Category: Tech News

Sidemount training

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.


Course outline

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.


For more information on sidemount training at Alba, get in touch here and have a look on our entry-level tech courses page

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Taking our DPVs for a spin

DPVs- the most fun you can have underwater

There are so many reasons why scuba diving is a lot of fun, seeing a shipwreck, exploring a dive site for the first time, hanging around weightless. Add into that diving with different people and learning other methods of diving, and it never gets old. But the icing on the cake has to be doing any of the above whilst whizzing around on DPVs or Diver Propulsion Vehicles, also commonly known as underwater scooters. They are so much fun. In fact they are so much fun i’ll repeat that, they are so much fun!

At Alba we have six, yes SIX DPVs. Of course you need to be qualified to use one, but luckily for you we also teach DPV courses. You’ll learn how to charge the batteries, set them up properly, operate them safely and generally take care of them. The course normally takes two days to complete but can be done in one super long day if required.

The first thing you’ll notice is just how fast you can go. The second thing you’ll notice is just how far you can travel, and the third thing you’ll notice is just how little effort you are putting into it all. Put all that together and you can have around 70 minutes (that’s how long the battery will last on full power) of seeing whatever you want, however far away it is. There are huge advantages to diving in currents, and, for the dive sites near Alba you could potentially visit two separate dive sites in one dive. It’s common for our divers to be driven to the Liberty wreck to start their dive, and then they just make their own way underwater back to our house reef. Or if you’re really feeling adventurous you could start the dive at drop-off and make your way back to Alba- the batteries can just about make it.

We have three Divextras Sierras, and three Suex XJoy 7s. Just be warned, once you have dived with a DPV, you will want to have one on every single dive you do.

For more information on DPV diving at Alba Dive Tulamben, click below.

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Servicing our Tanks

Maintaining our diving cylinders

As a diver, you maybe don’t put too much thought into the diving cylinder you are using. Unless it looks obvious that it’s seen better days, you’ll just get on with the job of setting your equipment up with it. But all diving equipment at any dive centre gets a lot of use, and behind the scenes everything needs constant care to keep it in good condition. Cylinders are no different. On a daily basis, cylinders should be rinsed with fresh water after each and every dive. Saltwater is corrosive and gets into everything. Keeping some air in a tank prevents the water from getting inside it, but how many times have you tried to turn on your tank and the plastic wheel is really hard to move? That’s saltwater getting into the stem. Washing with freshwater helps stop the salt from accumulating, but every so often the valves should be serviced, usually every six months. Another way for water to get into a cylinder is through a compressor that is not properly maintained. They have filters that need to be regularly changed. This is also the reason why your air may smell a little oily- this is not a good sign!

The cylinders themselves should undergo a visual inspection every year by a qualified service technician. This involves taking off the valve and looking inside the tank to check for corrosion and ensure the integrity of the metal. Any build up of salt means that the tank may need to be “tumbled”, which means putting pebbles inside and constantly rotating it to scour the insides clean again. If everything is ok with the tank, it should have a sticker that shows it has passed the inspection.

Every five years, tanks need to be hydrostatically tested. This involves pressure testng the cylinder with water to check the strength of the metal. Cylinders should be stamped to show that they have passed the test.

At Alba Dive Tulamben, we do the annual inspection ourselves, as our staff are ASSET trained technicians. When we need to get our tanks hydrostatically tested we get the testing company  to come to Alba to do all the tanks in one go. You will see visual inspection stickers on all of our cylinders, and all tanks older than five years will have a hydro-stamp on them. Our compressors are also very well maintained to ensure that the air you breathe is always very clean. We pride ourselves on having the best air in Bali, possibly even Indonesia.

So whether you are fun diving on a single tank, technical diving using decompression mixes, or using our 3L CCR cylinders, you can use our cylinders with confidence that they are well looked after. Just ensure that when you dive anywhere else you check the general condition of the cylinders and look out for the visual stickers and hydro stamps. If they are not present, it’s time to talk to the dive operator or maybe dive with another operator.

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