Is sidemount diving relevant to open water dives?

Sidemount diving is slowly becoming more common and gaining some popularity.

More and more divers are seen diving sidemount in open water environments.

However, is this just a fad and is it relevant to the diving that we normally do?

Where did it come from?

Sidemount diving, which started with exploratory cave diving, was created so that cave explorers could access tighter and more restrictive holes, allowing exploration further into cave systems.

The benefits of sidemount include the freedom of not having large double tanks on your back, the feeling of being free and less weight to cause backaches, easier logistics from carrying smaller tanks to boats instead of larger doubles, etc.

However, do these benefits apply when diving in the open ocean? IMHO, not so much.

Sidemount from shore

In ocean diving, you would traditionally either dive off a boat or from shore.

Shore dives do see a small benefit from sidemount. Mostly from when you have to transport tanks to the waters’ edge, which may not necessarily be a comfortable beach entry.

There could be large waves or rocks that make carrying a large set of doubles tricky if not dangerous to the diver.

In this situation, yes, you would see some benefit from ferrying the tanks to the water in multiple trips, but this would still mean having to make several trips up and down the beach.

Me personally, I’d rather fight the waves once and get into the water quickly, rather than have to struggle multiple times.

Sidemount from a boat

What about diving from a boat?

There’s no requirement to move tanks around, but most divers will have to put on their tanks in the water next to the boat to prevent having to stand with tanks bouncing on your sides while the boat rocks in the waves.

Of course, it’s possible to put on the sidemount tanks on the boat and backroll with them between your legs. But anyone who has ever had a stage tank bash your head on impact with the water would think twice about this.

What happens if there’s some current on the surface?

This would make the process of clipping off the tanks one by one very troublesome while needing to hold on to the boat as well. In choppy seas, this is not an option I would even consider.

Carrying doubles on your back is a much easier option, as you would be way more stable with the weight on your back.

The water entry will be much easier too because you are free to move away from the boat once in the water.

What about during the dives?

Does the sidemount configuration provide any benefits while you’re diving? Well, there is a sense of freedom and increased maneuverability from not having a large mass on your back.

However, you do have to remember to keep the tanks streamlined by checking periodically that they are clipped on the appropriate D-rings as the tanks get lighter.

Plus, you also have to balance the tank usage by breathing from different tanks every once in a while.

This added task load is unavoidable in sidemount, and an additional task when compared with diving doubles.

I haven’t found a restriction in open water yet

In conclusion, there are some benefits to diving sidemount, but sadly, most of them don’t really apply to diving in the open water environment.

I would say that the configuration is an important one to practice with and get good at before attempting to dive a cave system, so practicing in open water makes sense.

However, I personally don’t think diving sidemount as a default configuration in open water really provides enough benefits to outweigh the added complications.

Leon Boey is a GUE, HSA and PADI instructor based in Singapore and Bali. He runs the dive education centre Livingseas in Singapore, Bali and Jakarta. Diving since 2005, he first fell in love with wrecks. He enjoys all sorts of diving, and loves being surrounded by fish.

Discussions — 3 Responses

  • Cheryl February 18, 2017 on 12:48 am

    You fail to mention the increased safety of totally redundant tanks, ease of reaching the tank valves (which I cannot in backmount), and increased stability while diving. I have also found that my beach entry is more stable with the tanks lower (sidemount vs backmount).

    Admittedly I’m a fast learner, but even though my sidemount experience is limited to a few handful of dives, I feel I can enter from a boat – fully geared in sidemount – as fast or faster than I could in backmount, and certainly faster than backmount and stage. All this with increased stability.

    Do I plan on using backmount in the future? Sure, when I feel it is appropriate. I’m not married to any one style, but do feel that sidemount in OW has its place.

  • Are diving doubles and sidemount the same thing? | Ask Livingseas March 29, 2017 on 3:24 pm

    […] my other article about diving sidemount in open water to get an idea of why I think that’s not so […]

  • Sofiane March 30, 2017 on 1:51 pm

    Redundancy is equal if not greater on a back mount since you have a manifold. As for reaching valves it takes practice but definitely possible wit thr right position and harness setup.