Sidemount Divers are more balanced, more streamlined, and have a redundant gas system. For me, I started Sidemount diving because I wanted more gas and more bottom time. The full answer of what I have realized is a little more complicated.
Like most new divers, I started diving with an Aluminum 80 (11 litre). I never wanted to be the one running out of air first, so I upgraded to Steel HP117 (15 litre). Then I started diving with divers using a twinset (two tanks on their back). Once again, I was in the position that I would be the one running out of air first. I started looking at a twinset and a suggestion was made that I may want to look at sidemount.
So, I went to a local dive shop, spoke to them about sidemount, and although they teach it, they did not have any sidemount BCD’s to use for the training, I would have to buy one first. So, I went home, did some research, and then ran back the next day and bought the "Hybrid" system that they stocked. By "Hybrid", I mean that the manufacturers indicated that it could be used for a single cylinder back mount or could be used for sidemount. At the time, I thought that this was really neat feature.
Then, I really went off the deep end. Not only did I buy the hybrid BCD, I also went on to purchase their changing mat, reg bag, weight pockets, expandable pouch, mask pouch, weight plate etc. If this manufacturer had sold underwear, I probably would have bought it too. When I got home, I watched as many videos as I could regarding this hybrid BCD, completed my sidemount course paperwork and anxiously awaiting the in-water training.
After completing my in-water sidemount training, I continued to do research online, that is when I came across Steve Martin’s Sidemounting videos. I started to have more questions than I had answers, so I signed up for the instructional videos on Sidemounting.com. This was a BIG eye-opener.
Only then did I really start to understand what mistakes I was making. I started reading more information, reaching out to top sidemount instructors around the world for their feedback, even sending them pictures of myself in the water for their comments.
Here are a few items that I have learned:
Although my primary goal was more bottom time, what I realized is that redundancy was far more important to me. Every time I jump in the water, I have a complete back-up system with me. If I have a malfunction from the tank that I am breathing from, I have another tank right in front of me ready to go. As a general rule, you are switching regs every 300 – 500 psi (20 to 35 bar), which means that you just finished testing your back-up. Then in another 300-500 psi (20 to 35 bar), you are switching again.
It has been suggested that sidemount is also really good for people with bad backs or bad knees. The tanks can be carried to the water edge and quite easily donned in the water. If you dive backmount, try rotating in the water, how long is it until you flip over like a turtle stuck on his shell?
If you are interested in sidemount diving, based on my experiences, I would suggest the following:
At the end of the day, I still very much enjoy side mount and I did achieve my initial goal of more air and more bottom time. I cannot wait to dive and train with the same top sidemount divers from around the world that responded to my questions after I started sidemount diving. They have much to offer and I have only scratched the surface.
Steve Martin's Sidemounting.com website is filled with information and videos that are a must if you are interested in sidemount.
If you have a thirst for knowledge and like listening to interviews from top sidemount divers, I would encourage you to listed to the Speaking Sidemount Podcast.