A Strong Case For Sidemount

A Strong Case For Sidemount

A Strong Case For Sidemount

     If you know me, you know I’ve long been a naysayer regarding the efficacy of sidemount diving. I’ve called it “widemount,” I’ve said it’s just for caves, I’ve called it a dumb fad that’ll soon pass, etc. Well, guess what? I was wrong, okay! I admit it! Ya happy now?? Alright, that’s out of the way…

     On a cenote dive trip with my wife last year, I immediately noticed a few benefits of sidemount watching our guide, Camilo, gliding along ahead of us. One of the main things I saw was how easily he could look straight ahead while still staying in horizontal trim. To look straight ahead with a tank, or tanks, on your back, you have to dive at a slight angle so you don’t hit your head on the regulator’s first stage or the tank valve. This, obviously, puts the diver “out of trim” and means you have more drag and will, consequently, use more energy and breathing gas. Over the course of three days, watching our guide diving sidemount, I decided to bite the bullet and learn it myself.

     So, on our group trip to Roatan earlier this year, I flew down a couple days early and took the sidemount course from my buddy, Monty Graham. When I learn something, I prefer to learn from the best if possible, and he is. I was fully prepared to look and feel like a complete monkey trying out a brand-new configuration with which I was totally unfamiliar, but I was amazed at how naturally I took to it. All the skills came quite easily, and after getting certified, I went ahead and dove that way all week. Now, I can honestly say I don’t care if I ever put a tank, or tanks, on my back again. Let’s look at some of the points that make sidemount diving so awesome:

  1. Double the gas – If you happen to be “that diver” who’s always the first one back on the boat, switching to sidemount will give you plenty of gas to stay down with the “sippers.” If you’re not an air hog, you’ve really got it made. Just use the same two cylinders for both of your 2-tank morning dives. No switching kit from one cylinder to the next during your surface interval. AND think about nitrox for a sec… The ol’ voodoo gas gives you so much more allowable bottom time, you usually run up against a gas supply limit before you run out of NDLs. In sidemount now you have a gas supply to match your nitrox-induced extra bottom time!
  2. A giant stride is a giant breeze – You can splash with no cylinders, let the boat crew hand your cylinders down to you, and clip them on in the water, OR you can clip on the left cylinder, splash while holding the right cylinder, and clip just the right one on in the water. The latter is my preferred method.
  3. Boarding the boat is even easier – During your safety stop you can stow your long hose, completely unclip the right cylinder, and detach everything on the left cylinder except one clip. When you surface at the back of the boat, hand your right cylinder to the boat crew, unclip the left, hand it up, slip your fins over your wrists, and climb up totally unencumbered! You’ll learn how to do this during the course.
  4. Trimmed out – If you’ve struggled to get that perfect, horizontal position in the water, you’ll love your trim in sidemount. Once you get the BC adjusted and cylinder attachment points set, it’s actually difficult to get OUT of trim!
  5. So well balanced – Because you switch regulators every 300 psi, diving sidemount keeps you perfectly balanced. Remember what it feels like to roll over on your back to look up at the surface or your dive buddy above you? Once you’re about halfway over, the weight of the tank wants to pull you the rest of the way, and then to roll right side up, you have put a little extra oomph into getting that tank started until you’re about halfway rolled over again. With the balance of sidemount, you can easily roll over and stop in any position without getting pulled over. Makes going through narrow cracks a breeze. Just roll sideways and go!
  6. Make restrictions your (female dog) – If you enjoy diving the “swiss cheese” swim-throughs common to Roatan, the Caymans, and many other places, sidemount lends itself perfectly to that environment. Simply unclip the bottom of one cylinder (they’re still held in place by the bungee around the valve), swing it in front of you to narrow up your profile, and swim on. If the restriction is even smaller, just unclip both cylinders and hold them in front of you. Swim through the restriction, swing them back, and clip them on. Easy peasy. PRO TIP: If it’s dark in the swim-throughs (night diving, cloudy day, whatever), you can tuck your flashlight under the bottom hose management band on your right cylinder, leave your left hand free, and wherever you point your tank, there’s your light. Beats paying huge money for a canister light!
  7. Redundancy – As a sport (recreational) diver, you were taught to go to your buddy in the event of a problem like out-of-gas or a regulator failure. Diving sidemount means you have two completely independent systems attached to you. Regulator failure? Switch to your other one. Accidentally run out of breathing gas? Switch to your other one. Of course, that one better not happen!
  8. Ease of fixing issues – In a backmount configuration it’s difficult, if not impossible, to even tell if there’s a problem, much less fix it. Many technical divers have switched to sidemount because they simply couldn’t even reach the valves on a backmounted set of doubles to do valve drills. In sidemount the regs, valves, and anything else you need are right in front of you. You can see any problems and fix them in a snap. Did I mention “easy peasy” already?

     Okay, let’s play devil’s advocate just to be fair. As awesome as it is, sidemount does have a few drawbacks:

  1. You’ll need more gear – Sidemount does require two separate regulators, one for each cylinder, but at least you don’t need octos. Cylinder valves really need to be modular for bungee security, and they really need to be DIN. Yoke connections are okay for open-water sport diving, but if you’re going to do anything in the tech world or even recreational overhead diving, you ought to think about switching to DIN. It’s a much better connection anyway. And you’re going to need a new BC. You don’t want to clip sidemount cylinders to a standard BC. It has been done, but your trim, balance, comfort, everything will be negatively affected. If you’re going to do something, do it right. Besides, except for the money part, who doesn’t want more scuba gear??
  2. Shore diving can be a little cumbersome – You now have to lug two cylinders to the water’s edge instead of simply wearing one. But you can always clip your fins to your BC and do it in just one trip. If you’re a shorter diver, and carrying cylinders by the valve means they’ll be bumping the ground, do what my friend, Kim, does. Wrap one of those Velcro tank carry handles around each one, and carry them sideways. You can even leave the handles on during the dive.
  3. Slightly more involved gas management – If you’ve been diving for a while and are pretty used to your gas consumption, you probably don’t check your SPG or air-integrated computer that often anymore. During an hour-ish fun dive in the islands, I usually check mine at the 30-minute mark (just to confirm what I already know) and again at the 45- or 50-minute mark just to double check I’ve got plenty for a safety stop and reserve. In sidemount it is incumbent that you switch regs every 300 psi to keep yourself in balance, so you’ll need to check your SPGs a little more often. Once you get used to doing that, however, it’s no biggie at all.

     So, the jury is in: sidemount diving is the bomb! Originally developed by serious cave explorers out of necessity for navigating tight restrictions, sidemount diving has enjoyed a huge surge in popularity over the years to the point that it’s now quite mainstream in both technical and sport diving. The few drawbacks, at least in the author’s opinion, are greatly outweighed by the freedom, balance, trim, extra gas, ease of problem-solving, and more that sidemount provides. I highly encourage you to come take the PADI Sidemount Diver course with me, and I’ll show you why I think it’s so awesome. I think you’ll agree. I provide all the gear for the class, so don’t worry that you’ll have to spend a bunch of money before you decide whether sidemount is for you or not. Drop me a line or come by the shop any time to ask questions and/or get signed up. Remember: once you go sidemount, you’ll never go back…mount!

     Until next time, keep learning, never settle for “good enough,” and stay sharky, my friends!

Why Should You Consider Going Sidemount?

TDI SDI PADI Sidemount Diving Bluewaterokc Bluewater Divers

Extra Gas!

Tired of being the first one back on the boat? Doubling your gas supply could be the answer. It’s also beneficial when diving nitrox so you’ll have a gas supply to match your extended NDLs.

Sidemount Diving Trim Bluewaterokc Bluewater Divers SDI TDI PADI

Trim, Trim, Trim!

Want to look like this in the water? You should! It’s easier, more confortable, and much more hydrodynamic. You’ll use less energy and less breathing gas. Yes, acheiving perfect trim boils down to YOU: proper amount and position of weighting, body position, breathing, gear configuration, fin type, and even mental concentration are the basics of good trim. It’s just a LOT easier to acheive in sidemount!

Audrey Cudel Sidemount Cylinder Removed Bluewaterokc Bluewater Divers

What Restrictions?!

Opening to a swim through or a wreck a little tight? No problem! Just unclip one, or both, of your cylinders, swing it out front, enjoy the swim through or wreck, then swing it back and clip it back on when you’re through. You can even stick your flashlight in the bottom band for darker places. Photo credit: Audrey Cudel

Sidemount Diving Regulator Position Bluewaterokc Bluewater Divers

Easier Fixes!

In sidemount the valves and regulator first stages are right in front of your armpits, so everything is easy to see, diagnose, and fix, if necessary. Ever jumped in but forgot to turn your tank valve on? You either had to get back out of the water or swim over to somebody, turn around, and ask them to do it for you. With the valves right in front of you in sidemount, you can do it yourself in about 2 seconds!

Technical Sidemount Diving Monty Graham Alex Harper Roatan Coconut Tree Bluewaterokc Bluewater Divers

Well Suited For Tech!

If you’ve considered technical diving but aren’t excited about heavy doubles on your back, or you’re worried you can’t reach the valves, do tech in sidemount! Attach as many or as few cylinders as the dive calls for, and have all of them in easy reach. Photo credit: Alex Harper-Graham

Sidemount Diving Sharky Marky Bluewaterokc Bluewater Divers

It Comes Naturally!

Yes, everything new has a bit of a learning curve, but sidemount just FEELS right earlier on. Here’s the author being silly in Roatan with fewer than 20 sidemount dives at the time, but still totally comfortable in the new configuration.

Why Scuba Diving Is The Best Sport/Hobby In The World

Why Scuba Diving Is The Best Sport/Hobby In The World

While preparing to write this article I realized it could easily be construed as simply “preaching to the choir.” Obviously, I know scuba diving is the greatest thing in the world, or I wouldn’t work in a dive shop and teach diving for a living. Obviously, you know it’s the greatest thing in the world, or you wouldn’t spend your hard-earned dollars on equipment, classes, and dive trips. Far beyond mere opinions, however, there’s actual scientific PROOF that scuba diving is the best sport/hobby in the world. Okay, it may be my version of “scientific,” but it makes perfect sense to me. It’ll make perfect sense to you, as well, after I lay out the reasons why.

A ridiculous level of exclusivity. Worldwide, there is no end of clubs, groups, organizations, brotherhoods, etc. that bring people together around a common love or interest in a certain “thing.” Motorcycle riders, stamp collectors, bird watchers, fishermen, classic car enthusiasts, and golfers (to name a few) all have their own brotherhood/sisterhood to which they belong, replete with events and trade shows (maybe even paid dues), as well as friends with whom they swap stories and camaraderie. Of all the groups in the world, however, there are only TWO that I can think of that are unique in using specialized equipment and training to put man where man is not supposed to be. Those two are flying and scuba diving. Of the two, I believe there’s a strong argument why scuba diving is the superior. Apologies ahead of time to any pilots in the audience…

An explorer’s heart and humility. Here I am talking about how much cooler we are than everybody else, but then I mention humility? Bear with me, and I’ll explain. First, the explorer’s heart: What do we know about the atmosphere above us? Um, pretty much everything. Why? Because there’s nothing up there but AIR. Okay, if you want to get technical, there are occasional birds and clouds, and smog if you’re flying over Los Angeles. Other than that, nothing but air. Yawn… What we DON’T know, however, is what’s down there. Only about 5% of the ocean (yes, there’s only one) has been explored, which leaves more than enough left for us to discover. New, previously unknown creatures and other life are being discovered all the time, and it seems like every dive we make we’re hoping to see that certain something we’ve never seen before, although we’re never disappointed with seeing the same ol’ usual critters simply because they’re so awesome.

Now, a bit about humility. I can’t really get into the psyche of someone as I’m not a psychologist; I just played one on TV (AND I stayed at a Holiday Inn Express last night…), but it seems that pilots want to put themselves ABOVE everything and look DOWN on the world. As divers, however, we are perfectly content to humble ourselves before this expansive, deep, unknown, alien environment, never knowing exactly what to expect but happy to take on whatever may come in stride (or, rather, in kick cycle). If that doesn’t make us cooler, I don’t know what does. Now, to avoid the inevitable hate mail, let’s just say that, if you’re both a pilot AND a diver, you have achieved a ridiculous level of cool that no mere mortal can possibly match. Happy now?

It’s all about the lifestyle. Learning how to scuba dive, getting better at it, and buying scuba gear are all just means to an end. That “end” is the lifestyle that goes along with it. Where do stamp collectors go to do their thing, some convention in Milwaukee?? We go to Cozumel, Roatan, Fiji, Thailand, the Galapagos, Chuuk, and Indonesia. We sip exotic drinks on beaches other folks have never heard of and share pictures with each other of life that other folks (only 1% of the world’s population are certified divers) will never see. Compared to other sports/hobbies, scuba diving is pretty darn affordable, too! Any specialized activity has related costs, but getting certified for $400-500 (depending on location) and buying a full set of top-quality dive gear for $1500-2500 (or less) makes diving cheaper to do than many other hobbies. You ever tried buying your own airplane…?

The people are the best. Sure, there are d(*&s in any walk of life, but they seem to be so much rarer in the scuba world. I’m still trying to figure out if it’s nicer people who are initially attracted to scuba diving, or if average folks just become nicer after getting certified. Hmm, chicken/egg… Regardless, for such a high level of exclusivity, divers are typically the most welcoming of all the aforementioned groups. Come to one of our lake weekends, walk up and down the shore, approach any random group of divers, and say to them, “Hey guys, I don’t have a buddy. Can I tag along with y’all?” I challenge anyone to find one of those groups who says, “no.” Try finding that among motorcyclists, pilots, or bird watchers!

So, there you have it, scientifically proven. Exclusivity, exploration, humility before an alien environment, an awesome but affordable lifestyle, and even “awesomer” people comprise the secret sauce that makes scuba diving the very best hobby/sport/endeavor/whatever in the world. Sure, it’s just one man’s opinion, but I’m right…

Until next time, never stop learning, never settle for “good enough,” and stay sharky, my friends!

Why Is Nothing Better Than Scuba Diving?

Best Sport Scuba Diving Superhero

We're Superheroes!

Think about how the rest of the “normal” population views scuba divers. We breathe underwater! We swim with sharks, moray eels, and stingrays! Yeah, we know they’re pretty much harmless, but they don’t…

Scuba Diving Better Than Flying

Even Cooler Than Flying!

Only flying and diving put humans where humans aren’t normally supposed to be. Exploration and humility make diving the better of the two. And don’t forget; there are more airplanes at the bottom of the ocean than there are ships in the sky!

Scuba Diving Vast Ocean

Open To The Unknown

The ocean makes up 70% of the earth’s surface and 99% of total land area if it was all drained, yet only 5% of it has been explored. That’s a whole lot of the planet left for us to discover. Who best to do the discovering? Divers!

Scuba Divers Are The Best People

The Best People!

Few hobbies or sports are more social than scuba diving. Good thing divers are the best people to socialize with! A love of the marine environment, travel, new experiences, and lasting friendships seem to be the common ground to bring together the best folks around.

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Dive More: A Resolution You Can Stick With

Dive More: A Resolution You Can Stick With

It’s that time of year again; time for the ol’ New Year’s Resolution. Vows will range from losing weight/getting in shape to cutting down on drinking or eating healthier. Most of these vows seem to start with the greatest of intentions but quickly fade into un-fun drudgery. How many of you have bought a new piece of exercise equipment on or around the first of the year that became a coat rack within a few months? The problem with most New Year’s resolutions is that they’re usually things you know you probably SHOULD do, but you don’t really WANT to do them. As a result, unless you’re very disciplined, it’s ridiculously difficult to stick with them. The fix? Vow to do something that’s good, healthy, and enjoyable. Vow to DIVE MORE! Here are a few examples:

Vow to take a continuing education course. If you have “just” your open water certification, you’re missing so many diving opportunities. Most reputable dive operators will not take you to the “cooler” dive sites without Advanced Open Water or above. Many wrecks, awesome coral formations, and even some specific critters are all found below the 60′ depth limit that the Open Water certification allows. Some of our dive trips (North Carolina, for example) require your AOW to even go. Even if you don’t plan to do much “deep” diving, the AOW certification will give you stronger skills, increase your knowledge, and make even shallower dives more enjoyable. If you already have your Advanced, take the Rescue course! If you’ve held off on Rescue thinking it’s about jumping out of helicopters into raging rivers to save drowning victims, fret not. The Rescue Diver certification is much more about simply expanding your scope of awareness to other divers around you, noticing things wrong or out of place, and nipping potential issues in the bud before they become big problems under water. Even if you never save someone’s life during your diving career (and you probably won’t), at least you’ll know how!

Vow to get specialized in some diving discipline. Getting your skills maxed out in a particular specialty of diving will greatly increase your knowledge and enjoyment when doing that, or any other, type of diving. Some of these are general, like Enriched Air Nitrox, which are beneficial to almost every kind of diving. Some are more specific, like Search and Recovery or Underwater Navigation. Skill in these areas can make you indispensible for making sure a group of divers gets back to the boat or shore safely after a dive or retrieving somebody’s heirloom watch (hopefully waterproof) that fell off the side of a boat. The Deep Diver course (AOW is a prerequisite) will get you trained to go to the maximum recreational depth limit of 130′. The best part of all these? They’re easy and can be done in a weekend or less!

Vow to dive somewhere you’ve never dived before. This could be somewhere far away and exotic or as simple as Beaver Lake instead of Tenkiller. Or go on one of our many group trips we organize every year! The far away and exotic part is a no brainer, obviously, but try to break out of your bubble. If you’ve only dived the Caribbean, vow to try the South Pacific! If you’ve only gone to Cozumel, vow to try Belize or Roatan or Little Cayman! And while we all want to dive in crystal clear, warm water with tons of fish, beautiful coral, and a great beach waiting for us when we get back to land, sometimes that’s not always possible. Although “real life” should NEVER get in the way of scuba diving, work schedules, finances, family committments, and other things have a tendency to do that from time to time. You might be surprised to find that there’s a lot more fun to be had than you might think in our local lakes! Plenty of friendly fish and scuba parks full of boats, cars, and airplanes are some of the staples to be found, and when it comes to increasing some of those skills we discussed in the last paragraphs, lake diving can’t be beat! One of the most important, and fun, aspects of lake diving is the social interaction. Every weekend that we go to Beaver, Tenkiller, or the Blue Hole, there’s all sorts of fun to be had out of the water as well as under, and new friendships are always made.

Vow to get someone else invloved in diving. “If everybody was a scuba diver, the world would be a better place.” That’s one of my favorite phrases, and I truly believe it. Scuba diving is SUCH a social activity, and it’s always more enjoyable with friends/family! Think about the difference between coming home from your dive trip and showing friends pictures of the cool things you saw as opposed to gathering together at the end of the day’s diving, comparing pictures, and talking about the cool things that you both/all saw! Tell your friends and family about how awesome diving is, get them involved, maybe even gift a certification course to a loved one if you’re able! If they’re feeling a little anxious or wondering whether it might be for them, talk to them about doing a Discover Scuba Diving experience. It’s cheap, has zero committment, and it usually makes life-long scuba converts. The bottom line (besides making the world a better place)? When you have a dive buddy(ies) you like to dive with, you’ll do it more!

Many, if not most, New Year’s resolutions fail within a matter of months, mostly because they’re not fun. Losing the spare tire is great, but who wants to lay off chips and cookies?! On the flip side, increasing your dive skills, knowledge, and experience are definitely positive things, AND the journey is a FUN one! There’s a reason we call it the “Lifestyle Upgrade.” So, let’s all vow to DIVE MORE and make 2023 a great year with at least one resolution we can stick with because it’s not only beneficial, it’s fun as well.

Until next time, never stop learning, never settle for “good enough,” and stay sharky, my friends!

Why is it so hard to stick with resolutions ?

New Year Resolutions Are Hard

They're Not Fun!

This is too often the case. We start off with the best of intentions but quickly lose motivation. I can neither confirm nor deny that my workout room has ever looked like this…

PADI Continuing Education Course

Learn Something!

Your Open Water certification is kinda like a driver or pilot license; it’s a license to learn. So, learn! Increase your skills while having a lot of fun, and guarantee you don’t have to sit on the “kiddie boat” on your next dive trip.

Enjoy Lake Scuba Diving

Don't Forget The Lakes!

Is it 100′ visibility? No. Are there sharks, morays, and sea turtles? No. But diving lakes, quarries, etc. are more fun than you might imagine! If you haven’t tried it already, you might be surprised at the number of fun things there are to see and interact with! And every skill that you learn and master in a lake? They’re a lot easier when you do them in the ocean.

Scuba is More Fun With Friends

Bring Your Friends!

Most activities are more fun with friends, and scuba diving is no exception. If your friends and family aren’t certified yet, tell/show them what they’re missing! When you have great buddies to dive with, you’ll want to do it more. Then then more you do it, the better you get. The better you get, the more you want to do it. See what we did there…?

My Top 10 Reading List

My Top 10 Reading List

          I never get tired of diving. I never get tired of talking about diving, learning about diving, teaching diving, or reading about diving. Whether it’s a trade publication, consumer magazine, blog, novel, or instructional manual, any chance to stuff my brain with more knowledge and information is always welcome. Sometimes it’s important to my job as an instructor, and sometimes it’s just a fun diversion. Sometimes it’s both! Here’s a list, in no particular order, of my Top 10 favorite books about diving (at the moment). Each of these books, as well as others, adds one layer or another to the way I dive and think about diving. I think you’ll enjoy them and get a lot out of them. There are many others not on this list, but some of them do get a bit technical. If you’re interested in those, drop me a line and I’ll share those too!

1. Shadow Divers by Rob Kurson

Deep wreck-diving legend John Chatterton discovers an unknown submarine off the New Jersey coast, thus beginning a six-year, odds-against-them journey to identify it. New friends are made, friends die, marriages are strained, and dive skills are put to the test. Kurson writes so well that this book reads like a novel with cliffhangers all over the place. However, it’s all true. This is the book that got me into technical diving, and I was lucky enough to learn tech and deep wreck diving from John himself.

Shadow Divers Robert Kurson

2. Pirate Hunters by Rob Kurson

The further adventures of John Chatterton. This time, he and John Mattera are seeking the lost pirate ship of Joseph Bannister, the Golden Fleece. If they can find and identify it, it will be only the second pirate ship officially discovered since the Wydah off Cape Cod, Massachusetts. But of course, they’ll have to deal with nations, governments, and rivals along the way. It’s not quite as good as Shadow Divers, in my opinion, but Kurson’s definitely still got it.

3. Deep Descent: Adventure and Death Diving the Andrea Doria by Kevin F. McMurray

The Andrea Doria (named after the 16th-century Genoese admiral) was the pride of the Italian cruise fleet until bad weather and bad decisions got her broadsided by the Swedish icebreaker, Stockholm, in 1956. Now lying in about 240 feet of water, she’s long been called the “Mount Everest of Scuba Diving.” While providing an exciting and profound diving experience to those properly trained, equipped, and careful, the Doria has certainly earned her “Mount Everest” moniker by claiming the lives of many divers over the decades. A great read.

4. On the Bottom: The Raising of the Submarine S-51 by Edward Ellsberg

The collision and sinking of the S-51 off the coast of Long Island, New York, in 1925 was a terrible accident that resulted in the tragic loss of 33 submariners’ lives. The salvage operation, led by then-Lieutenant Commander Edward Ellsberg, however, is a storied tale of heroism, innovation, and hard work. This is a great book, detailing US Naval salvage operations at depths that seem relatively tame today. But in 1926, in the infancy of hard hat diving, and in the cold, low-visibility waters of New York, the work these men did is absolutely amazing. One of the principal divers, Chief Gunner’s Mate Tom Eadie, went on to write his own book about the operation, as well as the salvage of the S-4 submarine in 1928, called “I Like Diving.” Good luck finding that one…

5. Iron Coffins: A Personal Account of the German U-Boat Battles of World War II by Herbert A. Werner

While not really about diving, per se, this was one of the books I read to get in the mindset of diving deep shipwrecks. It’s a fascinating read. I’m not sure which was scarier, being in the torpedo sights of a German U-Boat during WWII or being aboard one. I do know that if you had to be on one, you wanted to be on the one Werner was on. This guy was apparently charmed. Commander Werner details the shift from the time when U-Boats owned the ocean and were the terrors of the seas to the time when they found themselves on the run from great advances in American and British technology and tactics. Toward the end of the war, very few U-Boats returned to their home ports.

Iron Coffins Herbert Werner

6. Dark Descent: Diving and the Deadly Allure of the Empress of Ireland by Kevin F. McMurray

Although less well-known than the Andrea Doria, the Empress of Ireland is yet another case of mistaken intentions and poor decision making that led to the loss of over a thousand lives when she collided with the Norwegian cargo ship, SS Storstad, in the wee hours of May 1914. Now in 130 feet of water in the frigid, dangerous waters of the St. Lawrence river, the Empress provides thrilling dive opportunities to those qualified and daring enough to try. McMurray is always a fun read.

Dark Descent Kevin F McMurray

7. Diver Down: Real-World SCUBA Accidents and How to Avoid Them by Michael R. Ange

Mike Ange is quite the biggie in the scuba industry. He’s authored numerous publications and has served on the training or safety boards of many of the biggest scuba training agencies. In this book Mike lets you learn from others’ mistakes by detailing dozens of dive accidents, mostly resulting from diver error. Many of these ended in serious injury or death. Ange then teaches you how to avoid these same situations with many what-to-do and what-not-to-do explanations. This is a great read for safety-conscious divers.

Diver Down Michael R Ange

8. Titanic’s Last Secrets by Brad Matsen

Another book that doesn’t really have a lot of actual diving in it, but it’s still a fascinating peek into the world of shipwrecks by going into great depth (no pun intended) with the most famous wreck of all, RMS Titanic. Diving legends John Chatterton and Richie Kohler are tasked with discovering whether Titanic was truly built to be “unsinkable” or not. Read the book to find out what they discovered! Matsen may also put to rest some myths you’ve come to believe about Titanic and her sinking…

Titanic's Last Secrets Brad Matsen

9. The Last Dive: A Father and Son’s Fatal Descent Into the Ocean’s Depths by Bernie Chowdhury

Many of you may think to shy away from this book since it does end in tragedy and death. No, that’s not a spoiler; it tells you right on the cover. Nonetheless, I encourage everyone to read it. Not only is it a well-written and fascinating story, but it’s also full of very important lessons for life. If you take nothing else away from it, never allow poor planning, cost-cutting measures, bad attitude, or ego to have any place in your future dives!

The Last Dive Bernie Chowdhury

10. Deco for Divers by Mark Powell

This is the one “technical” book I’ve included in the list because it’s not really ALL that “technical.” Powell is one of the foremost experts in decompression theory, gives countless lectures and teaching presentations around the world, and is the Director of Global Development for Technical Divers International. This book is pretty much required reading for anybody interested in decompression theory. It is indeed aimed primarily at the advanced diver, but it’s full of knowledge and information that anybody can understand and find useful. I’ve taken his 12-week course based on this book, and interacting with Mark throughout the course certainly increased my knowledge far beyond what I thought would be possible. Not just for tech divers, this book is a must-read for anyone interested in deco theory and just what’s going on in your body every time you dive.

Deco For Divers Mark Powell

Happy reading!

Until next time, never stop learning, never settle for “good enough,” and stay sharky, my friends!

The Importance of Self-Reliance

The Importance of Self-Reliance

            The buddy system. The Buddy System. THE BUDDY SYSTEM! Outside of “never hold your breath!,” no scuba concept has been drilled into your head from Day 1 of Open Water training more than using the buddy system. Always do a pre-dive safety check (BWRAF) with your buddy, never dive without a buddy, practice gas sharing with your buddy, you and your buddy should never be more than a 2-second swim away from each other, etc., etc. Sound familiar? And while these are all very sound concepts in theory, as well as good ideas in practice, how realistic are they?

            How many times have you been diving with your favorite dive buddy, found an interesting critter to show him/her, turned to show it to…….where’d he go?? Not only was he not within a “2-second swim,” he was more like 100 feet thataway looking at another interesting critter to show you. Did you think to yourself, “Well, if I had needed my buddy for some emergency, I’d have been in trouble?” I imagine it’s probably more times than you can count. Perfect example: my wife is not only my favorite person, she’s my favorite person to dive with. She’s a very skilled diver and loves the underwater environment as much as I do. Is she a “good dive buddy?” Nope! Why? She’s an avid underwater photographer. When she sees that magic whatever in her viewfinder, it becomes the focus (no pun intended) of her world for a few minutes. Most of our dives, I don’t even need to look. I just KNOW she’s nowhere near me. It’s not her fault either! That’s just what she loves to do. If any of you dive with a photographer buddy, you know exactly what I’m saying.

            For this reason, and many others, it’s so very important for you to be self-reliant in your dive practices. What constitutes being self-reliant? In short, it means that, in the event of any of the most common dive emergencies, you can get yourself safely out of trouble without relying on the proximity/skill/preparedness of your dive buddy. These emergencies could be low- or out-of-gas, entanglement, getting lost from the group, or even a broken mask strap.

            Self-reliance is about knowledge, preparedness, and redundancy. Knowledge, in this case, is knowing you and the way you dive. One of the most notable among these is gas consumption. Can you easily finish a one-hour dive along the reef with gas to spare, or are you usually the air hog who’s the first to get back on the boat? Knowing your actual SAC rate (surface air consumption) gives you the advantage of knowing your strengths and weaknesses regarding gas usage. This can be figured out relatively easily with not much more than an underwater slate and timing device. Preparedness is planning for both the expected AND the unexpected. A good example of the expected would be the gas consumption just mentioned. If you are the air hog (and you DON’T want to be first back on the boat), taking a pony bottle along might be the fix for you. Getting separated from your dive group or buddy is certainly unexpected but something that happens quite often. Skill in navigation and the proper use of a DSMB (delayed surface marker buoy) can be literal life savers in these instances.

            Redundancy, then, is having the right tools on you, and enough backups, to handle both the expected and unexpected things you prepared for, based on your knowledge of yourself and the dive. Had a mask strap break on you before and don’t want to deal with that mess again? Carry a spare! Modern frameless masks will fold up virtually flat and unobtrusively in a BC or thigh pocket. Diving somewhere that fishing line or nets may present an entanglement hazard? One, never dive without a cutting tool unless prohibited by local ordinance, and two, carry a backup or two! That samurai sword on your leg isn’t any good to you if you drop it trying to cut yourself free or if that particular leg is the thing that’s entangled. There’s a great old military adage that says, “One is none, two is one, three is two, etc.” With regard to redundancy, it means that any piece of gear that is vital for either survival or the completion of the mission (in this case, the dive plan) should have a backup. Now, does this mean you need to dive looking like a Christmas tree with doodads dangling all over you? Absolutely not. It means, use your knowledge to prepare for each individual dive, and base your redundancy on those factors. Get the theme there?

            Want to beef up your knowledge, preparedness, and redundancy to be a more self-reliant diver? Well, then take the PADI Self-Reliant Diver course! You’ll need to have your Advanced Open Water certification and 100 logged dives as prerequisites, but you’ll be amazed at the amount of information and confidence you’ll walk (or swim) away with. Although some salty ol’ divers like to say that “every dive is a solo dive,” the purpose of this course isn’t to encourage you to dive alone. Rather, it’s to train and prepare you for “that time” when you may find yourself in a pickle without a buddy close by to render assistance.

           Until next time, never stop learning, never settle for “good enough,” and stay sharky, my friends!

What do I do when the system breaks down?

The Buddy System

The Buddy System

You’ve been trained to use the buddy system from Day 1 of the Open Water course. For it to work effectively, however, your buddy has to be quite close to you. How often is THAT true?

Diver All Alone

Reality, Quite Often...

It doesn’t take long. Look at this coral head for a minute, or take a few pictures of a pretty fish, then look up and find your buddy, or the whole group, far away. While not technicaly “alone,” you’re certainly out of timely reach in the event of an emergency. Can you even remember how many times that’s been you?

Use a real pony bottle

Do Backups Right!

Just say “NO” to Spare Air. In the author’s opinion, most of them simply offer a false sense of security with only enough gas volume to get you seriously hurt. If you carry a backup gas supply, carry a real one. In most cases, an AL30 or AL40 holds enough gas for you to ascend at a safe rate and still do a comfortable safety stop. When rigged properly, they can be carried very close to the body without negatively affecting your trim or buoyancy.

PADI Self Reliant Diver

Become Self-Reliant!

Learn how to get yourself out of most jams without having to rely on others who may or may not be there when you need them. If you have your AOW certification and 100 logged dives, you qualify for the PADI Self-Reliant Diver course. Contact us about upcoming classes!