Perils of spear fishing

AFTER two accidents involving spear fishermen at Storm Bay since October, the South Coast Sea Snipers have urged people to be careful in the water this summer.

A 52-year-old Kiama spear fisherman was treated for shortness of breath after he went under several times on October 31 and was rescued by bystanders, while on December 17, a 12-year-old boy was speared in the leg and recovered by Kiama surf lifesavers.

South Coast Sea Snipers president and student paramedic Max Gordon-Hall encouraged spear fishers to join a club because equipment retail outlets did not always offer safety advice.

"Everyone likes to go in the water, have a look around and see what's there," he said.

"People are only just learning after all these incidents have occurred that a club's the best way to learn because you've got this experience at your fingertips for junior divers to ask questions."

Founded just a year ago, the club already boasts 30 members from North Wollongong to Batemans Bay and meets monthly for social and competition dives, safety seminars and pool dives to learn about how to respond to shallow water blackouts.

Mr Gordon-Hall said shallow water blackouts were the most common danger facing spear fishers.

"It's basically that you dive too deep for your ability so when you come up from a depth, you'll come up to the last couple of metres, you run out of oxygen and the oxygen will expand," he said.

"When you get to the surface and exhale, the lack of oxygen to your brain says, 'I've had enough' and you pass out, and if your buddy's not there to do a rescue breath, you can be face-down in the water or under the water.

"That's why we say always dive with a buddy, that's the golden rule."

He also said boat strikes were a danger and urged spear fishers to use a float and flag - a yellow or orange floatation device with a white flag attached to the diver to signal their presence.

A boat strike killed a 27-year-old man at Currarong last year.

"As he was coming up from the bottom, the boat didn't see his float and flag. It hit him across the head and he died," Mr Gordon-Hall said.

"That's a pretty common thing, [skippers] not being aware of what a float and flag actually means. I've had numerous times that jetskis have run over me - I've been underwater luckily."

He said skippers with four-stroke motors needed to be particularly careful because divers were less able to hear them underwater.

To contact the club, visit southcoastseasnipers.com or find it on Facebook.

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