and therefore my indications are purely experiential. I certainly do not pretend to affirm things that are necessarily the most correct.
Personally I had a single hypoxic syncope incident when I was 19 years old and the inexperience combined with the frenzy led me to shoot a fish and then fight to get it out of a den. Among other things, I was too heavy with leads and going up I was told that I passed out and sunk again. My fishing buddy recovered me, tying the line on my wrist and risking syncope himself. Then with a little luck we both saved ourselves.
Apart from this episode, I remember at least 12 occasions on which my fishing companions went into syncope and I had to save them. Of these, 3 have not even reached the surface and, like me at 19, have sunk vertically. The other 9 have reached the surface, and all when they are passed out they have assumed the position of floating on the surface with belly down and face in the water. It is clear that if left alone in these conditions and without the snorkel in the mouth the situation would have resulted in a tragedy, with drowning.
I have a spearo friend who has had 3 or 4 syncopations in his career. In particular, he told me about an occasion when he was fishing alone and must have passed out on the surface. Well, he found himself more than 150 meters from the pedagno, without the speargun, in a prone position. He had started breathing again after passing out thanks to the fact that he had the snorkel in his mouth. This experience certainly confirms the importance in certain critical situations of keeping the snorkel in the mouth. If it weren’t so, my friend would have breathed water and would certainly have drowned.
I am an FIPSAS and ISDA instructor, important didactics with which I teach courses to various students. Regarding the use of the snorkel personally during my lessons I present the “reasons” of both solutions, with and without it in the mouth. The first, however, is the one that I apply and on which I would have no doubts, having tested both from my personal experience.
The Global Ascent Maneuver has been applied automatically for a long time in both phases 1 (recovery of air from the mask) and 2 (keeping the snorkel in the mouth and emptying near the surface). Even the ascent with the glottis open, especially in deep dives and at the beginning of the season, when training is not yet at its peak, allows in my opinion to avoid the risk of hemoptysis, i.e. micro lung barotraumas. Finally, I must say that by carrying out the “hands-free” equalization, the snorkel in the mouth also helps me in this sense by promoting the mobilization of the jaw. ”
All the examples of the Champions in a video
In order to “touch with your hand” the way the greatest International spearfishing Champions of yesterday and today use the technique of ascent with the snorkel in the mouth, we wanted to create a short video showing the various champions in the last moments of the ascent, with snorkel in the mouth and release of the air with emptying of the snorkel a few tens of centimeters from the surface. Thanks to Reivax Films and Apnea Service by Stefano Tovaglieri for some of the images in this video.