If you’ve been on a dive boat lately, you’ve probably run into a configuration that is quickly gaining popularity. Two tanks hoisted to each side of a diver. A far stray from the traditional single tank, back mounted. It’s called sidemount diving. It’s not new as technical, wreck, and cave divers have been using a sidemount configuration for years. However, recently agencies and manufacturers have introduced training and equipment packages for the recreational diver. Sidemount is now in the mainstream diver’s curriculum and tool box. The question: Is sidemount diving a fad, phase, or here to stay?
When most divers first view someone sidemount diving, the misguided perspective is that sidemount systems are awkward and uncomfortable. However, a diver only needs to slip underneath the water to feel the streamlined effects and ease of use that is derived from sidemount diving. There are many benefits to sidemount diving and it is these benefits that are attracting mainstream divers from all around the world.
An alternative way to streamline in the water
For years, cave and wreck divers have been using sidemount systems to streamline through tight avenues in overhead environments. In open water, the principle remains the same. Sidemount diving has a streamlined, low drag effect that allows divers to use less energy and move easier when in open water.
Easier equipment transportation when topside
Sidemount systems are broken down into their individual components. Each component can be individually carried to the shoreline or to the swim step on a boat. For recreational divers who may not be as strong as other divers, this provides a low impact and less stressful way to approach and enter the water. Most sidemount divers don their tanks while in the water at the surface.
Reduced lower back strain
When your cylinder is moved from your back to your side, it instantly takes the pressure off of your back and gives you more flexibility to move and enjoy your dive. Comfort is a key component to relaxation, which lowers your respiratory rate and heart rate. Less strain on a diver physiologically lends to increased bottom time, increased safety, and increased enjoyment.
Provides redundant gas supply
Self-sufficient divers have realized the benefits of a redundant gas supply for decades. Having an alternative air supply, that is independent of a dive buddy, makes self-rescue the primary plan for an emergency bailout. A sidemount system has natural contingency built in for recreational and technical divers. Is sidemount diving safer because of this reason alone? Most dive professionals would argue yes.
Ability to monitor all equipment because it’s in front of you
Sidemount divers gain a whole new perspective on diving. With your breathing system and gas supply in front of you, divers can now monitor these very important components visually. Simply, a backmounted system is reliant on a buddy to monitor the breathing system underwater. A sidemount diver will have the ability to identify potential equipment failure earlier under this new configuration.
Increased gas supply for longer dives
If you are the first one out of air in your dive group, sidemount diving may be a solution for you. Nothing beats practice and cardiovascular shape when it comes to air consumption. However, this is a solution to quickly and easily increase your gas supply, possibly extending your bottom time and still staying within recreational dive limits. For some sidemount divers, this is not the biggest advantage. In fact, there is a trend where some recreational sidemount divers are purchasing smaller tanks (ie. 50 cubic foot and 40 cubic foot) to sling on each side. The smaller tanks are easier to transport, carry and “sling into place” at the surface.
There are obviously many advantages to sidemount diving. Some industry insiders say that it was not the advantages that drove the increased popularity in sidemount diving. Rather, it was the creativity and ingenuity of manufacturers and dive training agencies that needed to increase revenue by introducing some new products into what had become a stale line in a flat economy. Sidemount diving does have disadvantages including a need to purchase additional gear and training. Additionally, some dive boats and resorts are still trying to figure out how sidemount divers blend into their offerings and have not set up support systems for divers using sidemount. In fact, many dive boats and resorts consider recreational sidemount diving as a technical style of diving. Regardless, most new and experienced divers agree, sidemount diving is easy, fun, and the benefits far outweigh the disadvantages.
Is sidemount diving here to stay? Yes it is! Sidemount systems are being offered by many mainstream vendors. Dive agencies and instructors are offering recreational classes that someone with just a few dives can enroll into. Divers are always looking for easier ways to dive, be more self-reliant, and increase their bottom time. Sidemount diving is a step forward to helping most divers achieve those goals and more.
Photo credit to CG Durda, Underwater Photo Professional.