Saturday, 26 November 2011

Sidemount Diving Systems

Sidemount Diving Systems

Modular or Sidemount only rig

It is not a fad! It is here to stay! Sidemount diving has been used for decades already and in the harshest environment imaginable. So NO, it is not just a fad.
For the last two years now there’s been a surge with manufacturers to introduce sidemount compatible wings or other BCDs. No blame, just to say that everybody is jumping on the bandwagon, that’s it!
Diver using Sidemount configuration

So far, the only available sidemount-only, equipment was from a major diving manufacturer, that is the Nomad from Lamar Hires, Dive Rite and a ‘smaller’ one, Golem, with the Armadillo designed by Brett Hemphill.
Both had to suit the divers they were mainly addressed to: Florida cave divers. Deep caves, huge passages and some good sidemount caves. I am not going to compare the size of the caves here, it is not what this article is for, but more to share with you, my views of the sidemount scuba diving market as it is today.

Modular Sidemount Systems

When using a modular sidemount system, you have all the advantages of being able to switch from sidemount to backmount, single or double cylinder configuration but you haven’t got the full advantages of enjoying what sidemount is about … Bias you’d say..?? Maybe, yes but let me explain this a bit.
The manufacturers who wants to jump on the bandwagon have to respond to a board of directors and sometimes investors. So their goal in this perspective is very simple: hit the largest audience possible.
How do you do that? Simple! You just need to say, you’re the one who has the last toy in town that everybody wants. But hold on, it’s not just over yet, not only have you got the toy everybody is talking about but you are so nice that you keep the others  in the loop who are not necessarily interested in that toy but would not mind trying something a bit cooler, or just to get closer to the mainstream pack. Pffooo!! That was a mouthful!
Are you with me here?
Because in the end, this is what it is about, SALES!! Isn’t it? So, the larger the audience, the more product you can potentially sell.
Good, now we’ve got the marketing side of things sorted, let’s look closer at the modular sidemount rig.
Cluttered sidemount configuration
It is going to offer way more lift than is needed. When you say more volume, you imply more material, therefore, more drag and less streamline. It is not needed to say that sidemount was invented to pass smaller sections of wet caves, aka sumps. So the smaller your rig, the better.
Because the modular rig has to fit the sidemount and the double backmounted diver, it can’t be as streamlined as we’d like it to be. I can tell you from experience that the cave (as we speak sidemount) takes a beating when a diver needs to negotiate restrictions with a bulky ‘Vagabond’ – not to name the brand :)
One for All does not work!
This is why, here in Mexico, with the experience acquired through decades of diving in, as a friend calls them, ‘velcro caves’, the sidemount system has become a very streamlined, minimalist and user-friendly rig. Let me introduce you to the: sidemount-only rig!

Sidemount Only Rig

Well, I can tell you that I couldn’t wait to arrive at this part of the article, as I was getting bored talking about such a deviation of truth: modular rigs!
As the title says, it is designed for sidemount ONLY and therefore has no drawback on using it … for … sidemount only! :D
Since the early stages of sidemount, few manufacturers have found a large enough market to spend the $$$ on a production line to bring up something viable.
I can say now and lots of you know as well, that today, this time has ended and we all can enjoy sidemount-only rigs directly off the shelves. Between the Razor Sidemount System, the UTD Z-Wing and harness, the Kameleont, the Easy harness and so on and so forth.
Note that between these units, there is one common attribute: the harness.
Sidemount Only Rig
For this purpose designers/inventors had to shed the BCD style rig to a less bulky and more rugged type of construction. I heard from explorer and inventor of the Razor sidemount system, Steve Bogaerts, that he went through many OPV valves during his explorations while using modular rigs, not really adapted to ‘real’ sidemount caves.  From a Buoyancy Compensator Device, we are now talking about TCD or Trim Compensator Device, a huge leap into perfecting the techniques in buoyancy control while scuba diving.
On top of that, minimalist sidemount equipment allows you to fine tune the weight needed, therefore, helps for BTP*.
If you dive in cold water using a dry suit and with steel cylinders, it is also important to keep in mind the redundancy of such a system. Dual bladder is preferred. If on the other hand you dive in warm water using aluminium cylinders, then a single cell bladder will be a necessity while a very minimum amount of lead will be required to hold a safety stop at 15ft/5m.
Some of the fixtures on a modular harness are not really of use in advanced sidemount diving. I think of the door handles, used to clip the bottom part of the cylinders. While using steel tanks it may work … not really, but they use it in North Florida, so can’t bitch too much about them!
In conclusion, I’d say with the ever-increasing interest in sidemount diving and equipment coming onto the market, there is an increase in the number of divers wanting to go sidemount diving. Before you launch yourself in the quest for a sidemount rig, talk to your instructor. Make sure you choose your sidemount instructor carefully, ask about their experience in sidemount diving and what type of sidemount diving they do, at what level.
Photo credits: Diver using Sidemount configurationCluttered sidemount configuration are from a diver not trained in sidemount scuba diving and using a modular sidemount rig while the photo Sidemount Only Rig depict a trained sidemount diver using a Sidemount Only Rig.

By Jason Renuox

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