Sidemount Diving

Photo by: DiverTown

What is Sidemount Diving?

Sidemount diving is a specialized configuration of scuba equipment that positions diving cylinders along the diver’s sides, rather than affixed to the back as is common in traditional backmount configurations. The cylinders are situated below the shoulders and along the hips, allowing for unique benefits in flexibility, mobility, and safety.

History and Development

Sidemount diving originated from the technical and cave diving communities, where the unique challenges of these environments necessitated more flexible equipment configurations. The narrow passages and tight spaces of cave systems were more easily navigated with the streamlined profile that sidemount configuration offered. Its usage expanded over the years, and it is now applied in a variety of diving environments, including recreational, technical, and professional diving.

Equipment Configuration

In a sidemount setup, one or two cylinders are typically used, each with its own regulator and pressure gauge. This configuration promotes redundancy and allows the diver to manage gas supply independently for each cylinder. The cylinders are attached to the diver using a specially designed sidemount harness, with clips and bungee cords securing the tanks to the body. This system offers a lower profile and enhanced maneuverability compared to traditional backmount setups. The diver’s buoyancy control device (BCD) and weight system are also incorporated into the sidemount harness.

Advantages of Sidemount Diving

Accessibility and Transport

Sidemount diving offers several advantages, including ease of equipment transportation. As cylinders can be carried separately and attached in the water, the configuration is advantageous in shore dives, where the diver must navigate difficult terrain or a long distance before reaching the dive entry point.

Flexibility and Comfort

The sidemount setup offers increased flexibility and comfort under water. The ability to move cylinders from the diver’s sides to the front allows for easier access to cylinder valves and regulators. It also allows for a more horizontal trim in the water, which can be beneficial in different diving environments.

Safety and Redundancy

Sidemount diving also enhances safety by offering redundancy in the breathing system. Each cylinder has its own regulator, pressure gauge, and supply of gas. This allows for independent management of each gas supply, providing a backup in case of equipment failure.

Disadvantages and Considerations

While there are many advantages, sidemount diving also has its challenges. It requires additional training and practice to master the different skills associated with managing the equipment configuration. Cylinder management, valve drills, gas management, and buoyancy control can be more complex than in backmount diving.

Moreover, while the sidemount setup is more streamlined than backmount, it can also be more prone to entanglement if not properly secured. Proper rigging of the cylinders and harness is crucial to avoid potential hazards.

Training and Certification

Given the unique considerations of sidemount diving, specific training is necessary to safely and effectively dive with this configuration. Many diving agencies, such as PADI, SSI, and TDI, offer sidemount diving courses. These courses typically cover topics such as equipment configuration, gas management, emergency procedures, and buoyancy control.

Equipment Selection and Setup

A key component of sidemount diving is the careful selection and setup of equipment. The sidemount harness is central to this configuration. It should be comfortable and adjustable, with secure attachment points for the cylinders and other gear. D-rings located on the harness allow for easy attachment and adjustment of the cylinders, while bungee cords help secure them against the body.

Cylinders used in sidemount diving are typically smaller and lighter than those used in backmount configurations, as they need to be easily maneuverable. They can be aluminium or steel, depending on the diver’s buoyancy needs and personal preference. Each cylinder is equipped with its own regulator, first stage, and pressure gauge, ensuring independent operation.

The diver’s BCD, often integrated into the sidemount harness, must provide sufficient lift to compensate for the weight of the equipment and the diver. It should also allow for precise buoyancy control, a critical factor in sidemount diving.

Additional equipment such as dive computers, dive lights, and safety gear can be attached to the harness, but care should be taken to avoid creating a cluttered or entanglement-prone configuration.

Skills and Techniques

Sidemount diving involves a distinct set of skills and techniques compared to backmount diving. This includes different methods for entering and exiting the water, as cylinders are often attached in the water rather than on land. Divers must also master the technique of switching between regulators during the dive to balance gas consumption from each cylinder.

Buoyancy control is crucial in sidemount diving, as the position of the cylinders can greatly influence the diver’s trim and balance. Regular adjustment of the cylinder positions may be necessary to maintain optimal trim.

Moreover, sidemount divers must become proficient in handling potential emergency situations, such as a gas supply failure. This includes learning to manage gas sharing with a buddy diver, performing controlled emergency swimming ascents, and dealing with entanglement or equipment failure.

Future of Sidemount Diving

The popularity of sidemount diving continues to grow as more divers become aware of its benefits and versatility. Manufacturers are responding with an increasing range of sidemount-specific equipment, and diving training organizations continue to refine their sidemount courses.

While it began as a niche practice within the technical and cave diving communities, sidemount diving has become a mainstream practice, appreciated by divers of varying experience levels across the globe. As the sport of scuba diving continues to evolve, it is likely that the use of sidemount configurations will continue to expand, offering divers new opportunities for exploration and adventure under the sea.

Sidemount diving is a versatile equipment configuration that offers a range of benefits, particularly in challenging diving environments. With its origins in technical and cave diving, the sidemount setup has been adopted by divers across a range of disciplines, from recreational to professional diving. While it requires specific training and careful management, the benefits in terms of flexibility, safety, and comfort make it a valuable configuration for many divers.