Side-mount & Cave Side-mount Diving at Mexico Underground
Since its first conception by dry cavers in the 1960s, side-mount diving slowly grew in popularity with cave divers until around 2010 when side-mount exploded into the mainstream diving world.
Mexico has been a very popular place for side-mount diving due to the labyrinths of caves and relatively shallow depths of most of the systems, enabling divers relatively long dives without decompression using just two to four regular S80 cylinders. Many of the cave entrances are in the jungle and carrying and entering the systems using side-mount made access to these caves easier. In connecting several of the larger systems cave explorers used side-mount and no-mount to establish connections that would not have been possible on conventional back mount configuration. Side-mount diving offers the diver more breathable gas, as we carry multiple cylinders while diving with the option to stage more if the dive dictates. This provides a redundant gas supply, and a streamlined set-up, flexibility to adjust tank positions with ease and an ultra compact set-up for travelling and shuttling kit. There are a lot of side-mount systems available in the current market and our side-mount Instructors here in Mexico will be happy to explain the key features to look for when selecting a rig for the level of diving you are doing right now and intend on doing in the future. Since its explosion in sport diving many of the key considerations, minimalistic approach and life support concepts have been diluted, it is important to understand there are now huge differences in what side-mount divers are trained from the off. If your goal is to cave dive this way be sure to get your basic side-mount training from a cave instructor who dives a lot in side-mount configuration as it is not just as simple as strapping a couple of tanks to each side and off you go, there is a lot in the small details that sets up the side-mount cave diver for comfort and options in cave and wreck environments.
Side-mount is best used in overhead environments, many of the caves here in Mexico have restrictions that can be maneuvered, normally impassible for the back mount diver to penetrate the cave system further. The side-mount configuration also lends itself to entry level technical diving, although we would suggest side-mount is only suitable up to Advanced Nitrox/Deco Procedures or Tec45 level. If you are planning on becoming cave or overhead wreck trained then it is advisable to get training in basic side-mount diving first maybe up to advanced level prior to moving into cave and wreck diving using this configuration. This will ensure your side-mount harness system fits correctly and you gain basic skills like balance and trim, propulsion techniques and generally feeling comfortable in managing the cylinders on your side. It is no problem to combine basic and advanced side-mount classes with your entry level cave class just remember it will take longer to feel comfort and cannot be achieved in just a few days.
As side-mount diving has gained popularity in open circuit diving many divers are choosing to run side-mount rebreather configurations. Basically these systems originated as bailout Rebreathers for deep long dives and in recent years configurations have been developed allowing the rebreather to now be streamlined also in side-mount configuration, this allows the rebreather to become portable, removable and potentially used for longer restricted cave dives. A lot is currently being developed; techniques, standards and equipment are all changing fast. It is generally not needed until the divers reach the end of the line with either conventional open circuit or standard rebreather configurations, remembering all the bailout gas must still be considered if the rebreather fails during the dive.