Updated: Aug 8
Open water dives come in many shapes and sizes, some are turbulent ocean dives where a floatation device is essential to rest in between dives and catch your breath. Some open water dives are shallow, pool-like environments that don’t require anything, while others are deep but motionless on the surface and require a line to mark depth and provide safety (And transportation in the Free Immersion specialty). While you can always travel with a dive shop and utilize their open water gear, if you want to go on your own, there are a few essential pieces of equipment you need.
I want to drop a little note here about why I’m writing this article. The first time I started Freediving with my buddies, I used a cheap marine line to 50 Ft, 10lbs of ankle weights, and a scuba buoy… It was a nightmare and I had near-zero progress with this system; but alas, I know what not to do, and that is priceless. (Another note: this was far before I was an instructor and it is a miracle nothing bad happened to me. LEARN FROM MY MISTAKES)
First things first, the Buoy. The buoy consists of a fabric material wrapped around an inflation device and includes handles, an internal storage compartment for the excess line or storing cameras, and D-rings on the side and bottom that allow you to attach a pulley system, clip equipment like flashlights, and affix the buoy into one place. There are many buoys on the market but they generally share all of the attributes above. Keep in mind, the main reason you use a Complete Buoy system is to provide a lifeline to the surface and when it comes to safety, you can’t go too far.
The line isn’t any old marine cord or climbing rope, it is a purpose-specific piece of equipment that is made to be submerged underwater and stored in a dry place. This is NOT a dynamic line for you Rock Climbers, this is a static line. The last thing you want when you are pulling yourself up from depth is unnecessary stretching in the cordage, stealing your momentum, and decreasing your efficiency. Once you find a line, it may or may not have depth markers already on it. This is essential to diving, and if it doesn’t come with this, it’s best to break out the measuring tape and start marking your own. Some retailers will do this for you but for an extra fee.
I remember my first piece of line was a marine cord purchased from Academy, not only was their significant discomfort when gripping it, but it broke as I was pulling myself to the surface… Not ideal. Thankfully I had fins on and had an easy exfiltration, but my ankle weights were lost to the depths and all diving was out of the question until I had some professional materials to work with.
The Pulley System:
The pulley system is relatively uncomplicated. You need a pulley specifically for Freediving, or you don’t have a pulley system. To my knowledge, the Octopus pulley is the only one I have seen. The rope has to pass freely through one end while engaging the closure device on the other end. You may be thinking, as I first did naively, why not just tie in at the depth I’m going to? The answer is threefold: tying and untying under pressure is not feasible, you will change depths to warm up and you should always have the line ending at the depth you are planning to dive to; finally, for safety, if a diver is down the line and has exceeded a reasonable dive time without any advance warning, it's time to start pulling up the line, and this is simply not possible without the pulley system.
The Lanyard System:
The Lanyard is our connection to this system and even though it can be tempting to go without it, even when the water is clear, anytime depth extends past 10 meters, or you simply lose visibility with your buddy, you need to have a lanyard. Lanyard types and placement vary depending on the type of dive you are doing. If you are doing Constant Weight Bi-fins, you will have the lanyard attached to your wrist. If you are diving Free-Immersion, the lanyard will be attached to your ankle. If you are doing No-fins, the lanyard will be attached to a belt around your waist. These locations and lanyard types enable you to safely make the dive without the connection point getting in the way of your movement.
The Line-Stopper / Bottom Plate:
While it isn’t the bottom of the system, the Line-Stopper/ Bottom Plate is the end of your dive. The Line-Stopper serves as a place that will stop the lanyard from going to the weight and ensure that it doesn’t become tangled. The Line-Stopper should be at the exact depth you are trying to reach (If you are wearing a dive computer, you can hold the Line-Stopper and it should give you this exact reading). The Bottom Plate is reserved for competition and becomes the point where your target depth is reached. In a competitive dive, the line will be lowered to the exact depth you are attempting and the Bottom Plate will have tags clipped into it that can be pulled off and returned to the surface with proof that you completed your dive.
The Weight System:
This simple piece of webbing holds the weight on the bottom of the line, it is what keeps it stabilized as we travel up and down. If you are using Free-Immersion, you need to use additional weight because you will physically be pulling the line from the surface. One important note to consider, if you are in an environment with Scuba divers, be extremely careful when lowering the weight down. The last thing you want on a Scuba dive is to be hit with 20+ lbs of weight dropping from the surface. Remember, divers wearing rebreathers don’t make bubbles, so it's best to stay on the safe side and always lower in a controlled manner.
Extra: The humble Pool Noodle
Ah yes, the Pool Noodle! While this doesn’t really have a lot to do with the Buoy system, it is fantastic to have at the surface! When you're trying to relax between dives, you don’t want to be spending energy on the surface, pop a pool noodle between your legs, and float, you won’t regret it!