DIY Sidemount Wreck Diving Helmet
by Andy Davis
I noticed, with some surprise, the high cost of cave sidemount wreck diving helmets currently being sold on the scuba market.
Light Monkey sells an excellent diving helmet, but the cost (certainly here in the Philippines) was prohibitive for me. I promote a policy of frugal investment on rugged and reliable dive gear, avoiding ‘brand label’ envy or paying someone else to do work that I can manage myself.
I decided to attempt a project to produce my own variant, at a much more economical cost. You can see the results below!
The entire helmet (not including GoPro camera!) cost less than $20USD.
- 1x Economy Skateboard Helmet
- 1x Workman’s Construction Helmet
- 6x 5mm Stainless Steel Nuts/Bolts/Washers
- 1x Tube of 3m Ultra-High Bond Glue
- 1x 1/2m of 5mm bungee cord
- 1x Power Drill with 5mm bit
- Leatherman Tool
The use of helmets for overhead environment sidemount diving is rapidly growing in popularity – as they provide a convenient mounting point for backup lights and, if like me, you engage in ‘black zone exploration videography’ – they provide a very comfortable and secure mounting point for GoPro HD video cameras and the like..
Impact resistance isn’t a key factor in overhead environment diving – the diver is unlikely to encounter the type of smashing forces that would be a threat to a climber, skate-boarder or mountain biker. I sourced my helmet from the local Manila market – in a store that sells cheap skateboarding gear. It cost me 500PHP (about $12.00USD).
Replacing the Helmet Liner
The helmet came with a thick polystyrene liner. The liner has excessive positive buoyancy in the water – making the helmet unwearable as it is. The solution was to tear out the polystyrene and replace it with something else. That ‘something else’ was a basic plastic liner from a workman’s helmet. Here in Manila, I can pick up a workman’s construction helmet for 100php (about $2.00) from Ace Hardware.
I removed that liner and fitted it into the skateboard helmet by drilling holes and using stainless nuts/bolts to secure it firmly. Throughout the project, I used a power-drill with 5mm drill bit for all the holes..
Mounting the Back-Up Torches
Having fitted a non-buoyant liner, I had a workable helmet for diving in. The next step was to provide mounts for my backup torches. I use two, one on each side, for balancing the helmet. This puts both of my back-ups ready for instant use when needed – no deployment necessary. Alternatively, I can leave them turned on, to provide extra illumination when working in the dark.
When diving specifically to film with the GoPro, I change to wide-angle Tovatec torches (not my usual back-ups). These provide a nicer spread of light for video illumination.
Mounting the Back-Up Torches
The mounts for the backup torches are very simple. I just drilled four holes into the side of the helmet and threaded some 5mm bungee cord through those holes to provide elasticated loops to grip the torch. To aid stability I glued some rubber material onto the helmet, under the bungee loops. This aids griping the torch against the helmet and prevents the torch sliding around at all.
The backup torch mounting was finished off by adding two loops of bungee from inside the helmet (tied around the base of the liner) that run out through the rear vent holes. These permit the torch bolt-snaps to be clipped off for additional security.
Back-Up Torch Selection
The torches now sit nice and secure on the sides of the helmet. I principally use Tovatec Compact LED on the helmet. These are sufficiently lightweight and have an end on/off button. Whilst a twist control is generally better, helmet-mounted torches are easier to manipulate when worn, via a simple button. As these torches are often turned on for the entire duration of the dive/penetration, I also carry a more traditional tech backup torch… either on my harness or in my ‘contingency pocket’.
My pictures show also an Aquatec ‘AquaStar 5W‘ torch fitted. I’ve found this to be a bit heavy on the helmet, but do value the exceptionally long burn-time offered by the torch. It isn’t used regularly though.
Fitting the GoPro Mount
The GoPro HD Hero2 is really easy to fit. The waterproof housing comes with a selection of curved and flat attachments that glue into place. I used a curved attachment – you just peel off the backing and stick it in position. It uses 3m Ultra-High Bond adhesive, so is more than secure.
Optional Bungee Chin Strap
I’ve experimented with a bungee strap on one of the helmets. This replaces the nylon and QR buckle that comes attached. This does tend to keep the helmet very snug and is easy to get on/off. I’ve not made the change with the other 2 helmets yet, as they are primarily for my sidemount/wreck students.
On those, the QR buckles allow them to more easily don and doff the helmet, without needing to remove the mask and take the regulator out of their mouths. That’s a teaching consideration – but in all other aspects of usability, I prefer the bungee strap.
The bungee strap is easily fitted. I simply drilled 4 holes in the helmet (near the existing attachments for the nylon chin-strap. Through these, I threaded 5mm bungee. The bungee was threaded to form two interlocking loops – one from each side. To add comfort, I slid some rubber tubing over the bungee (covering the over-lock.
A few more photos from the project:
About the Author
Andy Davis is a RAID, PADI TecRec, ANDI, BSAC and SSI qualified independent technical diving instructor who specializes in teaching advanced sidemount, trimix and wreck exploration diving courses across South East Asia. Currently residing in ‘wreck diving heaven’ at Subic Bay, Philippines, he has amassed more than 9000 open circuit and CCR dives over 27 years of diving across the globe.
Andy has published many magazine articles on technical diving, has written course materials for dive training agency syllabus, tests and reviews diving gear for major manufacturers and consults with the Philippines Underwater Archaeology Society.
He is currently writing a series of books to be published on advanced diving topics. Prior to becoming a professional technical diving educator in 2006, Andy was a commissioned officer in the Royal Air Force and has served in Iraq, Afghanistan, Belize and Cyprus.