Testing the new PADI Sidemount Diver Course

By Kelly Rockwood, Training Consultant – PADI Americas

One of the great things about working in the PADI Training Department is the opportunity to help create, review and test new PADI programs. I was lucky enough to be included in formative research we were doing for the new PADI Sidemount Diver course held over the Labor Day holiday in September 2011. Giving up a holiday weekend was a small price to pay to be among a group of people helping test this new equipment configuration.

Jeff Loflin, a respected PADI Course Director and author of the first Sidemount Diver Distinctive Specialty course, led the research as our instructor.

Day One

In the morning, we met in a classroom where our instructor reviewed the development of the PADI Sidemount Diver Course Instructor Guide as it was currently written. The group then discussed a few edits to these standards that they felt would improve the course.

We followed this with information about the specific equipment used for sidemount diving and how it differs from a single cylinder backmount equipment configuration.

After lunch, we had a hands-on practice session configuring our own sidemount equipment before jumping in the pool for skills learning. While trim is important for backmounted diving, it is critical for sidemount diving. It is amazing how even slight adjustments to the cam band (moving it a slight amount either further up or down the cylinder) can dramatically change your profile in the water.

While in confined water, we worked on trim, removing and replacing the cylinders (both underwater and at the surface in the deep end of the pool), switching from one cylinder to another, monitoring our gas use, regulator recovery and clearing, air sharing with our buddy, hovering, deep water entry with one or two cylinders and swimming with one or two cylinders. We also removed one cylinder and adjusted our weighting for a single cylinder sidemount configuration and practiced some skills while wearing only one cylinder. During the debrief at the end of the confined water session, we discussed the Performance Requirements as currently outlined and made suggestions for skills and training that divers taking the program might find beneficial.

Day Two

We were up early to catch a boat to California, USA’s Catalina Island for the open water dives. While confined water sessions are essential for learning and mastering the skills necessary for sidemount diving, diving in the open water brings it all together. As California water is temperate, we also had wet suits, dry suits, hoods and gloves to contend with.

The first dive was challenging because the water had some waves and a slight surface current. Each of us was assigned a different method for donning our sidemount cylinders. I put both cylinders on in the water, while other testers attached their left cylinder first (so they were able to connect a low pressure inflator hose before entering the water), made a deep water entry, then connected the right cylinder in the water. Other entry methods included donning both cylinders and completing a giant stride, back roll or controlled seated entry.

During the dive, we practiced skills previously learned in confined water, like regular recovery and clearing, out-of-air drills (both by switching to our second cylinder and securing an alternate air source from our buddy), hovering for 30 seconds, removing and replacing the cylinders on the surface, monitoring gas supply and switching regulators to maintain similar pressures in each cylinder. We even performed a tired diver tow at the end of the dive. The student divers with no technical diving experience found this first dive challenging, while those who were familiar with handling stage or decompression cylinders found it liberating to be free from the constraints of double cylinders strapped to their backs. Most of us tweaked our equipment configurations during the surface interval.

On the second dive, some of us clipped one or both of our cylinders to a line, lowered the line into the water, got in and then donned our cylinders. Others practiced an entry method different than the one they used during the first dive.

We checked for neutral buoyancy, switched from one cylinder to another, shared air with our buddy while swimming and removed a cylinder in a sandy area beneath the boat to practice swimming with one cylinder. We also swam through and around the kelp and other obstacles to become comfortable with our buoyancy and trim. At the conclusion of the second dive, we unclipped and handed our cylinders to the boat crew or clipped them to a line for retrieval. Those without previous sidemount experience seemed to be much happier at the end of this dive as they had the chance to adjust their gear configuration during the break between dives.

We then practiced a few optional skills not currently included in the outline, like adjusting the cam band for trim while neutrally buoyant and swimming with both cylinders unclipped from the bottom rail and moved in front for ultimate streamlining. Too cool!

Research Conclusions

Based on our research experience, we suggested some revisions to the draft of the PADI Sidemount Diver Course Instructor Guide. Some were slight modifications, others more significant. Personally, I am a total convert to sidemount diving, because it is easy and has multiple options for equipment configurations.

12 Replies to “Testing the new PADI Sidemount Diver Course”

    1. Hi Lieven

      The course is still in development and these sorts of details are still be finalised. Rest assured we will pass them on via the Tec Blog and other forms of communication as soon as we are able too!
      Kind regards
      Rich Somerset
      Technical Consultant

  1. Well guys. The photo is not great. Tanks not in line. But finally its comming. Greets a sidemonth diver alain tiggelaar. 925620

  2. Coming from a cave diving background I think we should distinguish between sidemount diving as designed for small cave passages and what we might call sidesling which uses a similar configuration during open water diving. Sidemount cave diving requires a flexible, low profile configuration allowing divers to fit through small spaces.

    Sidesling (as the two divers in the picture above)diving occurs in open water areas and may or may not mimic the low
    profile configurations common in sidemount cave diving. In this case divers
    promote added comfort, reduced gear stress and more redundancy among the
    main benefits. However, from my perspective these things are mostly
    overblown or at least partly irrelevant.

    Comfort is obviously somewhat subjective and more importantly varies with
    different dives. For example, carrying side sling tanks on or off a boat can
    be quite a bit more difficult in rough seas. Bottles may be fitted and
    removed in the water during very benign conditions but counting on good
    conditions seems suspect given that many ocean dives change with regularity.
    In rough seas back mounted cylinder(s) are easier to carry and less
    difficult to don. If a diver surfaces to rough seas we have concern
    regarding the ease of removing this diver with bottles that are not securely
    fit. Moreover, a diver’s back is the best place to carry heavier kit. When
    properly fit a back mounted system is more secure and easier to manage on
    the surface. This is especially true on a rocking boat.

    Looking to increased redundancy we have to ask at what cost and with what
    benefit. Carrying two sideslung cylinders requires more careful gas
    management which is unnecessarily taxing without any compelling benefit. Gas
    sharing is also more complicated and/or difficult. This is because making an
    error on gas management can easily leave a diver with one cylinder that has
    inadequate gas for sharing or using to surface. This means divers must be
    sure to switch and be very attentive. They should also consider a way to
    share either cylinder with their dive buddy. This further increases task
    loading and/or gear complexity.

    While there are many reasons to reconsider sidemount in non-critical places,
    perhaps the most compelling is the complexities involved in standardization.
    A standard configuration which can be adjusted as needed but
    which benefits by having the entire team diving a common configuration.
    Using a nonstandard configuration can be done but should be done with other
    team members who understand the intricacies of your configuration. Using a
    nonstandard configuration in a place where there is very limited benefit
    seems inefficient and adds unnecessary complexity. Overall I don’t feel the perceived benefits outweigh the complexity of the configuration. I hope the program does well.

    1. Hi Ross
      Further information on the course will be posted once it is ready. Please also expect announcements relating to PADI and sidemounting diving at DEMA!
      Kind regards
      Rich Somerset
      Tec Consultant

  3. The issue I’m mainly worried about, is that MSDT’s with no proper Sidemount diving ‘experience’ , can sign themselves off after 25 dives with no one really to correct them on their TRIM amongst other skills…

    I believe Sidemount diving should be an art of keeping oneself trim and streamlined using visualisation techniques…using the ‘doorhandles’ on the wing to support the Ali 80s is NOT being trim or streamlined, so maybe this needs to be underlined more in the PADI reqirements.

  4. Congratulations on developing the course, sidemount diving is undoubtedly the most enjoyable and rewarding way to dive. I have been fortunate enough to try many of the sidemount systems on the market and have concluded that there is a massive difference in enjoyment and comfort between multi use and single purpose sidemount systems.
    I dive now only with a single use system as there were too many compromises with the multi use types. As you noted in your post, trim is crucial in sidemount diving. I have found that trim, buoyancy characteritics, finning styles, hose routing etc are far more important to the overall enjoyment of sidemount compared to backmount. Good equipment makes these skills easier for the student to perform but incorrect equipment makes it much more difficult and far less rewarding. There is definitely a case for better equipment having a confidence boosting effect on students.
    I have also found that it is often small differences in equipment design that translate to a big difference in underwater effectiveness and comfort. And, as we all know, being comfortable in a rig translates directly to the enjoyment of the sidemount experience. Take the bungee positioning and tension for example. This has a huge effect on the stability and positioning of the cylinders yet many systems don’t even use bungee and allow the students to swim with cylinders hanging too low rather than snug to the body. Excess wing size is another concern. I would also note that correct and streamlined hose routing is of major importance in sidemount due to the need to switch regs over frequently during the dive and to maintain a clutter free frontal area. I see in your photo that the spg is correctly on a short hose but is hanging out below the divers. Why not position it so that it is more streamlined?? If we consider that sidemount systems evolved from cave diving, the best systems have been developed by the best cave divers and are exclusively single purpose systems.
    As PADI are in a position to influence the equipment choices of thousands of students I would hope that the course would reflect the significant differences between the multi and single purpose systems. It would be impossible to dictate choice to students but certainly, given that there are major enjoyment and comfort advantages in equipment choice, I think that you are in a position to enhance the development of sidemount diving by highlighting the advantages of correct equipment. With luck, students will choose the correct equipment and manufacturers will steer away from multi use towards a standardised sidemount system, much the same as they have done with backmounted hogarthian style systems.

    Aaron Wootton (277161)

    1. Nice reply Aaron. What rig do you recommend? Also, have you seen a diagram of a good reg configuration? I’ve seen radically different routing on the few sidemount folks I’ve gone diving with / seen at the beach and no local instructors. I was watching teh vids from Steve Bogaerts; his system looks interesting. When I first started getting into technical diving and training I found tons of pics on optimal routing, standardized hogarthian configs, etc… but not so much with sidemount. Vastly variant designs, rigs, mounting systems for bottles (bungie / no bungie as you suggest). I’m just curious on your opinion. Thanks, John

  5. I recently did the padi sidemount course with garry Dallas through divelife in Manchester , this instructor is a credit to the organization, he went above and beyond for me.
    I would advise anyone thinking of going sidemount to seek out garry and use him, …… simplysidemount

  6. It’s great to see PADI working in an area generally reserved for tech divers. It just proves what I have said for some time, in that PADI really do provide a brilliant level of investigative training. Through their own research they clealy evaluate every possibility. I was thinking of swapping my training establishment now that I am a master diver and doing some more technical dives on twins, wrecks etc, but I have now decided to stick with the PADI Tec option. Great article that provides a good insight into the workings of PADI.

  7. Sidemount clearly is now getting lots of interest worldwide, 2012 will be a big year for sidemount as we have only scratched the surface.

    I think it is critical that the new PADI training materials reflect the different types of sidemount systems available on the market (Multi-Use Vs Sidemount Only) and each student really needs to understand their options and the pros and cons of each. I have updated my equipment section on the website to reflect just that. http://www.sidemountscubadiving.com/Equipment/tabid/72/Default.aspx.

    I am also using this post to extend an invite to PADI Staff at either office to come and take some training with myself on “Sidemount Only Systems”. Max of x3 people per training course, they will get to use the latest Razor Side Mount System and Apeks Sidemount Regulator Package. I will be in the following regions PADI AP (until Feb 2012) and PADI International (any time after March 2012) look forward to hearing from you guys.

    I hope my updated “equipment section” provides useful information for the new PADI sidemount training materials.

    Regards, Steve

    Steve Martin – PADI TecRec IT
    Sidemount Instructor Trainer


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