Scubapro Sidemount - initial impressions

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DA Aquamaster

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I recently got a Scubapro Sidemount rig. It was my "hard item" (reg, BC or computer) required for a Scubapro Product Knowledge buy, which I basically needed to get a killer price on the other items I actually wanted/needed. Although to be fair, I've been morbidly curious about the Scubapro Sidemount rig ever since I saw one a couple years ago at DEMA - where it was badly assembled by someone who apparently didn't have a clue.

Still, when you think "sidemount" you don't think Scubapro, and if you do, you tend to stop thinking it as soon as you see the "Form" harness Scubapro seems to like to put on X-Tek back plates.

Thus, I bought one because a) I got a killer deal, b) it let me get the same super low pricing on a dry suit and some other stuff I wanted, c) I was still morbidly curious about how well it worked - albeit with low expectations - and d) I really need another N FL, 85s plus a couple stages and deco bottle sidemount rig so that I don't have to keep reconfiguring one rig for both OC and CCR sidemount. So for the minimal money required, why not give it a shot?

The first impressions

Taking it out of the box wasn't all positive.

1) The X-Tek Form style harness construction adds about 3/16" of bulk that isn't really needed. To be fair it's a lot less than the padding on the Dive Rite, Nomad XT - but then again that padding is super easy to remove, while the padding on the Scubapro harness is basically built in.

2) It also had a rather ordinary set of bungees running from the back of the harness to bolt snaps that connect to the shoulder D-rings. Nothing wrong with that, but it's just not my cup of tea, as I'm a confirmed loop bungee diver, given that they pretty much universally allow the tanks to ride up a bit higher and behind your armpits, giving a cleaner profile.

3) I wasn't overly impressed with the shoulder mounted inflator arrangement, or the enormous knob on the rear dump (although to be fair that's a CE requirement).

4) The optional "cape" that covers the front of the air cell looks nice and it would streamline things a bit in open water, but it took about 3 seconds to realize how big a risk it would pose when trying to back out of some place you've ratcheted yourself in with obstructions on the ceiling that would immediately snag the beejeesus out of the back edge of that cover. Nice OW option maybe, but it has no place in a cave.

There were some good points however:

1) The air cell positioned low on the harness, and thus the diver, and it looked like it would trim great in the water.

2) The tail plate was well designed.

3) Most of what was wrong could be pretty easily fixed.

4) It is modular and you can put either a 25 or 45 pound wing on it - although with the padded harness it isn't going to be my first choice for a true sidemount harness with a pair of AL 80s, steel 72s or LP 45s. Still, while it won't replace my SMS 50 for Mexico trips with AL 80s, it offers some flexibility and some options for someone who wants a single system that can do multiple roles.

5) It comes with a removable weight strap that attaches under the wing and allows for weights to be threaded on 2" webbing along the spine of the harness. If I ever decide to dive really cold water again, that might come in handy.

6) It's a lot less bulky and a lot cleaner than a Dive Rite Nomad - but less flexible as it won't do back mounted doubles.

Fixing it

It was pretty amenable to a "Sorenson swap" switching the inflator and dump valves around so that the inflator routes straight up under the arm from the lower dump valve fitting, while the dump valve is operated by a ball located near the left shoulder D-ring.

Scubapro's arrangement was done pretty well in terms of avoiding the over the shoulder hose routing found on some sidemount wings, but there's still some benefit to swapping them, as the pull dump is now located near the inflator and it lets you access either one in the same general real estate, with no need to reach back to a tail mounted dump. Ideally, there'd be a lower dump valve on the right side as well.

The con with swapping the inflator and dump valve is that without a second rear dump valve, you can't dump very much in a head down position. However the location of the relocated dump seems to work fine in anything close to a level attitude (or obviously in a head up attitude) at least when diving heavy steel tanks where there's a fair amount of volume in the wing. If I were diving a pair of AL72s or AL80s with a 25 pound wing, I'd probably leave it in the stock condition. In any case the mod is reversible in just a couple minutes by clipping 3 zip ties, swapping the inflators and replacing the long string with a short one. A 5 minute job.

The fittings are the same and the dump valve was simple to re-string with a longer cord - and a smaller ball on the end. I cut a piece of 3/16" polyethylene tubing to route the string along the left shoulder strap, zip tying it at each end. The corrugated inflator hose is about 2" shorter than I'd prefer in the swapped position, but it's workable. However, I'll dig around upstairs and see if I can find a slightly longer inflator hose for it.

For the loop bungee mod, my initial thought was to take a piece of 2" webbing, put some grommets in it and bolt it to the back of the harness with sex nuts to support separate loop bungees on each side. However, I just routed a single continuous loop bungee through the existing holes and it seems to work fine - clean and easy to adjust. I then used 550 cord to run loops to and under the webbing at the D-rings to make it easy to pull the loops forward to snap over the valve knobs. The location of the holes in the harness work extremely well to route a loop bungee and the tanks ride extremely well along my midline.

The wing uses a perimeter bungee on each side running from anchor points on the top and bottom of the harness. The bungee cord provided was however way too light in my opinion so I used thicker bungee and also I routed it through the attachment plates for the shoulder straps to pull the wing down more on each side. It's a sorta Katana-ish approach and probably helps reduce the turtle shell effect of the inflated wing.

Scubapro includes a couple of offset rebreather style D-rings on the waist, but I removed them and used a low profile D-ring on each side instead. As offset D-rings go (already pretty small), they are actually even smaller, so I pulled another set of larger offset D-rings out of the gear bag and used them above the existing D-ring on the tail plate for reel attachment, etc.

Scuabpro used a tri-glide as a stop for the shoulder straps where they connect to the angled plates on the waist strap. This adds unnecessary thickness and bulk, so I just routed the strap through the plate and secured it back on itself using the tri-glide and then secured the running end of the strap with a 2" wide piece of inner tube. I'll trim it to length once I am sure about the final length.

In the water

The good news is that it did indeed trim very well. The loop bungee mod let the tanks ride nicely up behind the arm pits, and it actually felt very comfortable in the water. I still don't like the extra bulk of the padding in the harness, but it is very comfortable.

I was concerned about the potential for the 45 pound wing to "turtle shell" a bit, and it does. But to be fair, it does so less than my similarly sized 45 pound Manta Sidemount wing. It also has a lot less turtle shell effect than I expected.

It was also very stable in the water and it felt good in any position - rolling over on to my back , standing on my head, etc, and I was able to maintain level trim with either LP 85 swung forward.

The not so good is that this thing seriously needs a chest strap. Not so much when it's in the water, but when getting out as the tanks have a habit of pulling the straps off the shoulder when coming up a ladder.

In any event, it worked well enough today to warrant a couple more dives this weekend, and if it performs well with my Sidekick, it'll get an invite on the N FL trip at the end of April to see how well it does in various caves.

scubapro sidemount 800.jpg


Now... practically speaking...

I still have reservations about that padded harness, and it remains to be seen to what extent it's an issue in tighter sidemount passage. But it is very comfortable and if someone was looking for a purely OW sidemount harness that trims well, is very comfortable and is stable in nearly all positions, he or she could do a lot worse.

On the other hand, the MSRP is a bit steep - a couple hundred more than the better known competition from Dive Rite and Hollis. It'll be a tough sell in the shop when the shop also sells Dive Rite as well as Manta Industries sediment systems that can be had for around $500 as opposed to $700.

And then there's that unnecessary padding that tends to keep it out of contention for serious tight passage sidemount diving. The irony is of course that a much more minimalist harness would be a lot less expensive, and much more acceptable for most sidemount divers. Perhaps Scubapro should consider a minimalist harness as an option for their modular wings.

Update on the chest strap

I threaded the original offset D-rings on the shoulder straps beneath the shoulder D-rings. Facing bent side in, they should work well, letting the strap ride out near the edge of the chest where is should be. If the bend is a bit much for the angle needed, I'll put them in a vice and reduce the bend a bit. I sewed 1" webbing to each of them and sewed a faster buckle on one and left the other one adjustable.

Given the harness construction, adding something to a shoulder strap isn't a major effort. That may prove handy if I need to add a weight to the left shoulder strap to offset the LP 85 on one side when I use it with my KISS Sidekick.
 
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James R

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Can you throw up a couple photos of your mods? I have the same rig and am trying to decide how to make it better for me.

Thanks,
 
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DA Aquamaster

DA Aquamaster

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The tail plate just had a pair of offset D-rings stacked together to create a butterfly. It's a little easier to hook reels to than just the D-ring alone.

tail plate 800.jpg


The loop bungee was just routed through the existing holes and then tied with an over hand knot on the back side.

bungee 800.jpg


You can see the back side here, along with the relocated dump valve's pull cord. It's critical that the pull cord not snag on anything. You need to ensure nothing can bind the cord causing the valve to stick open, that it has enough slack to not auto dump if you bend forward, but not so much slack that it's hard to pull or anything tangles.

You can also see the larger diameter perimeter bungee running across between the two top anchor points, and you can see the loop bungee knotted on the back side of the harness.

bungee 3 800.jpg


A loop of para cord is used to pull the bungee forward when looping the bungee over the tank valves.

bungee2 800.jpg


This is the pull dump attached to the left shoulder D-ring. Be sure to zip tie the tubing to the front/top of the tri-glide so it does not get stuck under the harness. The other end of the tube is zipped tied to the tri-glide at the top of the shoulder strap. The paracord used to pull the bungee forward is routed along side the D-ring in the tri-glide. The Scubapro offset D-rings were used as a mount for a 1" webbing chest strap. The lower piece of inner tube is securing the loose end of the shoulder strap, while the upper piece is one of the pieces holding the tube to the strap.

pull dump 800.jpg


The relocated inflator hose is now on the bottom dump valve fitting. The larger perimeter bungee is visible along with a cord lock and the lower anchor point. Note that the bungee was not yet re-routed under the harness plate in this picture.

inflator 800.jpg


Here's the harness plate showing the re-routed perimeter bungee, helping it keep the edge of the wing down a bit lower. The re-threaded shoulder harness strap is visible, along with the low profile D-ring that replaced the offset D-ring.

harness plate 800.jpg


Below is an image of the chest strap, and the replacement inflator.

Scubapro switched to a new style inflator with a "piano key" inflate button. It's intended to be easier for women to operate, as it has more leverage and takes less force to depress. Unfortunately, I noted that if I were scraping through a restriction there was a good chance of depressing the key and inflating the wing in the restriction. That would lock me in place pretty effectively, so I switched to a more traditional inflator - and added a slightly longer corrugated hose so that the inflator comes to the center of my chest where it can be reached easily with either hand. I clip it off to the opposite side chest strap d-ring.

front 800.jpg


Finally, I added some inner tube to clean up the exposed strap at the top of the shoulder straps.

strap 800.jpg



Disclaimers and cautions

None of this is Scubapro recommended, and their attorneys are probably having mini-strokes at the moment if they've read this. These changes are of course all "use at your own risk" modifications and you're the person who will ultimately have to decide if your modified sidemount rig is safe to dive.

The one you need to watch the most and test very thoroughly is the swap of the inflator and dump valve. The design doesn't allow significant dumping in a head down position, but it is much cleaner and more protected in an over head environment. Be aware that should the dump valve stick open, it won't trap much air given that it's now on the upper half of the wing, so be very careful in your fabrication and routing of the pull dump, then test it carefully and thoroughly in controlled conditions.

To be fair, Scubapro's stock arrangement routes the hose under the arm, and thus avoids over the shoulder hose routing, but it's still nice to be able to dump gas through either fitting from controls located in the same easy to reach with either hand location. As noted above, if I were diving with AL 80s and a 25 pound wing, I'd probably leave the inflator and rear dump in their normal configuration.

(Note: See the post below as I've opted to return the inflator to it's original location and instead route the rear dump pull cord to the left shoulder D-ring. It makes the lower dump more effective, while still leaving both dump valves accessible with either hand)

The heavier bungee is also a mixed bag as the stronger the bungee the more it will restrict the wing and reduce the lift. If you really need 45 pounds of lift, test it in controlled conditions to ensure you actually have that much lift available. I used a cord lock on each side with about 6" of bungee left on each side to allow for more lift if/when needed.
 
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James R

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Thank you very much for the info and photos. I have some hardware on the way to make a bunch of changes, mostly like what you have. What length corrugated hose did you go with? I think the one it comes with is 14" or so.

One issue I have is that the rails are very hard for me to reach when I'm in a drysuit with thick undergarments, such that clipping off the tanks (or unclipping them) is very difficult. I am going to try some of the xDeep square D rings on the waistband. In a wetsuit I can reach them, but not super easily.

Thanks again,
 

johnnywulff

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Very nice solution for the chest straps on a hogarthian style harness, I modified my Razor harness to comfort but in the traditional way cutting the webbing.
 
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DA Aquamaster

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The original hose was 16" - the hose I replaced it with is the same, but has some stretch to it.

However... the stock hose will work fine if you don't do the swap, and I decided to un-do the inflator swap and instead just re-route the pull cord for the rear dump. I don't like compromises and I really wanted a more useful rear dump capability. The standard Scuabpro inflator hose routing wasn't bad, the rear dump was just limited to left hand only access.

What I've done is use a longer tube and pull cord to route the rear dump cord and pull knob from the original location to the left shoulder D-ring.

This actually works better as there is a loop on the harness that can be used to zip tie the dump end of the tube directly in line with the dump valve about an inch and a half away from the dump valve. The tube is again zip tied to the tri-glide at the top of the left shoulder strap and to the left shoulder D-ring.

In this configuration the original non stretchy 16": Scubapro hose works fine - but I still don't like their piano key inflator button where I may be rubbing a hard rock for in a tight sidemount passage.

I also sewed a cover from three pieces of 2" wide seat belt webbing to cover the tube for the pull cord and clean up the potentially snaggy bits on the shoulder strap.

rear dump2 800.jpg


inflator 2 800.jpg


cover 800.jpg
 
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James R

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I received one package of goodies yesterday and one should arrive today or tomorrow. Hopefully I will have time this weekend to work on this thing. Really great info and photos, thank you for taking the time.
 
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DA Aquamaster

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No problem at all.

It was actually much better than I expected and the only serious mods were:
1) re-routing the rear dump for ambidextrous use;
2) using a heavier bungee for the perimeter of the wing to reduce the turtle shelling;
3) re-rigging it a bit to use a loop bungee; and
4) adding a chest strap.

The rest is just personal preference and minor cleanup.
 

James R

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I am considering 1 and definitely doing 2, 3, & 4 from your list.

Also: longer corrugated hose, the xDeep square d-rings for clipping off, and the offset d-rings on the tail (maybe).
 
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DA Aquamaster

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Impressions from the second dive.

Fully kitted up for sidemount cave diving with a pair of LP 85s, a dry suit, can light, reels, helmet and back up lights it trimmed out well and the tank position is great.

There is also very little tendency to turtle shell, despite the lift requirements with cave filled LP 85s, can light, etc.

I did some familiar wreck penetrations with the system and it felt no different than with my Manta Sidemount system (comparable lift), but was not surprisingly, a bit bulkier than my SMS 50 (22 pounds of lift).

On the (slightly) negative side, it does trap a couple pounds of air that refuses to go anywhere Unless I unclip the inflator, roll to one side and wiggle a bit to dump it out the inflator. Here's where the Sorenson Swap might make a come back.

It was only a problem at shallow depths and lower tank pressures, where I needed to dump everything to be neutral (I'm not a fan of over weighting). A couple pounds on the harness would cover it, but again I'm not a fan of overweighting.

On the other hand, it's lining up to be my Sidekick CCR rig, and with the SMS 50 and Manta Sidemount rides I used with the Sidekick, I've had to add 4 pounds of weight on the Sidekick side to offset the weight of the cave filled LP 85 on the other side. If I need to do that with this rig as well, then the couple pounds of trapped air in the wing will become a moot issue.

I'm also curious whether the 25 pound wing has the same gas trapping issue.

Moving up slope with Scubapro 45 pound wing:

G3272277.jpg
 
https://www.shearwater.com/products/swift/

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