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Sidemount: Not just for Technical Divers

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By Heather McCloskey

In the 1960’s, dry cave explorers in the UK became the first “sidemount divers” when they began clipping scuba cylinders to their caving harnesses as a means to cross sumps, or water-filled cave passages. Over the past 50 years, countless divers and equipment manufacturers have developed and refined sidemount diving and configurations through trial and error.

Today we see many technical divers in sidemount configuration and it remains especially popular with cave divers. There are clearly countless benefits of sidemount for technical diving, but did you know many of them cross over to recreational diving as well? Yep, that’s right: sidemount is not just for technical divers. In fact, I believe that everyone could benefit greatly from a technical sidemount course, even if they do not have an interest in technical diving.

Here’s why everyone should try sidemount diving:

STRENGTHEN DIVING FUNDAMENTALS & KNOWLEDGE

I think it is important to constantly learn new things. If you’re looking for a course with the potential to truly challenge you, reframe the way you think about diving, and improve your fundamental skills tenfold, look no further than a technical sidemount course.

In addition to teaching you how to safely dive in a new configuration, a technical sidemount course is like boot camp for your diving fundamentals: buoyancy, trim, and propulsion.

Even if you have good buoyancy control going into the course, a good instructor will push you to fine tune it even further. This will force you to extend your awareness and control of where you are in the water at all times, even when being distracted by problems.

You’ll work on propulsion techniques and likely focus more on how you’re kicking than you ever have before. Your instructor will help you perfect your frog kicks and helicopter turns, show you how to backfin effectively, and teach you special techniques for silty areas. After your sidemount course, you’ll know how to move through the water more gracefully and efficiently than you thought possible.

Furthermore, you’ll think about trim more than ever before and you’ll start to see how seemingly small things like the weight of your regulators and the buoyancy profile of your fins have huge impacts on a diver’s natural trim and you’ll learn how to effectively compensate for these things.

COMFORT & STREAMLINING

In sidemount, cylinders are mounted at your sides under your arms rather than on your back, giving you a much more streamlined profile. Even with two cylinders, propelling yourself through the water and maintaining proper trim feels much easier in sidemount than in single tank backmount.

If you have back or shoulder problems, you’ll likely find sidemount more comfortable in general because it allows more flexibility in those areas and the bulk of the weight is not on your spine.

During a proper sidemount course, you and your instructor will spend a lot of time adjusting your sidemount system to fit and function just right. You’ll also spend time trying to get properly trimmed and adjusting trim weight placement as needed. This part of the process may feel frustrating to some, but as soon as your system, weights, and trim are all right where they need to be you will realize it was well worth the trouble. When done properly, sidemount is an incredibly comfortable configuration to dive in.

REDUNDANCY & LESS RELIANCE ON BUDDY

One of the biggest benefits of sidemount is it offers true redundancy in case of a gas or regulator failure. When diving with two tanks in sidemount configuration you have two completely independent cylinders, first stages, and second stages. If one of these points fails, you have a backup.

In a proper sidemount course with a qualified instructor you will learn how to independently solve various equipment problems that could come up while diving. This training and configuration makes you more safe, more self-sufficient and less reliant on a buddy. Self-sufficiency is especially beneficial if you travel without a regular dive buddy and find yourself buddied up with strangers often. I’ll address more benefits of self-sufficiency, specifically solo-diver training, in a future post.

MORE GAS = LONGER DIVES

If you’re an air hog, or simply enjoy making long dives, sidemount configuration is a great way to carry more gas with you while staying streamlined. While diving twinset would be another way to have more gas, you may not be able to find twinset tanks at every single diving destination you visit. Another benefit of sidemount is that you do not need to hunt down special tanks to dive in sidemount configuration.

SIDEMOUNT TRAINING PREPARES YOU FOR THE FUTURE

If you don’t have interest in tech diving right now, that’s perfectly fine. However, training and experience diving in sidemount configuration will help you gain confidence and leave you well-prepared for any technical training that you may want to do in the future. And it may be just the thing that convinces you to try technical diving after all. 😉


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.

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Diving redefined at TDEX Bangkok 2024: NovoScuba and Siam Diving Enterprises join forces to bring diving education to the next level

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TDEX

NovoScuba, a ground-breaking diving agency based in the UK, is preparing for the global debut of its innovative subscription-based training platform that is set to redefine the way diving education is provided. The much-anticipated launch will take place at TDEX Bangkok 2024, marking a significant milestone in NovoScuba’s journey to reshape industry standards.

As part of an important initiative, NovoScuba is pleased to announce a partnership with Siam
Diving Enterprises (SDE) and their renowned Ocean Store. SDE, as one of Thailand’s leading
suppliers of diving, freediving and snorkelling equipment, brings a wealth of expertise and
resources to this collaboration, furthering NovoScuba’s mission to elevate the diving experience for enthusiasts worldwide.

tdex

NovoScuba aims to revolutionise the way dive shop owners, dive professionals and dive
enthusiasts engage with diving, making it more accessible and profitable for the entire diving
industry.

tdex“NovoScuba is not just another certification agency; it’s a transformative force built on
innovation and accessibility,” said Mark Spiers, founder and CEO of NovoScuba. “Our
partnership with Siam Diving Enterprises reflects our commitment to redefining diving education and empowering the diving industry at all levels.”

Siam Diving Enterprises, known for its extensive range of premium diving equipment from leading brands, will host NovoScuba at stand A74 during TDEX. This strategic collaboration offers divers a unique opportunity to experience first-hand NovoScuba’s groundbreaking approach to diving education.

NovoScuba’s platform offers state-of-the-art training programmes, including recreational and professional diving courses, designed to meet international standards and ISO certifications.
With a subscription-based model, digital learning materials available in 13 languages and
multi-platform accessibility, NovoScuba ensures that diving education is within reach for
everyone.

“We are inviting all dive enthusiasts, professionals and shop owners to join us on this
revolutionary journey,” added Mark Spiers. “Together we can redefine diving as we know it and
make a positive impact on the planet.”

tdex

Visit Siam Diving Enterprises and NovoScuba at stand A74 during TDEX Bangkok 2024 to
explore the future of diving education and discover the latest innovations in diving equipment.

About NovoScuba: NovoScuba is a pioneering dive training agency committed to making
diving inclusive, accessible, and enjoyable for everyone. With a focus on innovation and
positive impact, NovoScuba offers state-of-the-art training programs, digital learning
materials, and a subscription-based platform designed to redefine the diving industry
worldwide. To learn more about NovoScuba’s innovations, go to www.novoscuba.com.

About Siam Diving Enterprises (SDE): Siam Diving Enterprises (SDE) is one of the
largest suppliers of scuba diving, freediving, and snorkelling equipment in Thailand. With
warehouses in Bangkok and a team of industry experts, SDE offers a comprehensive range
of premium products and exceptional customer service to diving enthusiasts across the
country. To learn more about SDE go to Ocean Store Thailand website.

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Wrecks’ Curse – The World of Wreck Diving

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wreck diving

By Pablo Mir

We all enjoy those unexpected encounters that come with wreck diving, no matter how small, during our open water scuba dives. Exploring those nearly vanished remains of a ship scattered across the ocean floor is frequently the climax of the otherwise regular dive.

What is Wreck Diving?

Wreck diving involves exploring underwater shipwrecks while scuba diving. Sometimes, the wreck we encounter is more than just the remnants of a small and forgotten old vessel. Or perhaps we didn’t deliberately choose it, but the charter we boarded had that destination planned that day. The Benwood, less than 14 meters or 45 feet deep, in the clear waters of the National Marine Sanctuary in Key Largo, Florida, or the Copenhagen of Fort Lauderdale, also Florida, are good examples. Divers, many beginners who haven’t even devoted half a second to thinking about wreck diving, enjoy exploring their remains and the fauna that inhabit them. In some way, and at different levels, we all seem to potentially be wreck divers, even without a higher and explicit intention.

First Encounters: The Unplanned Dive into Wreck Exploration

But the trek is long and has many branches. Wrecks present themselves in vast possibilities, from shallow and clear waters to deep and dark ones. The Ancient Mariner, Captain Dan, U352, Great Isaac, Grecian, Lady Luck, Hyde, Aeolus, Hydro Atlantic, RBJ & CC, Algol, U869, and the Andrea Doria -the Grand Dame of the Sea- are some of the names that resonate among thousands in the minds of many wreck divers on the East Coast of the USA. For many of us, getting ready to traverse that path of increasing challenges, increasingly demanding environments, and more astonishing, transcendent dives is a life goal in terms of recreation.

A Diverse World: The Spectrum of Wreck Diving Experiences

Now, it is well known that the label of wreck diving is not only applied to shipwrecks. It is common to extend it to any artificial structure or piece of it that can be explored during our dives. For example, Texas Tower #4, an Air Force radar station off the coast of New Jersey, toppled in 1961 by a storm, is frequently visited by numerous local technical divers and visitors who want to test their skills in those demanding waters. Similar structures of different natures and purposes exist in many other places, with the most different levels of certification and experience requirements we can imagine.

Is Wreck Diving Dangerous?

Wreck diving is not inherently dangerous, but proper training is required. Describing with words the feeling of wonder and the adventure involved in wreck diving is not easy. In the same way that regular open water diving is the entry point to another world, a unique, fascinating world, wreck diving is also an entry point to one of the additional levels of enjoyment and fascination the world of recreational diving poses. Wreck diving, we live the adventures others just dream or fear. We are there, explorers of a distant land. Often, we witness the remains of real human tragedies; other times, we are visitors to the most wonderful amusement park we can imagine.

Learning Curve: The Path from Novice to Experienced Wreck Diver

Sometimes, watching groups of recreational divers exploring a wreck might seem like witnessing a scene from a pirate movie. Two or three divers here, two or three more there, ascending and descending along its sides, from bow to stern, sticking their heads in to look inside compartments and passages. In some cases, entering and exiting the bridge or any space allows penetration in areas with abundant natural light and generous access points. Their expressions and body language make it easy to notice that they are having a great time. There is no doubt they are enjoying it, and it will be an experience they will vividly remember.

If they are a group traveling together, an instructor or divemaster may be there to ensure everything goes well. The passion for exploration, for discovery, and that thirst for adventures we all have within us can sometimes hinder us in making our best decisions. Therefore, to become actual wreck divers, we must not only desire to do so but also have the will to learn and gain experience, slowly and safely, in everything this specialty implies. While it is true that exploring the exterior of a wreck may seem like something that doesn’t require specific training, the reality is that it does. Fishing lines, sharp surfaces, parts that can easily come off, suddenly disappearing visibility, disorientation, etc., are dangers we must have learned about, developed strategies to avoid, and implemented procedures to solve with the proper tools.

And so it will be; many will traverse the paths of wreck diving by starting with proper training. Sometimes, the first step is part of the regular advanced diver certification many divers take; other times, it is going straight for a wreck diving specialty. They will learn and start practicing, gaining experience and ease in their procedures. They will fall more and more in love with those twisted iron environments and proudly display the rust stains on their diving suits as if they were scars from a well-fought battle.

Deepening the Dive: Advanced Wreck Exploration Techniques

But the journey continues. Sooner or later, some will want more than just hovering around the wrecks. Crossing well-lit passages with the exit in sight will no longer be enough for them. What they recently may have told themselves they wouldn’t do will begin to intrigue them, and they will want to continue training “just in case.” They will want to start moving away from those open corridors and see with their own eyes what lies beyond. They will no longer see wrecks as enemies to overwhelm in large groups but as a mystery to unravel slowly, passage by passage, room by room. They will split into small groups. They pursue a specific goal, have a specific plan, and seek to minimize unexpected situations, and this is more controllable and achievable when done by two or three rather than four or five.

They will keep learning, venture through narrow passages, dodge cables and pieces of metal hanging from what is now the ceiling, and proceed cautiously to avoid stirring up sediments. They will use different methods to establish positions at crossroads, place strobe lights, carry multiple penetration reels, and carry substantial knives, the kind they used to laugh at not long ago, thinking they were unnecessary exaggerations.

The Wreck Diver’s Journey: A Path of Endless Discovery

Over time, they will penetrate deeper and deeper into larger, darker, gloomier, more frightening wreck structures, simply because they can. They will descend to greater depths because that’s where they are in better condition and farther away from the boarding hordes.

They will transition from Air to Nitrox, later return to Air, and later delve into the world of Trimix. They will start planning and executing dives with decompression stops, as otherwise, their bottom times will be insufficient for their intentions. From one decompression gas cylinder, they will move to two, and in some cases, three or more. Those who can afford it will buy rebreathers; those who can’t will stick to open circuit, carrying multiple large cylinders.

The Eternal Call of the Deep

But genuine amazement will hit them hard on the day they, thinking carefully about all the steps they have taken and accounting for the time and effort dedicated, conclude without a shadow of a doubt that it was worth it. It will be too late for them; they will have fallen victim to this curse of shipwrecks that has trapped so many. There will be no escape for them; from now on, they will be wreck divers without cure or remedy. They will be condemned to spend the rest of their vacations and days off among twisted irons at the bottom of rivers, lakes, and oceans. Cheers buddies! And a warm welcome to all those newcomers to recreational diving who, unknowingly, may be destined to wander among old wood and rusted metal, seeking to put out that thirst for real-life adventures.

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

Main Image: William Drumm/International Training

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