Why I Dive With My Alternate Air Source on the Left

While it may not be the traditional set up for a scuba regulator, I find it just makes more sense to have the alternate air source on the left and not the right. The alternate air source, safe second or octopus whatever you prefer to call it is typically set up on the right side of the first stage and I think that it is something that most divers just accept. But if we really look at the design of regulators and alternate air sources I think it is more functional to be on the left.

Before we get into why I think it should be on the left let me put a couple things out there that not all divers will agree with largely because of their training. And if you disagree with me that is fine I think all divers should dive with the set up they are most comfortable with.

  1. There is nothing that says the alternate air source has to be on the right side. No training agency specifically states which side the alternate has to be on for recreational diving. Yes it is most commonly on the right but I think that is just because thats now it has always been.
  2. The alternate being on the left does not change the process of sharing air. You still pull the alternate from the keeper, clip or pocket, clear it from under your arm, give it to your buddy and make contact with your buddy.
  3. The alternate air source is for my buddy. I do not believe in donating my primary to a panicked diver or a diver that is out of air. The hose for the alternate is designed to be longer so a buddy can use it, and I shouldn’t have to breath off a less tuned regulator because my buddy was not paying attention to their air.
  4. Overhead environment, A majority of my diving occurs in California with the kelp forest and there are times where going straight up while sharing air can cause more problems so an ability to swim comfortably with a buddy who is using an alternate air source is very handy.

My first reason for diving with my Alternate air source on the left is no kink in the hose when sharing air. Because of the orientation of the regulator in order to share air with a buddy (if oriented on the right) the hose has to kink, or bend back on itself reducing the length of the hose, this also makes it pull out of the divers mouth and honestly a little awkward. It is also common to avoid this kink for divers to present the alternate upside down to their buddy which for some alternates can cause them to leak water, or not work at all, often making the situation worse. By placing the alternate on the left these problems are all resolved, the hose does not kink, it does not have to be given upside down, and the divers are allotted appropriate space.

My second reason for placing my alternate on the left is body positioning for sharing air. The traditional position (for PADI at least) is to make contact with your buddy once air is being shared by linking right arms. This is all well and good if you are going straight up but if you need to swim out from under something like a dock, boat or kelp, it can be a little awkward. Now with the alternate on the left this can still be done, but I prefer to grab onto the bcd with my left hand when I am donating air so i can help control their buoyancy with the right shoulder dump, and give the receiver both hands free to manually inflate at the surface while I am still holding onto them, this avoids any bumbling at the surface and I can use my buoyancy to help them stay afloat until they are inflated without losing contact. I understand that this may impede my ability to deflate as we ascend because my left hand is occupied but I also dive a drysuit so I am raising my left arm anyways to deflate.

My third reason is kinda over arching of all of these, it comes down to training. One of the biggest reasons people stick to the alternate on the right is because of the fear that is instilled upon them that another diver is going to run out of air and pull their primary out of their mouth. While the logic behind this appears to be sound, a panicked diver is looking for a working regulator will go for the one that they see is working, I believe that is a failure on the part of their instructor. I have been diving for almost 20 years with 1000+ dives and never have I once seen a diver grab a regulator out of my or anyone else’s mouth. I know for sure that my students were trained better than that to endanger another diver. The alternate is made a bright color for a reason so it is visible for the other divers to find in an emergency. I have been on dives were divers have run out of air and each time they either signal to me or grab my alternate because thats how they were trained. If you train someone to pull a regulator out of someone else’s mouth then they will and that could cause a whole other mess of problems.

While I personally prefer to have the alternate on the left this is my own opinion, I believe that the benefits of having it on the left are much higher than having it on the right. With that being said I also believe that personal equipment should be set up to each divers personal preferences and if this convinces some divers to try it out on the left great but I understand that those of us that prefer our alternates on the left will remain a minority. I hope that this has been enjoyable and maybe made people question why their regulators are set up the way they are.

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Do’s and Don’ts of Diving: Training Edition

Wether you are a brand new diver or a seasoned diver learning a new specialty there are somethings you might do that secretly drive your instructor up the wall. Some of these things may occur before instruction begins, during or after, but at some point these will all happen eventually. Here are some things you might do as a student getting certified that your instructor hates, and how you can avoid or fix these problems.

Don’t show up to class with the generic Costco mask, snorkel & fins set.

Costco Special

Diving isn’t the cheapest sport to get into, but like many other sports there are very very cheap alternatives that just don’t cut the mustard. The mask in those sets are made with cheap materials that will not hold up over time, the silicone is actually silicone & some sort of PVC which will harden relatively quickly. These are also very generic so its very common for them not to fit well or be very uncomfortable. The fins are the worst of the package, they are meant for snorkeling, so they are way to small to efficiently push a diver with gear through the water, and they are made for bare feet so if you are planning on diving with boots in cold water they won’t fit. The straps and clips are also cheap and very prone to breaking. I want to bang my head into a wall ever time I see one of these sets show up to a class, it tells me that this person is either to cheap to commit to diving or they just don’t care about getting certified. I see this a lot with parents getting kids certified or significant others getting their partner certified, they don’t know if they will like it so they don’t want to invest in good gear, but if you don’t have gear that is comfortable and appropriate its more likely they won’t enjoy diving. Obviously this is more of an issue with Open water students than continuing education.

Do get your gear from a dive shop.

Appropriate diving equipment

Firstly preferably get your gear from the shop you are getting your instruction at its just a show of good faith and support, but secondly they will ensure that you have equipment that is appropriate for the type of diving that you are training for. Proper fit and suitability of personal equipment will greatly improve the quality of the experience and make diving way more enjoyable. If you compare diving to something like snow skiing or snowboarding if you show up to a lesson and you don’t have appropriate attire genes and a sweatshirt and its storming out you are going to be miserable and not enjoy the experience despite paying for a lift ticket, lesson and rentals unless you purchased a plastic version of the snowboard or skis at Costco and that won’t work very well either. So make sure that you have the appropriate equipment for diving and that it fits you properly, your dive shop will be happy to help you with this.

Don’t be Late.

This is one of my personal pet peeves, as a very punctual person I hate it when people are excessively late. Classroom, pool and ocean dives are usually set in advance so if you sign up for a class make sure that you can make it to all of the meetings on time. Most of the time there will be other students also waiting for you to arrive so the class can get started. Scuba training is often open ended in terms of time so your being late could drag the class on much longer than people want. Its a sign of respect and commitment to show up on time, and being late affects everyone in the class.

Do call in advance if you are going to be late.

Its a simple courtesy to everyone in the class and instructor if you can let them know you are running late. Depending on how late you might be they may wait or start the class without you so you can make it up later (likely for an additional fee). Sometimes the meeting time might not be during shop hours so it is a good idea if you are starting a class to ask if you can get the instructors contact just in case this will also help if you are having trouble finding a meeting location. Your instructor should have your contact from when you signed up and will likely call you to find out if you are running late or not coming to class. The most important aspect is to make sure that being late to class is not a common occurrence.

Don’t be unprepared for class.

This is something that often contributes to being late to class, maybe you show up on time or a little early but you still need to get all of your equipment for class, this can take anywhere from 30min to an hour and now the class is waiting for you. Some students might also show up and not have read any of the material, or gotten important forms like the medical questionnaire signed by a doctor (if necessary). These are all things that delay the class, and some instructors may ask that you sign up for a different class so you can complete the required material or have time to see your doctor and get medically cleared. This is all information that you are given when signing up on how to be prepared for the first day and it is up to the student to take responsibility.

Do prepare for class in advance.

It sounds simple but many neglect this opportunity, often times scuba classes are signed up for well in advance and the student has plenty of time to get their personal equipment, read the materials and get medically cleared (if necessary). So take the process seriously and your instructor will greatly appreciate it, it will make the class much easier for everyone involved. There is nothing more disappointing than having to reschedule a student because they didn’t take the time to prepare so avoid the situation all together and make sure you are ready for the class well in advance.

Don’t be afraid to ask for additional attention or help.

The purpose of the instructor is to train and assist you in learning to scuba dive, so don’t be afraid to ask for additional help. If there is a skill that you are struggling with and everyone else in the group is getting it the instructor or their assistant will either take you aside to work with you one on one or have you move on to circle back to the skill at the end to keep the flow of the class moving. Its ok to have trouble with the skill especially in the pool it is all new and very unnatural, so if you are having some difficulty let the instructor know and they might have an alternate way to perform the skill that might be easier for you. If you are completing a skill but not feeling comfortable with it, it could cause problems when performing them in the ocean which can be dangerous, so make sure that you are 100% comfortable with all the skills. If you need to arrange additional pool time for practice or a private session with the instructor to make sure you are ready.

Do consider tipping.

This is of course subjective, but if you had a really great instructor that went above and beyond in your training a little something extra is always appreciated. It doesn’t have to be cash it might be a 6 pack of beer, or bottle of wine, a thank you card or even signing up for another class like advanced or a specialty . These things mean a lot to instructors to know that their work is appreciated, surprisingly instructors don’t make that much off the classes, after the shop taking their cut, pool fees, paying assistants your instructor is teaching primarily for for joy of teaching and sharing scuba diving with you. So let them know that you enjoyed the experience leave a positive review, call the shop and let the owner know what a good job they did. Of course if they didn’t don’t but if they did do an amazing job make the effort.