Sidemount is the ‘right’ mount – why everyone should consider it! (PART 2)
Written by Urve Patel, 22 November 2022.
In my previous article about the advantages of Sidemount diving, I’ve briefly mentioned about the challenges which comes with it. This article is written to give you a friendly overview of whether Sidemount is the “Right” mount for you so don’t let these hinder you from giving it a go.
Having discussed the advantages of sidemount diving (in our previous article), there are some challenges worth mentioning before you dive deep into sidemount diving.
In my opinion the main challenge of sidemount diving is the initial equipment set-up and familiarisation. This is more complex than a back-mounted set-up and can take some time getting use to. In terms of the equipment, you will need a dedicated sidemount BCD, numerous bolt snaps, various thickness bungees, sliding d-rings, long and short hoses on your regulators, and hose retainers. All of these bits and pieces will need to be assembled and modified to fit your physique, and then re-configured long after the initial certification. This is because every attachment point, piece of equipment, or inch of bungee added or removed makes a big difference to donning, doffing, cylinder handling, and being in trim in the water. However, in truth this is part of the process of learning sidemount, and with practice, can become second nature to a sidemount diver.
There is also a somewhat more involved gas management, which requires divers to regularly switch between regulators to keep the two cylinders at similar pressures. Failure to do this will result in a poor trim, as well as create complexities when faced with an out of air situation with a buddy.
Lastly, a sidemount configuration is not ideal when you have a long walk to the entry point. Whether for a shore dive or reaching dive boat, long walks with your equipment can be tiring. You could opt to take one tank at a time, but this will still mean double the amount of time to get to the entry point compared to single tank back-mounted divers.
Availability and adaptability
Sidemount has quickly become one of the most popular ways of diving in the recreational scuba diving world. In South-East Asia, TDI/SDI and PADI have reported a 10% increase per year in certification numbers since 2018. This increase in the number of certified divers means that ‘specialised’ equipment is readily available even in remote locations. When I say ‘specialised’ equipment I’m actually referring to the right- and left-handed tanks with DIN valves and long stems (DIN valves are less common SE Asia). To be comfortable in the water, distinct left- and right-handed tank valves are preferable as these allow you to perform shutdown drills efficiently. However, if left- and right-handed valves are not available, you can still dive with two left-handed values – you simply need to bear in mind that the right-hand tank valve will be facing towards your body rather than outwards.
In terms of the DIN tank valve, these are considered to be standard by the technical dive community as they can handle higher tank pressures and are safer (secure seal and lower profile). But, if you find yourself at a dive centre with only yoke valves, then you can dive with yoke adapters. However, using a yoke adapter will reduce you streamlining and overall efficiency, make the first stage connection bulky, and create an entanglement hazard.
If you are considering a certification in sidemount diving, I strongly advice that you buy your harness and BCD first. There are many elements of these two items that need to be configured properly, and to the uninitiated, it can be tremendously frustrating. However, having bought your harness and BCD first, your instructor can help you set it up correctly, thus saving you time, frustration, and trials (and tribulation). You also become aware of the intricacies of the different moving parts of the harness and BCD, which will later give you the confidence to ‘play’ and adjust the configuration as you see fit. A properly fitted harness and BCD will make attaching and detaching cylinders, as well as in-water skills, easier to complete.And lastly, after your certification, I strongly recommend you practice in the pool and go diving as much as possible to feel comfortable diving in sidemount configuration.
So, if you fancy a go, come and talk to us at Flow Dive Center about the PADI Sidemount speciality & Discovery Sidemount! The equipment may look different, but you might find you like to so much more that you never go back to back-mounted cylinder!