Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Side Mount Diving~ "The Art of Diving"
Published on Nov 13, 2013

This video is the first one of a sidemount diving video series.

The purpose of this movie is to show you how easy sidemount diving can be.
You can also get an idea of what diving on Lanzarote looks like, with a focus on underwater landscapes.

Stay tuned for the videos 2 : Technical Sidemount on Lanzarote which will document the bigger marine life and the video 3: Cave Sidemount Diving on Lanzarote.

Sidemount is a scuba diving equipment configuration which has diving cylinders mounted alongside the diver, below the shoulders and along the hips, instead of on the back of the diver.

It began as a configuration popular with advanced cave divers, as smaller sections of cave can be penetrated and tanks can be changed with greater ease.

The same benefits for operating in confined spaces were also recognized by divers who conducted technical wreck diving penetrations.

Sidemount diving is now growing in popularity within the technical diving community for general decompression diving,[1] and is becoming an increasingly popular specialty training for recreational diving, with several diver certification agencies offering recreational and technical level sidemount training programs.[2][3][4]

Sidemount diver pushing a cylinder in front


Sidemount diver using an OMS Profile adapted wing BCD
Sidemount diving
Sidemount diving is the, now increasingly formalized, approach towards conducting dives with 2 or more primary cylinders secured at the side of the body and in line with the torso – with no cylinders on the diver’s back.[5] 

A common feature that defines sidemount configuration is the use of bungee cords to provide an upper attachment on the cylinder valve, normally routed from behind the diver’s upper back, whilst the lower cylinder is secured to the diver’s lower harness (butt-plate or waist D-rings) via bolt-snaps.[6]

Sidemounting stages
Sidemount stages is the practice of using sidemount configuration (bungee loops and/or buttplate rails) as a means for stowing stage/deco cylinders in a streamlined manner against the sides of the torso, when otherwise diving in back-mounted doubles or CCR.[7]

Monkey diving
Monkey diving is the use of sidemount configuration/procedures, whilst only carrying a single cylinder.

It is presented as an option on some recreational level sidemount courses (dependent on agency) and may also be a considered strategy for certain overhead-environment (cave/wreck) penetrations. 

The use of a single cylinder may require a strategy of counter-weighting to prevent diver instability in the water, depending on the buoyancy of the chosen cylinder.

No-mount diving
No-mount diving is a specialized overhead-environment strategy for dealing with particularly tight restrictions.[8] 

This may involve divers wearing a very basic harness under their existing configuration, or simply hand-carrying cylinders. Upon reaching a restriction through which they couldn’t otherwise pass, they will ‘strip down’ out of their primary gear, hand-hold or attach a cylinder/s to their ‘no-mount’ harness and move forwards.[8] 

A ‘no-mount’ harness can consist of nothing more than a weight-belt with several D-rings attached. The evolution of sidemount techniques and configurations has largely made this approach unnecessary, as a minimalist sidemount harness/BCD can be worn beneath back-mounted doubles, or even a CCR.


Sidemount diver partially removes (forward rotates) both primary cylinders to permit passage through a restriction in a wreck.


The sidemount diving approach offers divers significant benefits to the flexibility of their approach. 

Unlike back-mounted doubles, acquiring and transporting sidemount suitable cylinders is often much more convenient and accessible.

Sidemount diving configuration allows the travelling diver to conduct technical and/or overhead environment dives without having to source traditional back-mounted twin cylinders. 

When diving in remote locations, the transportation of diving cylinders, especially by hand, is considerably less physically taxing.[9][10]

Sidemount diving equipment is also considerably lighter, and less bulky than back-mounted alternatives – allowing for easier and cheaper (considering the rate of many airlines’ excess baggage costs) travel.[citation needed][dubious ]


Unlike back-mounted cylinders, the sidemount diver has immediate access to, and observation of, the regulators and tank valves of their cylinders. 

This enables immediate problem identification and allows swifter resolution, without recourse to ‘behind the head’ shut-down drills that require a higher level of mobility, flexibility and freedom to operate.


Sidemount diving configuration places the cylinders under the diver’s armpits, in line with their body. This decreases water resistance (improving air consumption and reducing fatigue) whilst also allowing the diver to pass through smaller restrictions than would otherwise be possible in back-mounted cylinders.

The flexibility to remove tanks, and propel them in front, allows the diver to pass through very small passages and holes when penetration diving – being limited only by the size of their bodies and exposure protection.[11]


Increased accessibility to life-supporting regulators, first-stages and valves improves efficiency and speed of critical cylinder shut-down procedures, allows immediate gas-loss identification and provides the diver with quick access to alternative safety procedures; such as regulator swapping (between cylinders), valve-‘feathering’ to access gas within a cylinder whose regulator is malfunctioned/free-flowing... or even breathing directly from a tank valve.

In addition, stowage of the cylinders next to the diver’s torso, and beneath his armpits, serves to protect vulnerable valves and regulator first-stages from collision, impact and abrasion damage, or accidental shut-down through contact with a ceiling. It also significantly reduces the risk of entanglement behind the diver, where it is least easy to rectify.


Many divers will testify that sidemount diving configuration offers greater stability and easier-to-attain trim and control in the water. It is also less physically tiring to carry, and get into, sidemount equipment than with traditional back-mounted doubles – especially when operating from a small boat or a rough shore entry.[12]

The ability to attach, remove and replace cylinders whilst in the water allows the diver to avoid ever having to carry heavy-weight back-mounted cylinders. This is combined with reduced physical exertion when conducting regulator shut-down procedures, which is a major benefit to technical divers who suffer from shoulder or back discomfort or reduced mobility from old injuries.

Redundancy of gas

Whilst technical divers have always utilized a redundant gas system, either isolated-manifold or independent back-mounted cylinders, recreational divers have traditionally resorted to using ‘pony cylinders’ or ‘ascent bottles’ as contingencies against out-of-air emergencies. 

Whether attached to the primary cylinder, or slung at the chest, these cylinders often presented problems with stability and streamlining, whilst simultaneously only providing a bare minimum supply of air for emergency ascent.

Sidemount diving with two cylinders helps resolve stability and streamlining issues, and ensures that a truly capable redundant supply of air is maintained.

Technical divers debate the pros and cons of independent cylinders versus isolated-manifold doubles. Back-mounted manifold cylinders provide easy access to complete gas supplies, in the event of a regulator failure and shut-down.

However, the manifold itself creates additional o-ring failure points and a failure in that component will deprive the technical diver of, at least, one-half of his remaining gas supply. Independent cylinders, when sidemounted, provide true gas redundancy, whilst offering access (via switching regulators between cylinders or feather breathing[13]) of all remaining gas.

Sidemount for the recreational diver

Sidemount diver removes a cylinder on ascent.
The benefits for cave diving and wreck diving with tight penetrations are largely accepted, but they are not so clear for the typical recreational diver.

Most recreational divers rely on their buddy for bailout gas, and do not carry a redundant gas supply. When there is only one cylinder, there is only no need to control several valves. 

The position of the cylinder valve behind the head has proven to be reasonably safe in millions of dives, though some divers do have physical difficulty reaching the valve while wearing the set, particularly if the cylinder is mounted relatively low on the harness.

In single cylinder diving there is seldom a reason to shut a cylinder valve while diving, and there is no need for changing cylinders or managing different gases. The recreational diver with a single cylinder is not supposed to enter low overhead spaces, so the single valve behind the divers head is unlikely to come into contact with objects which might roll it closed, as the diver tends to avoids situations where the head might impact with obstructions.

Since many recreational divers prefer to swim with their arms crossed in front of the chest, a side mounted cylinder might get in the way. Carrying one cylinder on one side does not increase stability or control, especially when it comes to a rough shore exit and other situations when freedom of movement of the arms is needed.

There are rarely any transportation benefits since the detached transportation of a back mounted cylinder is possible, and carrying the weight on the back is less stress on the spine than carrying it to one side when out of the water. Since backmount equipment designed for travelling is readily available, the weight advantages are unclear.


The 1960s - UK sump diving

The concept of sidemounting cylinders originated from cave diving in the UK, during the 1960s. 

During 'dry' explorations of Wookey Hole, the River Axe and other underground systems, divers occasionally encountered submerged passages that blocked further exploration. These cavers began incorporating scuba equipment specifically to progress beyond underwater areas. 

However, because they operated in very confined spaces, and most exploration remained primarily 'dry', they began experimenting and improvising with extremely minimalist configurations, minimizing bulk, allowing cylinders to be easily removed and replaced, and retaining the capacity to squeeze through the tightest restrictions.[10][14]

The nature of these 'dives' in cramped sumps did not prioritize the need for buoyancy control or underwater propulsion – so the bare minimum needed was a mask, a cylinder, a regulator, a method of attachment to the body and, only on rare occasions, a set of fins.[8]

Many of these early sump explorers adopted an approach based upon a sturdy belt, with attached cam-band, that allowed a cylinder to be dropped in and carried alongside the outer thigh. This allowed them to crawl, or wriggle, through the dry cave sections, whilst presenting a secure method of attachment for passing through submerged areas.[8] 

Swimming efficiency, reduced water resistance, trim and buoyancy control were not generally required due to the nature of those caves. At the time, this approach to 'wet' cave exploration was generally called the 'English System'.[15]

The 1970s - Florida

During the 1970s the 'English system' began to be incorporated by American cave divers, operating in Florida.[8] 

Those cave systems were predominantly 'wet' and involved prolonged swimming with SCUBA; thus more emphasis was paid towards developing the diving performance of the system, in particular buoyancy and trim. 

Divers required buoyancy control devices for extended fining and began shifting the location of the cylinders from against the thigh, up to the armpit and against the torso.

These exploratory level cave divers began by making their own systems, using and adapting 'off-the-shelf' SCUBA equipment for their needs or creating configurations ‘from scratch’, based upon webbing harnesses and improvised bladders for buoyancy.

The 1990s - release of first commercial rig

In the mid-1990s Lamar Hires designed the first commercial sidemount diving system and this was manufactured by Dive Rite. Dive Rite focused on the newly released 'Transpac' harness.[16] 

Other cave divers continued to manufacture their own DIY configurations.
At this time, the use of sidemounted configuration was primarily restricted to a small number of exploration-grade cave pioneers.

The 2000s - cave diving popularity and sidemount evolution

In 2001 Brett Hemphill designed the Armadillo Side-Mount Harness. The Armadillo innovated several features that would be utilized in many future side-mount harness designs ; Butt anchoring rear attachment pad, Cylinder bungee attachment located under the wing, cylinder bungee location straps for quick location of bungees and primary BCD inflation located at the bottom of the harness instead of the top.[17] 

Widespread popularity of sidemount diving systems did not truly emerge until the mid-2010s, when the growing popularity of technical and cave diving became exposed to sidemount proponents on the internet who were offering an alternative approach that matched the minimalism and functionality of the popular 'DIR/Hogarthian' back-mounted systems, whilst offering advantages in flexibility, comfort, accessibility and – highly debated online – safety.[18]

The increasing interest in sidemount diving configurations prompted several manufacturers and individuals to design and sell their own designs of a sidemount system. Hollis, OMS, UTD developed equipment, while Steve Bogaerts (a UK-born cave pioneer, who lives and cave-dives in Mexico) released the very popular 'Razor' system and began teaching a specific model training program for his rig.

At this time, several technical scuba agencies developed formal sidemount training programs and incorporated sidemount diving configuration as an equipment option within existing technical diving programs.

When PADI instructor, Jeff Loflin,[19] devised a distinctive sidemount diving speciality course, it proved extremely popular, being replicated by many PADI technical-level instructors. This soon led to PADI devising standardised sidemount diving programs at both recreational and technical levels, making sidemount a viable and mainstream option for both recreational and technical divers. Other agencies, such as ANDIIANTD,SSITDI and UTD also incorporate sidemount training at varied levels.


Various harness/BCD configurations have been used to sidemount cylinders. The choice between different configuration approaches is typically determined by the nature of the diving undertaken (open water, technical, wreck or cave) and by the divers' existing equipment, financial budget and whether they have a preferred approach to diving philosophy (minimalist, DIR, Hogarthian, etc.). The size/ material/ volume of diving cylinders to be used also has a large impact on sidemount BCD requirements.[8][20]

Backplate and wing harness adaptation

Rigid Hogarthian style backplate and wing BCD systems may be modified by adding butt-plates, bungee cords and optional special sidemount buoyancy compensators. Cylinders are supported at the valve end by bungee loops that run from the backplate to the front chest D-rings. The lower cylinder clip attaches to D-rings mounted on the waist belt or 'rails' on a butt plate.
Sidemount divers who conduct penetration diving in confined overhead environments (wreck diving or cave diving) will generally prefer a soft fabric backplate,[21] or webbing harness only, owing to the risk of a solid backplate becoming stuck in a small restriction.
An example of a commercial backplate and wing harness adapter, including integrated butt plate and attachment points for bungee loops, is the OMS Profile.[22]

Specialised and hybrid harnesses

Specialised sidemount harnesses are available 'off-the-shelf' commercially.[23] Some of these are designed specifically for sidemounting only, but others are 'hybrid' designs, enabling the diver to swap between sidemount and back-mounted cylinders, as needed.[8]


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