Sidemount and Sideways - Interview with the Sidemount Diver

Iphone 4, flat screen tv, jumpsuits, Volkswagen Beetle, spiky tattoos - all of these things are trendy.

I admit I had to Google ‘trendy clothes’ to find the jumpsuit; apparently they’re going to be very ‘in’ this winter.

Every aspect of our lives encounters trends from time to time, and scuba diving is no different.

The current trend the scuba industry is experiencing is sidemount diving.

I am not suggesting divers are simply switching to sidemount just because it’s ‘cool’ or ‘in;’ but simply because they never considered it, until the trend began to form. I must admit i’ve had a peek at it myself, and although the prospect of reconstructing my entire scuba kit puts me right off; it does look like a lot of fun.

I thought I would investigate the phenomenon that is sidemount diving.

What is sidemount?

At a very basic level, sidemount diving is the process of taking one or two cylinders and placing them on either side of your body, rather than mounting them on your back, (traditionally known as backmounted).

However, having spoken to divers who utilise the system, there appears to be a lot more to it than just moving a cylinder here and there.

Why sidemount?

Ultimately this form of diving evolved from the caves.

As divers progress deeper into the caves they often encounter what are known in the industry as “restrictions.”

Personally I can’t imagine anything more terrifying; and if there is a “restriction” it means you have no business being there.

However, cave divers are resourceful pioneers, and would not be stopped by a mere geological formation, constructed over millions of years.

random sidemount diver
One such diver was Woody Jasper. He decided that if he took his tanks from his back and moved them to his side, he could easily fit through said “restrictions.”

Sidemount was born. 

So; it’s his fault the local quarries are now teaming with sidemount divers doing headstands at every given moment.

He also gave birth to the “Woody” found on the end of spools and reels; smart fella.



Who’s gone sidemount?

Sidemount diving is predominantly used for cave diving, or when a diver encounters restrictions; perhaps on a wreck dive, in a mine, a submerged building, or similar. 

That said, there is absolutely no reason why the system cannot be used as a permanent style of diving; whether it is from a boat into open water, a simple shore dive, or enjoying the local quarry.

Jason Renoux - Essential Scuba Training

I attended TekCamp earlier this year which featured sidemount try dives. Disappointingly I didn’t get a chance due to time constraints, but I did see the reactions from many of my new TekCamp buddies. It was positive to say the least; and since July, three of the attendees have swapped their lovely euro twinsets for a sidemount configuration. 

Tis madness I tell you; a revolution of sorts!

It’s at the stage now here Wifebuddy and I look like the weirdos with the zany backmount system.

With TekCamp now fading into the background, I decided I would like to find out how my new chums are getting on with their new sidemount system. 

With the aid of the phenomenon that is facebook, i got in touch with tech diver Trudy and bamboozled her with a few questions from my journalistic artillery.

Here’s what she has to say…

I Are Diver interviews Trudy:

Trudy in sidemount kit

  • Can you give us a brief history of your diving? (year qualified, agency, dives, types of dives)

I starting diving as a teenager with my Dad, who was a commercial diver, but had a long break before starting again in 2007 when I moved back to the Isle [of Wight]. 

I've now got about 300 dives, starting down the PADI route before becoming a DSAT Deep Tec diver in 2009.

I'm an avid wreck diver (well, you got to be living around the Isle of Wight!) - I love the history and the little stories behind each dive site.

  • Where did you experience your first sidemount dive and what was it like?

TekCamp 2011 with Martin Robson [EAU2 Technical Diver Training] was my first experience. The freedom and manoeuvrability of sidemount over twins on the back is amazing. Martin showed us how to stand on our heads, twist, hover upside down, and fin on our sides to wiggle into small gaps.

  • What made you decide, “yup – I’m gonna be sidemount”?

It had to be the second try dive I did at TekCamp.

After talking with Martin I realised that switching to sidemount would double the amount of diving I could do around the Island, and I'd be able to penetrate wrecks in places I could never go in my back mounted twins.

Add to that; I can take my tanks off in the water and pass them up to boat crew (no lift on our boat) instead of struggling up a ladder - I was sold.

  • Where and with whom did you complete your sidemount training?

Martin Robson w/ student
I stuck with Martin Robson and we did PADI Recrational, and Tec Sidemount earlier this year with fellow student Bene (also from TekCamp).

Good old Vobster was the location.

  • Is there a different mindset required for sidemount and was it difficult to shake ‘old habits’ from the backmount years?

It's a similar mindset; the principles of redundancy and safety are still there for example, it’s just the positioning of the tanks that have changed.

The old habits that are used for backmount are virtually the same with sidemount; buddy checks before the dive and bubble checks at the beginning of the dive for instance.

The biggest "old habit" is the shut down drills. 

So; was twiddling knobs at chest height instead of behind the head difficult to shake? - What do you think ? :)

  • Do you always dive sidemount now?

Sidemount, or singles if I'm diving the kids, or in my rescue diver capacity for a course.
I've split my twins completely; the twinning bands are thrown in the back of my garden shed somewhere.

  • How has your diving changed?

I can now shore dive from the Isle as I can carry my tanks separately to the water’s edge; it’s too dangerous to scramble up and down the steps in twins, even twin 7's.

I haven't managed to get out much since my course because of bad weather and work commitments, so I've still got a lot of learning and practice to do.

I'll let you know more at next years TekCamp!

  • How have your buddies / club reacted to the change?

I only have one other tec diver in my club and he's planning on doing a sidemount try dive next year. However, I have several buddies on the mainland who are now doing sidemount , and at least one has split her twins as well.

  • Is it easy to go abroad for some single tank diving with your new system?

I'm told it is, but I'm yet to enjoy the experience myself.

Certainly the kit can pack up considerably smaller than all the twin set stuff as there are no back plates required. (In fact, the whole manoeuvrability from sidemount comes from being able to wiggle and bend your spine which you can't do in twins.)

And, of course, it makes your excess luggage bill cheaper.

  • Will you proceed with any further training in sidemount?


I still have so much to learn and practice; I won't be happy until I can dive like Steve Bogaerts (goals are good, even if they are mostly unrealistic).

  • Who would you recommend sidemount to?



So there you have it; sidemount is the future. I certainly can’t wait to have a go, I just hope I don’t get hooked and have to sell all my kit!

Is sidemount going to replace the standard twinset?

What's In My Dive Bag?

It was a Friday night. It was 1am. I had no beer.

On any other weekend that would be my perfect nightmare, however, on that particular night I was saved by my New Zealand chum; The Divemistress. Chatting periodically, over the wonder that is Twitter, the topic of scuba gear rose it’s rather splendid head.

I like scuba gear, and I like chatting about it. I’ll talk to anyone about it; even if they don’t dive. I once tried to discuss the finer points of a back plate and wing with a deaf man.

He hadn’t a lot to say on the matter.

So; the Kiwi and The Irishman clogged the gears of Twitter for an hour or so as we discussed the finer points of what goes in our drysuit pockets.

To a non-diver this may seem trivial, but to the scuba enthusiast this is a critical subject; more than worthy of discussion.

Add two bloggers to the mix and you get The Scuba Gear Challenge (#scubagearchallenge).


The Divemistress and I Are Diver decided it was essential … nourgent that we turn this into a blog post almost immediately; and encourage every other diver on twitter to take part. So we both got to work on a proposed symbiotic post; but apparently with no format and no idea of what the other was doing.

We also probably succeeded in losing most of our Twitter followers.

The best we could generate was:


I pretty much use the same kit for every dive, maybe adding a few extras for the tech stuff, and layering changes for variations in water temperature.

Here’s what’s in my dive bag, and yes; it’s a big fucking bag.


  • EDZ polyester base layer bottoms
  • EDZ merino wool base layer top
  • Merino wool underglove
  • Fourth Element wrist warmers
  • EDZ thinsulate over gloves

  • Fourth Element Arctic top & bottoms
  • Fourth Element Xerotherm top & bottoms

My drysuit is a Seaskin membrane custom made jobbie.

  • Neoprene neck seal, latex cuffs with KWTT dry rings
  • Apeks valves, shoulder dump
  • 2 leg pockets
  • Neoprene socks


This is the front of my rig and it never changes. I can vary the wing to suit my cylinders, but everything else stays exactly where it is.

I use my Beaver steel twin 7’s for my "single tank" diving. (I don’t have a single tank as my regs are permanently set up for twinsets)

I have my initials at the bottom of each tank so they don’t get pinched and I can be identified in the water.

BCD/WINGHalcyon evolve 40lbs wing and Halcyon stainless steel backplate with one piece harness.

REGULATORS: Scubapro – MK17/G250v on 2m hose as primary, R390 back up. I hog loop my reg and primary donate in an out of gas scenario.


Halcyon EOS LED primary light worn on my harness waist belt, secured in place with a weight belt buckle.

I also wear a Light Monkey 2w back up light on my harness from the shoulder D ring.


Suunto SK7 compass on left wrist, Mares Puck computer on right wrist, Agir SPG clipped onto left hip D-Ring.

I have a short stainless steel serrated knife on my harness waist strap and a set of EMT shears in my pocket.


Storage pack on backplate: 1.3m smb

Left pocket: 1m smb, 45m spool

Right pocket: wetnotes, 20m spool, back up mask, shears, whistle, survival mirror

Everything in my pockets is clipped off with a bolt snap onto a piece of bungee tied into the pocket itself. This prevents losing my kit; plus, in an emergency, I can just pull everything out, get what I need, then re-stow what’s left.


I have a mask box full of tricks that gets brought on every dive. It’s a modified “save a dive” type affair. It really just contains a few basic items for small problems; scuba tool, tank inserts, lube, analysis tape, marker, nuts, bolts, o-rings etc.


If I go on a tech dive I need to bring additional equipment, but to be honest not that much changes.

BACKGAS CYLINDERS: These change to my Faber twin 12’s. The great thing is that nothing else on my rig changes when using these. The wing I use for my 7’s has ample lift to cope with twin 12’s and a couple of aluminium stages.


7l aluminium Luxfer: I use this for my deco dives. I am a big fan of standard decompression gases, so I have this permanently marked for 50%. The MOD is 21m, hence the big sticker; and I have my initials at the bottom so it can be easily identified on the boat, plus Wifebuddy can spot me.

I use the same regulator as my back gas; Scubapro MK17/G250v. When I switch to my deco cylinder I want it to breathe the same as my primary to keep stress to a minimum.

I also have a 1m hose attached so it can be hog looped.

My primary regulator is clipped off to my right D ring when decompressing.


I don’t have a technical diving capable computer, so I set my Mares Puck to “gauge mode” when conducting tech dives. The computer now only displays depth and time.

I also carry a really cheap, tacky Casio waterproof watch. It’s not essentially a dive computer, but it’s waterproof to 50m and has a stopwatch. I use this to time my decompression stops and ascent rates.


With the absence of a computer I dive with pre-cut decompression tables based on a predetermined dive plan. I use desktop computer software Decoplanner to do so.

For the specific dive I work out my rule of thirds for my gas, and the wonder that is my laptop will calculate my maximum bottom time, tell me my decompression obligations and how much gas I will need with my given SAC rate.

There is a little bit more to it, but that’s the basics.

I also cut tables for certain scenarios: lost deco gas, half time, increased time in 5min intervals, and increased depth by 3m, along with lost deco gas in those situations. All this fabulous additional information is written into my wetnotes, and stashed in my pocket until needed.

The primary plan is written on a very poorly made DIY wrist slate type thing. It is basically waterproof paper slipped into a CD sleeve bungeed around my left wrist.

Yes, I am truly awesome.


I tend to add an additional back up light on the other side of my harness.

For blue water technical dives one back up would suffice, but in the darker UK waters I bring two.


If I ever do single tank diving it’s only when I’m on holiday, although to be honest most of my diving holidays are done in a twinset as well.

To reconfigure my set up for a single tank I simply swap out the wing to my Eclipse 30lb single tank wing. The Eclipse wing has bolted on cam bands that grip the cylinder in place.

My regulators need to be dismantled and all hoses attached to a single first stage, I still use the long hose, primary donate procedure.

If I dive in wet suit with no pockets I clip off my spool to my butt ring and shove an smb in the storage pouch. I usually bring my canister light, but always one back up torch. I bungee my whistle onto my inflator hose.

That's all my kit. It's a love affair; Wifebuddy and I have an enitre room in our house dedicated to it.

Check out what's in my friends dive bags on their blog as they joined #thescubagearchallenge!

What's in your dive bag?

Is Scuba Diving A Sport?

That was the question a non-diving friend proposed to me, one drunken evening during a party, not long after I began my beloved underwater obsession.

It may be hard to comprehend, but I do actually converse with those that do not scuba dive; admittedly, I am reducing the ratio of non-diver to diver friendships appropriately, mainly due to my consistent rambling about the world of sub-surface delights.

A further testimony is the majority of my friends’ on-line profile pictures all look identical; masked, hooded, have a regulator in their mouth and possess the facial display of a young boy who has just seen his first boob.

The conversation in question was with non-diver Steve. Steve would probably prefer I protect his identity for truly obvious reasons; although I very much doubt he will ever read this, bearing in mind how the discussion about ‘scuba diving is a sport’ finally concluded.

Mid-party, even with Iron Maiden blaring from the stereo, I continued to bore Steve with scuba tales for 20 minutes before he finally cracked declaring;

Scuba diving isn’t a real sport anyway, now leave me alone.”

As a defender of the ocean I couldn’t let such a statement be spoken so lightly; especially after ten tins of Carlsberg, so I probed;

What the hell do you mean? Scuba diving bloody well IS a sport. I’m sporty. Goddamit!

It soon transpired the sole defence to his argument was; a sport is defined by a ‘winner.’ The conversation, admittedly a little hazy now, went something like this:


Me: “So scuba isn’t a sport because there’s no winner? Explain.”

Steve: “Ok, take shooting. There’s a sport. A man walks into the woods with a gun and shoots a duck, the duck falls from the sky; dead. The man is clearly the winner, hence shooting is a sport.”

Me: “Don’t be ridiculous. The duck hasn’t got a gun; how’s that sport?”

Steve: “Firstly, I was referring to the shooter beating the ‘other man’ to the kill. The ‘other man’ also has a gun. Secondly; you are an idiot.”

I was less than impressed by this debate and I vainly attempted to silence my outrage. Steve comprehended the quiet as a moment of weakness, and continued his attack:

Steve: “For something to be considered a sport there must be competition.”

Me: “But…”

Steve: “When you scuba dive is it a race to the bottom?”

Me: “No.”

Steve: “Is it a race to the surface then?

Me: “Well, no, you can’t do that because Boyle's Law states…”

Steve: “Is it to see who uses the most oxygen?”

Me: “It’s not oxygen actually, it’s air and no, not exactly; but if you’re SAC rate is…”

Steve: “Are there scuba teams?”

Me: “GUE dive in teams. Ha!”

Steve: “Do they compete against other teams?”

Me: “Well…”

Steve: “Why DO you go diving anyway?”

Me: “It’s amazing; if you just tried…”

Steve: “It sounds pointless. It’s like getting into a car and staring at the steering wheel, but not starting the engine; you just look around the inside for while, then get out.”

Me: “You’re a dick. Get out of my house.”

Steve: “This is my house mate.”

It was around this time the conversation ended. I had to admit I lost the argument, and that is a rare occurrence as it is very difficult to argue with a fool.

Recovered from my verbal battering, I decided it was necessary to construct a defence for scuba diving; just on the off chance the debate reared its ugly head again.

My first port of call was Google; because as we all know, Google runs the world and has all the answers. It is also so powerful Microsoft Word even changes a small ‘g’ to a capital ‘G’ when you type the word ‘Google’ into a document; mind blowing stuff.

GOOGLE: “sport/spôrt/ Noun: An activity involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team competes against another or others.”

Unfortunately that harms my defence dreadfully. Fuck Google; with a capital ‘F’,

Of course, Wikipedia has the answer where Google fails:

WIKIPEDIA: “Sport is all forms of physical activity which, through casual or organised participation, aim to use, maintain or improve physical fitness and provide entertainment to participants. “

I would kindly draw your attention to the part, and I quote:

“Provide entertainment to participants.”

I don’t know about you, but that sums up scuba diving to me. Ha. Ha. Screw you Google, and screw you Steve.


Approximately 8 months later I saw Steve in the pub. I immediately bounded over boasting:

Me: “Scuba diving is a sport as it provides entertainment to participants.”

Steve: “What?”

Me: “Scuba diving is a sport as it provides entertainment to participants.”

Steve: “You haven’t spoken to me since my party over 6 months ago.”

Me: “Scuba diving is a sport as it provides entertainment to participants.”

Steve: “What are you on about?”

Me: “Scuba diving. [Short pause] It’s a sport.”

Steve: “Oh Christ, not again.”

Me: “It’s on Wikipedia and everything.”

Steve: “Sorry, what does Wikipedia say again?”

I cleared my throat. I stood straight. I proudly rolled back my shoulders forcing my chest out;

Me: “I quote; [short pause] a sport provides entertainment to participants.”

Steve: “So does masturbation.”

Me: “But …”

Steve: “That makes you a *wanker.”

WIKIPEDIA: *The term wanker originated from British slang in the 1940s.[1] Wanker literally means "one who wanks (masturbates)".

I left, went home and promptly deleted Steve from my facebook friends list.


I am sorry to report my friends; scuba diving is NOT a sport, and we are not sporty. 

This would certainly explain why the majority of divers are fat, and would somebody please ring ‘Sport’ Diver magazine; they need a name change.

So, what's YOUR verdict? Is scuba diving a sport?

Does Not Compute - The scuba dive computer

This is my computer. There are many like it but this one is mine. My computer is my best friend. It is my life. I must master it as I must master my life. Without me, my computer is useless. Without my computer I am useless. I must use my computer true. Before God I swear this creed: my computer and myself are defenders of my dive, we are the masters of the sea, we are the saviours of my life.


Computers are running the world. I am firmly convinced somewhere along the line everyone works alongside a computer and ultimately works for Google. Mobile phones are practically computers now; even TV’s are doing things that 10 years ago a computer couldn’t handle. Scuba diving is no different; you can’t dive without a computer.

Or can you?

Not really.

At the present moment in time I am trying my hardest to buy myself a new dive computer. In a vain attempt to purchase my new fangled gadget I am even selling my beloved WALKMAN (click here to bid!!), initially purchased in 1989.

Needless to say this attempt at raising capital is failing miserably. However, I shall not be deterred and will relist with an additional sweetener if needs be, perhaps Michael Jacksons other silver glove?

There are a ton of computers on the market; far too many to list, but there are certain types to choose from. Here is what I had to consider:


This is the bog standard, as simple as it gets computer. Some divers will argue;

It’s not a computer; it’s a bottom timer!

Indeed; I think they merely need to relax a little.

What does it do?

  • Depth
  • Time
  • Log
  • Temp 

Remarkably the market is very small for these units. The only 2 real options are:

  • Uwatec Bottom Timer: cheap, simple, effectively disposable, but last for about 10 years. 
  • Liquivision Xen: Hideously expensive, amazing display, excellent timer functionality. 

Who wants one?

  • Recreational divers that know how to use NDL tables efficiently. 
  • Technical divers have them as a back up to be used alongside tables in case of primary mixed gas computer failure. 
  • GUE trained divers use them as a primary gauge as they calculate decompression stops manually. 


These bad boys are the meat and potatoes of the computer market. The definitive dive computer some would say; some being me.

What does it do?

  • Depth
  • Time
  • Log
  • Temp
  • Nitrox (up to 50%)
  • Decompression info
  • Dive planning feature 

These are magnificent tools of the trade. These computers are great for just keeping a watchful eye on you when you’re scuba diving.

They offer the same tools as the bottom timer plus a few more tricks.

The main addition is the decompression and nitrox stuff. When diving, the computer will countdown the non-decompression time remaining. Of course we all learned our PADI tables initially, but I challenge any regular scuba diver to accurately tell me the NDL at 28m. (all answers in the comments section please!)

The NDL clock is a valuable tool in preventing a diver from inadvertently entering a decompression obligation without correct planning; and to get the most bottom time on a dive.

Most of these models will also track CNS loading when using nitrox, your surface interval (adjusting NDL accordingly on repetitive dives) and no-fly time; all really great for keeping a diver safe.

You can set these computers to use nitrox up to 50% which is perfect for most diving.

I find this type of computer very useful when on holiday, especially for repetitive diving or liveaboards.

There are hundreds of computers on the market that do the job; it really is personal preference of which additional features you would like.

Personally I would buy one that has a “gauge mode” function as this will allow it to be used as a backup bottom timer should your diving progress into the technical realm.

Who Wants One?

  • Recreational scuba divers. 


The multiple gas computer pretty much does what is says on the tin, and is the next step up from recreational computers; used predominantly when a diver goes ‘techie.’

What does it do?

  • Depth
  • Time
  • Log
  • Temp
  • 2/3 programmable nitrox mixes up to 100%
  • Decompression info
  • Time to surface (most do this taking into account the programmed gases)
  • Dive planning based on programmed gases 

In short is does everything a recreational computer and bottom timer does but with the addition of being able to program a second nitrox mix into the thing.

This is useful if you are conducting a decompression dive. You can set mix 1 to be your backgas, 21%; then set a second decompression gas, 50%. Upon reaching the decompression stage of the dive you switch gases, tell the computer you have done so, and it cleverly recalculates the decompression obligation.

There are a number of 2/3 gas computers on the market. The Uwatec Tec 2G, Apeks Quantum or Suunto Vyper 2 appear to be the most popular.

Who Wants One?

  • Divers that carry an additional cylinder/s with a different mix on dives.
  • Advanced nitrox divers


These are the daddies of the computer world. There are far too many features to even begin to list, but they include:

  • Depth
  • Time
  • Log
  • Temp
  • Multiple programmable gases (some do up to 10 gases)
  • Trimix enabled
  • Decompression info
  • Time to surface (most do this taking into account the programmed gases)
  • Dive planning based on programmed gases 

Some of these computers are also compatible with rebreathers; being hardwired into the unit.

The market for this type of computer was initially dominated by, the now iconic, VR3. Over the last few years however, competition has been increasing and the majority of manufacturers are producing top end pieces of kit.

The old VR3’s are now used to keep doors open.

The top contenders are VR, Liquivision, OSTC and Shearwater. Some are rebreather friendly, which is reflected by price, but they are all pretty much amazing. The common deciding factor on such units comes down to display and battery life.

Many divers that use these machines have a preference for specific decompression algorithms, which may also determine which computer to buy.

Who Wants One?

  • Technical open circuit and rebreather divers. 


Some computers do other things which may appeal to certain types of diver.

  • Air intergration: This includes a remote sensor that is screwed into the 1st stage. Information on gas usage, sac rate, time left in tank, is fed to the computer wirelessly. Multiple sensors can be used allowing a diver to also keep track of a buddy’s gas. 
  • HUD: Oceanic do a computer which sends information to a heads up display in the divers mask. 
  • HP gauge computers: Some console computers are integrated directly to the high pressure hose, giving similar information to the remote sensors.
  • Download: Nearly all computers allow the downloading of data onto a desktop or laptop computer. Bear in mind that often the hardware required isn’t included with the unit itself, and can be expensive when purchased on its own. 


Herein lies the reason I haven’t slept for weeks, consistently trawl internet forums, and have read every dive computer review ever put to paper; or screen.

Which bloody computer do I want? 

That’s easy; I WANT an OSTC 2n. It’s amazing, has the best display ever, and; on the list of the best things I’ve ever seen comes second; ... beaten only by the pyramids.

At £650 however, it’s rather expensive. Factor in that my oil fired boiler has recently decided to stop making my house warm on the run up to winter; I probably won’t be getting one anytime soon.

Neither will Wifebuddy.

I know which one I want, the real question is…do I need one?


Currently I have a Mares Puck; a basic no nonsense recreational computer, that can also function as a bottom timer. It suits my recreational diving as it can do all the things I have talked about, and when set as a gauge, it can be used for my technical diving along with the aid of decompression tables.

In short I don’t need a computer; I already have one that does everything.

Carlsberg don’t make computers…

Go buy a Mares Puck.

The U-861, Malin Head (IRE) - U boats and U turns

Dive Site: Malin Head (IRE)

Dive Type: Boat Dive

Dive Attraction: “U-861” : WW2 Submarine

Depth: 43m

Experience: Experienced / Technical

Malin Head is the reason I decided to seek technical dive training. All of 2011 has been spent preparing for this type of diving. In Feb I completed my TDI Advanced Nitrox and Decompression Procedures, to form the base level for the technical diving range; and in July attended TekCamp to fine tune my skills with the best instructors the UK has to offer.

Since then I have spent many hours on local dive sites playing with stage bottles, rehearsing gas switches, smb deployment and buoyancy control. It may have been overkill on my part, but when I dived Malin Head I wanted to make sure I was capable, safe, and able to enjoy every bloody minute of it.

On Sunday 2nd October 2011 i got to visit the U-861 and all my training finally paid off.


Malin Head is situated as far north of Ireland as you can get; although not actually part of Northern Ireland itself. This is an interesting fact, of that I am certain; however, another much more interesting fact is the amount of shipwrecks in the area.

The coast of Malin Head is littered with the most amazing diving; especially if you are partial to a little wreck appreciation. Any avid scuba diver will recognise names including, HMS Audacious, SS Laurentic, RMS Justica, SS Empire Heritage and the boat in question; German submarine, U-861.


The U-861 was an IXD (D2) type undersea vessel, used by the German forces in the Second World War. The boats were designed in 1939-1940; this particular version was commissioned on 2nd September 1943 to Captain Jürgen Oesten.

She stayed in service until 9th May 1945 when the boat was surrendered at Trondheim, Norway.

The U-861 was then transferred to Lisahally, Northern Ireland on 29 May, 1945 for “Operation Deadlight;” code name for the scuttling of most of the unwanted German U-Boats the allies managed to get their grubby little paws on.

In short, the U-861 was target practice; successfully being hit on 31 December 1945 and sinking to the depths for the rest of time.

The 87m long wreck now rests on a stony bottom, 43m deep, in visibility exceeding 20m to be enjoyed by coral, fish, crustaceans, scuba divers and most importantly; me.


I was invited to dive the U-861 by some fellow Irish divers after discovering the internet forum I only recently joined the website and I have found its members to be extremely friendly, happy to share experience, dive sites, and most importantly; they actually go diving.

Wifebuddy and I were kindly invited by "Dave" to join some of the guys on a one day excursion to the U-861.

What a fabulous idea.


The days leading up to the dive were spent eagerly lubing zips, sorting stage rigs, charging lights; basically sorting our kit out.

After the gear was sorted we needed to plan our dive. Due to being poor I don’t possess a dive computer that performs gas switches, so our dive would be conducted using a slate and bottom timer; very old school.

We ran through various mixes and decompression options before creating our plan using Decoplanner desktop software;

The Gases

  • Back Gas: 26% nitrox 
  • Deco Gas: 50% nitrox 

The Plan

  • Max Depth: 43m
  • Max Bottom Time: 25mins 


  • Buhlmann 30/80 gradient factor

The Tables

Depth    Time    O2    Start   End     PPO2

43          25        26     2          25       1.38

21          1          50     27        28       1.56

12          1          50     28        29       1.11

9            3          50     29        32       0.96

6            13        50     32        45       0.81

0                                             46

I have to admit I thoroughly enjoyed all the planning aspects of the dive. The software is very clever and it was fascinating to play about with; especially working out lost decompression gas scenarios. I would still like an OSTC 2n though. (I am open to endorsements)

So, with kit and planning all done we were ready to do the dive, albeit with my dodgy home made wrist slate comprising of a CD slip case, come bungee and military all weather notepaper.

It's awesome.


We arrived at Malin Head on the Saturday evening and met the skipper, a lovely fellow named Geoff; who also doubled as the landlord for the night, as we would be staying at his rather large, diver friendly accommodation.

 The rest of the guys would be arriving around midnight, so we opted for meeting them in the morning and attempting to get some sleep.

I awoke to the bleating of Wifebuddy’s iphone at 6am. As per usual I couldn’t get up until Kerri finally talked me out of the comfy bed.

Wifebuddy and I stumbled into the kitchen where we received a warm reception from the Dublin contingent. The guys were really friendly and quickly eradicated the pre-dive nerves we were feeling the night before. It was great to finally put faces to names from the forum and facebook.

We hadn’t a clue where to go, so Tom, the leader, kindly agreed to lead the convoy with us in tow. Tom appeared to be 'The Leader' as he proudly took the head of the breakfast table, owned the big van that brought everyone, and, upon reaching the dive site, appeared to loan out the majority of his kit.

The pier was only a 2 minute drive and quickly the bunch were assembling stage cylinders and twin sets accompanied by friendly, yet mostly crude, banter. Kerri and I followed suit donning our dry bags and transporting our kit down to the pier edge. I decided to join the tradition of borrowing something from Tom, settling for stealing his trolley and moving the twin sets down to the boat. 

I have to get a trolley – what a splendid idea.

The kit was forming an orderly line alongside Geoff’s boat; a blue ballooned, rib type affair with a cabin. As the gear and divers boarded it became clear the alternator had died. As a result Geoff’s trusty Volvo was drafted in for a jump start. 

Engines running, everyone and everything aboard; we headed out to sea.

The journey to the dive site was surprisingly short, soon we were directly over the sub and Tom prepared to shot the wreck; you see? – Tom is ‘The Leader.’

I had been chatting to Dave on the way out about gas planning for the dive, along with various other diver things, and hadn’t realised Wifebuddy had gone extremely quiet.

I glanced in her direction; Kerri wasn’t well. 

I knew almost immediately it was all over. The sea was calm, but there were huge swells/surges every now and again that obviously sent poor Wifebuddy’s inner ear to a very bad place. Within a few minutes Kerri called it; she wasn’t fit to dive. I knew she had to be properly sick in order to bin this one; and she certainly was.

Any diver can call the dive at any time – that’s the rule. So, no questions, no queries; we weren’t diving. I was totally gutted for her, and I could tell she was dreadfully upset. Just as she began to lean over the side of the boat and begin her 90 minute vomiting session, she quickly declared – “You go. Do the dive.”


I felt awful, but I was on the boat, and really wanted to dive more than anything else in the world at that point. I turned to my new best mate Dave; “Wanna be my buddy?

Dave had planned to dive in a team of three, but was happy to change and dive as two pairs; excellent.

We quickly ran through our gas plan. Dave was on a leaner mix than me, so if we stuck to his deco schedule, of 20mins bottom time, I knew I would be safe. I also made a mental note to stay ever so slightly shallower, to add an additional safety factor; and conduct my planned decompression anyway.

Kitted up and a buddy check later we hit the water and began our descent.

I was a little nervous. My experience of shot line descents is very limited, and I had never descended straight to 43m. Dave led the way, periodically giving me the ‘OK’ signal as we fell into the darkening blue. I kept myself switched on, and within minutes we hovered over the sea bed. I could feel the excitement brewing.

I did a sanity check, deployed my light, signalled to Dave I was ‘OK’, and he led the way to the wreck. This was just as well as I hadn’t a bloody clue where the sub was. I figured the shot line was on the wreck; obviously not. Dave is an experienced trimix diver and had dived on the U-861 before, so I was happy to follow him about.

Within minutes Dave found the wreck; what a fucking legend. 

The visibility was unbelievable; at least 20m which allowed my new EOS light to really earn its stripes; I could see forever. The sky was overcast, so the dive was darker than I expected, but this just added to the experience. 

The prop came into view and I soaked in the eerie silence. I checked my gauges; all was well, so we progressed along the wreck. It was phenomenal; all my diving had led me to that moment. I can’t describe how amazing i felt. It was simply fantastic to be diving something like this; I mean – a German submarine from the Second World War; it was breathtaking.

I followed Dave’s lead, explored the broken up section, moved towards the coning tower and finally to the bow; I think. I found it difficult to orientate myself, and couldn’t decide what end was what; perhaps narcosis was taking its toll.

Our planned bottom time arrived exceedingly fast, and before I knew it Dave signalled it was time to go. I was devastated. I could have spent another hour exploring every piece of her. The U-861 is quite broken up, which was fantastic; in my mind I was performing a mechanical autopsy.

We moved off the wreck into the open water, but with bottom time hitting 21mins, and the shot line nowhere to be seen, I was becoming more aware that a free ascent was going to happen. I hadn’t done a free ascent from 43m before either. Shit.

I signalled to Dave, with the generic shrug of the shoulders; “I don’t think we’re going to find the shot line.”

I could tell he was feeling the same thing, then from nowhere I spotted the line. I had my light firmly fixed, but Dave was all over it, and already en route. We reached the shot and were joined by the other pair of divers and began our ascent.

I tidied my cannister light away, got myself trimmed out and inhaled deeply to kick off my journey to the surface. 

It was a bit wobbly, but in control, straightening vertical to dump air from my suit, and alleviate the paranoia of a feet first rapid ascent. It was fine, but I do need to work on it.

We followed the shot to 21m and Dave signalled the gas switch. We checked our depth, Dave switched first and I followed. The switch went well and we followed our decompression profile. 

By our 6m stop the current was picking up and with four divers present, the shot line was a little busy.

I opted to hold back from the line for my 13 min stop, but after 9 minutes I realised I was beginning to over exert myself; deco stops are not designed to be tiring. I had to fin really hard, but finally made it to the shot and grabbed hold.

On the line I could relax a little and hung out for the remaining obligation. Finally Dave and I agreed we were clear and thumbed the dive. A nice, slow controlled ascent over the final 6m followed and we broke the surface. 

Skipper Geoff had his ship within 2m of the shot; marvellous. I finned over to the rear of the boat, where I was quickly greeted by Mike, who took my stage bottle from me and talked me through re-entry. Having never dived from Geoff's boat before it was brilliant to have someone guide me through step by step.

Back on the ship, the guys helped me remove my twinset and I chatted to Mike on the journey back to shore. 

Kerri continued to vomit over the side. Poor love.


Upon return to shore, the pack quickly removed gear from the boat and everything was stowed in Tom’s van. Kerri was still rather ill. All the guys came over to see how she was, offering condolences for the lost dive and possible solutions to her on-going vomit problem.

Everyone was heading straight home; so we said our goodbyes and hit the road for the journey back to the cat army.

It was a truly amazing dive; unfortunately marred by the severe lack of Wifebuddy by my side. Nevertheless, we have plans to defeat the sickness and get back to Malin Head as soon as possible, and visit the U-861 once more.