Category Archives: Continued Training

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

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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 🙂

 


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 😉


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

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Gas managment

How much gas is enough?

“OK guys and gals, the reef is right under the boat, it is 40ft/12m deep, there is a slight current coming from the North and for the more experienced, the wreck is at bearing 160. Have fun and make sure to use the descent line and come back when you have 700PSI/50BAR. Have fun!”

How much gas is enough?

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Spring back into Scuba Diving

Or how to keep your skills as fresh as the first day

For most of us, diving every day is not a possibility, although, if you really want, you can. That is, if you have a pool of water nearby.
Some of my friends enjoy diving in the cold sea of Sweden or Finland but they rather book a trip to Warmer climates such as the Red Sea or even Malta’s archipelago.

Safety drill aka S-Drill

Either way, this is an important step in the life of a scuba diver: keeping your scuba diving skills as fresh as the first day you got to learn them. Be it a simple mask clear or a more complex S-Drill. These precious skills, some call ‘survival skills’ are precious and need a constant care.

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Newly Learned Diving Skills or

From incompetent to competent diver

IN the 70s, a theory was developed at Gordon Training International that was describing the different stages of psychological states during the learning process. These stages run from being unconscious incompetent to unconscious competent.
Let’s have a look how we could apply this to teaching/learning new diving skills. But first, I shall take the time to explain a bit more what these states are to us, as humans.

Four stages of competence

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Delayed Surface Marker Buoys

surface marker for ocean diving

Deep sea diving or should I say open water diving? In any cases divers will need to be able to signal their position and communicate with the surface by using a surface marker buoy aka SMB, DSMB, sausage or even  a bolb!!
At a beginner’s level, surface suport is just the boat captain and maybe his crew, just waitng in the drift to see ‘where’ the client-divers are going to surface from their dive. Pretty basic you’d say…
It should be, as long as it is agreed before the dive, that an SMB must be used and the boat crew know the type and eventualy color of the surface markers in use within that group of recreational divers.

But on the other hand, we’d have the more experienced diver, possibly a technical diver, even a sidemount technical diver 😉 who absolutely need surface support for his or her safety. During your technical diving class with Essential Scuba Training, you will learn how to deploy safely an SMB.

Surface Marker

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Maximum Operating Death (Part 1)

Cylinder labels – Where and what to write

Scuba diving is still claiming victims. Sometimes, reading newspapers, it is possible to hear about the diver’s oxygen cylinder that ran out. If you read this blog, you are probably a diver and therefore know exactly what I am talking about!
With today’s demand for advanced diver training these journalist could never be so far from the truth. Oxygen cylinders are dangerous, a bit like a loaded weapon. If mishandled, it is not a question of ‘if’ but ‘when’ will it kill!? Unless…

As soon as divers enter in the Technical diving realm, they will carry along a variety of gasses either to extend their bottom time or to help during the decompression or ascent phase of the dive.

All you need is this!

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Mix Gas Sidemount Scuba Diving

Nitrox or Helium, either way, in sidemount!

For a while now, Nitrox (oxygen enriched mix) and or helium based mixes, aka trimix, have been the sole toys of technical divers. It is true in a way, and thanks God to these different mixes, man (ok, women as well!) are pushing the limits of scuba diving and helping understand the intricacies of deep, very deep diving as well as decompression models. If Nitrox is not new, nor is helium, they are still seen as ‘voodoo’ mixes.

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