By Nick Clifford
My experience with sidemount diving started in 2017, during my TDI full cave training. I had been doing the introductory cave diver training on a twinset which was back mounted. I had no intention of going into sidemount. Being comfortable diving with a twinset made me see diving sidemount as a bit of a fad.
Sidemount Diving – Weight
As we descended underwater I thought WOW! It didn’t even feel like I was scuba diving, more like free diving. I hardly noticed the cylinders on my side, my back felt so flexible and weightless. Achieving good trim and buoyancy was incredibly easy due to the highly balanced set up. I was able to glide through the water with minimal effort due to being very streamlined, compared to diving back mount. It generally made diving feel much easier and natural. It is the perfect set up for people with back or joint problems.
Sidemount Diving – Trim and buoyancy
After being fit with a sidemount harness I would be using, we walked down to the water’s edge where we would don the cylinders. Cylinders are usually attached in water where possible. The first thing I noticed was not carrying any weight of the cylinder on my back while I walked to the water! Once in the water, we attached the cylinders, where the weight of the cylinders felt a lot less. I found this an easy cross over from a twinset as the house routing is mostly the same diving a Hogarthian setup.
Sidemount diving – Safety
That was just the open water aspect. The safety benefits are also obvious, especially for cave and technical diving. With a twinset, the cylinders are connected via a centre manifold. Sidemount setups are not connected via manifold, so you end up with a completely independent, redundant air source. With easy access to the cylinder valves, valve shutdowns can be easily solved with minimal stress. They are also protected from any impacts from ceilings etc. from your shoulders. Having independent cylinders means switching regulators throughout the dive. I have come to see switching as a benefit as it encourages me regularly monitor my pressure gauge and becomes second nature after a while. This also means that if a diver wanted to learn the use of switching gas types with stage cylinders, they are already used to regulator switching during the dive.
Sidemount diving – Equipment
Diving equipment can be expensive. I personally don’t want to be held back from the types of dives I do now or the dives I may do in the future by my equipment. Sidemount diving very modular and so can be used for any type of diving. Whether your dives are recreational, deep, technical, using multiple stage cylinders, or long-range cave penetration with tight restrictions side mount has you covered.
Sidemount diving – Like making a Soufflé
I have thought of diving back mount like making a cake. If you put some ingredients together, you end up diving. Sidemount is like making a soufflé. There is a lot more refining involved but the outcome, if it is done right, is generally better. I have seen people diving sidemount, with clearly no training in how to dive it correctly and for the environment. Seeing divers with either tank hanging too low down the sides, or tank ends floating up in the water or their ends being held down with weights looks wrong. This just looks pretty bad and defeats the point of being super streamlined and efficient!
Sidemount diving – Try it out
I have seen some of my friends try out sidemount and all of them have liked it, and seen the benefits. Some have now given up with diving in back mount and gone solely to sidemount. I for one have not looked back, for my diving the benefits are obvious, and it’s just a much nicer feeling.
I would say to anyone who’s not tried it and is interested, or who is looking at buying new diving equipment, you should definitely try it out. It is likely to be the last and only diving harness/BCD and regulators you will need.