Learning to Sidemount

Me cleaning the corals

Sidemount diving and cleaning the coral nursery

I have been sidemount diving now for over a year. It is my preferred way to dive. I love the fact that it gives me complete redundancy, and I know I have enough gas to get out of most situations.  Also it looks really cool, primarily because I have my trim and buoyancy down.

I learned to sidemount dive back in April 2013. I was in Malta at my favourite dive shop, Divewise, completing lots of specialities so that I could become a Master Scuba Diver. While there I saw Steve Wilkinson dive in sidemount. It looked amazing and without hesitation I asked if I could learn. So I signed up for the course and became a sidemount diver.

The harness I used on the course was a Hollis SMS50. It was relatively easy to setup but the lift in the harness is lacking, so I had a few issues on some of the dives. My instructors had both used the Razor harness (developed by Steve Bogaerts). So I promptly ordered one, however I didn’t get the opportunity to use it until my last few days in Malta in July 2013.

It took me until January 2014 before I was confident enough, and had purchased my own tanks, to try sidemount diving in the Bahamas. Since then I have managed over 100 sidemount dives (that’s an average of 2 a week, not bad considering I have a day job and can only dive on weekends). In fact I managed over 170 dives this year, almost 3.3 dives per week.

Half way through the year I headed to Abaco and started the process of becoming cave certified. This gave me the opportunity to have my Razor harness checked by a Razor instructor – Brian Kakuk. We made some small adjustments to the harness and we were on our way. Since the summer I haven’t made that many adjustments to my kit, however, I know that I need to make a few.

  1. Shorten the continuous bungee by an inch or two
  2. Adjust the position of the radiator clips
  3. Adjust the length of the cord on the boltsnaps
  4. Strip the paint from my tanks.

These will all be done in the first few weeks on 2015.

One of the problems that I find is that as I am the only person in Nassau diving in sidemount I have no one to talk to about it, no one to check my kit configuration – even just to spitball ideas with. So I decided to buy some instructional videos from Steve Martin as a Christmas present to myself. Steve Martin is an instructor that I have admired for sometime and I have wanted to train with him. Though the opportunity has never arisen, yet. So when I heard that he was bringing out a a series of videos that would showcase his knowledge I knew that I wanted to buy them. The price is 130 GBP and for that you get access to 5 videos.

  1. Cylinder Workshop Configuration (50 minutes)
  2. Regulator Workshops Training (60 minutes)
  3. Harness & BCD Workshop Training (96 minutes)
  4.  Sidemount Essentials – Tips & Tricks (104 minutes)
  5.  Stage/Deco Cylinder Workshop Training (65 minutes)

I have started watching them and I have found that they are filled with lots of useful tips and hints that make the setup and use of sidemount so much easier. I am happy that I now have a resource to go to, where my questions can be answered. I will definitely be using them to improve my setup and I will comment on how they have helped me.

I would recommend getting training in sidemount, rather than just watching some videos. For me it is all about the tweaks but for a new sidemount diver there is lots to learn so getting the proper training will make all the difference.  There are many great instructors out there. I have mentioned four in this post and would happily train with any of them. Make sure that your instructor regularly dives in sidemount, and looks like he knows what he is doing. A diver in sidemount should be streamlined with all their kit squared away. It should look awesome but still be functional, if it doesn’t then perhaps your instructor isn’t for you.

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