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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

Exhibition: Protecting UNESCO Marine World Heritage through scientific research

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From now until 30 October, the photo exhibition “Protecting UNESCO Marine World Heritage through scientific research” features 21 photographs at UNESCO Headquarters, Paris, as well as a digital edition.

Exceptional photographs highlight how innovative marine experts and scientists take the pulse of the ocean by exploring ecosystems, studying the movement of species, or revealing the hidden biodiversity of coral reefs. Scientific discoveries are more important than ever for the protection and sustainable conservation of our Marine World Heritage. This memorable exhibition comes ahead of the launch, in 2021, of the United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (“Ocean Decade”). The exhibition was jointly developed by UNESCO and the Principality of Monaco.

The 50 marine sites inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List, distributed across 37 countries, include a wide variety of habitats as well as rare marine life still largely unknown. Renowned for their unmatched beauty and emblematic biodiversity, these exceptional ecosystems play a leading role in the field of marine conservation. Through scientific field research and innovation, concrete actions to foster global preservation of the ocean are being implemented locally in these unique natural sites all over the world. They are true symbols of hope in a changing ocean.

Since 2017, the Principality of Monaco supports UNESCO to strengthen conservation and scientific understanding of the marine sites inscribed on the World Heritage List. This strategic partnership allows local management teams to benefit from the results obtained during the scientific missions of Monaco Explorations. The partnership also draws international attention to the conservation challenges facing the world’s most iconic ocean sites.

The exhibition invites viewers to take a passionate dive into the heart of the scientific missions led by Monaco Explorations in four marine World Heritage sites: Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park (Philippines), Malpelo Fauna and Flora Sanctuary (Colombia), Rock Islands Southern Lagoon (Palau), and the Lagoons of New Caledonia: Reef Diversity and Associated Ecosystems (France). It is also an opportunity to discover the work of a megafauna census; the study of the resilience of coral reefs and their adaptation in a changing climate; the exploration of the deep sea; and the monitoring of large marine predators through satellite data.

To visit the Digital Exhibition click here.

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Dive Training Blogs

Deptherapy returns to its Roots – Part 7

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Join Richard Cullen from Deptherapy for the final part of his Blog about the charity’s recent expedition to Roots Red Sea, El Quseir, Egypt.

Deptherapy expeditions do not just magically happen, they need planning and they need funding.  This expedition was funded by our long-term partners the Veterans’ Foundation.  The funding is part of a grant they awarded us for programmes this year, which were then put on hold because of COVID.

All charities in the Armed Forces’ Sector are struggling for funds. Deptherapy desperately needs support going forward and every penny counts.

We know what we do works and at the end of this blog you will find details of the research studies into Deptherapy’s programmes and how they impact on the lives of our beneficiaries.  This includes details that are hot off the press about the latest study that reports that what we offer through scuba diving and 24/7 support has benefits beyond those found in other sporting rehabilitation programmes.

Well tomorrow we fly home, late in the evening with the journey home for some of the guys who live up North taking around 15 hours after leaving Roots.

We want to make the most of today but with the tide running we are not going to be able to dive until later this morning which means only two dives today.

Oatsie and Swars about to start their sidemount dives

Things, however are really busy over at the dive centre with Swars and Oatsie putting their sidemount kit together for their training dives with Steve Rattle leading to their RAID sidemount qualification.  It has been nice to be able to offer the guys this extra training, given the amount of work they have put in this week.  They have needed to get through their theory quickly but given the RADI online learning system this has not been too arduous.

Steve came diving with us yesterday to get some more photos and was really amazed at the progress that Corey had made. He was quite open in his praise, as in his view Corey has gone from a non-diver to being a very competent OW diver capable of diving, unsupervised, with a buddy.  Praise indeed.

Other than the sidemount course we are diving as a group today: Corey, Keiron, Michael, Moudi and me. Corey has been given some tasks – SMB deployment on both dives and the afternoon dive will be a ‘naturalist dive’.  Guy Henderson has set Corey a task: ‘to identify three species of fish and record the time into the dive and the depth at which each one was spotted’.  Guy runs Marine Biology courses on the reef and knows where the fish are to be found, how long into the dive, and at what time.

The two Toms are getting put through their paces. They have walked their cylinders down to the entry point, but Steve sends them back to the dive centre to collect other kit they should have brought with them.

Our general dive goes well and the sidemount guys appear from their sidemount dive some 90 minutes after dipping their heads under the water.

Corey enjoying being a RAID OW20 Diver

Lots of bubbly chat at lunchtime, a group of really happy divers. Corey really has benefited from the week and over lunch thanked the team for making him a diver. He has very quickly become part of the family and after returning home he published an amazing post on Facebook about his experience.  Corey really gets Deptherapy and had soon realised that we see past mental and physical injuries and see the person inside and work with that person.  He also realised that we want beneficiaries to see their fellow beneficiaries in the same light.  He knows he now has another ‘family’ – a family of brothers in arms who have two things in common, they served their country and they have suffered life changing injuries or illnesses.

Back into the water for the afternoon dive and Corey identifies the fish and records the details on a slate.  The two Tom’s complete their second dive and qualify as RAID Sidemount Divers. Great!

Kit packed away and it is time to return to the camp for a few well-earned last night drinks.

I am often asked why we use Roots as our exclusive base for diving. I have mentioned before that it offers us an ideal retreat, away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. We are secluded and there are no distractions such as late-night bars etc.

Roots Accessible Room

The second reason is the amazing welcome we receive from Steve, Clare, Moudi and the team.  We have been going to Roots since 2014 and many of the staff have become good friends, they understand our needs and are the friendliest people you could ever wish to meet.

The third reason is the huge investment Steve and Clare have made in making the resort and dive centre accessible for those with physical injuries including those who need to use wheelchairs.  All our beneficiaries can enjoy Roots and, in fact, love it here.  The reef is perfect for us and in non-COVID times we can travel to the Salem Express and other dive sites to enjoy more of the Red Sea experience.

Accessible toilet on the Roots beach

After discussions with the team I was very proud to be able to tell Corey that his progress had been such that we were inviting him on the Armed Forces Covenant Fund Trust sponsored two-week Marine Biology Course at Roots in June 2021. There is lots of homework to undertake under the guidance of Dr Debbie McNeill of Open Oceans and Corey will be sent the Red Sea Guide which is the basis for study.

While on that programme, Corey with fellow beneficiary Dale Mallin, will complete his RAID Advanced 35 course.  This all builds to a 10-day Red Sea liveaboard in 2022, onboard Roots’ new boat Big Blue where 18 beneficiaries will compare the coral and aquatic life on the wrecks of the SS Thistlegorm and the less known SS Turkia that is to be found in the Gulf of Suez and is rarely dived.

Paul Rose, our Vice President, is supporting the programme and is seeking the support of the UN and the Royal Geographical Society. A comprehensive report will be submitted to our partners in the project and to the Egyptian Authorities.

Last night and chill

What we do works:

In recent years there have been three academic studies into our work:

2018 – A study by a team from the University of Sheffield Medical School.

2019 – A study by The Centre of Trauma at Nottingham University.

Both these studies reported very positively on Deptherapy’s work both underwater but also in terms of the provision of 24/7 support.

The following is from our press release which was issued on 26th October:

‘A new study into Scuba Diving Rehabilitation Charity Deptherapy’s approach to supporting Armed Forces veterans with psychological injuries such as Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) through the medium of scuba diving has been carried out by Petra Walker in conjunction with Hanna Kampman of the Posttraumatic Growth Research Unit at the University of East London.

This study, which used Interpretive Phenomenological Analysis (IPA), demonstrates that scuba diving has rehabilitation benefits beyond those found in other forms of sporting rehabilitation exercise. IPA is a qualitative methodology that examines the experiences of participants and has been used in previous studies of Posttraumatic Growth (PTG) in para-athletes.

Petra is an experienced diver herself and was exploring the wellbeing aspects of scuba diving as part of her Masters in Applied Positive Psychology and Coaching Psychology when she came across a previous study on Deptherapy. Past studies have mainly focused on the medical aspects of diving, so the opportunity to examine the mental health side of rehabilitative scuba diving was impossible to ignore. The full study is currently embargoed until it is published at a future date in an academic journal, but it follows similar academic research into the work of Deptherapy by the University of Sheffield Medical School (2018) and the University of Nottingham (2019).’

This is amazing news and sets us apart from other sporting rehabilitation programmes.

We are currently working with our VP Richard Castle who is a Consultant Psychologist and our Dive Medicine Advisor Mark Downs to identify further areas of psychological and physical dive related research.

We end the week on a happy note.  A young man who has learned to dive properly with a RAID OW 20 certification, a new RAID Master Rescue Diver, two new RAID Sidemount Divers, 5 new RAID O2 Providers, many assessments for our DMs but most of all a week of learning, of making new friendships, renewing old friendships, and building on our family ethos.

Until we meet again…

For us, Deptherapy is a journey, a journey that continues to push boundaries in the use of scuba diving in the rehabilitation of those suffering life changing mental and/or physical challenges.  On our journey we want to change the way the scuba diving industry views diving for those with disabilities.

In the new year, we will be launching, with our diver training agency partners RAID, a new and exciting adaptive teaching programme that will offer diving to the disabled community. We can’t wait to share it with you!


Find out more about the work of Deptherapy and Deptherapy Education at www.deptherapy.co.uk

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