While many will argue sidemount diving is a trend or a fad, the fact is it is an extremely valuable tool for certain diving applications.
Here are a few items you can include in your logbook to help you stay organized and honest, track progress, and work on self-improvement as a diver.
Prerequisites can be found in the Standards and Procedures for any course you are interested in taking.
There is always something to learn, and an intense focus on improving skill sets and better understanding dive theory can help any diver perform more efficiently in the water on almost any type of dive.
This article touches upon efficient ways to operate the ‘cursed’ clip and offers a few ideas on handling known as ‘Clip Management’.
By the time divers born in the 1980’s started to dive, the sport had evolved rapidly from its earlier days. Divers in this generation have access to equipment and training the generation before would not have dreamt of when they started diving.
Divers of all types have begun to find value in this type of configuration and the industry has supported the innovation.
We get questioned a lot on what the difference is between SDI, TDI and ERDI courses, so we decided to put it out there where it’s easy for everyone to find when they start doing research.
by Dr. Thomas Powell:
Scuba diving is a sport in which a person can always grow and learn. Anyone who has looked at the list of available classes out there can understand that the sky is the limit when it comes to scuba education. Similarly, there exist multiple types of diving around which a diver can focus education, skill progression, and experience. The reality of the various educational pathways is that they all have the potential to build upon one another.
Public Safety Diving is a type of diving based upon the training divers receive along a pathway. First, public safety divers are trained as open water scuba divers. From that point, they may venture directly into the public safety realm or move on to learn more about technical or recreational skill sets. Like any other subject, increased education and experience often leads toward an improved level of overall performance. Essentially, the more a diver gets wet, and the more that diver tries to learn, the better he or she may have the potential to become as a public safety diver.
Public safety diving is one of the most dangerous realms within scuba diving. Divers often enter the water not knowing bottom terrain, currents may be present, and the visibility may be nil. Similarly, the technical diving realm is one in which divers work to better understand physiology, gas switches, safety precautions, and bailout procedures. Many of these activities are practiced without a mask while maintaining neutral buoyancy. Each of these subjects has a direct correlation to public safety diving. Imagine that a diver is in zero visibility, stuck in an entanglement hazard, and low on air. Technical training can better prepare that public safety diver to handle gas switches and emergency procedures while blind.
Similarly, technical divers tend to focus on streamlining equipment, exposure protection, moving items for convenient placement, neutral buoyancy, launching buoys and bags, and equipment redundancy. Again, each of these actions can also be found within public safety diving. First, public safety divers often carry lots of equipment and wear bulky garments. This equipment must be streamlined to prevent entanglement issues and moved around as needed for easy access in zero visibility. Second, public safety divers often spend time on the bottom doing hand searches for missing items. The problem with settling on the bottom is that the diver may accidentally move, cover, bury, or miss an item. The diver may also further “muck up” the environment for secondary searches. Finally, public safety divers often carry lots of redundant items for safety. Many of these items may be marker buoys or even lift bags.
Technical training may be a perfect baseline for any public safety diver. Technical training can teach a diver to perform tasks while close to the bottom but maintaining neutral buoyancy, and move excess items around on the body in a fashion that helps streamline equipment and reduce the effect on diver trim. Essentially, technical training may allow a public safety diver to better understand how to carry equipment, use equipment, reduce any effect on bottom terrain, and avoid the development of foreseeable problems. Every Technical Diving International class also teaches divers to launch buoys and bags. Every public safety diver must be proficient at launching marker buoys and working with lift bags. Again, this is technical training that can help any public safety diver become more proficient at his or her trade.
In regard to overhead environments, technical training may also include cave training. Cave training teaches divers how to be safe and proficient in overhead environments when visibility may change in a quick fashion. Cave divers learn to lay lines that can be followed back to an exit while working in a confined space and as a team. Again, each of these actions is something valuable to a public safety diver. Almost any environment may be considered an overhead environment for a public safety diver. If the diver cannot see, he or she may not know what is overhead or if there is an obstruction between the diver and the surface. Training to lay lines and understand how to properly backtrack can help a public safety diver remain safe in an unknown environment. Similarly, a proper education on laying lines can help a diver or dive team return to a known location in an efficient fashion, mark specific positions, and do so while maintaining a tight continuous line with minimal extraneous hazard developments. Finally, cave divers are trained to deal with tight spaces. Imagine a public safety diver entering a wrecked school bus in an effort to perform a recovery. That diver must be able to act and react in a proficient fashion with minimal space to move. This is something that cave classes teach.
Technical training is something that can help any public safety diver become more proficient at necessary skill sets. The current problem is that many public safety divers begin public safety training and do not have the personal time or resources to take on technical programs. As excess or secondary training opportunities, technical classes should be considered by public safety dive teams to help provide growth and development opportunities for divers. Education and time in the water is something that can help any diver. The first big step is to inquire about training opportunities and to decide for yourself how it can help you or your team.
– Dr. Thomas Powell
Owner/Instructor Trainer – Air Hogs Scuba, Garner, NC
by Dori Phillips:
So what is sidemount and why is it so popular? Simple answer really, it’s a new way to approach gear configuration to expand diving accessibility. That is not to say sidemount diving is actually all that new, but rather the techniques and the commercialization of the equipment are new. Early cave exploration, scientific diving expeditions, and wreck divers were using the techniques in small teams with highly modified (often with duct tape) versions of traditional scuba gear.
Today, most people come to me for sidemount classes and advice based upon one of the following motivators:
- desire to go farther, longer, deeper and do not want to use doubles
- site logistics prevent the use of doubles
- physical constraints
- desire to dive with rebreathers and/or stages
- it’s something new to try
The TDI course embraces all of these desires. Before the actual TDI Sidemount course, the use of sidemount techniques was only taught during technical dive classes or by special request. The use of double cylinders on the back was, and in some places is still, considered the norm for technical divers or those simply wanting more gas and redundancy. Today, the craze of sidemount is both practical and inspiring as the thinking diver emerges. Standards exist for a reason, but the nuances of the application to the environment, the diver and team is what keeps people engaged and interested, even debating.
Sidemount is simply tanks “on the side” instead of (or in addition to) on your back. A few of my friends call this technique “sidebars” when they have a tank on their back. Anyone can strap on a tank, however as many of us have witnessed over the years, trial and error until you figure it out is not the safest or most practical approach to learning a skill, especially not in diving applications. The positioning of tanks along the side of the diver’s body completely changes their trim profile. Valves are more accessible, body position shifts, the regulator hoses are adjusted and the BCD provides lift from above instead of underneath the weight of the tanks. All the core gear is fundamentally the same as a back mounted tank diver, but the configuration and techniques change. These subtle adjustments are where the gear heads love to geek out and instructor guidance is paramount!
Ok, so how hard can it be? It’s not really – but it takes training and practice, plus my favorite trademark phrase, “Think it through seriously” (yes, acronyms are awesome). Sidemount steps outside of the mindset, “You must do it exactly this way!” and introduces the always entertaining instructor response “it depends”. This is a huge part of why sidemount is so popular, we have options!
So let’s look at my sidemount configurations, yes – plural. We’ll start warm water simple and grow in complexity. In warm water around the world, AL80 tanks are easy to obtain and easily strap on to each side of my lightweight harness with wing. Each tank has a first stage, one second stage, pressure gauge on a short hose and a low pressure inflator. If it is a shallow reef dive and the boat or resort has AL40s, maybe I will use those. They are the equivalent of an AL80 but with redundancy and extremely minimal impact in the water. If I were actually a better photographer, that would be a perfect rig for such activities. In the continental US or Europe, I’ll likely use AA85 or HP100 tanks for weight and trim in salt water drysuit and a little extra gas. Now let’s consider why diving my rebreather requires the sidemount configuration. I need at least one bailout and strapping tanks to my front is just plain awkward. The sidemount approach puts even large bailout tanks out of the way and streamlined, therefore most rebreather students start with a sidemount course or configuration sessions.
The new way of looking at this approach to diving provides a logical way to mitigate concerns found with diving doubles, avoids huge double tanks on the back and opens diving access in more locations. Loading and filling cylinders is more manageable and physical barriers break down for those not built with a 6’4” tall 180 lb frame. Manufacturers are pouring out varieties of sidemount equipment and more instructors are embracing the options. This is a fun and inspiring way to look at diving, just remember to “think it through seriously” and start with a little guidance via demos and the TDI Sidemount course.
Dori Phillips is an active TDI Instructor Trainer and founder of Get Out and Dive, a dive training and events organization. Her diving has taken her to amazing places around the world from Canada to Antarctica, Thailand to the Galapagos and many points along the way. In addition to dive training, she is an organizational consultant and has supported various manufacturers, retailers, academic institutions and small businesses. Dori loves to dive and share with those looking to learn, from beginner to cave diver and open or closed circuit, her patience with any student who is willing to make the commitment has been recognized by students over the years. Embrace her “think it through seriously” mindset – and you’ll have a blast!