Underwater pulse oximetry reveals increased rate of arterial oxygen desaturation across repeated freedives to 11 metres of freshwater

Diving Hyperb Med. 2023 Mar 31;53(1):16-23. doi: 10.28920/dhm53.1.16-23.


Introduction: Recreational freedivers typically perform repeated dives to moderate depths with short recovery intervals. According to freediving standards, these recovery intervals should be twice the dive duration; however, this has yet to be supported by scientific evidence.

Methods: Six recreational freedivers performed three freedives to 11 metres of freshwater (mfw), separated by 2 min 30 s recovery intervals, while an underwater pulse oximeter measured peripheral oxygen saturation (SpO2) and heart rate (HR).

Results: Median dive durations were 54.0 s, 103.0 s and 75.5 s (all dives median 81.5 s). Median baseline HR was 76.0 beats per minute (bpm), which decreased during dives to 48.0 bpm in dive one, 40.5 bpm in dive two and 48.5 bpm in dive three (all P < 0.05 from baseline). Median pre-dive baseline SpO2 was 99.5%. SpO2 remained similar to baseline for the first half of the dives, after which the rate of desaturation increased during the second half of the dives with each subsequent dive. Lowest median SpO2 after dive one was 97.0%, after dive two 83.5% (P < 0.05 from baseline) and after dive three 82.5% (P < 0.01 from baseline). SpO2 had returned to baseline within 20 s after all dives.

Conclusions: We speculate that the enhanced rate of arterial oxygen desaturation across the serial dives may be attributed to a remaining 'oxygen debt', leading to progressively increased oxygen extraction by desaturated muscles. Despite being twice the dive duration, the recovery period may be too short to allow full recovery and to sustain prolonged serial diving, thus does not guarantee safe diving.

Keywords: Breath-hold diving; Diving reflex; Hypoxia; Oxygen consumption; Safety; Unconsciousness.

MeSH terms

  • Diving* / physiology
  • Heart Rate / physiology
  • Humans
  • Oximetry*
  • Oxygen
  • Oxygen Consumption / physiology


  • Oxygen