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Can you Climb a Boat Ladder in Sidemount?

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by John Bentley

Sidemount is mainstream as a gear configuration and it works well for lots of people. While it originated in cave sites, it’s a common sight on dive boats, local quarries, and shore sites in present day. For good reasons, some people are hesitant about sidemount boat diving. This is due to two main reasons, both involving the wide surface profile of sidemount:

  • Walking down boat aisles is hard in wide-mount.
  • Climbing up small boat ladders is hard in wide-mount.

While in a horizontal profile underwater, sidemount feels very balanced and streamlined. Stand on the surface though and you’re wider than your pals in backmount.  How do you mitigate those problems and enjoy a boat dive in your preferred gear configuration.

General Tips

  • Leashes
    Not all sidemount instructors utilize leashes in their courses, but for boat dives they’re almost required. Leashes, chokers, necklaces; there are a number of names for the clips that offer a hard connection, often paracord, that secures the cylinder to the harness. This is typically in addition to the bungee that snugs your cylinder into place.
  • Bungees
    These elastic devices help snug the cylinders closer to the diver’s body when underwater. Typically, the diver does not want these attached on the surface as it puts stress on the bungee system, decreasing its life.
  • S-Drills
    Often times with sidemount, you enter the water without everything hooked up. Routing on the surface is pretty difficult so a popular method is to have 1 cylinder (often the left) all hooked up (except the bungee) when entering the water. That way your BC can be inflated and there is a 2ndstage off which to breathe. After entering the water, you descend a few feet, attach the bungees, route any hoses, and perform an s-drill. When well-practiced this can be done on the descent and done by 15ft (6m).

Getting off the Boat

  1. Single top clip method
    This popular method still makes you wider than backmount, but is easier to manage. Attach the left cylinder in full – top clip, bottom clip, LPI, and 2nd Pressurize the system and test functioning of the breathing and inflation. Then top clip only the right side. Without the bottom clip, the cylinder can hang freely in front of you. Then you’ll only be as wide as one cylinder.
  2. Drop cylinder method
    For boats that tie into the dive site in calm waters you can have the mate hand cylinder(s) or place cylinders on a drop line. This way you can enter the water with as many or few cylinders as you’d like. For people that dive sidemount for medical considerations, this may be the only realistic option.
  3. Get there early method
    This is the least realistic of the methods and involves the right kind of boat. Get there as early as possible and grab the furthest stern seat to hook up and fall in once it’s time to dive. While especially convenient on drift dive boats with no transom, it isn’t the best method.

Getting on the Boat

Boat ladders are scary, there’s no way around that. They’re scary because people don’t know how to handle them to start, so let’s start with general tips.

  • Approach the ladder slowly and thinking
    Your goal is not to get up the ladder; it is to get on the ladder. That’s the difficult part. Slowly approach the ladder, listen to the crew, and be cognizant of the boat’s movements.
  • Plant those feet, don’t lock your arms, and get all your weight on the ladder.
    Treat the ladder like a leg press machine. After your feet are on the bottom rungs, straighten your legs and the ladder is no longer your enemy; it’s your spot to hang out.
  • Go up rung by rung and plan your hand holds. Look ahead to where your hand will be for support.
  • Allow the DM to help out.
    You’re carrying a lot of extra weight and are probably unstable. It’s ok to get help. Just make sure to tip appropriately.

With the basics down, let’s look at sidemount-specific steps. Decide on your plan of action beforegetting in the water and visualize it for the most success. Cleaning your cylinder on the safety stop is a common prep method that pays off when getting back on boats. Simply remove the bungee, bottom clip, and temporarily stow the regulator on one cylinder. That leaves 1 cylinder attached only by the top clip, making it fast to do any of the below methods.

  1. Hand up method
    This is one of the more popular methods. Just hand one cylinder up to the DM after approaching the ladder. For fins-off ladders, it’s important to not remove your fins until you’re ready to climb the ladder. So hand the cylinder up, go back to the tag line, remove your fins, then approach the ladder for exit
  2. Muscle it up
    This option isn’t realistic for everyone, and exertion after a dive isn’t a good idea. With that said, maybe you’re diving steel 50s, AL 80s, or AL 40s. Lighter cylinders like that can go up the ladder pretty easily, especially employing the single top clip method on one side. Larger cylinders will probably just result in a clunky climb and wobbly walk.
  3. Drop line
    If you entered with a drop line it’s pretty easy to exit with one! Just clip off on your swim to the stern of the boat.

So there it is. With a few quick tips, a decision, visualization, and a little practice, you can take your preferred gear configuration to the open water off a boat. The best way to learn this is to take a course with a TDI instructor. Find one here: https://www.tdisdi.com/search/?area=instructors


To find out more about International Training, visit www.tdisdi.com.

From its humble beginning in 1994 to today, the group of training agencies Scuba Diving International (SDI), Technical Diving International (TDI), and Emergency Response Diving International (ERDI) form one of the largest diving certification agencies in the World – International Training. With 24 Regional Offices servicing more than 100 countries, the company today far exceeds the original vision the founders had when they conceived the idea on a napkin, sitting at a kitchen table in the early 1990’s.

Marine Life & Conservation

Dive Guides invited to apply for the Green Fins Dive Guide Scholarship

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Reef-World’s campaign is helping dive guides in need receive Green Fins environmental certification

The Reef-World Foundation – international coordinator of the UN Environment Programme’s Green Fins initiative – is calling for dive guides to submit their application for the Green Fins Dive Guide Scholarship.

As a result of the Scholarship campaign, dive guides working around the world – including Brazil, the Philippines, Egypt, Colombia, South Africa, Indonesia and Turkey – have received their certificate proving their status as a Green Fins certified dive guide. Yet, thanks to funding from Reef-World’s partner Paralenz, 149 more scuba diving guides will be able to receive their Green Fins Dive Guide e-Course environmental certification.

Dive guides who meet the criteria (outlined below) can apply for the scholarship at any time through the Green Fins website. To be eligible for the scholarship, guides must:

  • have completed and passed all modules of the Green Fins Dive Guide e-Course
  • be able to demonstrate they or their employer are not financially able to purchase the certificate
  • be a national of a country which receives official development assistance from the Development Assistance Committee (DAC) of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

The Scholarship was created in response to feedback from dive guides who had passed the Green Fins Dive Guide e-Course and were keen to download and display their personalised electronic certificate but were not financially able to cover the associated cost (£19 / $25 USD). The personalised electronic certificate can be displayed to entice eco-minded guests by informing them the guide has received this vital environmental certification and is aware of how to reduce the negative environmental impacts associated with diving.

Diving related damage to sensitive marine ecosystems, including coral reefs, is becoming an increasingly significant issue. This damage makes them less likely to survive other local and wider stressors, such as overfishing or run-off from land containing pollutants and plastic debris as well as the effects of climate change, such as rising sea temperatures. The Green Fins Dive Guide e-Course, created with the support of Professional SCUBA Schools International (PSS) and running on their innovative EVO e-learning platform, teaches dive professionals how to prevent diving-related damage to coral reefs by following the highest environmental standards and better managing their guests to prevent damage to the reef.

Sam Craven, Programmes Manager at The Reef-World Foundation, said: “We’re proud to be offering dive guides around the world the opportunity to become Green Fins certified; no matter their background. Both the e-Course and the Scholarship have been a great success so far and we’re delighted to see so many dive professionals demonstrating their commitment to sustainable tourism by taking the course. We urge dive guides who haven’t yet taken the course to consider taking this step and welcome Scholarship applications from anyone who meets the criteria. Together, we can protect coral reefs through sustainable diving and we’d love as many dive guides as possible to join us.”


Dive guides who want to be considered for scholarship can visit www.greenfins.net/green-fins-dive-guide-scholarship-applications to apply.

To donate to the Green Fins Dive Guide Scholarship Fund, please visit www.greenfins.net/appeal/sponsor-a-dive-guide.

Supporters who are interested in helping additional dive guides receive their certifications can also donate to Sponsor a Dive Guide.

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Marine Life & Conservation

Go Fish Free this February

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There are no longer plenty more fish in the sea! Fish Free February challenges you to help protect our oceans by removing seafood from your diet for 28 days and helping to raise awareness of the issues caused by intensive fishing practices.

Our oceans are in a state of global crisis, brought about by ocean warming, acidification, pollution, and habitat destruction. However, the biggest immediate threat to ocean life is from fisheries. Each year an estimated 1-2.7 trillion fish are caught for human consumption, though this figure does not include illegal fisheries, discarded fish, fish caught to be used as bait, or fish killed by not caught, so the real number is far higher. It is no wonder then, that today nearly 90% of the world’s marine stocks are fully exploited, overexploited or depleted. If we do not act fast, overfishing and damaging fishing practices will soon destroy the ocean ecosystems which produce 80% of the oxygen in our atmosphere and provide three billion people with their primary source of protein.

Fish Free February, a UK-registered charity, is challenging people around the world to take action for marine life in a simple but effective way. Take the Fish Free February Pledge and drop seafood from your diet for one month, or beyond. Fish Free February wants to get people talking about the wide range of issues associated with industrial fishing practices and putting the well-being of our oceans at the forefront of dietary decision-making. A third of all wild-caught fish are used to create feed for livestock, so Fish Free February urges us to opt for plant-based dishes as a sustainable alternative to seafood, sharing our best fish-free recipes on social media with #FishFreeFebruary and nominating our friends to do the same.

“Not all fishing practices are bad” explains Simon Hilbourne, founder of Fish Free February. “Well-managed, small-scale fisheries that use selective fishing gears can be sustainable. However, most of the seafood in our diet comes from industrial fisheries which often prioritise profit over the well-being of our planet, resulting in multiple environmental challenges. In some cases, the fishing industry has even been linked to serious human rights issues such as forced labour and human trafficking! Fish Free February hopes to shed more light on fishing practices, create wider discussion around these issues, and offer solutions to benefit people, wildlife, and the natural environment.”

To learn more about these issues and to take the Fish Free February pledge visit www.fishfreefebruary.com

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