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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.

Dive Training Blogs

Skills Workshop: Hovering Neutrally Buoyant

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By Mark Lewis

I’ve recently been coaching some divers on ways to improve their neutral buoyancy hover when in the water. A common thing I’ve seen is a diver maintaining their buoyancy by finning. There are many reasons why this may happen, including weighting, kit setup, etc.

After eliminating all of the other more common reasons, I’ve found it sometimes comes down to the students not being comfortable in their dry suits or simply not understanding how it works.

Sometimes dry suit training doesn’t incorporate everything that it should, as it often gets combined with other training courses and appears to predominantly centre on resolving inversions rather than focusing on air migration.

What is air migration?

Simply put, it’s utilizing the air in your dry suit to balance (trim) you in the water, allowing you to maintain a neutrally buoyant hover in the water column.

To teach air migration, I use a skill where I take a student into shallow waters (maybe six metres) and get them comfortable on a training platform with handholds on it, so that if they do have a problem, they can hold onto the platform initially whilst they get used to the skill. Then, we remove our fins and focus on our hovering.

Fins provide propulsion, so without them on, a diver’s senses are heightened, and they notice immediately when things don’t feel right, allowing them to compensate with the air in their suit rather than with their fins.

The reason I choose to do this with no fins is that it helps them focus on the air migration in the suit, without compensating by finning, thus allowing the diver to focus on their breathing and their dry suit as their means of buoyancy. In order to maintain the neutrality of their position once they have the right balance of air in their suit, the diver can continually adjust by controlling their breathing.

How long should this drill last?

I’ve found that in an hour’s session, maybe the first twenty minutes are tough, with a lot of corrections and adjustments… and then in most cases, it clicks, and the diver can maintain their position without much effort. Once they’ve attained this skill of hovering, other tasks and skills become more achievable.

Bring in the fins

Then, when they put their fins back on, it simplifies everything, and suddenly the diver has a new perspective on neutral buoyancy hovering. This ultimately makes them a safer diver and improves their competency.

I will add that this is not a skill required within any course that I teach, but something I do occasionally in a skills workshop to help divers progress. In my experience, it works, but if you’re going to try it, ensure that you have an understanding buddy who is happy to keep an eye out for you.


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

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Dive Training Blogs

Paralympians Diving in to Save the Ocean

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On 24th August, the world is reuniting for the 2021 Tokyo Paralympics. This once in every four-year event brings the best athletes together for the biggest sporting spectacle on the planet with the goal of building a better world through sport.

But Paralympians past, present and future don’t just wait every four years to take action for a better planet. From every corner of the globe Paralympians are masking up as PADI Scuba Divers to create balance between humanity and the ocean and inspiring others to follow in their footsteps once again.

Alana Nichols: x7 American Paralympian (2008-2021), Wheelchair Basketball, Kayaking and Alpine Skiing

Alana was an up-and-coming snowboarder when she broke her back in a freak accident. But that didn’t stop her from becoming a Paralympic Wheelchair Basketball player, Sprint Kayaker and Alpine Skier—competing in six Paralympic Games and preparing to compete in her seventh in Tokyo this month. But she also continues to inspire others underwater, showing that being a PADI Open Water Diver is an inclusive sport and mentoring other divers with disabilities

Edina Müller: x4 German Paralympian, Wheelchair Basketball and Kayaking (2008, 2012 , 2016, 2021)

On top of the water, Edina Müller is one of the fastest Paralympic kayakers in the world, having won Paralympic Gold and Silver, along with setting Paralympic and World Record for her specialty, the K1 200m sprint. Her sights are set on gold this month at the Tokyo Paralympics as well. But she is also a sports therapist, PADI Rescue Diver and PADI Freediver who is equally passionate about showing the therapeutic benefits of the ocean and diving with her patients.

To follow in these Paralympians’ footsteps, join them as fellow PADI Torchbearers who protect and explore the ocean.

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Egypt | El Gouna | 10 – 17 November 2021 | Reefs & Wrecks staying at the Three Corners Ocean View Hotel

Set in the Abu Tig Marina, this all-inclusive, adults only, resort features 2 outdoor pools overlooking the clear waters of the Red Sea

Stylishly modern yet giving traditional services, this hotel is cleverly designed to be almost surrounded by the sea with a fabulous poolside terrace. There is a choice of restaurants and bars and a health club. Diving is with the renowned Emperor Divers

Price from just £845 per person based on sharing a twin room including:

  • Flights from Gatwick to Hurghada with 23kgs baggage
  • 7 nights in twin/double standard room
  • Bed & breakfast meal plan
  • 5 days’ 2 tank boat diving with Emperor Divers, guide, 12ltr tank & weights
  • All Transfers

*Marine Park Fees and extras payable locally

Subject to availability.

Email info@diversetravel.co.uk to find out more!

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