Sidemount the be-all and end-all configuration – Yes or No?

Is cave diver training in sidemount configuration is the way forward?

I have been a sidemount cave diver pretty much since the beginning of my time in Mexico, seven years ago. I first did, what most of us do, which is teaching myself the procedures… Thinking that it was as simple as clipping two tanks on my side and off I went. Well, that was not without a surprise! It is not as easy as it sounds. Specially if you want to enjoy it at 100%. Remember, water is where we’re having fun!🙂

In my opinion, the protocols that make a sound and safe sidemount diver are better learned with a trained and active sidemount instructor. Not here to convince you to take training with me or someone else for that matter (why would you go with someone else anyway..??). But mostly to share with you my views and thoughts on why, cave diver training and sidemount configuration go fin in fin, if you allow me.
But, is that it? Is it that backmounted cave diving/training is dead? Is backmounted diving part of history?
Is it a team friendly configuration? These are the questions I will try answering in this article.

A configuration

“Side mount” (my text editor still thinks it’s a weird word!) is not really a secret for anyone anymore. With a plethora of online information available. Divers can even today buy videos and figure it out on their own, without the supervision of an instructor. If you ask me, this is more a commercial stunt rather than diver’s education. But let’s keep on track😉

Sidemounting is the sole safe configuration one diver would use to go explore a cave or a wreck with major restrictions, as in where a buddy becomes a liability. We all know the sad story of this famous Australian cave explorer who died pushing the limits in a very restrictive passage. Solo diving, although very controversial (and that may be why), is a lifestyle for the ones I like to call “bad ass” explorers, be it cave or wreck. So of course, now in our current fast paced era of instant gratification, everybody claims to be THE one “bad ass” diver and therefore embrace advanced forms of diving with little if any knowledge and training. This is dangerous and far from who relies on our professionalism: the beginner divers.

Redundancy, application vs team diving

Of course, sidemount offers the only real redundancy in terms of cylinder management and gas distribution. For more details on this, I recommend for the novice, to take further training if this sounds interesting to you or patiently wait until I write something about it🙂

As seen in recent online promotional (and a bit sensational videos), that a trained sidemount diver can carry up to ten cylinders…with so much empty “real-estate” on the diver’s back…🙂
Sidemounting certainly offers the ideal flexibility to engage in real advanced form of scuba diving.
Is there a real application? Well, maybe, after all. In a remote location, for transporting cylinders (i.e mules) and/or not enough funds to buy scooters or…a rebreather. A cave explorer could carry on as many stage/deco cylinders as he/she sees fit. Although some colleagues might argue, a backmounted diver could carry as many cylinders as he/she wanted, too.

We again here, have the perspective of an explorer in a remote place. Not the mainstream diver – Mr John Doe. I wonder how this videos are being perceived by beginner divers. A mix of reserved judgment and admiration, I guess.

Does that make the set of doubles with isolator manifold totally unreliable? Un-redundant? Maybe, in a certain scenario. But does that mean, explorers do not use double tanks? Can’t they go into restrictive passages? I don’t think we can call the early explorers, when sidemount was no popularized like it is today, as liars. Can we?
What about all these divers in the Florida springs, who pioneered cave diving and explored countless of cave systems, at extensive depth? Are they all phony divers? I don’t think so.

I am sure you would agree that backmounted doubles and sidemount configuration, are both perfectly adaptable to cave diving/training/exploring. The saying that goes around “Backmount is dead” is misleading recreational and novice technical divers in that thinking of sidemount as being the savior of all problems. It goes without saying that messages like this  can be perceived as en entry passage to becoming an explorer. The word “explorer” is stretchable to some degree of course. Once we venture underwater, in the unknown, aren’t we all becoming explorers? This is another reason why I decided to write this article.

I will always remember that one phrase that particularly caught my attention “however you approach a (cave) dive, always keep in mind progressive penetration” – it makes so much sense, that it applies also to diver training – progressive training, followed by lengthy practice. Yes, it sounds like Master Miyagi’s training and there is a reason for that.😉

Is sidemount the be-all and end-all configuration?

Offering immediate access to exploration dives because of training being done in sidemount, is, in my sense, not doing any good to the world of diver’s education but rather satisfy the ego of a few and fulfills a more economical agenda of others. But maybe I am wrong.

What I am stressing out here is the trend around sidemounting for the too far, to fast.

Very few are the scuba agencies incorporating the team spirit in their curriculum. Ok, I do blame a certain agency for having nullified the buddy system but further than that, it is time to change the way the world learns to dive. And look outside the box, as our dear Course Directors like to say… The box being one closed minded agency and outside of it, is the rest of the world trying to do things right.

Sidemount diver training, the way it is done today differs to the most classic Hogarthian double tank diving in one crucial way: in case of an out-of-gas diver, the consensus says to donate what you are breathing from. In sidemount configuration, the diver is 50% of his/her time breathing from the long hose. The rest of the time, the long hose is clipped to the shoulder D-ring.
The main reason would be that in a low visibility situation, the OOG diver, would find by touch, the regulator in the mouth of his team mate and rescue him/herself.

To stay the closest possible to the general consensus and having been trained in a Bogaerthian way, some of us are teaching our student/divers to make use of a “brake-away” system to the second stage of our regulator, to make it accessible in case of an OOG while it’s being clipped to the D-ring.
But this does not please the other school of thoughts that are the classic Hogarthian backmounted divers. And for a reason: it defies the fundational rules of cave diver configuration…and training.

Suffice to say that sidemount is NOT a DIR friendly configuration. That’s it, I’ve done it. We could sum up the article by just this short sentence. I could even have given this title to the article…😉

In summary

So, it is easy to see how the two configurations can coexist. They are both valid configurations to be used in the safest and most enjoyable manner possible. We must not lose sight of the recreational divers, who are watching us, with envy and curiosity. In my eyes, sidemounting is great and will always be a very fun way to scuba dive but as educators, we have a responsibility, a duty of care if you prefer. Do not deliver too fast, skills that can only give the illusion of perfection.
I chose to wrote this article knowing I would pick some curiosity and stir some sediment. After all, I was there when sidemount became so popular. I co-wrote the Sidemount Essentials course with Steve Martin. I think it is time to recenter the approach we have to diver training.

For those who prefer not to get trained, I can’t say nothing. For those who will chose to get trained, I think they should do so in an informed way, by educators free from any agenda except delivering the appropriate training to the appropriate divers.

Please, feel free to comment as usual and Like if you do so🙂 Thanks


Stealth 2.0 sidemount diving goes Rec and Tec

Stealth 2.0 Sidemount Units

If you remember, I have already written an article about sidemount units in the past. This one should make a mark in the sidemount diving world, in the sense that it unveils the latest technology serving the new generation of sidemount divers. So get to your computers or tablets and book your unit right away through your local Xdeep dealer. They will sold out as soon as the launch is made. Be the first to dive the Xdeep Stealth Rec and/or Tec units.

Rec Tec Cave sidemount wing

Rec, Tec and Cave, finally a brand that understands the need of demanding divers

 

Note: For now only the Tec unit is being shipped out. The Rec version will ship later. Contact me for more info.

It’s been announced at the last Dive show in Germany that XDeep has a new addition to their sidemount units. In fact, it is two new units – the rec and the tec version. Both fully integrated to your Stealth 2.0 harness. The core structure of the Stealth 2.0 sidemount system is the harness. Now, XDeep offers two additional wings that will mount onto your harness. No need to buy a full set again… Well, you can if your original harness looks a bit too old!🙂 When bouthg all together, the unit will be assembled already. You just have to set the bungees to your prefered length.
All this with some great added gizmos patented by the great team of engineers at our favourite tec gear facility.

Finally, a piece of sidemount gear made by tec sidemount divers, for tec divers…and recreational divers.

So without any overdue, lets check out those units and start with the Stealth Rec setup.

Open water recreational sidemount bonanza

xdeep rec sidemount

Recreational sidemount divers finally have a descent unit

Finally, the pool of recreational divers has some serious piece of sidemount gear to play with.

It’s been a while since a manufacturer has put on the market something specifically dedicated to rec divers. No convoluted rig with so many D-rings you’d think you forgot to clip something and a lift capacity…well, let say that diving with some rig feels like diving with a Samsonite suitcase on your back.
This XDeep Stealth Rec Sidemount wing boosts a good 35lbs of lift, nicely trimmed around the diver’s body with some funky looking attachment points.

Fitted with quick release buckles at the shoulder harness, it is a clean continuity for all the avid recreational diver out there. Easy to adjust and fits any body size.
It boosts some great weight pockets with quick release pockets that will please all recreational divers. A great travel sidemount unit.

Made of the fabric that made the first Stealth 2.0 sidemount rig, the most rugged piece of gear – Cordura® 1100 dTEX – tested by Mauro Bordignon from Cave World extensively in the super tiny caves of Mexico. I have dived with him more than once on exploration dives and let me tell you, he did put it to the test. Xdeep has it’s test pilot when it comes to cave sidemount😉

One harness, one system, many different configurations. With STEALTH 2.0, divers soon would be able choose the best configuration for their current needs without changing the whole system.”

This is what you can read on the official Facebook page from XdeepGear.

I am personally looking forward to teach Rec 1 and 2 divers with this great piece of gear.

Thanks XDeep for you efforts in putting this together.

Tec Sidemount mode Stealth 2.0

Apparently, there has been a lot of thinking behind the Tec version of the Stealth unit.

Xdeep tec sdemount unit

Tec trimix divers have a new toy to dive with and will revolutionise the sidemount world.

First, the wing is attached to the harness. That is the top part of it. The upper section of the wing doesn’t inflate. The lift stays pretty much where it would if you were wearing the classic Stealth 2.0 

We still have the famous centrally located dump valve with the strong corrugated inflator hose and power inflator. One very interesting detail is that this hose, can be either placed on the left for wetsuit diving or on the right side, if diving dry.(if that applies to your config)
This modularity brings the Stealth line into the real sidemount only dedicated unit. It breath simplicity but it is packed with all we, as tec divers, are looking for.

The wig being fixed to the harness at the top, offers two option for attachement at the front of the diver. One would be to clip short bungee loops to the “new” XDeep sidemount flat D-rings. Or the diver can choose to use the more classic big bungee loop, like the original Stealth 2.0 wing.
Obviously, a larger lift capacity. This Tec version has a wing with 50lbs of lift… Yes, you read properly 50lbs of lift. More than the Cave version and this will appeal to multi stage/deco deep trimix sidemount divers.
Remember the minimum weight vs minimum lift?😉

Everybody has seen Tomasz Michura’s videos where it is obvious how versatile and spot on this unit is in terms of lift and trim possibilities.

Stealth 2.0 Tec unit’s User Manual is available here.

 

And last but not least, the Stealth 2.0 Sidemount pouch

Great addition to the Stealth 2.0 tools, that pouch is what was missing and we’ve all been waiting for.
We all, sidemount divers and tec divers, need a pouch!

Fully expandable, to carry your SMB, spool, spare mask, wet-notes, spare mouth piece, double-enders…and…your BUL aka back-up light. Inner loop to clip all your goodies closed by YKK quality zippers.
The ingeniously positioned window allows for divers and team members to see if the BUL has been left ON in the pouch and will drain it’s battery !! One great piece of thinking behind this.
This makes the Stealth 2.0 pouch the one you want to clip on your DAPs😉

Stealth 2.0 sidemount pouch

The one and only sidemount pouch you want to clip to your DAPs

So here it is a few words what we will start seeing emerging from the local dealers. Some great, fantastic sidemount products. If you are already a proud owner of Stealth 2.0 sidemount rig, simply order via your local dealer teh wing that will suit your needs as a scuba diver.

Remember though, that the Rec wing will not yet be available. Most likely around late Spring, early summer diving diving season🙂

All photos are property of www.xdeep.eu and www.facebook.com/xdeepgear


Top 10 factors a diver should consider

In the life of a scuba diver, one sees and hear all kind of things. From the regular recurring “is there any sharks here?” all the way up to “I dive DIR, I hope the DM will match me with a good diver otherwise I want my $$ back!” and so on and so forth.

I recently stumbled up upon a scuba diver’s article online and could not help but do a remix of it all…  Let say I jump into the arena and see what’s there. Too tempting😀
It may unleash the fire of hatred or the critical eyes of a few but hey, the news are what they are today – biased. So, here, I will try to give you the other side of the coin.

  • Using your tank valve to dry off your dust cap

It is actually a good thing to dry your dust cap prior to placing it back onto your first stage regulator. Doing this will avoid moisture to get in and start corrosion. As of how to do it, this is another thing. Consideration would dictate your actions but…if you use it considerately, you can use your tank valve to dry the dust cap off, or, you can also use your mouth to blow air in the cap – it is usually enough!

  • Make good use of your kitting area

Don’t spread your kit on one side if your entry point is on the other side…DUH!!!!

  • Take your time..but keep on track

Kitting up on a sunny day is a great motivating factor but watch out for some details. You can be the most experienced diver on the boat or site, so take a second or two to observe your team. If there is a diver who takes longer and/or repeat tasks at nauseum, you can conclude that this person is under stress. Instead of starting to complain and getting ready too fast, stop what you’re doing, go and speak with her/him. This is a sign of stress. For you Rescue Divers, does it sound familiar? It does to me!😀
Maybe the dive plan is too aggressive or the side too intimidating. Getting to know your team members during the boat ride out to the site is a nice way to “screen” everybody. Be nice!

  • Communication is key

To avoid confusion, a team of divers must agree on a plan and stick to it. Along with a series of hand signal, a team leader should be assigned. During a dive, in a group, there is no “passenger”. Let me explain this: I do not follow blindly the DM and barely monitor my gas, I am an active member of the team. Therefore, I keep and eye on them as I know, that they keep an eye on me. No “I” in TEAM🙂

  •  A theme dive should be filled with like-minded divers

If you are a photo maniac (like me!) and you want to dive just for taking photos, the best to avoid the “accidental” photo bombing, is to book onto a photographer’s dive trip. Like this, you are among divers who will be doing the same they’ll expect you to do: be smart.

  • Did I already said you should be considerate?

If you, the diver photographer refused to listen to our advice and find yourself on a boat full of non-photographers, then be considerate and use this to your advantage – this day, you can build something super interesting with the team and have your them participate. Yes, this photo shoot will be with models, get used to it! You and your team, now form a perfect crew for making your photos NatGeo‘s eligible shots. A dive plan, with assigned roles and solid communication will make this dive a bliss rather than a nightmare. Be smart!

  • More often than not, you could end up being the most experienced dive on-board

Yes, it is a fact that you could end up being the diver with the most experience on board. Does it mean you are a snob? Certainly not. Can you play the snob? Sure! Should you? Certainly NOT🙂
Hear me out here a second. The most experience you have, the more others are going to turn to you and ask for advice. This your time to shine.
Be a role model. Like always.🙂
On the other hand, that means that you are within your comfort zone and will not learn much, if not more “people skills”. So think again when booking your next diving holidays – FACE YOUR FEAR – give yourself a challenge. If you are an instructor, take an instructor course to better your knowledge and if you are Rescue diver, take onto some new challenge and like this, keep your hobby interesting.

 

So, here it is, I have said what I wanted to say. There is only 9 points in the end because I think there is no need to repeat too many times the same thing.
We are in an individualistic social activity, if that make sense. It is probably one of the most social sport to meet people, travel to new places and have fun.
In my opinion, learning to scuba in resort destination is not the best thing to do to your hobby. Unless you are learning an advanced form of diving, not being taught at your local dive shop. Sidemount scuba diving comes to mind, as well as cave diving.
Once you become a sidemount diver and/or a cave diver, you first can be proud of yourself as these two courses are challenging. But keep in mind that it is not for every diver and that your experience can and will help others.
Your experience, over those many dives that you have logged, have given you the “resuce others” type of skill set. Give away those tips and tricks you’ve learned and be the diver everybody wants to dive with.

If you feel you’ve reached a plateau, then take up on a new course. Challenge yourself and make sure you’re doing it for the right reason – HAVE FUN🙂

 


Reel Secrets

Or the art of tying off…

So this is something that has been on my mind since I came back from doing my introduction to cave diving, aka Cave 1 class with GUE – I wanted to deliver to you a closer look on how to handle a reel and how to approach and do a good tie-off. Cave divers have to run a continuous guideline from the open water to the permanent cave line and connect side passages with jump spools if they decide to venture off the permanent line. And during the cave class, although the message of continuous guideline is incessant, there is no real emphasis on the art of laying the line and using the reel. Yes, it is an art, ok?

How to keep it reel?

How to keep it reel?

Continue reading


Donning and Doffing Sidemount tanks

Everything has an order

Keep it consistent and you will never forget anything, plus, you’ll be doing it right each time!
Donning and doffing sidemount tanks, as I was thought and now how I have perfected it, made me want to share with ALL of you this little secret. OK, it has nothing of a secret because it should be taught at Basic Sidemount class but it is not always and for the self taught, well, here is a way to look better at doing it.

Remember, because we are scuba diving in sidemount, everybody watches us – yes, they do! In fact I would say they envy us😀

In the idea of trying to keep as close as possible from the DIR concept (comments here are welcome), my configuration, the one I teach, comes with the long hose on the right cylinder and the neck-lace shorter hose (with a 90° fixed elbow) comes to the left cylinder. This latter, is called the primary cylinder, as for us, lucky warm water divers, is the one with the LPI wing/BCD inflator.

If you read this and you are not so lucky and dive cold water in a drysuit, you could have the order reversed. For example those diving a certain brand of sidemount harness (interchangeable dump/inflator) will have the dry suit connection off the left tank and the wing off the right one. Does that change the order of primary to secondary? It depends how you see it really. As far as I would go, my dry bag is NOT a buoyancy device but… Another debate for another interesting article.🙂

So here we are, it is going to come as a succession of photos with explanation and a little summary. Enjoy🙂

Thanks to my private model for the photo-shoot🙂 Thanks Richard🙂

 

sidemount tanks

First of all, set the tanks to have the right and the left one in the correct position.

left tank first

Left tank first. Get hold of the tank by the first stage, with the right hand and the left hand finds the piston clip and attach the cylinder to the harness.

Bubble check

Once left tank is clipped, it is time to open the valve and do a first self-bubble check. Once done, deploy bungee from around the valve and fully deploy short hose from retaining band. Giving a forward rotation to the turret of the first stage will help keep the hose away when securing the sidemount bungee.

opening tank

Same view but from underwater – switch valve ON prior to deploying hose.

Dry test

After securing the cylinder with the bungee, time to connect your LPI and get some buoyancy. Then, rotating towards the shoulder the turret of the first stage, pass the short hose behind the head and orientate the second stage properly. Bite into the mouth piece then, pull on the necklace bungee around the head/helmet. Time now to test the second stage, face in the water.

Right tank ON

Now that the left tank is on and fully checked, time to do the same but with opposite hand for the right tank. So, left hand gets hold of the first stage while the right hand finds the piston clip and secure the tank to the harness.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

right tank open

Just after clipping tank to right hip rear D-ring, while cylinder still submerged, crank open the valve and do your self-bubble check. Then, it is time to secure it with the sidemount bungee.
NOTE: the long hose stays in place until the tank is secured on both attachment points.

Dry breath regulator

Once deployed, the long hose crosses in front of the chest, clockwise and the second stage goes in the mouth to be tested, underwater.

 

 

So here we are now, with our tanks (or cylinder, which ever you prefer!) ON and ready to go sidemount scuba diving. It is done the same way for open water diver and/or for sidemount cave and/or technical divers. The long hose needs to always be on top during the ‘exploration’ part of the dive. Once doing deco dives, the deco cylinder, righ or left, takes the ride over the others but it is a good idea to cross the long hose and pass it over. In case of a TOXIC switch, back gas, is always better than the pure O2!!

Long hose deploy

To end this sequence, it is a good habit to get into, is deploy the long hose and switch to necklace to ensure that long hose is free. It is called a ‘modified S-Drill’. So that is ALL I had to say about #DonningDoffingSidemountTanks🙂 Hope you liked it and see you in the comment section😉


Sidemount Diver’s Pouch

…aka Sidemount Diver’s man purse

Why?

We all need little bits and pieces of junk (understand back ups and fix it now tools) to make sure the dive goes on well and each part of our gear is kinda fixable on site, or even, underwater…

 

Sidemount pouch

Sidemount pouch

The DIR diver uses thigh pockets to keep his/her spare and back-ups but for the sidemount diver, thigh pockets are not ideal as positioned where the tanks are resting. On top of that, getting to what’s in there is not easy. All the divers using pockets, is used to clip any piece of equipment to not loose the precious content and go fishing blind when the need for what’s in the pocket arises.

When a diver is in need of his pocket content, would it be for a regular task of in an emergency, being able to act in an fast yet smooth manner, makes the difference between a successful dive and a dive we’ll talk about for a long time…at the bar!😉

Continue reading


Cave Diving Helmet

So, with or without a helmet?

cave diving helmet

To helmet or not to helmet?

Have you already noticed that some cave divers are wearing a helmet and others aren’t?

Some are wearing their tanks on the side and others on the back. Here we say they use a different tank configuration. But why a helmet? Is it because they swim faster?🙂 Or maybe that they can be subject to fallen rocks/debris that could hurt them? To carry their lights? To look cool?

Continue reading


Why learn to cave dive?

What should I expect during cave diver course?

When I took my decision to fly over to Mexico in late 2006, I had already in mind what was there: the cenote with their crystal clear water. At first, it was not so much the looong overhead sections that made the longest cave systems in the world. Nah! To be totally honest, I was a bit anxious, if not scared by the idea of cave diving. But I was ready to take up the challenge and learn to become a Full Cave Diver. At the time, I already knew (“thought” may be more appropriate word) that I had a ton of scuba diving experience. I had been teaching since 1996 and had couple of years before that, started my life as a PADI Tec deep diver. SO, I thought, I was bulletproof…

Let me tell you this: nothing had prepared me to what was coming! Not the 15 years of scuba diving as an instructor had prepared me for the cave diver training…🙂 Continue reading


Keep it reel

Primary reel, jump spool and cave line

Time to send the SMB up or tie-off your primary reel to the cavern or cave line, time to go wonder on an off-shoot line… What type of reel should I use? A reel or a spool..??? These are questions you will have to answer while taking your Intro to Cave course or Full Cave diver training with me.

Primary or exploration reels

Well, to answer to this question there is no straight forward answer… With as many different types of reels/spools as there are types of scuba training, it is impossible to say, for me at least, this reel or spool is better than that one or the other… Have I made myself clear?🙂 Continue reading


Scuba Fitness

How fit a diver are you?

Scuba diving is one of the sport where the whole family can partake and act within an environment that is changing all the time. For this reason, a minimum fitness level and stamina is beneficial to continue enjoying this fun sport and it will become a necessity when you start considering more advanced diver training. In this series of articles, I will try to demonstrate how you can:

  • Assess your fitness level
  • Go from couch to 5km run
  • Eat your way to fitness

Continue reading


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