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 that was back mounted and had no intention of going into sidemount. I was comfortable diving with a twinset and just saw sidemount as a bit of a fad with more skills to learn to dive it.
After being fitted into the 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 if it is possible). The first thing I noticed was not carrying any weight on my back from the cylinders whilst walking to the water was a nice change! Once in the water, we attached the cylinders, which was an easy cross over from a twinset as the house routing is mostly the same diving a Hogarthian setup.
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.
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, but with sidemount, they are not and so you end up with a completely independent redundant air source. With easy access to the cylinder valves, and so valve shutdowns in the event of a free flow 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, however, I have come to see this as a benefit as it encourages regular pressure gauge monitoring 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.
Diving equipment can be expensive and 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 is very modular and so can be used for any type of diving, whether that be recreational, deep technical using multiple stage cylinders, or long-range cave penetration with tight restrictions.
I have thought of diving back mount as making a cake, you put some ingredients together and you end up diving. Sidemount is like making a soufflé, more refining is 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. I see divers with either tank hanging too low off the sides, or tank ends floating up in the water or their ends being held down with weights. This just looks pretty bad and defeats the point of being super streamlined and efficient!
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, to definitely try it out. It is likely to be the last and only diving harness/BCD and regulators you will need.