If ever there was a practice in diving where the saying “necessity is the mother of invention” fit, it would be sidemount diving. Sidemount is essentially an equipment configuration that requires minor adjustments to diving practices. With that said, a very short history of sidemount diving is due here. This configuration originated amongst dry cave explorers in the UK in the 1960s after they approached underwater passages that hindered their progression. They used a minimalistic approach by using a cylinder mounted alongside their body with a regulator, mask, and sometimes fins to get through the sumps, or wet areas, of the cave and continue forward. Sidemount diving has evolved far beyond this and is used today in cave, technical, and sport diving applications. In a lot of these systems the divers could see that there was more to the system they just could not fit through the hole with a standard back mount configuration. To a lesser extent wreck divers were running into the same issues getting into u-boats, subs and smaller wrecks. Divers quickly realized they needed to lower their profile and make themselves thinner… a diet was just not enough.
Research shows that the earliest documented change to equipment came from the cavers. Cavers took a standard BC and configured the primary cylinders to their sides and strapped down the air cell of their BC, so they were only as thick as from their stomach to their back. Just like any new discovery or breakthrough, there are unrealized benefits and applications far beyond what the first users ever dreamed.
In the case of sidemount diving, for many years it stayed in the cave diving world. More recently, with several equipment manufacturers developing sidemount specific BCs, there is no longer a need to make major equipment modifications, and sidemount diving has exploded into the non-overhead technical environments and even further into sport diving. The transition into technical is pretty logical; sidemount provides great redundancy and a streamlined profile, but some may ask – why sport divers? One of the early unrealized benefits of the sidemount configuration is that the weight of the cylinders (when standing on the shore or boat) is distributed vertically, so in-line with the spine, unlike back mounted cylinders which cause the diver to lean forward to keep from tipping backwards. The sidemount configuration allows the diver to stand upright in a more comfortable position. Another advantage is that side mounted cylinders are easily clipped and unclipped in the water, allowing the diver to reduce the amount of weight with which they enter and exit the water. It also allows the diver to carry cylinders one at a time vs. hauling heavy and extremely awkward doubles around.
Taking this one step further, sidemount configurations are extremely beneficial to divers that have: back problems, shoulder problems or disabilities that prohibit them from reaching valves behind their head or any “load bearing” exercises.
Sidemount diving is not for everyone, but it is a very versatile equipment configuration that can work for a lot of divers and resolve some potential problems. Like any sport, divers need as many tools as they can get in their tool kit, conditions and needs are always changing and learning new skills is never a bad thing. Diving in a sidemount configuration is very easy and streamlined in any situation and lends itself well to nearly all aspects of diving.
For more information on sidemount diving or to find an SDI sidemount instructor near you, visit us at https://www.tdisdi.com/sdi/get-certified/sdi-open-water-sidemount-diver/
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