Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Sidemount Diving

Historically, sidemount diving was for extreme, technical divers who used the configuration to penetrate small sections of caves or wrecks. But its adaptability and advantages have been discovered by divers of varied experience levels, and that, coupled with advances in equipment and greater availability of training, has made sidemount diving an increasingly common application. It's not just for technical diving or cave divers anymore.

Because you are able to move the cylinder from your back to your side, it instantly takes the pressure off of your back and gives you more flexibility to move and enjoy your dive. In the Photo: Mohamed Adel Hanafy - PADI Course Director During Recreational Sidemount Dive.
Mohamed A.Hanafy - Copyright © 2013
The advantages of sidemount diving first resonated with advanced and technical divers who realized that wearing tanks on the side of the body created a lower profile in the water than traditional back mounted tanks, thereby allowing access to, and the exploration of, small spaces without disturbing the environment. Less silt equaled greater access. Wreck divers discovered they could push a tank ahead of them into a small hatchway by simply un-clipping the bottom portion of the tank and pushing it forward. Cave divers saw the same benefits when working their way through low, overhead passageways. Reef divers, too, implemented sidemount diving to improve the navigation of tight coral canyons while hopefully reducing unintentional coral contact.


The flexibility to remove tanks, and propel them in front, allows the diver to pass through very small passages and holes when penetration diving.    Mohamed A.Hanafy - Copyright © 2013

But whether diving a wreck, cave or reef, every specialty recognized the safety benefits of sidemount diving. A sidemount configuration gives a diver easier access to tank valves in an emergency. Some divers carry sidemount specifically for this purpose. Sidemount rigs make it easier when divers need to swap out extra tanks staged along a tagline or the floor of a basin. The position of the tanks also gives the diver's head greater range of motion for enhanced vision and comfort. 

Unlike back-mounted cylinders, the sidemount diver has immediate access to, and observation of, the regulators and tank valves of their cylinders. This enables immediate problem identification and allows swifter resolution, without recourse to ‘behind the head’ shut-down drills that require a higher level of mobility, flexibility and freedom to operate.

Ahmed F.Gad - Copyright © 2013
Ahmed F.Gad - Copyright © 2013
Sidemount diving configuration places the cylinders under the diver’s armpits, in line with their body. This decreases water resistance (improving air consumption and reducing fatigue) whilst also allowing the diver to pass through smaller restrictions than would otherwise be possible in back-mounted cylinders.                                                            Mohamed A.Hanafy - Copyright © 2013
Reef divers, implemented sidemount diving to improve the navigation of tight coral canyons  while hopefully reducing unintentional coral contact.                                         Mohamed A.Hanafy - Copyright © 2013
There are dozens of sidemount rigs on the market; the diversity can be bewildering. As with all diving equipment, it's important to define your own needs and fit your unique body type. What works for one diver won't necessarily work for another, so do some homework before buying.

                 Ahmed F.Gad - Copyright © 2013
Ahmed F.Gad - Copyright © 2013
Easily enter and exit the water.... Ahmed F.Gad - Copyright © 2013
Pay attention to safety features: Do they meet the needs of your dive environment? If you plan to sidemount from a boat, you should make sure your rig is designed with the proper safety clips in case you have to enter or exit the water with the tanks attached to your harness. (This can happen when a boat encounters rough seas and transporting the tanks one at a time, unattached to the diver, can be difficult or dangerous. Rather than stress or snap the bungee system, the diver uses the clip located on the neck of the tank to clip into something more robust, like a harness D-ring.)

Easier equipment transportation.
Ahmed F.Gad - Copyright © 2013
You don’t have to walk to the dive site with the cylinders on your back. You can enter the water and clip them on and go. Ahmed F.Gad - Copyright © 2013
Both recreational and technical certification agencies now offer sidemount training, making it easier to find an instructor. More and more sidemount divers are seen on boats and at dive sites; as part of your due diligence, ask their opinion on why they choose to sidemount and what safety features are critical to the dive environment. There's a wealth of information eagerly disseminated amongst those early adapters of the equipment. For while it's not necessarily mainstream just yet, sidemounting has definitely come out of the cave and into the light of day.

Working with an instructor will help the diver configure the finer nuances of the rig, set up the tanks properly and make sure the trim is correct in-water.  Ahmed F.Gad - Copyright © 2013
Like all forms of specialized diving, divers should seek training to learn about sidemount diving. Experienced technical divers already accustomed to gas management and dealing with multiple cylinders and the rule of thirds will likely figure out how to sidemount with the help of a good workshop emphasizing the ergonomics of the system. Even then, it will likely take quite a few dives to balance the rig just right and to make the operation intuitive. Every diver must decide if these adjustments are a puzzle to solve on his own or a special skill set to hone with the help of an instructor.

Ahmed F.Gad - Copyright © 2013

The standard arrangement for sidemount is that all cylinders are independent, and each is provided with a single demand valve, an SPG, and on one or two, a low pressure inflator hose for buoyancy compensator and, if used, the dry suit. This implies that if gas is shared in an emergency, the recipient will be breathing from a different cylinder to the donor, unlike the more usual arrangement with backmount, where both divers breathe off the same set. Mohamed A.Hanafy - Copyright © 2013

 Divers who are not technically trained yet want to get started in advanced diving with sidemount should take a structured course. Proper training will include removing a bottle underwater and swimming while pushing the tank in front of the body, donning tanks while floating at the surface, air sharing, regulator recovery from behind the shoulders, gas management and deploying a surface marker. Working with an instructor will help the diver configure the finer nuances of the rig, set up the tanks properly and make sure the trim is correct in-water. 

 Sidemount Workshop -  Ahmed F.Gad - Copyright © 2013
 Sidemount Workshop -  Ahmed F.Gad - Copyright © 2013

Buoyancy control is better and a more streamlined profile reduces drag, improving diver trim this makes finning and moving through the water much more efficient. More efficiently reduces air consumption resulting in longer dive times. You will also have easier access to valves which increases safety. There is a much greater comfort level because the sidemount harness and equipment is custom fitted to each individual. This accommodates divers of all shapes and sizes. Mohamed A.Hanafy - Copyright © 2013

 Proper training will include removing a bottle underwater and swimming while pushing the tank in front of the body, donning tanks while floating at the surface, air sharing, regulator recovery from behind the shoulders, gas management and deploying a surface marker. Working with an instructor will help the diver configure the finer nuances of the rig, set up the tanks properly and make sure the trim is correct in-water.                                         Mohamed A.Hanafy - Copyright © 2013
Ahmed F.Gad - Copyright © 2013
Mohamed A.Hanafy - Copyright © 2013
Divers should choose an instructor who is familiar with their intended dive environment. There are differences between sidemounting from a boat or a cave or a wreck, and the best instruction is scenario-specific. Divers come in a variety of shapes and sizes with a variety of needs; ensure your instructor is knowledgeable on the various sidemount options and can teach you what you need to know.

3 comments:

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  2. The way you handle scuba tanks is different. I like it.

    ReplyDelete