- What is Sidemount Diving?
- Benefits of Sidemount Diving
- Downsides of Sidemount Diving
- How to Dive Sidemount
- History of Sidemount Diving
Sidemount diving has quickly become one of the most popular new trends in the world of recreational scuba diving.
Just a few years ago this style of two tank configuration was strictly reserved for technical scuba divers.
But now all the major training agencies offer courses to learn sidemount diving.
Most brands are selling dive gear specifically for diving sidemount.
Perhaps you’ve already seen a few divers with their tanks mounted on their sides instead of their back.
Looks pretty cool right?
And now you want to learn more about diving sidemount. Well, you’ve come to the right place.
So what is sidemount diving all about? And is it time for us all to sidemount our tanks?
Let’s find out.
What is sidemount diving?
Scuba diving sidemount simply means that you carry your tanks at your sides instead of on your back. Typically sidemount diving uses two of the same size tanks that are arranged either side of the diver.
Now you’re probably thinking…
‘I’m not a cave or technical diver so why dive sidemount?’
Well, diving sidemount has a number of benefits for recreational divers, besides diving in caves and looking awesome.
So let’s take a closer look at the benefits of sidemount diving.
7 reasons why you should try sidemount diving
The main benefit of sidemount diving is streamlining. As you probably know, water is 800 times denser than air. So significantly more power is needed when moving through the water. Becoming as streamlined as possible reduces hydrodynamic drag and allows you to move efficiently underwater.
When you dive with your tank on your back you are presenting a larger surface area to your direction of travel which increases drag. So you will need to put in extra effort to move through the water. This extra effort will result in increased air consumption. Or if you’re deep or swimming in strong currents, it will lead to stress. Not ideal.
But when you are diving sidemount you take up less space in the water if configured correctly. This means propulsion is easier and you use less energy to move. Not only does this improve your air consumption but it also makes diving much more effortless. So your dives can be easier and longer. Sounds much better!
Sidemount diving significantly improves your trim. Unfortunately, we’re not talking about slimming down your waistline. In scuba diving, trim refers to the orientation of a diver in the water.
Having good horizontal trim when diving is vital to move through the water efficiently. You achieve good trim through correct weighting and correct positioning of your weight and the gas inside your BCD.
Although you can achieve good horizontal trim when diving backmount, it’s much easier to master when diving sidemount. Having your tanks mounted at the side of your body means that they are more closely aligned to your centers of gravity and buoyancy.
When diving sidemount, your centers of gravity and buoyancy will always be near the center of your body whatever position you’re in.
This means that you are balanced regardless of your orientation in the water. Whether you turn onto either side, upside down, or stay upright, it doesn’t matter. You will always be balanced.
Whereas if you turn on your side when diving backmount there will be a large force wanting to pull you further, into a ‘back down’ position.
Although you can control this by tensing your body, it can be quite frustrating and requires significant effort.
And you definitely won’t feel balanced in all positions when scuba diving backmount!
As a result of the optimized trim and balance that sidemount diving provides, you are much more stable underwater. Not only will you feel much more in control, but this is what creates that true feeling of weightlessness when scuba diving.
This stability is particularly important when diving inside caves or wrecks, where any contact with the bottom can result in total loss of visibility.
Of course, skilled divers can achieve the same stability with backmount. However, it’s much easier to develop diving sidemount.
Peace of mind
One of the obvious benefits of diving sidemount is that with two tanks you have more air supply, which means longer and less stressful dives.
But it’s the extra redundancy, both in terms of tanks and regulators, that really gives sidemount divers peace of mind.
With two completely independent gas supplies, sidemount provides additional safety in the event of equipment failure of diver mistake.
What’s more, with sidemount diving your tank valves are in front of your body. Which means it’s very easy to see, and hopefully fix, any valve or regulator issues compared to backmount diving.
Ease of managing equipment
Diving sidemount allows you to manage each tank individually, both in and out of the water. So it’s much easier for divers with back or shoulder issues, or those who would struggle with the weight of a twinset.
And lastly, sidemount diving is a lot of fun!
One of the best things about scuba diving as a sport is that there is always something new to learn. Sidemount diving offers a new challenge for recreational divers. Mastering diving sidemount has a lot of benefits for every type of scuba diver.
Sidemount diving seems pretty awesome, right? But there are a few cons of diving sidemount to be aware of.
So what are the downsides of diving sidemount?
The main disadvantage of sidemount diving is that it doesn’t scale as easily as traditional backmount diving. You can easily convert a backmount BCD from taking two tanks to a single tank and vice versa.
Whereas a sidemount BCD is difficult to use with just one tank, even on a shallow reef. So you’ll probably need 2 BCDs, 1 for diving sidemount and 1 for single tank dives. And, of course, you’ll need additional regulators for sidemount.
When it comes to deep, prolonged dives (aka decompression diving) divers need to carry several tanks with a variety of gases for different stages of the dive.
Sidemount alone doesn’t offer seriously deep divers enough space for their additional tanks, so they will need to need to use back-mounted tanks as well.
Sidemount diving also isn’t ideal for locations where you have walk a long way in your gear before entering the water. With a backmount configuration, you have much better weight distribution when carrying your equipment.
How do you dive sidemount?
Diving sidemount isn’t as simple as strapping two tanks to your sides. The equipment configuration requires a lot of guidance in the beginning and you’ll need some practice to get the positioning right. Plus it’s vital you learn the different emergency procedures for diving sidemount.
So if you want to dive sidemount it’s essential you take a sidemount diving course. There are both recreational and technical sidemount courses depending on your level and the type of diving you plan to do in the future.
Check out some of the skills you’ll learn on a sidemount diving course…
history of sidemount Diving
Sidemount diving, like diving with twin tanks, originates from the world of technical diving.
This specific style of side-mounting your tanks under your armpits was first used in British cave diving.
British caves, unlike the famous ones in Mexico or Florida, are not wide and open but rather low ceilinged, tight, and narrow tunnels.
Therefore the only way to dive in these places was to take up as little space as possible.
So the British cave divers simply moved their tanks from their backs to their sides. Other than a modified BCD and harness, no other specialized equipment was needed. And that is how sidemount diving was invented.
To sidemount or not to sidemount?
Regardless of the benefits of sidemount diving mentioned above, it’s the freedom and weightlessness of diving sidemount that is so addictive. And this is the real reason that sidemount diving has become so popular.
Sidemount divers will say that once you dive sidemount, you’ll never go back!
Have you dived sidemount already? Or do you want to try it?
Let us know in the comments!
Alexa Worswick is a PADI and SSI scuba diving Instructor, recreational freediver and freelance copywriter. She first learnt to scuba dive in the UK aged 15 and has since travelled and dived in multiple locations across 3 different continents. After quitting her marketing job in London in 2016, Alexa is now based in Indonesia where she can pursue her passion for the ocean fulltime.