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Sidemount diving - first impressions

Discussion in 'General Scuba Diving' started by Wibble, Jul 13, 2017.

  1. Wibble

    Wibble Fish don't talk
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    On holiday in Spain and doing the usual diving from RIBs in warm, clear Mediterranean water with lots of life. Lovely diving, but wanted something more challenging so I took the opportunity to do a sidemount course.

    The course was run by an experienced sidemount instructor and cave diver (some great caves around the Costa Blanca, particularly Moraig which is listed in Martyn Farr's book Classic Darksite Diving... I digress).

    My objective was to find out what the sidemounters keep chirping on about. So basic config, trim, protocols, etc. I also want to know how to use stages as deco is a major part of my diving these days.

    First (short) day was getting used to the kit and a 'getting used to it' dive. Diving in a Techline sidemount harness with 5kg of lead, in my drysuit with simple undersuit (bloody warm on the surface!)

    What an amazing experience. The rig just flattens you in the water, completely flat trim with zero effort. You can turn sideways on and stay there. Similarly tilt head down and remain there, ok, you do need to be aware of air in your suit migrating to your feet. It's amazing to not have that bloody great keel weight on your back in the form of a twinset or single tank which needs the wing to wrap around it to compensate.

    Really amazed at just how easy it was to remain flat and totally still in the water. Sure, I'm pretty OK with a twinset, but they're a complete sod when you're tipping sideways if you're squeezing through a gap. Similarly a twinset is a total bastard when going head down: most definitely not stable and wants to tip you head over heels. Messing around I even swam upside down without budging in buoyancy.

    The big difference between sidemount and backmount is having to 'manually' manage your gas, swapping between the cylinders every 30 bar. And remembering which tin you're breathing from! Not that onerous with a bit of practice.

    Getting used to donning one's kit isn't that hard. Left cylinder first, back clip on, bungee around the valve, hose around the neck and on with the necklace bungee. Then right cylinder which has the longhose partially stowed on the cylinder bands, back clip, then bungee around the valve, hose around the neck like backmount and reg clipped off if not breathing from it. The gauges are on 15cm hoses and left sitting on the cylinder.

    The next (short) day was running through the skills. Out of gas donation - standard longhose donate protocol although you may need to unclip it if you're breathing from the backup (left cylinder). Mildly irksome re-stowing the longhose as the cylinder is steel and is very tight in to your chest, so remove the bungee from the valve and let the stage drop down and stuff the hose back. Not hard, but a bit of practice needed.

    Valve drills are dead easy. The valve are right in front of you, no "muscle memory" and endless practice required like backmount. Just shut the thing down and breathe it down and switch to the other reg. then open up, purge, then repeat for the other side.

    Jumping ahead to day three with the stages, I had an issue with the stage where the reg had become dislodged and was blowing gas out of the NIN connector; no confusion - you can see the offending reg, and unlike backmount, I could see the other three cylinders and all regulators.

    Other skills included feathering the valves to breathe from a free flowing regulator (simulated by holding the purge down). Wow, so sodding easy as the valve is in front of you and none of that reaching behind your head. To be fair, backmount has a manifold so you'd just shut down the offending post and breathe the gas from the other reg --n sidemount you need to learn how to feather the valve (close and open) as you may need to access the gas in that cylinder if in an overhead environment or deco, etc.

    The big benefit of sidemount is you've nothing on your back, just a very streamlined bladder. But you're wider with the cylinders under your arms. So if you've a tight squeeze to get through you can bring one or both cylinders forward by unclipping the cylinders from your hip D rings and rotating them in front of you. Being heavy steel cylinders, this does affect your centre of gravity, but it's still a trick that you can't do on backmount.

    Kitting and dekitting on the boat and in the water's really not an issue. Just remember it's left on first and right off first to stop the hoses tangling. Steel cylinders are heavy, so be careful not to drop them into Neptune's locker. Quite frankly it's a doddle on a RIB. Massively easier than diving with a twinset off a RIB.

    Day three was running through the kit configuration in more detail. Some subtle differences between normal stage configurations, mostly down to the way that the bungees pull the nose in and the hip clip twists the stage. Also the cylinders need to be adjusted to fit the diver, measuring from the armpit to the hip, the lower cylinder clip may need to be adjusted up and down to match. Some other adjustments for steel vs aluminium to compensate for their floatyness.

    Then the practical dive which we took a couple of stages for me to rig up. Again a doddle once shown the best way: clip the hip clip first, then kick the stage under the sidemount cylinder, and clip the valve clip onto your chest D ring; reverse for unclipping, nose, kick under and around the back. No difference with stage switching "no-tox" protocols: you watch me switch to this stage with this MOD...

    The whole stage session was done in the sea at 4 metres. The sidemount rig is so intrinsically stable that there just aren't any issues with your buoyancy as you're throwing stages around.

    At the end of this session I was left asking the instructor "is that it?" It really was that simple.

    So, pay for the cert or not? I didn't do it for yet another card, but for the knowledge of using sidemount. Arrrgh... ok, I paid for the cert. Now a Tech Sidemount Diver.

    I was utterly amazed at how stable and simple the sidemount configuration is. It's pretty simple although there's a lot of subtle gotchas, but that's what the training's for. As someone who's getting older, I really appreciate having two separate cylinders to lug around rather than a massively heavy and awkward twinset that's an utter bastard to lift into the car boot, let around carry into the gas room.

    I'm now wondering why sidemount isn't more popular. From what I've seen it's a much better tool for the job than backmount is. Sure, when there's any restrictions/squeezes sidemount is the tool and backmount is a liability. For general purpose diving where redundancy is necessary, it's definitely a great tool for the job, certainly equal to backmount. Of course the thought of 12 sidemounters all kitting up at the same time on a hard boat might favour the backmounters.

    Will be getting a sidemount harness in the near future. Plenty of practice and kit fettling required though.

    Would definitely recommend sidemount. Have seen the light.
     
    JohnL likes this.
  2. jb2cool

    jb2cool Moderator
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    First dibs on one of your twinsets.
     
    Wibble likes this.
  3. Wibble

    Wibble Fish don't talk
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    Some notes on cylinder config...
    • Cam bands used for holding the hip bolt Snap. This allows it to be adjusted to fit the diver and cylinder type (steel/ali)
    • String holding bolt Snap should be short, 10 to 20mm. Mounted on the cam band using a tri-glide.
    • Height from valve to bolt Snap to be same as distance from diver's armpit to hip where the D-ring would be held on the harness belt.
    • Steel cylinder has boltsnap approximately in line with valve, aluminium is rotated about 30 degrees
    • Small - 3mm - bungee around the neck of the longhose cylinder to clip the regulator boltsnap to. More cylinder bands to hold the longhose in situ. One band for the left-hand reg which is held in place by the necklace bungee
    • No bolt snaps on neck of main cylinders
     
  4. nickb

    nickb Active Member

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    I can honestly say that, aside from a few people who shouldn't be diving at all, the biggest pain in the arse divers I had to deal with in the 10 weeks I was in Scapa were side-mounters. With one or two excellent exceptions, they required the most assistance and bench space. Almost all had no idea what they were doing every time they kitted-up.
     
  5. Vanny

    Vanny Active Member

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    Nice write up, interesting. Thanks. Can't say it's anywhere in my future but I've leant to never say never!

    If your gonna pursue your trimix diving in the uk I'm not sure this is the config. to go for thou. I've yet to see a side mount diver on anything resembling a tec dive in the uk. In fact seeing someone on OC is like , ohhhh look how quaint.

    I guess for your cavie stuff this could be the panacea.

    From a very much an outsider view and someone with an incredibly simple mind be careful not to take on too many various configs/styles. I find the safest way to dive is adopt a system and dive the feek out of it. CCR isn't always the most practical answer to my dive requirements but the familiarity pays dividends.

    Enjoy you holiday:balanced:
     
  6. Wibble

    Wibble Fish don't talk
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    Odd really as nearly all of them would have had to pass through the twinset phase to get into Sidemount -- most sidemounters are former backmounters.

    As for the "too much kit", box users with all their bailouts take a lot of space on the bench!

    From my really limited experience, I was amazed how easy it is to get kitted up in sidemount config on a RIB. Each tin is relatively light and easily managed, as opposed to a single+BCD+weights, or the utter misery that is diving twinsets off a RIB -- lifting a twinset+BP+regs+weights+torch onto the sponson is really challenging.
     
  7. nickb

    nickb Active Member

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    I don’t carry “too much kit”, I carry ”enough”.

    For the majority of dives I was doing there, one bailout was sufficient and I can keep that under the bench until I’m about to walk to the exit. If I take two, they both go on the left and will stand upright next to me on the bench. I don’t take up anywhere close to the space required by a side mount diver.

    Their biggest problem was the fannying about getting the bungys around the top of their tins, almost all of them required assistance at some point, some on every dive. No two people, save regular buddy pairs, had the same setup.

    Almost all of them also had trouble getting through the gate, even though it is wide.
     
  8. Wibble

    Wibble Fish don't talk
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    Interesting points.

    Surprised that the bungees cause all the grief. I found it really simple to grab the bungee and wrap it around the valve. Having said that, my instructor did show me the way that some harnesses do the bungee with massively thick cord and a boltsnap. Seemed way too hard work than a simple loop that I had.

    Will play with a harness as soon as I get one. Looking at the Xdeep Stealth Tec harness and wing.
     
  9. Wibble

    Wibble Fish don't talk
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    More notes that sprung to mind before I forget them...
    • Stage cylinders; use a nose clip that's on 6mm bungee rightish to the neck. Specifically, can use a small loop of bungee around the cylinder neck and a double ender. This keeps a stage cylinder tight to your chest; no droopy stage - also for backmount. Again the hip clip string should be short.
    • Backmount: can tie a loop of 6mm bungee to the backplate just under your shoulder blades looped through your chest D-ring (think this might be better through a floating loop around the chest strap below the D-ring). This can be used to pull stage cylinders tight into your chest/armpits. More streamlined.
    • Chest bungee (6mm) should rest loosely under your armpits. When looped with your thumb it shouldn't extend much more than 15cm past the chest D-ring. More than this is too loose, less is too tight.
    Found this link which has some good info on chest bungee options. My instructor wasn't at all keen on the independent bungees (bolt snap on a thick bungee); he was definitely in favour of loop bungees. More info on cylinder trim here.
     
  10. nickb

    nickb Active Member

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    I've thought that rigging bailout like this would be good for streamlining but how easy is it to manage the bottles - rotate & hand-off etc.?

    Watching people struggle to get the bungee around the cylinder neck (particularly the trailing boltsnap style) gives me the impression that it's not as slick as handling a regularly rigged cylinder.

    Also, what about 3rd, 4th etc.... bottles? I would nose-clip a third (and sometimes do this with my second, shallow one) to my hip D-ring. But with no top clip this doesn't work.
     
  11. Wibble

    Wibble Fish don't talk
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    Would be interested in experienced sidemounter's opinions here.

    From my brief experience with bungee loops, I didn't have any issues with attaching the bungee around the cylinder neck. However, as Javier, my instructor, said: stuff looks very easy if an experienced person sets it up for you. And as @nickb said, there's a seemingly endless variation in kit configurations...

    I'm going to have a mess around with some bungee on my standard backmount kit (standard, except for the RH hip D-ring). My theory is that you use bog-standard stage rigging, but wrap the bungee around the neck to hold it in position. Thus a hand-off is just the additional step of unbungeeing (sp?) the stage, all else then is as per normal.

    Maybe the problem with bungee is if it's tight, you can't get your finger behind it to take it off. Maybe a small tab would help?
     
  12. Andyjloft

    Andyjloft Member

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    Just spent a great 3 days doing my sidemount course with Raid. Great course thoroughly enjoyed it. Setting up your own harness will take ages without help and bungees will be hit and miss, I was fortunate that during the course my harness was set up and tweaked till it all felt right. I left having learnt loads but with lots to improve on but onwards and upwards I love a challenge.
     
  13. Wibble

    Wibble Fish don't talk
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    Which harness and bungee configuration did you opt for. Last which tins?
     
  14. Andyjloft

    Andyjloft Member

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    I went with xdeep stealth tec with loop bungee and steel 12l tins although others used ali but its personal preference.It took a fair bit of setting up but it feels part of you when you have it on.
     
  15. never even heard of pete

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    It always looks good to me as long as its rec diving once its tech diving it looks like a pain
     
  16. Wibble

    Wibble Fish don't talk
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    What's 'tec' though? Diving with one or two stages?
     
  17. never even heard of pete

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    Two or more
     
  18. Wibble

    Wibble Fish don't talk
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    Now have an XDeep Stealth Tec sidemount harness. These seem extremely popular - saw three of them today at Wraysbury, out of four or five sidemounters.

    Sidemounting, unlike backmount, seems to present endless challenges to configure your kit as it really does matter how the system fits you, your drysuit, and other bits of kit. I actually like the prescriptive nature of backmount, doesn't half make things easy for kit configuration. Sidemount not so as things are still evolving and your kit depends largely on what kind of diving you do.

    I spent most of Saturday configuring the harness, connecting up the various bits of bungee, building regs, making cam-bands and loads of bungee loops for the cylinders.

    Sunday was spent at Wraysbury practicing. That solo diver ticket comes in very useful!

    The objective is to get some time furkling with the kit and doing basic stuff. In a while I'll either pay for a day's coaching or do some form of workshop. For now it's just do some gentle diving in a benign environment.

    Due to my last few dives being blown out, my twinsets are full of trimix which I'm not going to drain. So I was going to use a couple of ali80 stages, but decided to rent a couple of tall 12 cylinders from Wraysbury instead. Sure, they're not 'proper' sidemount tins, but they're close enough for playing around. At £9 each including fill, not expensive either - lasted all day.

    Transferred the cam-bands over along with the regs, bungee bands,and neck bungees, worked well. As I had two "left hand" cylinders, the right-hand one would have the valve knob pointing inwards. A bit hacky, but not an issue for these dives.

    Dive one was about 100 minutes in the murk. Got into the water and put the cylinders on. Left first then the right hand cylinder. Struggled to locate the chest bungees as they'd slipped down when I donned the harness. Probably need to add a triglide and bungee loop to locate the chest bungee. In fact donning and doffing the harness is a real faff as there's no backplate to keep its shape and hold it up.

    Guessed my weight as 6kg for the first dive. Had no problems sinking so probably too much.

    First dive; trim was fantastic, one of the real benefits of sidemount as your centre of gravity is over the small of your back. Totally flat in the water, spent several minutes motionless, so that bit works.

    However, dumping gas from the wing was awful. Couldn't reach the centrally mounted dump around my backside as the inflated wing and tighter wetsuit conspired against me. This was horrible as buoyancy totally relies on being able to quickly dump small amounts of gas. Ended up using the inflator hose and rolling to my right.

    The heavy steel cylinders felt uncomfortable. As they're rented ones, not much I can do. Seems like there's a lot of faffing ahead when I finally spilt my twinset.

    The second dive I left off my drygloves so I could find the rear dump. I also *temporarily* tied a bit of bungee to the dump so I could find it in the water.

    Dumping was better as I could feel the dump, but it's very uncomfortable as I have to twist my body to reach the dump -- this is massively easier with a backplate and wing. Chatting to people, one person recommended attaching a float (a cork) to the dump line so it's easier to find. Hmm. Lots of practice needed here.

    In fact there's an awful lot of practice required before I feel I can venture out into proper dives after I've sorted out the finer techniques.

    Will probably have a couple more sessions then pay for a day's coaching.

    In summary, pleased but not delighted.
     
  19. MikeyH

    MikeyH Active Member
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    Hi Wibs - using the Stealth Tec here and very pleased with it. I spent a day with a very experienced SM diver/BSAC instructor recently and he made quite a few changes to my harness which made an enourmous difference as you can imagine! Dump valve on bum - couple of suggestions - 1. make sure your harness is not too low down your back - 2. A bigger "grab" on the end of the dumpstring (my harness was way too low so I had real trouble getting it - no problem now the harness is in the right position). Another suggestion for bungees - use the tri glides by Andrew Goring with hole at end on the shoulder straps to keep bungees in correct position under arms. Get someone video you to see that you have trimmed the cylinders correctly and got the tail webbing tight enough (by the bolt) to stop dump valve lifting up too high when wing inflated - may need to also tighten crotch strap a bit (this will all help to keep wing close to your tail bone - I am sure you get what I mean). Subscribe to Steve Martin's SM training - worth its' weight in gold!!!! Dive with a "real" SM instructor and you will be sorted PDQ
     
  20. Wibble

    Wibble Fish don't talk
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    Thanks for that; really useful to know that it is probably just an adjustment to move the bag up a bit.

    I did that 'course' on holiday but not on my kit, so was given kit which "just worked". Problem being that there were no problems, so as soon as I get my own kit, the problems are legion. But that's all part of the fun:)

    Will definitely spend some time with a sidemount dive God. Just want to have some furkling time to know what sort of problems there are.

    Will add another tri-glide to the harness for the bungee retaining loop -- or even a little break link.
     

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