Albums: J-W's first ice dive
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A common failure cold water divers experience is either a first or second stage freeze up. A less common but still experienced is a valve freeze or “stuck open” failure. All of these pose a huge risk to the diver because they can lead to a diminished gas supply. All of these failures can be worked while using back mount but isn’t easier to work on a valve or regulator that is right in front of us? In the z-system all we do is pull the unit in front of us and begin working on the issue at hand. We have two hands and a team to work out the problem. This is an especially huge advantage when experiencing a true valve freeze. Being able to see the problem and then respond has huge operational advantages. A second stage free-flow due to ice is a problem encountered while ice diving. We have several options for this type of failure. First, one could use an isolator on each of the regulators to be able to isolate it when it free flows. Simply isolating the second stage stops the free flow. The second response is that we could put an extra LP hose and isolated regulator on each of the cylinders first stages which would allow us to disconnect the QC6 and bailout to traditional sidemount until the problem is resolved. Thirdly, we could use the little 2nd stage accessory (See picture below) in your pocket which attaches a regulator to the QC6 output from a tank, so again you pull this out of your pocket, unplug one of the tanks, bailout to it, resolve the issue and either go home or continue diving.
So, we finally made it to the exit and want to get out of that ice cold water right? The scenario for the sidemount diver is easy… remove bottles from yourself and leave them in the water and then climb out without the need of anyone else to assist. You have no weight to haul out of the hole except yourself, easy. Once comfortably out of the water, just grab one cylinder at a time and remove them from the water. What is not so easy is removing a 200lbs man with another 160lbs of gear out of the water. How do most divers remove a diver in doubles? Oh let me and a gorilla grab each end of the manifold and jerk 360lbs out of the water. That is not my idea of fun. The worst case scenario for z-system divers is that they need minor assistance climbing out of the hole. It is much easier to grab onto a harness and drag the diver out of the water than to pull the gear plus the diver out of the water.
Cleaning up the site is just as easy as setting the site up. No heavy doubles or other gear to lug around. So why are people still diving under the ice in backmount? The z-system is by far a great choice for ice diving operations. Team diving is still maintained and better yet you can seamlessly integrate a mixed team in the dive who out sacrificing the cohesiveness of the team. Simplicity, ease of use, safety, and logistics are only a few advantages of the z-system for ice diving. Many reasons exist and support the use of sidemount diving for ice operations.
As a qualified and experienced ice diver and ice diving instructor, I have seen and used many different configurations while under the ice. We all know that single tank ice diving without a redundant gas system is crazy and puts the team at risk. Many divers make claims that traditional backmounted doubles is the safest way to dive under the ice. That might have been the case five years ago… or even a year ago but now we have a much better system for ice diving. The Z-sidemount system is by far the safest system on the market for excursions under the ice. Let’s walk through a typical day of ice diving and see how the z-system can increase the fun, safety, and efficiency of our ice diving operations.
Every experienced ice diver knows that the actual day of diving begins with the laborious task of hauling all of the cutting gear to the location where the hole is to be cut in the ice. This is no simple task when faced with 15 inches or more of ice. So, a diver armed with a 62” blade and a safety harness has a ton of stuff just to allow them to work safely around the hole like large chainsaws, safety harnesses, tether ropes, dry suits, and a bunch of other gear. Wouldn’t it be nice to not have to carry around both a safety harness and your diving harness in one unit so that you can lighten your load? Yes, that’s right the z-system harness provides more than enough support for a worker to be tethered and recovered if they accidently slip into the open hole while they were working around the hole.
Besides combining one tool for multiple jobs, let’s look at some other operational advantages for the z-system. Being able to carry single cylinders from your car to the hole is much easier and safer than trying to climb around rocks and walk across ice. Even with ice shoes (yak tracks or whatever your choice is) walking on the slippery ice is not the easiest endeavor. Who wouldn’t want to grab a single cylinder and go to the hole and then grab your second cylinder? No one can honestly say that walking around a slippery ice surface with 160lbs of gear on your back or in your hands is safe.
What about water entries? Personally taking both of my sidemount bottles and tossing then in the hole and then hopping into the hole is much easier. I mean you are wearing the z-system (negligible weight) and NO tanks (they are already in the water). You hop in and clip the bottles off, plug in the connections, and go diving. No messing around with bulky gear on the surface.
During the dive you have all of the advantages of backmounted doubles plus even more options for bailout. Since ice diving is overhead diving, we need to be particularly concerned with all of the possible failures. A manifold set of doubles has a single dynamic high pressure point of failure while the z-system has a single static low pressure point of failure. I am simply stating a fact about backmount manifolded doubles vs the z-system and it is not the intent of this article argue which philosophy is better, worse, right, or wrong… simply fact. Your only option while using manifolded doubles with a sheared off isolator is to begin an air share and make your exit. You have no other options, no other tools at your disposal. If, while diving the z-system, you have a low pressure manifold failure, you have multiple options. In no particular order, the first option is to begin an air share with your teammate. The second option is too bailout to a second stage regulator (either on each bottle or a second stage with a QC6) and run the system as independent doubles. A third option even allows you to pass bottles around if need. Try that in backmount! Options two and three facilitate a safer and faster exit for the team by allowing divers to be independent and not connect by a 7’ hose.
A common failure cold water divers experience is either a first or second stage freeze up. A less common but still experience
I get it, so the second stage free-flowed due to ice. We have several options for this type f failure, firstly, one could use an isolator on each of the regulators to be able to isolate it when it free flows, common in ice-diving and we can avoid this problem by isolating the second stage. Or we could put an extra LP hose and isolated regulator on each of the cylinders first stages, this would allow us to disconnect the QC6 and bailout to traditional Side-mount until the problem is resolved. Or, thirdly, we have the little 2nd stage accessory (See picture below) in your pocket which attaches a regulator to the QC6 output from a tank, so again you pull this out of your pocket, unplug one of the tanks, bailout to it, resolve the issue and either go home or continue diving.
I actually was diving two cylinders connected via a z-manifold, but it was my second stage that froze so I was forced to turn off or disconnect both tanks. In any case, I wouldn't feel safe under ice without the redundancy of a second cylinder.
I would agree, that it is musch safer to dive two cylinders when ice diving and plug both into the Z-Side-Mount system. That way, valve drills and shut downs are easy. No air sharing needed, and they are easier to reach.
Yep, I can confirm that it worked well. We entered at a hole cut next to the pier, so I dropped my tanks there even before putting on my drysuit, and could rest them there while getting out. Valve drills are easier, too, although a downside compared to backmount is that I had to share air - I've only got the two manifolded regs at the moment, so I can't shut them down independently. Backup regulator with a QC6 or permanently on the tank would fix that.
The dive went pretty well. I hadn't been in the water in a month or two, but the procedures came back quickly. I'll admit I was nervous - new situation - but not to the point that it became a problem.
Of course, I totally agree! It's not us on this picture by the way ;-) Scroll forward ... Jan-Willem was diving the Z-system, I lent mine ;-)
Although they all had massive fun, we did see some 'shivering' scenes from othes teams. Ice diving in these conditions require some strict rules and planning: good line work, clear communication, staying warm before - duriing - after the dive, etc. Most teams only used a rope managed by 1 guy standing at the entry hole. The captain then gets tied to the rope and gets pulled out by the shore guy if he should signal a problem. You can imagine the danger behind this...
Kudo's also go to Jan-Willem, who's finalizing his REC 2 and did a great experience dive. During the dive we've seen the importance of good training, equipment management and team protocols. Having a frozen regulator during the dive, he showed me there's nothing easier then to solve this in sidemount configuration. This can be much more tricky in backmount when wearing thick undergarment. Signal team, detect problem, solve it... done! No panic, just an easy protocol we practised many times during our training. And we could continue this relaxing dive without being pulled onto the ice ;-)
Looks very "cool".. Sorry that corny joke. Anyways, I am wondering why one would not prefer to do ice diving using z-side-mount system. It seems it would be easier (and maybe even safer) to be able to carry the tanks (individually if need be) to the entry hole, place them in the water - Tether line, kit up, walk over to the hole, sit down, put your fins and mask on, slip in, attach the cylinders and away you go, Go do the dive. When you return, do the opposite - detach the cylinders, attach them to the tether line, slip out the kit, belly flop up onto the ice, and pull up the gear off the tether line - one piece at a time. This would make it 10 times easier to exit the hole and certainly safer. To me walking across the ice with doubles and sitting down next to the hole, with the valve off so they don't freeze is super dangerous. If you fell in you are toast. Then getting out is a pain in the ass. I mean I have seen it where two guys drag (pull) you out of the water or hole by the manifold and/or tanks. To me this seems really crazy, even if you ditch them in the water, you still need to lift 150lbs/70kgs out of the water. It just seems so easy to ditch the tanks and harness - if need be - and do a belly flop up, and then pull the kit, and tanks up individually making your heaviest load 36lbs/17kgs out the hole. Kind of like we do here in California when return to a Zodiac.
We are finding it so much easier here in California when we dive side-mount to do beach entries and Zodiac diving. Beside the other advantages it makes entires and exits with doubles and deco bottles 10 times easier and safer. When beach diving we can walk the tanks down to the water's edge, individually if need be, and then kit up and enter the water. The tanks are super easy to manage. This saves our backs from humping 150lbs / 70kgs of weight across a beach. Returning is even easier, we simply do a surf exit, place the tanks down at the waters edge and then walk up the beach, ditch the weight belt and kit, and fetch the tanks. It makes life so easy, especially on this "OLD" back of mine. :)
As far as Zodiac, we normally have a 10 - 30 min run out to the dive site from the boat launch, and with side-mount we can simply leave the tanks in the bottom of the boat, arrive at the dive-site, throw them in the water, kit up, jump in and attach them and go. No more wearing the gear and sitting on the pontoon while heading out (like in the red sea - it sucks) and certainly no more putting on doubles in a small Zodiac getting thrown around. Returning is the same, ditch the tanks on the tag (tether) line, ditch the kit, belly flop up and pull your gear in. Pulling side-mount gear up is 10 times easier than traditional doubles. Most we am lifting into the boat or zodiac is 36lbs/15kgs - 1 tank. Super rnice. No more lifting 150lbs/70 doubles, with v-weight and backplate and so on on a zodiac or boat. Dive Master's around here are loving us :)
Never mind all the other advantages of side-mount while diving, like stability or trim and so on. Side-mount really has changed the way we dive and think. Maybe it is time to consider it in Ice-Diving.
niceeee. Today nobody wanted to go, it was to cold here
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