Brief resume of author; Pat Moret.
I have been involved in mine/ cave rescue teams for over 15 years and I am currently diving officer for Cornwall Search and Rescue Team underground/rope team. I have been diving side mount for 5 years in both open water and over head environments, some of which are “snug”. My usual “configuration” is an UK style side mount harness and when buoyancy control is required, a drysuit and or a buoyancy bladder. My diving style has evolved to reduce weight and increase mobility as much as possible which allows me to enter/exit the water in areas that would not normally be possible.
I make a living from consultancy in; access and rescue from difficult/dangerous environments.
My first impressions of the side mount harness / BCD were of a quality piece of equipment. The webbing appeared to be of a higher quality than that used by other manufactures and the components had a similar feel. The harness comes equipped with removable padding on both back and shoulders which was promptly removed. Part of my ethos of side mount diving is a minimalist approach which allows for easier transportation over rough ground to the water’s edge therefore every gram you carry has to have a benefit, so the padding had to go.
Over the course of a week I dived four times with the side mount harness, three times in flat conditions and once in a large swell. The dives were completed wearing gloves, up to a depth of 11m in open water.
One dive was completed on a single cylinder, five and seven litre cylinders were used for all four dives.
The bladder on the harness offers 20 litres of lift and is equipped with two dump valves, both on the underside(divers face down),now here lies the first problem. Once inflated entering the water in a “head up “position ,dumping air effectively was very difficult and would require excess use of lead or aggressive down swimming, both options aren’t really fit into the side mount frame of mind. The head up position traps at least half the bladders volume above the dump valves. If the diver is in the face down position the dump valves are more affective but still require the user to roll to allow air to migrate towards the dump valve.
I could see no provision for lead on the harness so a standard lead belt was worn under the harness.
The harness holds both a single cylinder and a pair in excellent trim even when I used my own cylinder band system. The BCD gives a clean profile through the water and offers very few “snag” points in an overhead environment.
The big area of concern for myself was the difficulty encountered whist trying to dump air, the pull toggle was incredibly difficult to find whist wearing gloves .The toggle seems to hide behind your right hand cylinder and this wasn’t helped by the zip tab on the protective bladder cover, which kept giving me false hope .The situation was alleviated by diving on a single cylinder, by doing so, giving easier access the pull toggle.
During the dives the BCD took on at least a litre of water each time ,this was very difficult to drain from the bladder post dive, I am guessing this is a glitch with the dump valves and bladder design.
On the whole the harness seems to be well proportioned and well made with the only real down side being the dump valve positioning. I know that Beaver have put them on the underside, like Hollis etc, in order to protect them from abrasion in an over head environment but this comes at a cost of usability and I can’t help thinking that someone who can design and make a bomb proof dump valve will find a niche market for such a product.