Why Side?

SideSidemount has been around since the 1960s. It originated in the UK with sump divers. In the 70s it was adapted for the Florida caves, mainly in systems with small passages. The popularity of sidemount did not emerge until recently. More and more equipment manufactures and training organizations have embraced sidemount. The question is, “What is sidemount and why do it?”

Sidemount is a configuration which has tank is mounted alongside the diver, not on the back of the diver, a benefit while diving in a confined space such as a wreck penetration.
Sidemount use is growing with technical divers and is becoming more popular with recreational divers.
The benefits are:


Single tanks are often easier to find and to transports. When diving in remote locations, the transportation is considerably less work. Sidemount equipment is also considerably lighter, and less bulky than back-mount rigs. A diver can also use whatever size tank is available. Duel 40s are great for recreational diving.


Sidemount diver has direct access to, and observation of, the regulators and tank valves of their cylinders. This allows for instant problem solving without ‘behind the head’ shut-down drills that require a higher level of mobility, flexibility and freedom to operate.


As stated sidemount places the cylinders under the diver’s armpits, in line with their body. This decreases resistance (improving air consumption and reducing fatigue)and lets the diver pass through smaller restrictions, if needed. Removing tanks and putting them in front, allows the diver to pass through very small passages and holes when performing a penetration dive, and it is just fun to do.


Direct access to life-support equipment (regulators, first-stages and valves) improves efficiency and speed of valve shut-down procedures, allows immediate identification of problems and provides the diver with quick access to safety procedures; such as regulator swapping (between cylinders), valve-‘feathering’ to access gas within a cylinder whose regulator has malfunctioned or even breathing directly from a tank valve, if you are having a really bad day.
Having the tanks next to the diver’s body, and beneath the armpits, serves to protect valves and regulator first-stages from collision, impact and abrasion damage, or accidental shut-down. It also significantly reduces the risk of entanglement behind the diver.


Sidemount offers greater stability, trim and control in the water. It is also less physically demanding to carry, and get into. The ability to attach, remove and replace cylinders while in the water allows the diver to avoid carry heavy back-mounted doubles. As well as reduced physical exertion when conducting regulator shut-down procedures, which is a major benefit to divers who suffer from shoulder or back injuries that reduces mobility.


Increased gas supply allows for longer dives and gas redundancy. Using nitrox and a nitrox computer allows for more no stop diving. Diver also carry their own back up air supply. Independent tanks provide true gas redundancy.

Side Note: Monkey diving is the term used to describe the use of a sidemount rig, using a single cylinder. It takes a little getting used to but easy to do.I prefer it when not teaching.

Where is my boat?

Have you ever walked out of the mall or grocery store, and not remember were you parked? You were sure you parked by that tree, or was it that tree? I am sure it has, even if for only a brief moment of doubt. This recently happened to me, only it was a boat and it was not where I left it. What would you do? Are you prepared such an event?
On a recent trip to Florida, we were diving on the Spiegel Grove. The Spiegel is 510ft long Dock Landing Ship. It sets at 140+ feet up to about 65 feet. It is a world class wreck dive.
There was a mixture of recreational divers and my Tec class. The plan was for us to do one long dive with a run time of 70 minutes while the other divers did two recreational dives. We splashed last and would be on our deco stops when the others started their second dive. The captain had to anchor to buoy eight; it is located on the bow, as all the other good balls were in use. The current was fairly strong and we had to pull ourselves down. Luckily the current was going almost bow to aft. This allowed us to use the structure as protection. The dive was uneventful and my two student accomplished all of their skill with enough time remaining to do a little sight seeing. At 47 minutes we were back on the accent line. When we first arrived I heard a motor run for a few minutes, this is not out of the ordinary. On sights like the Spiegel, boats come and go often. Some were around 80 feet I looked up at the surface. I could not see the boat but that too is not uncommon. Around 50 feet I looked again, and this time I could see the line from the buoy hanging free. Curious! Thoughts like: Is this the right accent line? No, I am sure this is the right line. Did someone get hurt and the boat had to do an emergency return to dock? No, I did not hear the emergency recall. What if we did not hear it and they knew we had a long deco. My son was diving with the other group, what if it was him! No, that is not it, that is just crazy talk! So what is the deal? Maybe they just moved, but why? Who knows, but that is what I convinced myself of. We still had deco to contend with and my job was to monitor my two students. I could not change the fact that the boat was gone.. After all of our computers cleared, I had the other two divers stay down while I had a look. I was right the boat just moved to a different buoy and was sort of in the direction of the current. I called up the other two and we started a fairly good surface swim, maybe 100 yards. It was harder than the dive itself.
The captain moved so the recreational divers would have an easier decent and ascent. They told him that if he did not move they would not do another dive. I have been on this boat a number of times and they knew our skill set and that when we surfaced we would see the boat.
What if we had come up and the boat had been gone, for whatever reason? Or like another dive I was on, you get blown off the accent line and come up away from the boat and on the wrong side of the current. Would you be prepared? There are three elements to being prepared. They go hand in hand and cannot stand on their own. The elements are safety equipment, training and mental preparedness.
In open water class you are taught to inflate your BCD, relax and signal the boat. Leave your mask on and regulator or snorkel in place, and condition dependent, drop your weights. How do you signal the boat? Hand signals are great if you are close enough and the crew sees you. This is not always the case. During your open water class your instructor told you that you should always carry an audible signaling device, at least I hope they did. A simple plastic whistle, like the one that comes on most BDC will work, if it is there. You can also purchase better ones. Check with your local dive shop, they will have a recommendation. There are also devices like the “DiveAlert” that goes on the LP hose of your BCD inflater. They are loud and sound like a fog horn. Be careful, I would hold it away from your ears when you us it.
You also need to carry a visual signaling device. A colored fin works, not very well, but can do in a pinch as long as it has color to it, not blue or black. A surface marker buoy (SMB) is a wise choice. Not only can it be used for signaling but you can deploy it while still underwater. This not only signals the boat of your location but also act as an accent line during a blue/brown water accent. An SMB can also act as a flotation device, if needed. A good SMBs will have a reflective strip on it and a way of attaching a light/chemical stick to it for night recoveries. Tall is also better, as it is easier to see in rough sea. No matter what type you get, practice with it. If you have never deployed one as part of a class, get someone, preferably an instructor, to show you how to do it from 15-20 feet with a reel or spool. This will allow you to do your safety stop in a controlled manner. Then practice, practice, practice, and be sure to keep it in working order. A signaling mirror is another choice, small, easy to carry and easy to maintain. Read the direction when you get it, do not wait until you are floating at sea to learn how to use it. A chemical stick or small strobe is also good for night time emergencies. However, chemical lights do have a shelf life and your strobe does need good batteries. Two other choices, although not as popular are pen flares and dyes. Both have a shelf lifes and will need to be check before you dive. Of course, read the instruction before you get in the water. Divers Alert Network (DAN) offers a 6 foot SMB with a reflective strip, a mirror, whistle, and a light in a storage pocket. I think this is the best deal out there, ask you dive store or instructor about them. Carry your safety SMB and or signaling device of your choice on every dive. The one time you do not have them will be the one time you need them, I speak from experience.
Training, yes it all comes down to training and continuing education. Learn how to use your safety equipment. Many instructors are including the use of a SMB and reel in their advance class, if not, ask. If you are already advance certified then I would suggest a wreck or deep class were your instructor should include it, ask if not. It is also common in wreck diving to mark your accent line so you know which one is yours. It is always embarrassing to pop up on the wrong boat. It is funny, as long as it is not you. The introduction to technical diving course also stresses the deployment of the SMB from depth, and you will do it on every dive.
Mental preparedness is a must. Do not stress, visualize the dive and what to do if something does go wrong. Ask the captain and crew a few questions: What is the diver recall signal and when would they initiate it? What are the procedures for a diver who does come up off the boat and cannot swim back?
Maybe you will never be blown off a wreck or come up away from the boat. I can name the hand full of times that it has happened to me. Never say never. Check your safety equipment, have the proper training and be mentally prepared. Instructors are not just teaching you how to dive. One of our main goals is to teach you what to do when a dive goes bad, skills and drills. Anyone can jump in the water, swim around and get out. It is when something goes wrong that your training pays off. It must be a muscle memory reaction, no thinking, just doing.
No matter what happens or the reason, stay calm, let your training take over and remember, as long as you are breathing you have no problems.

Dive Season is Here!

For those of us in the north, Summer is almost here and dive season is upon us. What should you do? Hopefully over the winter you have kept some type of physical fitness level and you have been able to go diving. If not, it is not too late. Swimming is the best exercise for diving. You do not need to be Michel Phelps. Start out slow and with a short distance. Like any exercise, build up to long times and greater distance. You may be limited on when and how often you can swim. Also, if you travel, it may not be convenient. If you can run, running is, in my opinion, a great choice. You can do it anywhere and anytime. At the least, walk a mile or so at a pace that makes you breathe harder then you are now reading this article. Something is better the nothing. As always, check with your family doctor before you start any kind of exercise regime.
What else do you need to do? Check out all of your gear, do any maintenance that may need to be done: Tanks vis’d, Regulator serviced, check your mask and fins for damage, especially the straps. Check you BCD, be sure it still fits, you know, winter weight and all. Check all the valves and releases. The inflator and deflator are high on the list also. Then, GET WET! At a minimum, jump in the pool with you gear and get reacquainted. Visit you local dive shop and sign up for a refresher. This can be done with an instructor or divemaster. They will work with you to get your skill back up to speed. Sign up for a trip, be it local or someplace warmer. The key is, GET WET!

Technical Diving: Are you ready?

light-bulbSometime around your 16th birthday, you went to your parents and said “I want to go get my driver’s permit”. Now, unless they had been living under a rock, they saw it coming. Since they knew you were going to ask, I am sure they had been evaluating you and how they were going to handle it. But what made you say, “You are ready?” Was it simply because you were of age? Did you step back and evaluate yourself: your maturity, responsibility, reflexes, attention span? No, you were the right age and you had the right to drive! If you had stepped back and looked, you may have seen that you were not ready. For sure, you were not ready to drive 75mph down the interstate during rush hour, eating a cheeseburger and changing the radio station. (Not that I would ever do that.) Like driving, technical diving takes a level of maturity, responsibility and multi-tasking. Technical diving is not a right, it is an earned privilege. Just like with driving, a mistake can mean you life.

We are going to talk about your role in deciding to start. What you should do before you start.

The question is, when do you know you are ready to start the tec path? Only you will know when you are ready. There are no hard set rules, there are requirements or prerequisites but they do not mean you are ready. For instance, one organization requires 25 dives while another requires 50 for the equivalent classes. Does that mean you are ready, I think not. Here are a few recommendations for you in no particular order.

It is all about the skills and drills. You will be exposed to many new skills and some of your old ones will be polished. Before you start, you should be able to do at least the following in your openwater equipment: 1) While hovering horizontal: remove and replace your mask, without changing depth by more then 3 ft. 2) Share air while remaining horizontal. 3) Swim at least 30ft, horizontal, on one breath (CESA). 4) Swim at least 50ft without your mask on. 5) While hovering horizontal, remove and replace your BCD, best to do this in a pool. These are not requirements to start but being able to do these skill will make your class much more enjoyable for you and your instructor.

Once you can do those skill, find a set of doubles. Rent or borrow different types, to include the rigs if you do not have one. Gear configuration is covered in class, but you need to find a rig that suits you and works. Then, dive. Get a feel for the rig and the tanks. There are three times in a divers training when they relearn how to dive. Diving with doubles, a dry suit, and with a re-breather. Doubles have a different buoyancy and trim characteristics then a single tank. Double 80’s are not the same as 104’s. Once you get use to one set, changing to a different set is like changing cars. You will have to make a few adjustments to the seat, and mirrors, get a feel for the breaks and steering but nothing you should not be able to overcome fairly quickly. If you are diving in an area were a drysuit is a must, dive it, with the doubles.

Do your research! Know what to expect when you walk-in to class. These classes are an investment in time and money. Do not think you are going to walk in, do a couple of dives, and get a card. You will need more gear then you have as an open water diver, and it will take more time then your openwater class ever did. Do the time and find out what is involved. While doing your research, find an instructor. The same rules apply as with finding an openwater instructor.

Check your mental fitness. Are you ready to learn new skill? Are you ready to be taught and evaluated? If you are the kind of person that thinks they are dong everything the right way, you may want to re-think your decision. You must be open to constructive criticism and ready to take it at any time. Egos have no place under the water, and must be left on at the surface, on shore, and preferably at home.
Check you physical fitness. Technical diving is more strenuous then openwater diving. If you have any health issues get cleared by your doctor, you may want to find a hyperbaric doctor. DAN maintains a list and will steer you in the right direction. If you get winded walking a flight of stair you may also want to reconsider. Carrying a set of doubles and a stage up an incline or even the ladder on the boat is strenuous. Make sure you are fit, you do not need to run a marathon but , you need to be able to carry and swim with all the gear involved. Discuss this with your instructor for more guidance.

Finally or first, start slow. Enroll in an Intro/Intro type class. Not all training agencies call them Introduction to Technical diving. But they have something along the same lines. This class will show you the basics and give you a feel for what is involved. It is also a great indicator if you are ready. If nothing else you will leave the class with new skills that will make you a better diver.

In closing, when are you ready? When you’re ready. Start slow, take an intro class. Do your research, know what to expect and find an instructor. Check your fitness, mental and physical. Get in the water, it is all about the skills and drills. Only you will now when you are ready. Do not figure it out at 160ft, in 40 degree water, after you have a regulator malfunction.

Why I Teach

I have been a Scuba instructor now for a little over 15 years. I have been an active instructor, with the exception of a year or two break due to reasons beyond my control., In the scope of things, this may not seem like a large feat. However, I have noticed that a great number of people I taught with over the years have stopped teaching. I am sure there are lots of reasons for it and every reason is acceptable. What has kept me teaching? It is the “ah ha” moments.

An “ah ha” moment, for me, comes in two varieties. One is in the classroom when there is a student who is struggling with a concept. They just do not get it! Then, while you are explaining it to them, you can see the light come on and they get it. The second occurs in the pool or during open water training. They are struggling with a new skill or have just decided they cannot or will not do it. You convince them that they can do it, and then you find the technique that works for them. When they do the skill, you can see the joy or relief in there face.

I start every open water pool session by having the students breath from the regulator and just put there face in the water while in the shallow end. I let them breathe like this for a minute or so. I then congratulate them on doing the “hardest” skill–No Mask Breathing. I explain they will do it again but now we all know they can do it. So, like all classes I started my last class the same way. We then move on to partial flood and clear and total flood and clear. Near the end of the pool session for that day, I announce that we are now going to remove our mask, breath for one minute and then replace and clear the mask. I could see the utter terror on one students face, we will call him Joe. (Note: student was 12 years old) We all descended and as always, I demonstrated the skill. My divemaster noticed how nervous Joe was and moved next to him. I love a vigilant divemaster! While I was evaluating other students, I would glance over at Joe. The closer I got, the more upset he appeared. I told him to wait as I went on to the remainder of the students. I then sent the class, minus Joe, to swim around under the supervision of the DM. Joe and I surfaced. To say he was upset was an understatement. He had already convinced himself that he could not do it. Drawing up on my years of teaching and of being a father, I convinced him he could. After repeating the first experience of no mask breathing, we descended and Joe did the skill like he had been doing it for years. When he cleared his mask, you could see the smile on his face.

That was Joe’s “ah ha” moment and that is why I continue to teach.

Practice what you (I) preach

peacock_pouchermapI have written in the past (in other forums) that student divers need to talk to a perspective instructor. This is especially true when looking for a continuing education instructor to train with. One of the questions that need to be asked is, “what type of diving do you do when you are not teaching, how often and when was the last time you did it?”

For me that is easy: I cave dive. Why? There a number of reasons and these are not in any kind of order. First, to cave dive one must have a skill set unlike any other. There is no room for errors. For instance, in relation to buoyancy or gas monitoring. Touching the bottom can cause a major silt out and total lost of visibility, and if you run low or out of gas a Controlled Emergency Swimming Accent is not in the cards. Second, planning takes on a new diminution from open water. You cannot just plan on going underwater, swimming around and then coming back to the surface. Third, when caving, I am not in-charge, all plans are team driven. Finally, caving has given me many adventures. I have had the opportunity to go into caves that no one else or only of hand full of others have seen. For me the darkness still does beckons me.

Last Dive of the weekend. (Synopsis of a dive)
Recently, I had the privilege of diving with a great team. Two members from Kentucky and my regular buddy here in Virginia. My favorite was our last dive of the trip, Orange Grove to Peacock traverse. Earlier we had swum from Peacock to Challenge sink, via the Peanut line (~2650ft) on less then one third of our back gas (104s). In planning the traverse, we knew that Challenge was our cookie. A cookie is a line marker and in this case, it references the point we had to be at or past once we reached one third of our gas supply. If not we would have to turn the dive and exit the way we came. Poring over the map the night before, we came up with a simple but elegant plan. Since none of my team, except for myself, had done the traverse, we decided to carry a stage bottle (80AL) for extra safety.
We entered at Orange Grove. After our bubble check and a quick S-drill descended breathing our stage bottle. We had decided to use a primary reel that a fellow diver had left connected the previous day and marked it with a cookie. Orange Grove to Challenge is around 1800ft; at 1000ft penetration, we switched from our stage to our back gas. The switch conveniently occurred in a room with plenty of room for all four of us. After sorting out our gear and a quick team check, we continued the dive. We arrived at Challenge with more then enough gas and after about a10 min surface break we continued the dive. The distance from Challenge to Olsen is a little over 1400ft, and then Olsen out is about 1500ft. We stopped at Olsen for a quick break and checks. It was a great dive and besides a cramp on the way out, uneventful. Our average speed was about 50ft per minute and our SAC was right at .5. Hungry, tired and very pleased with ourselves, we exited the water, recovered our equipment and prepared for the long drive home.

Why DAN as ConEd classes?

As a scuba and a DAN Instructor I am asked by students and fellow instructor: “Why take DAN classes?” They are not dive classes in the classic, get in the water and do skills kind of classes. DAN classes are of a different flavor. They are dry classes.

For the student diver or in DAN terminology/Providers: Your knowledge of dive related medical emergencies will increase exponentially. The classes build your confidence to react to a diving medical emergency, be it a spine puncture from a sea urchin or a decompression illness event. DAN classes teach basic Life support skill (CPR & 1st Aid), how and when to administer oxygen, marine life injury 1st aid, even, how and when to take a blood pressure. These are skill that you never want to have to use, but would it not be nice to know what to do if you needed them? Moreover, with most classes you will learn more about DCI and how to limit your risk. When diving with a commercial operation, one would hope that the crew knows what to do in case of an emergency; this may not always be the case. Armed with the knowledge from these classes you will know if proper care is being administered. Finally, as an active diver you want to surround yourself with dive buddies who can assist you in case of an emergency.
For the Instructor, why would you not want to offer DAN classes to your students? DAN classes offer you a chance to provide classes year round. Keeps your students interested in training and teach them skills that could save a life. DAN classes work well as stand alone classes but I have had better experience in making them value added classes. For a minimum increase in the price add DEMP to your rescue class. Your students will finish class with two certifications and more knowledgeable in how to use oxygen and taking care of hazardous marine life injuries. Add BLS Pro to you Dive Master Program, this will provide them with a BLS review and new skills that could save a life., maybe even yours.
Isn’t your goal as an instructor to train safe and confident divers? DAN classes will help you in those goals.

Beyond Open Water: What does it mean?

Let us look at it from two different perspectives: the Dive and the Instructor.
For the diver going beyond open water means continuing their diving education/training. The only true way to learn to dive is to dive. Under the supervision of an instructor, you will learn how to do it properly. You attain new skills and become a more confident diver. How far do you go? As far as you want. Instructors and most divers will say that rescue is a minimum. Open water class gives you the basic skill you need to dive, there is so much more to learn, and many ways to challenge yourself. It is worth the investment.

For the instructor it means promoting continuing education and teaching it so that the students have fun and learn at the same time. Let’s face it, if you are only teaching the open water class; you are good at kneeling on the bottom, demonstrating and evaluating mask clearing. As an instructor, continuing education classes give you a chance to practice your own skills and teach students how to really dive. You may be really good at clearing your mask but when was the last time you swam a search pattern or practiced your rescue breathing?