Meet our Side Mount Essentials authorised instructors !!
Steve Martin instructing since
2004Runs Training all over the world
Vas Proud teaching divers since
2012instructs in Malta & United Kingdom
Joseph Seda instructing since
2015Instructs in Cave Country, Florida
Matteo Varenna instructing since
2002Instructs in Portofino, Italy
Matt Jevon teaching divers since
2013Ireland, Croatia, Egypt, Lanzarote
Answers to your diver training related, frequently asked questions
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Yes and No ...in a drysuit I always opt for LP steel 232 BAR cylinders instead of aluminium. Here are some reasons why you should too;
- Less fatigue & back problems using steel due to less lead weight on divers back!!
- Steels are smaller in actual size than Aluminium (comparable volume)
- Steels and Aluminium cylinders generally weigh the same out of the water
- Using Aluminium 80's you will need at least 6 kg more weight than when using LP 232 BAR steels.
- Steel cylinders are generally easier to keep in trim during a sidemount dive.
Sadly at the moment I am starting to get more and more questions/emails like this!! I am not putting it down to equipment or which training agency you were certified under. Most likely it was the actual quality of the training you received and most of the time you only did a short 2 day sidemount course with several others. Since I feel so strongly about this and I want future people to avoid having this happen to them, I have written an entire article addressing this problem, you can view it further up this page in the articles section.
Well the technique I use is called the “waist clipping system”. This utilises d-rings around your waist rather than backmounted rails or door handles typically found on older generation sidemount systems. With the waist clip system it does not matter if you use steel or aluminium cylinders, this system is designed to keep whatever cylinder close to your body. Some benefits are improved trim, streamlining and comfort during the dive. There are other key factors like your regulator configuration, cylinder hardware setup and which sidemount system you use, as they all play big parts when it comes to using the waist clip system correctly and keeping your cylinders in trim. For more information and help with topic, I cover it and much more in full within my range of online training materials
No, not really!! I have had this question so many times; I am actually thinking of making a video to prove that I and my students can float at the surface in sidemount with little to no problem. This is even with a fully inflated BCD!! I can tell you that the sidemount system you use and your weighting both play a huge part in you not being able to float at the surface correctly. It is crucial you are able to float at the surface comfortably, as easy tasks like donning and doffing your sidemount cylinders become a problem and then imagine you start diving in heavy seas etc… I say no more, if you find you have this problem then I can help you with my online training materials and during any training course, you should definitely not be thinking sidemount configuration is the actual problem here.
This is definitely one of my most asked questions... Again so much that I have written an entire article addressing this problem, you can view it further up this page in the articles section. Remember, I will always provide you with whatever sidemount system I think is currently the best on the market at the time you take your training course with me. Like any good instructor should be; I am constantly trying to improve ways I do and teach skills and through constantly testing sidemount equipment in all diving environments it is easy for me to see what works and what does not and which are the important features a side mount system needs.
I have to say the first time; I read that in an email I was shocked. My immediate thought was sidemount comes from a cave diving background and cave divers arguably are the best technical divers in the world, so why would it not work!! I think most divers that say sidemount won’t work for technical diving have very limited experience and probably did a weekend (2 days) very basic sidemount course. Again I recommend you find an instructor that insists on at least a 4 day initial training course. The majority of people that complete 4 days with me say, wow I really did not think we would need the 4 full days but find out quickly that everybody does. The idea is you then leave me knowing exactly how to use sidemount for the diving you do and enough time spent training so you continue to dive and build the right basic open water skill levels so technical diving in sidemount is even possible. I cannot tell you how many people I hear about around the world, that try sidemount on a quick course and then use it for a few weeks and then are never seen using it again and certainly not for technical diving. Having spent lots of time taking what I learned from sidemount cave diving and applying it to open water technical diving, I learned that there are things you must consider but I stick to the fact that I have found no reason why I would personally don a backmounted twinset again. (I regularly conduct technical sidemount dives between 40m to 80m mark). People have to understand with a system so flexible like sidemount it can be great for technical diving with the right skill set learned and practiced, but having said that without that skill set I would say tec diving in sidemount is actually way more problematic than using backmount due to the flexibility and higher demand on correct cylinder configuration, valves, SM system, hose routing and skill set from each diver etc… I would suggest you train with me and let me provide all the equipment for you, this way you only have the training expense and then you will know what to buy. Having the correct sidemount harness system is just a small part of the puzzle, the others are regulator setup and cylinder configuration then the most important the training to put it all together. The training I offer is not like the generic sidemount courses being offered by the masses at the moment.
Well this depends on your current diving experience, so I always say if you take the time to write an email telling me about your experience, I will take the time to review it and let you know what I think is the best way forward for you. The most conducted course I do is my Sidemount Essentials Course. You could say this is my benchmark course and sets the standard for you moving onto other technical sidemount courses, like advanced wreck or deep/trimix. I will always make time to talk; I suggest we have a 15 to 30 minute call with me, usually over Skype to work out together what level of training is best for you. If you are looking for a cheap sidemount course please don’t get to upset when you view my price list, there are lots of good reasons why I can and do charge more than the masses.
I was always love these types of emails, so please keep them coming 😉 However there are a few good reasons, why I save many of the “more detailed” training videos I have for my online and physical classroom; when you book and complete a training course with me. The main reason being I need you to pay for the training, this does two things it paying my bills and allowing me to continue doing what I do. I am glad people like my public YouTube videos and they help raise awareness of sidemount diving. But like anything each one is designed only to show you a small part of the puzzle. I think with sidemount everyone will benefit from the right training course, whether it be online training course or face to face course or both ...that is if you want to save a lot of time practising without guidance trying to get it right, some divers spend 50+ dives and still not get where I can get them in a 4 day course or by watching some of my online training materials.
Yes and No. This could well be my most asked question and a lot of people would think I was crazy because I do not jump at the chance to train every single instructor that asks me to train them as a sidemount instructor. Now I know, some people might think that I base my reasons for not training lots of sidemount instructors as I don’t want to create more competition for myself, but this is far from the truth. It is important that each instructor reading this understands, the thing I care about more than anything is my reputation. If you read my article about the “development of my courses” I have written an entire article addressing this, you can view it further up this page in the articles section. You will see that I did in fact train some sidemount instructors in the past and since then I have changed the way you can become a sidemount instructor through me. I believe I now have an instructor training system that works and really helps create sidemount instructors that will stand out from the crowd. My sidemount instructor training process will take each person at least 6 months and a lot of hard work. I am quite okay with the money I will not gain from not training “quickly” lots of sidemount instructors believe me, that money is nothing compared to maintaining my reputation and the quality of sidemount training courses around the world.
The question I have had a few times now, one person asked, I was just wondering if I can use my Suunto Vytec computer with tank pressure transmitter when sidemounting..? I know that I'm only going to get one tanks info but as I already own this computer... I replied with keep the Suunto computer and keep your transmitter for single cylinder diving. As for sidemount forget using the transmitter idea, even when computer manufacturers make it work with x2 transmitters specifically for sidemount diving, still forget the idea. It is not good dive practice “when actually sidemount diving” for so many reasons, one being sidemount divers should know what is in their cylinders by feel, looking just confirms what they thought… Again take training with me and all will be revealed. Plus HP transmitters have actual been found to fail, suggest you google problems with HP transmitters for dive computers and you might even see some ones that have exploded under pressure.
I have over 30 minutes of video, breaking this down step by step in my online training series, the basics are below. Don your exposure suit with mask and fins. Go into the water you will be diving in, find out what weight you need to make that suit float when you hold a breath but sink when you exhale and you have your weight you need for sidemount. You could do this weight check again with while wearing your sidemount harness and your “empty” trim/BCD device, it should be the same or similar weight needed. Now add your cylinders either steel or aluminium, remember with steel cylinders they will be negative but will go to neutral. So your BCD should be a suitable size needed to compensate for that, when cylinders become near empty then your BCD will also be near empty – meaning you are correctly weighted. The main difference with aluminium cylinders are that they will become positively buoyant when near empty. Work out this difference and add that amount of extra weight needed prior to starting the dive. Again your BCD would need to offer sufficient lift at the start and should be empty when cylinders are near empty. This again means you’re now correctly weighted and your lung volume is controlling you. These are just the basics; during training we will go over correct weighting in much more detail, as well as discuss emergency procedures, redundant BCDs and go through exact placement of weight etc…
If you read the above question that goes through basic weighting needed, you will see that a buoyancy device may not require that much lift. If you require heads up flotation then know that most BCD’s that are designed for sidemount will not offer that to you. My online training videos cover most of the side mount systems on the market and my thoughts on what you need based on the diving your will be doing.
Yes ...I travel with x3 complete sets of sidemount equipment, for students use during training courses. This includes: x3 Side Mount Harnesses and x3 sets of the Apeks sidemount regulator package. All you need have to bring is adequate exposure protection and your mask/fins. I can also work with you to customise any other sidemount equipment you have already, plus make up what you are short of, just mention this when you contact me.
Worldwide – recently I have been offering training around various countries in Europe and Asia Pacific. Right now I am based mainly in Mexico and Gozo (Malta) but it is still possible for me to travel to your location and offer customised training that fits in with your working schedules. Please note: If you are just one person and think that because you don't have others who will join a course with you, I won't run a course! Then you would be wrong, please contact me asap as most of my requests are from people just like yourself. I am sure I can arrange something to work for everyone and a bonus is that after training you get a new buddy or two to go diving with. I will also run 1 on 1 training if you are the only person booked on, I will not cancel your course.
Well first I would ask you to look at the types of diving I do, then ask yourself do I have the necessary experience in the field of diving that you want to get into? Am I a good educator and worth your time and investment? Could I get you to a level in sidemount that might take you 50 dives in as short as a 4 day course? If you think that I can do that, then you have your answer!!
Well I would ask every sidemount diver to have a buddy video them whilst they swim around, try moving through 360* vertical and horizontal. Look closely at how much your cylinders move around and if your cylinder valves stay orientated to your body.? ...my bet is they do not and the cylinders move around quite a lot especially when you swim.
- Look at your hoses are they too long, is everything easy to find..?
- A diver signals “out of air” to you... how easily can you donate the correct regulator, did you have to look for the reg, move something out of the way so you could deploy it..?
- When you are removing and replacing either cylinder, how much time does it take you and do you keep getting the hoses mixed up or find the clips hard to undo..?
- If you completely relax your whole body in a horizontal position, do you still stay horizontal and trimmed in the water or do you fall to the front, back or sides?
- Ask yourself is there always a piece of equipment that you are constantly thinking about during the dive?
Yes ...in fact steel tanks actually make better tanks for sidemounting due to the fact they either stay negatively buoyant or go to neutral when the air is breathed from the cylinder, whereas aluminium tanks almost always become positively buoyant. Means with steels you don’t have to start your dive with extra lead weight that you would need to keep the cylinder neutral for later. Steel tanks are always preferred when diving in a thick wetsuit 5mm and definitely when diving in a drysuit, if available I would always opt for them as they have a smaller profile and they account for some of the weight you require to sink your exposure suit. Meaning you can carry approx 6 KG less actual lead weight on your harness.
Yes ...drysuits actually make trimming your body easy than with a wetsuit. As you can change your orientation to migrate air around different parts of your drysuit this helps balance out heavy fins or heavy bases of your cylinders. When you’re weighted correctly you will find that on shallow recreational dives, you can easily use the air in your drysuit as your main buoyancy control and your BCD/trim device will just act as your backup.
Yes ...most valves you see around the world are usually right handed. You have to wrap around the neck of the cylinder with your bungee. This is possible but not ideal as it does not help you with the correct orientation of your cylinder valves and 1st stages. Plus you have to remove your bungee from your sidemount harness to enable cylinder donning and doffing which is more difficult than using handed or modular sidemount valves. Left and right “handed valves” have an extension piece to secure your sidemount bungee around; they are the preferred valves for sidemount with. This means you do not have to unclip your bungee from your harness. They make donning and doffing your sidemount cylinders a much easier and more efficient process.
No ...some people would argue that after your initial entry level open water diver course you just pick things up as you go… While that may be true, I think any training is all about how much time you have to invest in your learning. It is simple; learning by yourself may take 50+ dives to possibly learn what you would have with a structured 3/4 day training course by an experienced sidemount instructor. Plus think not only about your own time investment but also your safety, comfort and enjoyment levels. I advise anyone to do their research on which instructor they choose for any level of training, you have started doing yours on me now just by reading this page. Sidemount is becoming increasing popular, we are now seeing sidemount being taught to others and some of these “open water” sidemount instructors have no personal technical diving experience. In my opinion this is the minimum experience every sidemount instructor should have as well as regularly diving in sidemount configuration.
When you take a training course with me, I can provide you with full sidemount equipment. That way you will get to try something which I believe will be the best at the time I am training you. Then after the training you can go out and make a more informed decision on what you need to buy based on the types of dive environments you will spend most of your time diving and using the information you learned from the course.
This is an interesting question. My answer is sidemount diving itself can either be recreational or technical as in the types of dives you are making i.e. a shallow recreational dive to 18m for 30 mins or a deep technical dive to 50m for 30 mins. Each type of diving has different skills sets and procedures to follow. The sidemount equipment you use for both of these dives may be very similar with the difference being larger main cylinders and possibly an additional stage cylinder. So sidemount equipment must be classed as technical equipment. Recreational dives that use sidemount may now have more air than normal (additional cylinder) which means they should pay extra attention to their computers NDL as a divers air consumption may no longer be the limiting factor but now it’s about the max depth and bottom times.
Simply because since learning to sidemount dive myself back in 2008, I have not donned a backmounted twinset and cannot see a reason why I would again. Sidemount diving has become my key focus; to say I eat, sleep and breathe sidemount could be a close statement right now. I am very enthusiastic and passionate about all aspects of sidemount diving and want to see it develop in the right ways. In (November 2010) I revised my distinctive PADI sidemount course I was offering, the main reason for this was that after 1.5 years of me gaining experience in both diving sidemount and through teaching sidemount to others, I found that sidemount equipment configuration was the “missing piece” in teaching a diver the essential skill set (buoyancy, trim, fin techniques and awareness). The structured course I now offer is called “Sidemount Essentials” this training now not only addresses the skills needed to plan and dive with sidemount equipment configuration safely but also included training on wearing the correct weight, crucial weight placement, SMB deployment and works on developing a divers essentials skills like advanced buoyancy control and finning techniques.
Well if you look at most sidemount divers, who dive in caves today. They are wearing something like a jetfin or a pair of Mares Quattro’s, these are both what we call full blade fins. Not to be confused with a fin called the split fin which you see a lot of recreational divers wearing these days. Simply put I advise anyone who is taking training with me to not use split fins unless they have an injury that means they need to use them. That same person would most likely limit the dive sites they choose to avoid advanced conditions like currents or long swims etc. The main problem with split fins is they are only good for one style of kick, flutter kick. To frog kick, reverse kick etc they just do not work all that well. Plus divers generally using them have for buoyancy control as they get used to dropping the hips or raising them for small changes instead of using their breathing control. Other problem is breathing patterns are not that good as with splits you kick, kick, kick all the time and with a frog kick it uses more efficiently the quad muscles in your legs and kick, glide breath work much better. So I suggest each diver becomes proficient with a full bladed fin, please contact me for any recommendations on fin choices. I will go over this in detail during any sidemount course.
Simply put, get wet. Go out and do some diving. If you have not dived for a while then you can spend lots of time working back on basic dive skills. A good diving comfort level is needed, for example being able to comfortably hold your position trimmed horizontally at any depth and you can fine tune your buoyancy control using just your lung volume then that would be a good starting point. If you cannot do this yet then allow an extra couple of days before the sidemount training starts and I can dive with you in your equipment you already use and help you master the basics, then we can build upon those skills with more complex ones while using sidemount configuration (just let me know you need some essential training). Plus of course if you have not already, purchase and study my range of online training materials found on this website
Yes ...most definitely. I find a lot of divers do this style of diving in remote areas or areas where they cannot easily get access to a manifolded twinset or technical wings but they still want to do some entry level technical diving. Having the cylinders at your sides rather than one in front at one behind is better for lots of reasons, you have direct access to both valves and air sharing becomes much easier. The cylinders are easier to control; you get a more stable balance and trim when swimming. I must stress that my sidemount training is based around your current diving skill level it does not and will not replace technical training courses; think of sidemount as the ideal way to learn to dive with two cylinders (an intro to tec course). All my technical courses can be taken from the start wearing sidemount configuration.
No!! (not anymore) - I would say that with the ever increasing advancement in sidemount equipment configuration and looking at where it currently is now. That diving with a webbing harness and a solid stainless steel backplate are an “old fashioned” way to sidemount dive. It is also an unsafe way to dive into restrictions e.g. squeezing through hatches in wreck penetrations or small cave passages etc… the solid backplate in this case would not be flexible and a diver can easily get stuck. I will also like to point out that any diver just because they are wearing sidemount equipment with a flexible back still need to take additional training for diving in restrictions, it’s not just having the right equipment but about having the additional dive skills and developing your mindset. There is so much equipment available now that a solid backplate may be usable for open water sidemount diving but really now no longer an option, I talk more about this in my online training videos.
Well most airlines allow 20 or 23 kilos as your main checked baggage allowance, with 7 kilos for your carry-on baggage allowance. So I pack all the dive gear I need into my dive bag(s) which these days is not a solid wheel dive bag as they weigh between 4 and 6 kilos unloaded! So I use x2 canvas style dive bags they weigh less than a kilo, one must be big enough to fit every in should the airline turn round and say we charge extra for x2 checked bags! Now I pack all my stainless steel items, sidemount valves, upto x6 sidemount regulators, all boltsnaps etc… into a padded regulator bag (yes they will fit). Then I carry that on as hand luggage along with a rucksack that carries my laptop, dive computers and other items etc. Those x2 hand luggage bags can weigh well over 7 kilos as you might have guessed but the security do not care about the weight 😉 So now you can have 15 kilos in sidemount harness, wetsuits etc leaving about 5 or 8 for your clothes in your main bags. Only problem is you have to carry all that weight on you around the airport but again the bonus is if your checked bags went missing – all valuables are still with you. I also suggest taking a set of modular or handed sidemount valves with you. If not then a technique can be used to wrap around the cylinder necks instead. I spent 1 year using that technique around Australia worked well for me. All these things are covered during any of my sidemount training courses.
Yes ...about 40% of the sidemount divers I train say that is their primary reason they move to using this equipment configuration. One person that stands out off the top of my head when writing this, is Andy Holden. Andy’s main reason for taking sidemount training was that his lifelong goal since learning to dive was to one day to learn to cave dive... he went through several technical courses in a twinset and was well on his was to do this, when he had a huge set back… a motorcycle accident that broke his leg quite seriously. So for years Andy had given up on diving with a twinset and was back to recreational diving with a single. Then he heard about sidemount diving and thought it might work for him. Andy contacted me and joined a 4 days training course, it was what he hoped and more!! ...So much more straight after training he booked a flight to Mexico and was a certified cave diver 1 month after learning to sidemount. Congratulation again to Andy, it was the ability to gear up in the water by having the equipment taken down is small manageable weight load that made it all possible.
Yes and No ...again air consumption is largely down to your comfort and dive fitness levels. If you have a poor sidemount configuration e.g. you dive over weighed or your cylinders move around and hang to low from the body. Then you will probably get better result in backmount. But when you are trained and have your sidemount system working well i.e. your cylinders move as one with your body movements and you have the exact weight you need and placed correctly… then yes I am sure like I have found... your air consumption will be considerably better when diving sidemount than with a backmount configuration.
No ...you can dive in side mount without a helmet. The reason most divers wear helmets is to offer some protection in overhead environments and it is a place to put their primary dive light and backups lights, using a helmet creates a much cleaner equipment configuration when you need to take dive lights with you.
This picture shows a cave instructor leading out his student diver, who is doing a simulated zero visibility, touch contact exit drill. Having the student use a neoprene blindfold adds safety by allowing the instructor to keep all primary lights on, this allows the instructor to see and correct a student during there actual exit. I take this a step further and use a GoPro video camera, which allows me to give each student accurate critique of their performance after dive. I have found that giving video feedback greatly increases a divers daily learning curve. Having the videos is even more important after the course as the student has a way to review and practice the correct techniques thus maintaining the high standards set during training. Plus the most important they get awesome HD videos to show all their friends and have a way to document their life changing experience of becoming a cave diver!! 🙂
"The only source of knowledge is experience" ...Albert Einstein
“To video or not to video, that is the question” Let me start by saying that I use video to record all my students during their training courses. It all comes down to how much quality & value you as the instructor want to add to your courses!? I really believe that if all instructors do not start using video reviewing techniques they will soon find that they will start losing customers and rightly so!! This article is to explain the reasons why I choose to use video and give some tips and tricks on the best ways to do it and how to handle the additional problems and concerns with shooting video while teaching. As HD video cameras are getting smaller and smaller, plus relatively low cost and easy to use, an instructor these days does not have much choice than to shoot video really… if they do not students will most likely turn up to class with their own cameras, this means the students focus will always be on taking videos/pics for sharing with their friends on YouTube and Facebook rather than what they should really be focusing on, learning to dive correctly. People want memories and they get them by documenting, recording & sharing everything they do or are going to do… “this is a facebook world and we live in!!” If an instructor did not offer you video recorded feedback during any advanced diver training levels (meaning anything after your open water course). I would advise you not to take training with that instructor… Why, for the simple reason they either do not understand the advantages what video feedback brings or they are not that capable as an instructor to get you looking good enough to be on video, for the level they are training you at!! Important note: If a diver is just learning to dive for example, doing a discover scuba dive or open water training dive then I would not advise that the instructor uses the video camera, instead they have a professional assistant do the recording. Advantages of having video feedback;
- Allows the instructor to give each student detailed critique of their performance after dive; sometimes whilst underwater, if video camera has a LCD screen playback option and you have enough dive time.
- Students take more interest in their training, i.e they can see if their knee drops or fin blade angle is correct when learning to frog kick or if they are maintaining trim and breathing control when not moving etc…
- Giving video feedback greatly speeds up the daily learning process, when a diver views their videos they absorb the feedback in their own preferred style.
- Divers during training perform better as they always think they could at any moment be recorded, so emphasis is on doing skills correctly and performing each well.
- Students being able to keep the videos after the course is also very important as the student now has a way to review and practice the correct techniques, this helps the student maintain the high standards set during training.
- Students will play a part in developing their own personalised training materials, which again ensures they continue to dive correctly after training. This is through skill retention as it maybe a few weeks/months after their course before they can dive again, so having videos to review is crucial.
- Videos provide a cue/reminder that students can use to mentally rehearse and practice skill out of the water ...much better than just in front of the mirror.
- In some cases having the student video record the instructors demonstration, can really add value during the video debriefing session and again for the student to bench mark themselves against the instructor after the course.
- Diver receives a thorough briefing including video of the ideal technique & completes dry land simulations of this skill.
- Diver then watches a live underwater instructor demonstration of the skill.
- Diver then attempts the skill (instructor video records student).
- Instructor first demos what the student just did incorrectly and then re-demos what the student needs to change (student video records instructor).
- Now the student tries again (instructor video records student).
- Rest of dive is completed, without diver having unnecessary repetition and frustration.
- Diver reviews both the student and instructor videos on land after the dive and sees what actually happened, leaves then with a clear understanding of what is needed for improvement and skill mastery.
- Diver then usually next day, repeats this skill and effectively builds the correct technique as they fully understand what they were doing incorrectly ...this maximises there learning curve and training time.
“Cheap training comes at a cost, much more valuable than your money" Okay I know the contents of this article are going to come as a shock for most of you. Please take the time to read this article in full; it may save your back - literally!! After much debate I finally decided to write this article, as I get an ever increasing amount of emails from divers all over the world, telling me that they have taken training with a sidemount instructor and after training they find sidemount is not working for them, they do not look like the sidemount divers they see in my YouTube videos and that now they are thinking of going back to backmount!! Before we get into this, I personally do not think any particular piece of sidemount equipment or training agency is to blame for what is happening. What I am putting it down to is the quality of the actual sidemount training divers are receiving from their chosen sidemount instructor. Having re-looked at many of the emails I received and replied to... I noticed many similarities in what problems the divers where having, which hopefully I will explain throughout this article. Problems most commonly mentioned;
- Sidemount equipment does not feel stable enough and is too much of a hassle to use in the water, so I stick to a twinset for technical diving as it is easier & safer.
- Steve having reviewed your online videos, I cannot dive sidemount like you or your students seem to do, you make it look easy!! Here are some pics; can you tell me what am I doing wrong?
- I have taken sidemount training and since then spent time looking at your website, I feel that I did not get much from my sidemount training & instructor.
- Comparing to what I see on your pictures and video, my tank trim is horrible and is constantly causing distraction to me during the dive, how do I fix this..?
- On the surface I cannot float upright, do you find it a problem too...?
- I have approx 20 dives in sidemount now; I just added my deco cylinders and find the whole thing task loading compared to using backmount. I must be doing something wrong, can you advise me..? I am confident with a twinset!!
- Once I added my cylinders I was grossly over weighted and felt like I had just started diving again, is this to be expected..?
- I think the sidemount system I use is the problem, Steve what do you think to this system vs this other system and then what about if I then change this bit and alter this bit etc..?
- Their course duration was too short just 1 or 2 days; this is not enough time spent learning sidemount correctly (3 to 4 day minimum).
- Usually a poor configuration of all sidemount equipment, in respect to what is being used its setup & how the skills are being performed.
- There was too many students on the course (should be max of 3).
- The sidemount instructor they had was lacking actual experience diving in sidemount; most likely they received poor or no training themselves.
- Technical diving using sidemount can be more difficult and problematic than say using a backmounted twinset, this is due to sidemounts flexibility and higher demand on correct cylinder configuration, valves, SM system, hose routing and skill sets from each diver (that said, done right it is far superior to backmount!!)
- With sidemount equipment everything makes a difference your bungee tension, cylinders & cylinder valves used, height of cylinder band placement, cord & bolt snap lengths, your body size, fin choice the list goes on…
- It is true I will always favour and recommend a sidemount system to you; it will be the one I believe is the best on the market at the time. I will only let you use a system this does not compromise or interfere with the training I offer you.
- A lot of people are surprised and did not think we would need the 4 full days but believe me everybody does. I want you to leave me knowing exactly how to use sidemount for the diving you do. I will spend enough time building the right skill sets with you, so you continue to stay in sidemount after training!!
- Way we configure our sidemount systems, modular valves waist clip system.
- Correct hose routing, so every piece compliments the next.
- No additional equipment, like add a stage interferes with initial skills learnt.
- Minimalist approach to sidemount equipment, less is more!!
- Using the correct type of cylinders for the correct exposure suits.
- The list goes on…
Is this BCD system better than this one !? Since the beginning of 2010 you will have noticed many of the "big" scuba manufacturers starting to make "dedicated" sidemount equipment. The main reason for this was to keep up with the high demand generated towards the end of 2009 by divers wanting to "go sidemount". Sidemount diving can be split into two parts; 50% making up your “equipment configuration” and the other 50% being the need to take “comprehensive training”. The equipment selection and instructor you choose is crucial especially when you are first learning to sidemount. The right instructor will make the difference between your future dives being 100% "in sidemount" or you deciding to “go back” to diving in backmount configuration. This page was written to help explain the key differences between the x2 major types of sidemount manufactured systems on the market today. They can be broke into categories either "Side Mount Only Systems" that only allows you to dive in sidemount and do not allow for a backmount configuration or "Multi-Use Sidemount Systems" that allows for both. Sidemount diving is growing at a alarming rate with now more and more manufacturers are making "sidemount only" systems. Before reading further I suggest you get familiar with the features of both systems by Googling them. I suggest you use the Razor Side Mount System or XDeep Stealth as an example of “sidemount only” systems and then Google either the Dive Rite Nomad and/or Hollis SMS 100 for examples of the “multi-use systems”. This will help you with understanding the equipment terminology I use below. Now you have seen what the manufacturers say about each sidemount system, I will explain the major differences I have found based on my personal experiences in extensively using both systems myself and through teaching others to go sidemount. It is important to know that having a complete sidemount system is more than just having a suitable harness and wing, the other two essential components are a complete regulator package/setup that allows streamlining of all hoses and gauges, the second being cylinder valves & hardware/setup that is clutter free and has redundancy features built in. You could then say the final and most crucial part is having someone to help you correctly setup all equipment so each piece complements one another; this will add safety to the system and through underwater training allow the standardisation of skills sets and procedures. I certainly believe less is more, when it comes to this equipment configuration and with a short 4 day course can excel your learning curve. My current equipment and a good example of a “complete sidemount only system” would be the XDeep Stealth Tec system with the Apeks Sidemount Regulator Package. The main advantages of using a sidemount only systems are;
- They use a custom fit harness, so all body sizes and shapes will be compatible, this is not always possible with the multi-use systems.
- The ability to have the 1st stage and valve stay maintained in the same position to the body – this is through using a loop bungee, length & thickness are crucial.
- Using left and right handed valves and bungeeing around the extension post – allows clear access to handwheel as it stays in the same location “once bungeed” meaning a clutter free setup enabling safe & efficient shutdowns.
- Using short LP inflator hoses for BCD and drysuit from a 1st stages 5th LP port – means you have a very direct and streamlined hose routing. Nothing gets in the way of operating any other piece of equipment.
- Behind the head routing of custom hoses – keeps the most important chest area clear, enabling access to all life support equipment, LPIs, SPG’s - nothing gets in the way of anything else, especially when you add more tec equipment.
- Cylinders clip to the hips via the “waist clipping method” vs clipping sidemount cylinders to the “door handles” or “rails” found on multiuse systems – enables far more cylinder stability & control as the sidemount cylinders are “continuously pulling” into the divers sides rather than just “hanging off the sides of your body” which they do with some cases of multi-use systems that use the butt pad (rails).
- The BCD on sidemount only systems is designed to provide lift right at the crucial place where a sidemount diver needs it “at the hip area”, the Razor BAT wing and XDeep Stealth 2 take that a step further and accounts for the diver changing orientation by allowing the air to migrate around the hips when needed.
- The multi-use systems all provide lift very high up on the diver’s body which will effect trim and makes balancing & weighting a real issue.
- Removing the standard bungee as they are way too thick to put around valve correctly and you cannot customise the length to suit each person.
- Removing the door handles or rails and adding d-rings to the waist, as this would address many of the issues with the cylinders “hanging at the sides”
- Razor Harness using the Hollis SMS wing for buoyancy.
- Hollis SMS 100 systems (single and dual bladder).
- Golem Gear Armadillo Sidemount System.
- Diverite Nomad Expedition System.
- Oxycheq Recon Sidemount System.
- OMS Tesseract BCD and Profile Sidemount System.
- UTD Z-System for Sidemount.
- They should be using sidemount for the majority of their own diving.
- Avoid someone who tries to push you to buy a sidemount system before you take training, all equipment should be provided during your course.
- Avoid learning with a group size of more than x3 students.
- Insure your instructor has at least 1 year worth of sidemount diving experience.
- Instructor should have a high skill level (e.g. is a certified sidemount cave diver).
- All open water sidemount courses should be x4 days in duration.
- Cost of sidemount training should be approx 750+ euros per person (if less I would avoid that course).
- Sidemount Instructor has actual experience using all the different systems on the market.
- Sidemount instructor actually learnt on an intensive sidemount instructor training course not just on a half day upgrade, straight after learning a student level sidemount course themselves.
The questions I ask and answer in this article, you should ask to any instructor you and thinking to invest your money and time into for training. With the ever increasing number of dive instructors out there, I suggest you look for what makes each dive instructor special and stand out from the others; most importantly you are looking at who will give you the most value for your particular course. I believe that you should get the most value from any courses you take; these questions below are what you should ask to every instructor, they will help you find the right person to teach you. My diving credentials;
- Steve Martin;
- PADI Course Director #626508
- TDI Technical & Cave Diving Instructor #18183
- TecRec Instructor Trainer (Full Trimix)
- cold water diving (4*C, drysuit)
- warm water diving
- remote location diving (Shetland and Solomon islands)
- hazardous dives with high current, low visibility
- wreck dives (involving penetration work)
- deep dives
- cave diving
- DPV dives
Quite a few people say I don’t want to sidemount because I don’t want to carry two cylinders!! That is a very good point and for many divers, they see equipment overload and it does initially put them off, but why do you have to carry two cylinders I say… when you are in a warm water location (using a wetsuit) diving sidemount with one aluminium cylinder “at your side” is in fact a great way to dive. The divers I have trained in sidemount single cylinder really enjoy the freedom, of having a cylinder off your back provides and they quickly find out that adding an additional 2nd cylinder is not that different and even easier to balance and trim yourself over using a single cylinder. After a few dives more using two sidemounted cylinders correctly they then start to see the many added benefits of carrying x2 cylinders underwater. All this then results in a changed perspective from each of the divers and the problem of carrying two cylinders is no more, especially if you have someone else bring them to the water’s edge for you!! 😉 So why do we have our cylinders on are back anyway..? My explanation for both guys and girls, picture yourself at home and the washing machine has just finished its wash cycle, you do not have the spin dry function so your full load is still soaking wet… okay you look outside it is a sunny day, so you are going to use your washing line. I bet you generally empty the wet washing into a basket, then pickup the basket using the two handles on either side and carry this approx 100 to 200 yards to your washing line. Not too much of a problem carrying that weight for such a short distance right..? Now I want you to imagine that same heavy wash basket and the weather is not suitable for drying outside, your partner has the car so you are now left with walking to your local laundry shop 10 mins walk from your house. Do you still fancy carrying that wash basket? ...No, me nether!! It is too heavy for just our arms to carry, so what we do is either find a rucksac or bag with wheels and put the washing in there for transport. This is because it is much easier to carry the heavy load on our backs. This is the exact same problem we are all faced with when using are “even heavier” scuba dive equipment. Again picture yourself you have your normal cylinder, bcd, regulators and lead weights, we are at the dive site and the walk to the water is a good few hundred yards away. It makes sense our BCD’s are designed like a backmounted rucksac, it makes carrying are SCUBA gear to the water possible. Once you make it to the water, what a relief to get that weight of your back right 🙂 Underwater we can feel weightlessness by adding air to our BCD which allows us to become neutrally buoyant, but what we still can notice is when we move and especially change orientation by turning onto our side, upside down we feel the weight of our backmounted equipment shift, this is due to our centre of gravity changing due to placement of equipment on are back. When using sidemount equipment are centre of gravity shift is not like backmount as the sidemount cylinders balance each other out all the time, and the positioning of the cylinder(s) gives you a much more streamlined profile, this creates real underwater freedom, comparable to that of a freediver!! ...just using scuba 😉 I think backmount BCD’s where originally designed like a rucksac, as an easy way to carry our weight of equipment from land into the water, while keeping our hands free “not because backmounted equipment actually performs better underwater” Another huge advantage to sidemount diving, if you think back about that few hundred metres walk to the water I mentioned, the walk can be made much easier; by setting up the regulators on the cylinders and then leaving them at the dive site entrance point prior to the dive, you then get changed into your exposure suit and sidemount BCD and walk relatively weight free to the water’s edge… once there you can then put on our sidemounted cylinders (in water) and go diving, without all the stress and strain of the walk with equipment normally on your back!! Thinking back to the story, you could say that diving in sidemount is just like doing your washing at the laundry shop in the first place!! 😀 Sidemount Experience with Steve Martin YouTube Video - http://youtu.be/0XQivbDCCZk Is sidemount really that much better than backmount under the water..? Yes, let me explain – backmounted equipment is not as hydrodynamic as sidemount equipment, meaning that when using side mount you can achieve;
- More buoyancy control through better streamlining of all your equipment.
- More comfort as your spine can flex as it is supposed to do.
- More efficient propulsion and glide from every kick you make.
- More tasks like operating your BCD inflator and deflator become even easier.
- More comfort knowing you have extra redundancy in case of equipment failures
- more available air supply, for yourself and buddy
- complete redundancy if a regulator fails for any reason
- all this results in you having more time and less stress underwater
- Generally most sidemount harnesses are custom fit, this adds comfort and allows correct fitting for all body shapes & sizes.
- Having the option to put on the heavy bits (cylinders) in water first, makes scuba diving far easier and gives you more energy for underwater swimming.
- Being more streamlined underwater makes more dive sites accessible, as many sites have challenging conditions like currents, long swims etc…
- For many ladies sidemount makes technical diving possible (no twinsets to carry)
- Using sidemount diving just looks way cooler and much more fun!!
November 2008 As a fully certified "backmount" cave diver, I decided to learn more and train at the advanced "sidemount" cave diving level (my instructor Steve Bogaerts). February 2009 (+3 months) My first PADI Distinctive Specialty Instructor outlines and teaching presentations were written & approved (single & twin cylinder). Given my background and as an instructor trainer I instantly saw the opportunity to take "sidemount diving" into the open water environment. Important note: Even though my sidemount courses where developed it would be another (+1 year) before I would teach my first sidemount student. This was mainly due to me building my own sidemount skill level in the open water environment. After all there was little to no information available about sidemounting from boats and the sidemount equipment available at the time was lacking!! So it was down to me doing it the hard way and getting wet, that year was spent in Australia. December 2009 (+10 months) Before I trained my first student, I would have 150+ open water sidemount dives "under my belt", more than half where made on Australia's most famous shipwreck (S.S Yongala). Having now gained lots of experience myself I decided to further refine my distinctive outline and changed it to have x2 standalone sidemount courses (single cylinder) and (twin cylinder). March 2010 (>1 year after the course was developed) The first person was trained in (twin cylinder) sidemount a Matthew King ...Later followed several training courses and the start of something I knew then would go big in the dive industry!! April 2010 – (1 month later) As a PADI Course Director (Instructor Trainer) it was only natural for me to want to help develop other instructors to teach their students "something I knew they would love to do" and other "open water sidemount instructors" where needed to grow awareness and popularity with sidemount in the open water environment, "after all it is not just for cave divers anymore" ...so after now having conducted several sidemount courses in Australia, I applied to PADI to become a "sidemount instructor trainer" for my own distinctive specialty (single & twin cylinder). Important note: Another passion of mine is and always has been wreck diving. Given my wreck diving and sidemount experience to date and through what I had learned about penetration training during my "advanced cave side mount course" I decided to have a go at putting together a technical distinctive specialty "Advanced Side Mount Wreck Diver" which was approved in April 2010. April 2010 to October 2010 (+7 months) With the interest in my "sidemount diving courses" spreading... It was time for me to head back to the Manchester, UK (north). There I would conduct sidemount training at both student and instructor levels. This extended to me travelling to several locations in Europe to promote sidemount (Greece, Portugal and Mallorca). I also decided to revisit Mexico to gain further experience by assisting Steve B on a sidemount cave diving course and do lots of cave diving in sidemount, constantly improving my own skill level. November 2010 (+21 months after developing first course) I decided to update and revise my current sidemount courses. Major change was to stop teaching the (twin cylinder) specialty course and instead offer my newly developed distinctive specialty course (sidemount essentials). At this time I also decided to stop training sidemount instructors and instead concentrate on offer high end student level sidemount training courses. The main reason for this was due to me having no real ability to "quality control" what other instructors where doing with my distinctive sidemount course "a lot can change in a year". Important note: At the time of writing this page (February 2012) none of the sidemount instructors I have previously trained, have ever come back to me for a sidemount training update or retraining. All instructors I trained are still offering my now dated distinctive specialty "twin cylinder" training course. I believe it is crucial to get updates "from the source" this allows you to move and develop with the times. This is even more important when the instructor does not spend everyday working and diving in sidemount configuration. December 2010 to June 2011 (+7 months) I was back in Australia again, this time with one focus to further promote sidemount diving in the open water environment - ohh and escape the European winter 😉 June 2011 Steve Bogaerts invited me to join him and two others and at the time we would be the only four Razor Side Mount System instructors worldwide. Since I had already trained with Steve on advanced level sidemount diving, no additional training was needed, I was willing to run Go Side Mount endorsed courses and asked them if we should bring my Sidemount Essentials program under there banner so to speak. But due to business negotiations between us, we decided to both go are separate ways. I maintained friends with Steve and have a huge amount of respect him and the cave training I received. July 2011 to September 2011 Brought me back to the UK/Europe to further promote sidemount diving and awareness of my sidemount essentials training course. November 2011 to February 2012 It was European winter time and a good opportunity for me to escape back to Australia for 4 months, of course I took all my sidemount equipment with me. February 2012 I am back in the UK/Europe to get ready for a big year of sidemount training. PADI themselves have finally decided to offer standardised sidemount training courses, this will mean a huge amount of new sidemount instructors hitting the market. Like anything in life some things are worth paying a bit extra for and if that is high end sidemount training from a highly experienced sidemount instructor/trainer then I look forward to hearing from you. **Important note: everything you have read so far in this article was actually written in February 2012, with the release of my new website you are currently reading this on, I decided to update this article... it is now 4.5 years later and rather than give you a month by month account as I have done since I started sidemount diving and the development of my courses, I will just tell you the highlights of where I am at now 😉 November 2016 For the last 4+ years, I moved between Gozo (Malta) and Mexico mainly. I continually improved and improved my Sidemount Essentials course and trained many divers at this level. I then used this course as a benchmark level before I would continue to train sidemount divers into the technical fields; like deep decompression and cave diving. I got to a point where every course I would advertise I would generally fill and then in the busy periods I could not meet the demand for the customers wanting courses, so this got me thinking... how can I still help and train all the divers from around the world requesting me, if it was unlikely that we would ever get to meet in the water. Then one day it hit me, every sidemount course I did was almost exactly the same as the last, all the equipment setup workshops, the briefings, the in-water training sessions etc... So what if video recorded myself doing all the equipment setup, BCD system, regulator system and cylinder setup. I would then have all the students just watch it before the course start, then we could spend more time in the water!! Well let's just say this worked, it worked so well in fact it would make more in a year than I would make in the water teaching diving. Even better than the financial rewards it actually prepared the people taking my training course really well and meant that in the 4 days someone would train with me, we got a lot more time in the water developing skills and then divers left even better than I ever could get them before I started with the online training materials. So I got thinking again and decided to make more online training videos for my course and this time concentrate on skills done on the course as well as cover the common problems for each skill and then video how to best correct each. This lead to me releasing an 8 hour skill video after going through hundreds of hours of video material I had shot from students in training from all the courses I had conducted. Now I had a full online training product that covered everything in my Sidemount Essentials course. During 2015 I was amazed at just how well prepared somebody could be from using my online materials and study at home, then come to me for in-water training, the results were amazing and I will let you read the 40+ testimonials I have added to this website, just scroll up and down the page you are on right now, I will let them speak for themselves. The entire year of 2016... Based on the huge success of my online training; since it's initial release in 2014. I decided to invest the entire 2016 year, into remaking from scratch a completely new range of online training materials. In fact the website you are reading this article from is completely new and designed around hosting my new eLearning online scuba diving training video lessons. I don't think I need to say much more as this entire website covers the new materials and exactly what they will do for you, I am expecting this to really take off and I can not tell you how revelived and excited I am after spending 12 months of my life working almost everyday on this, and I mean working 8+ hours each day, sometimes one day blurring into the next. I hope this article, gives you a clear picture of how sidemount grew over the years and the part I was/am lucky enough to be playing in it. Thanks to everyone reading this and investing in my online training, you keep me doing what I do and I would not change my job for anything!! Cheers, Steve Martin