With its origins firmly lodged within the cave-diving community, sidemount diving has long been associated with technical diving only. But now, more and more recreational divers are discovering the the configuration’s benefits. So what’s sparked their interest?

Cover image by Pete Nawrocky

By guest blogger Yvonne Press

Recreational sidemount diving means carrying two cylinders, one on the left side and one on the right, each equipped with a first stage, second stage and SPG. One cylinder also holds a low-pressure inflator. Sidemount can work with one only cylinder, which is called monkey diving, but this is seen infrequently.

Benefits of Sidemount Diving

Few people learn to dive in sidemount configuration, but many switch to this style at some point during their diving career. One of the main benefits is a natural sense of balance and buoyancy control. With cylinders attached to your sides, it’s almost impossible not to float horizontally. Rather than having one cylinder sitting in the middle of your back, two sidemount cylinders are naturally part of the diver’s slipstream, thus creating a more natural sense of balance.

Another advantage is the additional gas supply. Diving in sidemount configuration allows you to extend your time underwater simply because you’re carrying more gas. It’s a perfect solution for those divers who tend to be the first to ascend on each dive.

In addition, having two completely separate regulators provides a safety net in case something goes wrong with a first stage. Whether you are experiencing a slightly leaky O-ring or a first-stage leak, when diving sidemount you can see exactly where the problem is, allowing more time to find a solution.

And the benefits keep on coming: many divers, especially those who are past their 20s, suffer from back pain, which might be unrelated to diving, but which does make carrying diving equipment on their back uncomfortable whether it is on land or underwater. Rather than having to discontinue a favorite hobby, sidemount diving can present a solution. Depending on surface conditions, divers can jump off the boat wearing only their BCD and mount each cylinder in the water.

It’s also a great travel set-up: recreational sidemount BCDs often use minimalist designs, making them light and easy to stow. Cam bands and clips take up very little space in your dive bag. And even if you are diving with a shop that does not usually offer sidemount diving, all you need are two cylinders and you’re ready to go.

With so many benefits, why isn’t everybody diving sidemount? Most divers start their training on single cylinders and often simply stick to that unless something forces them to look elsewhere. Divers do need to pay a little more attention than normal to their SPGs to keep the cylinders at similar fill pressures (and therefore similar weights), something that’s emphasized in training courses. And, while you don’t necessarily need more equipment than other recreational divers, you do need different bits and pieces, which usually means investing in new gear. But, then again, isn’t shopping for new equipment part of the fun of being a diver?

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