Sidemount Confined Water Training

Jeff hoveringThis past weekend we conducted the Sidemount Confined Water training at one of our favorite pools, the Suwon World Cup Pool.  This pool is setup for some great dive training.  If you haven’t been here it is a 5m deep 50m x 50m pool.  It has several hula hoops at varying depths for buoyancy practice as well as mirrors for each diver to self-correct and fine tune skills.

Our  day started out with a drive through the Korean summer vacation traffic…and there was PLENTY of it.  It took nearly double the time to get to the Suwon pool because Koreans were off enjoying their vacations.  Once we arrived at the pool we went over equipment setup and tank rigging.  This is one of the most important parts of the course, no instructor should over look this portion.  Everything minute you spend on setup will greatly pay off during the dive.  I would recommend that instructors compliment their instruction with some sort of video that explains various setups and use.  The one that I like so far is Jill Heinerth’s Sidemount Scuba Diving.

Screen Shot 2015-08-01 at 20.52.31Once our equipment was setup and prepped for entry we went over an orientation brief to explain entry methods, weighting and brief the skills for the day.  With the briefings out of the way we pushed off the entry point and verified weighting and descended down to check out Jeff’s trim.  This is another critical place that instructors can’t take too lightly and where students will greatly benefit…GET THEIR TRIM RIGHT!  Spend the time to ensure equipment is setup correctly and streamlined.  This may be difficult if the student is useing loaner/rental gear but it is still important.  It is CRITICAL if the student is diving their own gear, this will be a great starting point for them to take note of.  Rarely will a diver again get so much personal attention to work out kinks and perfect their trim in the water.  Once Jeff’s gear was adjusted he knocked out skill after skill and we were able to surprise Jeff with multiple simulated emergencies as well.  Great job today Jeff! We definitely earned those Chili’s meals.

It wasn’t only the divers that got some fun in today…our shore support (wives) decided to tour the Suwon castle and downtown area while we were in the pool.  One more reason that we like this pool, lots to do for divers and non-divers alike.

If you are not familiar with the Suwon World Cup pool here is some information:

Cold Water Diver Survivors

This past weekend was one of the busiest weekends that we have had in a long time.  Our days were packed full of training: Open Water, Adventure Diver, Advanced Open Water, Enriched Air Diver, Peak Performance Buoyancy, Dry Suite Diver, Sidemount Diver and dives toward the Rescue diver certification.  We told you we were busy!

First of all CONGRATS to all the 38th Parallel Divers on becoming new and more experienced divers, excellent job this weekend we know we asked a lot of you!

Screen Shot 2014-11-10 at 21.56.10In between all of that training we managed to even do a large beach/coastal water clean-up.  We pulled several hundred pounds of debris from the local environment, pallets, tires, rubbish even an anchor and pipes.  There was some friendly competition to gather the most poundage which resulted in several of our divers winning some sweet Oceanic and Hollis gear courtesy of Aquatic Frontier.  Our divers walked away with a Hollis Mask, Oceanic Viper fins and an ultra dry snorkel…. not too bad for a few hours of work,  congrats divers!

2014_11_08-09_008_1Saturday was less than ideal for ocean conditions, we had an totally overcast day with a moderate surge on the beach but our divers truly are a tough bunch because they showed up with smiles on eager to start training.  Despite visibility ranging from 2-7 meters everyone was able to knock out almost all their dives.  We dove from sun up to sun down on the east coast on Saturday so it was no surprise that everyone was eager to wash up and eat some cheese burgers, grilled sausages (and even some veggie burgers).  Once everyone was full and paperwork was processed we sat around and talked about diving all over the world and what could be next… for some the only “next” they looked forward to was a good night’s sleep in preparation for another busy day.

2014_11_08-09_002Sunday came early with a planned boat dive at 0830.  Everyone met at the diveshop and grabbed some fruit and pastries for a breakfast appetizer before dive 1.  On dive 1 we had 2 groups conducting different training (deep and sidemount).  The deep dive went off without a hitch and the sidemount divers entered the water and donned equipment.  On descent the sidemount divers went into their skills and mid gas sharing a diver’s mask strap came off.  I was extremely impressed that my student reacted in the perfect manner.  He effectively communicated the problem, didn’t panic, held the mask on his face (all while holding a good trim position and constant depth).  Situations like these, while irritating, are excellent learning experiences and litmus tests.  Unable to correct the malfunction we ascended (ensuring to complete our safety stop) and ended the dive.  Great job Austin!  Once back on the boat we fixed the mask and prepped tanks for another dive to makeup skills.

2014_11_08-09_013After the first boat dive everyone came back to get some FOOD!  Sarah, Mandy and I cooked up the bacon and eggs for the divers to slap onto some sandwich bread (or just scarf down) and fill their bellies.  With everyone full we extended our surface interval a bit and prepared for the remainder of the day.  The remaining dives would finish up Advanced Open Water, PPB and Sidemount.  We even managed to get some of our divers their first non-training fun dive.

As we cleaned up and prepared to leave for home George and I processed the student’s certifications.  When I had entered in the last certification that I had completed I was finally able to apply for and obtain my Master Scuba Diver Trainer (MSDT) rating.  I would like to personally thank all of the students this weekend for being great and being a part of my new PADI rating!  I would also like to thank George for allowing me to certify his students, couldn’t have made it this quickly without you, thanks!

2014-11-09 19.22.49 2014-11-09 18.39.07As we were heading out we decided to go into Gangneung and eat before we leaft for home.  It was a great way to end the weekend, with bellies full of fire grilled bulgogi and kimchi jigae (kimchi stew).  Of course because that wasn’t enough we all snuck over to Mango Six for some dessert…now it was time for the long ride home where everyone could fall asleep and be driven home (thanks dive buddies;)).

Stay tuned because now that I have reach MSDT I have met the requirements for some really exciting things that will shortly be available for our club members!!

Hollis SMS75 Review, Setup and Modification

Hollis SMS75

When people hear sidemount today they often think of 2 companies that have been dominating the market share, the Razor sidemount and the Stealth sidemount systems.  I must disclose that I have never dove the Stealth sidemount system but I have owned and dove the Razor 2.0 complete system.

Let’s get a few things out of the way, the Razor and Stealth systems are both extremely streamlined and take up a small footprint. The Razor offers their batwing which is a dual bladder setup (very nice for redundant lift capabilities).  The Stealth has a similar design however it is lacking a dual bladder (one can be added but it is not standard).  Both Razor and Stealth systems utilize webbing material and metal brackets to form a harness, there are no fastex quick-release style buckles.  The upside to this design is that there are less points of failure and they offer a completely custom fit.

The SMS75 is a more traditional style system in that it is closer to a traditional bcd versus a sidemount harness.  To some this may be a fault, however I believe this is hands down where the SMS75 will make its money.  The harness style systems take significantly longer to setup and fit.  For a comparison it took me about 2-3 hours to setup my Razor to factory specifications where it took 5 minutes to setup my SMS75.  This is critical for shops that sell to primarily open water sidemount divers.  I think that the primary marketshare for beginning sidemount divers will be dominated by the SMS75.  What customer wants to spend that much time  setting up gear when they first get it?  Sure I will I agree that technical divers will most likely enjoy the über customization that can be achieved by the Razor / Stealth, and those same people will argue that the Razor offers true lift redundancy.  I will argue that none of these systems is perfect.

The Good and the Bad

Let me first say this, I am NOT a cave diver and I have no cave experience so my perspective is from open water sidemount, not cave/wreck penetration.

The Bad

1. Size: The first thing that you notice (especially if you have owned any low profile harness like the Razor/Stealth) is that the SMS75 takes up a large footprint and it appears bulky.  While Hollis has slimmed down this new bcd from the SMS100, the SMS75 is still large in comparison to other sidemount rigs.  The SMS75 is more along the same size of a traditional travel size bcd.

The Fix: I’m not sure I would fix this based on what this tradeoff provides the diver.  While the bcd is large it does offer some unique characteristics that are unparalleled in other sidemount only bcds.

2. Vent Placement: The SMS75 has only 1 overpressure relief/dump valve.  While this itself is not a bad thing the placement is.  Factory setup has the dump valve at the top left shoulder which does cause some extremely mild discomfort when wearing it with only a rash guard (it is just enough to let you know it is there, not painful).  The problem I have is with the fact that it doesn’t vent toward the surface if you are in a proper trim position for sidemount.  The vent exhausts into the upper shoulder meaning the diver has to put him/herself into a head up position slightly.  Thankfully the placement isn’t so bad that trim is completely lost, it is just requires a less than perfect trim position to vent.  I suspect that this is because the inflator/deflator can trade places with the vent to provide a recreational style location where the inflator/deflator comes over the left shoulder (discussed in “The Good”).

The Fix: in the next version of the BCD, Hollis could simply put a second vent at the lower tail facing away from the diver.   The current placement of the shoulder vent could be moved up away from the shoulder and more on the upper back facing away from the diver, not venting into the diver.

3. Redundant Lift Capability: There is only a single bladder version at the moment.  For serious tec divers that will be carrying weight that requires a dual bladder setup this bcd will fall short.

The Fix:  I would suggest a bare-bones 2nd bladder that is sandwiched like the Razor system.

As with all sidemount harnesses I had to make some minor modifications to achieve perfect trim.  Ideally I would request that a round ring system that I describe below be part of the factory kit.

The Good:

Can the SMS75 recover from those negatives listed above to make $700 (MSRP) worth parting with?  I would say yes…hands down.  Why?

1. Versatility: The SMS75 is a great multi-system that can be used as both sidemount and backmount diving; and very quickly.  It only takes about 5 minutes (taking my time, careful not to strip the plastic threads) to switch between sidemount and single backmount.  All a diver has to do is swap the inflator/deflator and exhaust vent.  This is especially valuable to instructors and dive shops now that major training organizations allow for training entry level students in sidemount diving.  If a shop/instructor had these as rental units they can train both sidemount and traditional backmount students…no need for 2 systems, the SMS75 can do both.

2. Insanely FAST setup:  This sidemount system has an unparalleled minimal setup time.  Literally you can dive this system right out of the box in under 10 minutes.  This even includes setting up the tank bands for the tanks…maybe 20 minutes if you have to watch the YouTube video several times to get the tank band setup correctly.  It took me roughly 15 times longer to setup the Razor sidemount system.

3. Quick Change from Cold to Warm Water and Back: This is another great feature of this system over all of the rest, especially for those of us who don’t get to dive in bath water all year round.  Diving here in South Korea we dive dry suits with heavy undergarments almost all year; when we get to dive in the tropics we have to change our harness setup for much less thermal protection (if any).  On the Razor system this took about 30-60 minutes…with the SMS75 it can be done in 3 minutes.  What’s not to love about that?

Overall this is such an excellent and versatile bcd that I have convinced most of those that know me to order one.  I really had to work hard to find some complaints with this bcd.  Even with being hyper-critical I would buy the SMS75 again as well as recommend it to anyone who would like a great sidemount harness but isn’t quite ready to completely go sidemount all the time.

Check out the Hollis SMS75 Open Water Performance Review

What I Had to do to get the SMS75 to My Personal Standard / Liking

Hollis SMS75 waistband round-ringsBoth the Razor and the SMS75 needed (in my opinion) minor modifications in order to be an excellent harness.  To make matters even more close they both (and the Stealth would be included in this if I had owned one in the past) needed the exact same modification.  The modification mimics the DiveRite Nomad bungee system.  It was the addition of 2 – 2″ metal round rings (not “D” rings) in the middle of the bungee on each side.   Since the SMS75 comes with some really nice side bungees you will definitely want to reuse these.

  1. unhook the quick link from the bungee
  2. loop the bungee over the round ring to form a girth hitch
  3. re-secure the quick link to the round ring
  4. adjust the bungee so that the round ring rests in the armpit region.



inflator retainer setupThe SMS75 needed 2 Hollis SMS75 waistband d-ringsother minor mods.   I added 4 total D-rings to the waist band (2 on each side).  I find that the trim of the tanks is much better (for me) using these as lower attachment points for the tanks; I can also shift the tanks to lower D-rings as they become more buoyant due to air consumption.  The last modification for the SMS75 was to add a small bungee loop to the chest strap for inflator/deflator retention.

sidemount top attachment straps

A modification I make to all my sidemount setups is with large clips attached to bungees to secure the upper portion of the tanks.  I piece of bungee is looped through a clip and secured (using hog nose pliers/staples) to prevent slippage.  The tails are tied with an overhand knot to close the bungee creating a loop.  This will then get wrapped around the tank valve 3 times.  Finally it clips into the round rings on the side of the SMS75.  This makes the in-water trim absolutely perfect.

Parts List:

Becoming a PADI Scuba Instructor – Our Experiences

So you are thinking about becoming a PADI Scuba Instructor, check out our club’s video of our IDC / IE experience.  I know for me personally this was a big decision,  because of the responsibility, time and costs.  First of all if you are a diver (and at the point of considering becoming a professional scuba instructor) you know by now that this endeavor isn’t cheap.  First you really should have your own equipment at this point, if not then perhaps you should come back when you do.  Secondly you have to have a minimum number of dives, these are cheap either.  Finally there are all the costs associated with getting to the Instructor Examination…

  • Divemaster Course (if you are not already)
  • Emergency First Response Instructor Course (EFRI) – course and processing fees apply
  • Instructor Development Course (IDC) – minimum a week or longer (Assistant Instructor & Open Water Scuba Instructor Course) — price will vary here by your Course Director and location.  We went with Platinum Course Director Camille Lemmens (
  • Instructor Examination (flat fee for exam but does have processing fees not included, dives not included)
  • Specialty Instructor (we completed ours with Camille, he gave us a great rate too).  There are Course Director (CD) Costs plus PADI processing fees too.  Dives may/may not be included depending on CD
  • Lodging – don’t forget you need a place to stay
  • Food – you gotta eat

Ok so you have the money…now your ready right?  Ummmm maybe.  Skills need to be perfect and at demonstration quality.  You also have to be ready and comfortable to present knowledge development in a classroom and conduct confined and open water skills.  Hopefully you haven’t forgot what oyu have learned in your other courses because you will need all that now.  You must consistently conduct an open water rescue and be prepared to recall all the physics, physiology, environment & skills, eRDP (or dive tables) and equipment.  Finally you still have one test left…and open book Standards test.  This test isn’t as easy as it sounds, they ask some very specific and intricate questions that will have you searching everywhere to verify it isn’t a trick question.

Don’t be scared though, if you have a good Course Director (like we did) it will be a constructive learning environment that is as challenging as it is fun.  Read our daily blogs below from our experiences:

  • IDC Day 1 – Practice Tests and Skill Evaluation
  • IDC Day 2 – Pool and Knowledge Development Presentations
  • IDC Day 3 – Graded Skills
  • IDC Day 4 – Graded Knowledge Dev. & Confined Water Presentations and Rescue Diver
  • IDC Day 5 – Graded Theory Test & More Presentations
  • IDC Day 6 – Graded Confined Water Presentations, Remainder of Presentations
  • IDC Day 7 – Open Water Presentations & Rescues
  • IDC Day 8 – More Open Water Presentations and Rescues
  • IE Day 1 – Dive Theory & Standards Exams, Graded Skill Circuit, Graded Confined Water Presentations
  • IE Day 2 – Open Water Presentations, Rescue, Knowledge Dev. Presentation and GRADUATION! Night Diver Specialty
  • Specialty Instructor Day 1 – Search & Recovery, Navigation
  • Specialty Instructor Day 2 – Wreck Diver, Sidemount
  • Specialty Instructor Day 3 – Deep, Nitrox, Emergency Oxygen Provider, Gas Blender



Specialty Instructor – Day 2 (Wreck & Sidemount)

Sacheon-myeon Instr specs group

Today our Course Director (Camille Lemmens) had three dives to do with us. We have definitely kept him very busy (and well funded) while he has been here. We started the day off with a late work call (0900…finally) at the dive shop. Everybody was doing the two dives required for PADI Wreck Diver Specialty Instructor. Both dives were at Ocean Park wreck site. The site has a fishing boat and a large man made metal structure. This made for a great site. Dive 1 we could map/survey the wreck and determine penetration points and also practice laying line through the tight spaces in the metal structure. Because of the depth 25m it was slightly cold for some of our warm water divers, around 10° C. Once all performance measures were complete we all slowly ascended for warmer waters. Once on the beat we headed back for about a 2 hour surface interval.

Dive 2 was a staged drop off. In buddy teams 5-7 minutes apart we descended down to the wreck to do a penetration, lay line and recover line in teams. The wreck is on a heading of 330° in 25 meters of water. 3 years ago the wreck was about 50 meters south of it’s current location and it was sitting perfectly upright, now it is laying in her left side partially collapsed. Once everyone had penetrated and exited we returned to the surface where everyone was eagerly looking forward to a break for the day.

Camille, Allen and myself went out for one last dive of the day. I was interested in doing the Sidemount Instructor course and needed to log a dive and conduct all the skills for sidemount. Usually I dive my PRISM 2 rebreather but for the past few months I put anyhting Tec/rebreather related away to focus on recreational diving for the IDC/IE. I completely forgot how comfortable, streamlined and awesome sidemount was. Once we entered the water and descended the tanks trimmed out nicely and perfect trim was easily achieved, no weight on my back and completely comfortable. Now THIS is the way to dive!! Makes me wish I didn’t sell my Razor bcd. I can’t wait to teach others this most excellent way to dive!

After we all got out of the water I think all of us were ready for some relaxation. We all came back to the hotel, washed up and tried catching a few winks…and of course making sure to update our blog.

course 1

course 1 seafood

full course 1

seafood stew

course 2

last dinner of IDC
We finished the night off with a short drive to Kyung Po beach for a walk on the boardwalk and some food. We got a 3 course dinner, Raw fish (Hwey), Sashimi mixed platter and seafood stew. It was a great way to spend our last night in Gangneung.