Sidemount training at Alba
Sidemount is becoming an increasingly popular way to dive and is a great way to get into technical diving. With this in mind, we decided to spend November training some of our dive guides and instructors as sidemount divers. This has numerous benefits for everyone; the guides are learning something new and enjoying sidemount for themselves, customers that dive on sidemount will know that their dive leader understands their configuration, and our guides will also be able to act as support divers when our technical divers undertake deep decompression dives. We think it’s important that our dive staff are highly trained and constantly improving their own diving.
Why dive sidemount?
Sidemount involves diving with two cylinders that sit parallel to each side of your body, with the tank valves tucked under the armpits. It’s a very comfortable way to dive and has numerous advantages to diving on a single cylinder. You have twice the gas, and any problems with gas supply can be solved easily without needing to share air with a buddy. This makes you less reliant on a buddy and increases your safety if you get separated from the group. Having twice the gas means longer dives. If you use nitrox then you can also have longer bottom times because you’ll be able to take advantage of greater NDLs before getting low on gas.
Sidemount is also a great way to begin technical diving. For many people it’s less intimidating than a twinset and much less weight to carry around on land, so it’s more suitable for smaller people. At Alba we teach recreational and technical sidemount with Raid and TDI. The courses differ in the number of dives included. The technical course introduces technical diving theory and procedures and is run over 4 days with 6 dives. The recreational course focusses solely on how to dive competently in a sidemount configuration. It’s run over 4 dives and takes 3 days to complete. Below is an overview of how we run our sidemount training at Alba.
Day one involves getting familiar with sidemount equipment such as the harness, cylinder, and regulator set up. These are important components to the course. If the harness is not set up correctly then everything will be off when it comes to the diving part. It’s important that you have a good understanding of how everything is set up, so that you will know how to set up and configure your own equipment after the course. However, emphasis at this stage is about you really getting to know it for yourself rather than just doing what the instructor is saying you need to do.
Once the equipment is set up, we spend some time in the pool fine tuning the harness and tanks, so everything is streamlined and working for you. With Raid, we undertake a full pool session to learn all the skills necessary to dive safely. This is a requirement of the Raid course. With TDI we configure the equipment and practice some of the skills before continuing with more skills in the ocean.
Getting familiar with skills involves putting them into context in terms of how, why, and when we may need to do them. For emergency skills we need to discuss what has gone wrong, how it went wrong, why, and what could you do to minimise the risk of it happening in the first place. Mindset, attitude, decision-making and team dynamics all factor in here.
Day two starts with some theory on gas management and dive planning, and we discuss pre-dive checks and diving procedures. In the afternoon we put this into practice and undertake two long dives. All dives on a sidemount course are as long as possible. We have a big advantage in this regard. All the dives we do are from the shore either in our own house reef, or at local dive sites such as the Liberty wreck or drop-off. We don’t have to waste time packing our gear and getting on a boat to ride out to the dive site. Our dives are only limited by the gas we have, which is a lot. This means a lot of inwater time to go through skills and procedures and embed good habits from the beginning.
Day three involves more dive theory and two more dives. After each dive we debrief to outline where you are at with your training and what you need to work on for the next dives. All skills are filmed with a GoPro so that you can see what you did during a dive. It’s an invaluable learning tool; the camera doesn’t lie as they say.
Day four applies only for the technical sidemount course, which includes two more dives. The requirements for this course are more stringent than the recreational course and the overall approach is different; when undertaking skills, we build up towards maintaining position in the water as part of a team to perform all tasks. This takes more time to achieve and is more task loading, but it is the foundation for more advanced tech diver training. We also go into more detail about dive planning and introduce diving procedures such as minimum deco ascents.
Sidemount diving is a lot of fun and is a great tool for getting more out of your diving. But it’s important to do it properly. You cannot rush a sidemount course or cover everything over 2 dives. It takes time to understand and properly embed everything, and a lot of inwater time is crucial to being able to apply it all effectively.
What are you waiting for?
The dive sites in Tulamben are perfectly suited to sidemount diving. Getting in and out of the water is very straight-forward, and there is so much macro marine life to see; having lots of gas allows you to take your time with everything and really get the most out of your dives.
You also have the added advantage that if you decide later down the road that you’d like to undertake some technical training, you already have the right set up to begin so the transition is a little easier.