Dive Into The Incredible World of Sidemount Diving
As I watched a diver glide through the water with such buoyancy control and grace I wondered why he was wearing 2 cylinders and why they were on his side and not his back. I’d never seen such a thing. I assumed he must be a technical diver or maybe even a cave diver but NOT a normal, recreational diver that dives 2 times a year at the most. I have no idea why I thought that, I just knew it looked way too complicated for me. Oh, how wrong I was!!!
I finally asked an instructor a few questions, and after a lot of deliberation, decided to give it a try. I wasn’t sure if I’d like it, but the instructor spoke so highly about it, I figured why not. At first, I felt clumsy and awkward but after a few adjustments, awww, it was amazing! Why did I wait so long to try this incredible configuration! Sidemount was just one of those things that once I tried it, I immediately loved it. And as the saying goes, DO WHAT YOU LOVE AND LOVE WHAT YOU DO! So, after I had enough experience, I became a SSI Recreational Sidemount Instructor and later on, a SSI Extended Range and a SSI Technical Extended Range Sidemount Instructor. There was no stopping me!
You may be asking yourself, “When will I even be able to use sidemount?” My answer is simple. ON EVERY DIVE ! I dive on sidemount every chance I get. Why? I love it! Plus, there are quite a few added bonuses like:
- I can enter the water with 2, 1, or no cylinders attached. That makes it perfect for people with back or knee problems. You hop in the water and the Capitan, Instructor or Divemaster lowers your cylinder(s) down to you. You can also exit the water the same way.
- Think about this…I start dive 1 with 3000 psi in each cylinder giving me a total of 6000 psi to use!!! (Or if Greg’s filling your cylinders, you have more like 6500 psi to start with. LOL.) I dive with everyone else until someone reaches 700 psi and we ascend. Typically at this point, I’ve only used around 900 psi from each cylinder leaving me with 4200 psi to use on dive 2. Everyone else is starting with 3000 psi. Winning!
- On wreck dives or lion fish dives I can stay down for 2-3 hours depending on my depth and decompression limits. Try doing that on a single cylinder.
- If I decide to go through a swim through that is a bit narrow, (yes, I’m trained to do so) I can remove 1 or both cylinders and put them directly in front of me and/or behind me to make me more streamlined.
- I’m perfectly balanced allowing me to relax as I glide through the water like a miniature pontoon boat.
- If another diver gets low, or actually runs out of air, I have a long hose (6ft long) and can easily share air with them.
- Because I’m balancing my cylinders, I’m very aware of the pressure in both cylinders, checking it often, making me less likely to run out of air myself.
- I have built in redundancy! If a regulator or valve fails, I still have a perfectly good cylinder on my other side.
- I look super cool! Haha.
- It’s incredible!
Have I peaked your interest yet? Here’s a glimpse into our training schedule:
On day one of our sidemount course, we start out playing with gear. Who doesn’t love playing with scuba gear! The first piece of gear we tackle is our sidemount harness and wing. We want it to fit snug, but comfortable. This can be simple, if minimal adjustments are needed, or it may take a little while to personally size it to fit your body. We want it to fit like a glove so this process is not rushed, it’s enjoyed. Later on, we will measure the distance between the cylinder bungee attachment point and our waist D-ring so that all of our cylinders are set up perfectly. That means we want to take our time getting this piece of equipment set up just right.
Now for the fun part…setting up our regulator sets. Yes, that’s sets, as in plural…2 sets. We have 2 first stages, 2 second stage regulators, 2 regulator hoses (1 around 26” and the other a whopping 84” long), 1 or 2 inflator hoses and 2 pressure gauges or transmitters on short HP hoses. There are a few more bits and pieces, but I’ll keep a few secrets to surprise you with during your course. Haha. We slowly make our way through how to set them up, and equally as important, why we set them up that way.
Next, we learn how to set up your cylinders perfectly so they are clean, tidy and with everything is in its place. We use the measurements we obtained from the harness and position the cam bands, clips, hose retainer bands and even dress them up with a necklace. We even allow you to choose between an array of different paracord colors and patterns. Every diver should get to personalize their gear, right!
Finally, we put the wing on and we walk into the water right down the steps where we can stand up and easily attach the cylinders. I’m always right there to assist, left cylinder first and then the right. We do a quick buoyancy check, make any adjustments to our trim and finally it’s time to swim and float, float and swim. Awww, the first feeling of being completely balanced is amazing! There’s absolutely nothing like it.
Our training continues right there in the shallow water until we can perform all of the cool new skills we have learned and we all agree we are ready to head out to do a training dive on a site close by.
With our Recreational Sidemount Course, we do 3 Open Water training dives together with a maximum depth of 60ft while working on skills like the S-Drill, balancing our cylinders and keeping them trim. I usually add a game of “monkey see - monkey do” and for an added bit of fun, we work on some pretty cool fining techniques. Our initial training dives are done over a 2-3 day period of time, depending on the divers progress and comfort level. Once those 3 dives are done, we offer the option to add some more shallow water training and a 4th training dive and continue learning. At the end of dive 4, you actually get certified in Extended Range Sidemount! It’s so cool. This gives the diver more training and knowledge and if they choose, they can use what they’ve learned to explore our Extended Range programs. And the best part is…wait for it…we get to add a 3rd or even a 4th cylinder! That means you start a dive with 1,200 psi !!! It’s so awesome!
Can you tell I love sidemount diving? And it’s not just me! Instructors Greg, Mariam and Dewey all love it just as much as I do. You can frequently find us doing what we love as we lead divers or as we hunt lion fish. Like the title of this blog says, it’s “The Incredible World of Sidemount Diving”.