Edd Stockdale, originally from Australia but now living in Sweden, has more than 20 years’ diving experience, much of it as a rebreather instructor within the field of technical diving. Here, he reviews the Liberty Sidemount CCR from Czech manufacturer, Divesoft
As a predominately cold-water diver, I chose to head to Northern Italy to test the equipment. It was important for me to test the unit in sub 10°C water, for performance reasons and also so I could try it with the exposure protection used by divers in environments similar to those I like to dive.
My initial impressions of the unit were highly positive. The CCR Liberty sidemount has an excellent work of breathing (WOB), far superior to what I would’ve expected having already tried various other sidemount (SM) configurations. That being said, having the unit positioned correctly is more important here, as with all SM units, when compared to their back-mounted variants.
New system and pre-dive check reform
Having dived CCRs with Shearwater electronics for many years, changing to the Liberty meant looking at a new system. The information output via the screen options is intuitive, yet different, and its operation is fairly simple. I did, however, occasionally press the two buttons on the side facing away from my hand by accident as I flexed my wrist. The unit comes with two controllers, each capable of running the unit independently, providing great redundancy while also allowing the option of running only one at a time, should you prefer. There’s space for two outputs of information on a separate screen, something I found to be a nice feature, though perhaps unnecessary, depending on your situation.
Another great electronics-related feature comes in the form of the pre-dive check screens whenever dive mode is activated. These days, pre-dive checks are a huge issue in CCR training as instructors teach divers to continue their use in-depth post-course, in a manner where they are effective. Divesoft has overcome this obstacle by including pre-dive checks in the handset startup for the dive. This feature, combined with the self-contained nature of the unit, simplifies the checking process without being overly complicated or forcing the diver to sit and pre-breath in an uncomfortable position, possibly resulting in the diver just outright skipping the procedure.
Ease of use
All this equates to a much more fluid process when donning the unit, as there is no need to connect offboard hoses for diluent, etc., allowing more flexibility for entries without compromising safety. In addition, the unit’s near-neutral buoyancy (depending on where you’re diving, of course) makes handling this CCR easier and trimming it out for good WOB more intuitive.
One hesitancy I had towards the unit prior to using it, was the manual add valves (MAVs) located on the sides of the dive surface valve (DSV), which was misplaced. The positioning and usability while wearing thick gloves surprised me, both for use while in the mouth and after you’ve bailed out and are flushing the loop. A point that bothered me slightly was the flow restrictor in the oxygen MAV, which is very limiting for additions.
In terms of construction, the Liberty is amazing. The size, onboard tanks, and design really pushed my decision to switch over to this sidemount unit for the various projects that I am working on. These projects involve either travelling long distances by foot to entrance points or smaller restrictions. Having the ability to carry the equivalent of two Al80s to an entrance point with all the advantages of a CCR makes logistics and diving that much easier. The robust cage structure that forms the base of the unit also gives it rigidity and protects the underside, which is always a bonus given the harder nature of exploration diving.
Yet, the compact quality of the unit as a whole does cause it to suffer a few downsides. The unit has to be somewhat dismantled when removing tanks or fully taken apart to change scrubbers, as everything is bound in together. This is not a major issue; it just makes for a bit more planning with regards to gas and scrubber times when in the field. Also, the fiddly access to the gas connections means more exact positioning for tanks and hose routing, especially the O2 solenoid feed. This has since been changed by Divesoft to allow an easier connection feed, showing that as a company, they listen to their divers.
The well-built head module is user-dismountable for non-electronic based components, allowing parts to be easily removed if necessary. In addition, one highlight of getting the Liberty is opening the box and discovering all the extra parts and tools that come with it, allowing user-level adjustments to be made in the field. No other CCR on the market that I am aware of comes with a kit quite like this. It just goes to show the level of support that Divesoft gives for its divers, something that carries through to all aspects of working with them.
Edd’s final takeaway
In summary, the Divesoft Liberty Sidemount unit is an amazing piece of technology. It’s small and well-constructed and has the massive advantage of being completely independent thanks to its self-contained tanks. The WOB of breathing is great, assuming it has been correctly trimmed out and positioned, with a huge potential for exploration options. Likewise, the bailout breather (BOB) mode opens up huge areas of possibilities for divers looking for backup CCRs rather than an OC bailout.
The few features I didn’t like were the fiddly build, O2 flow restrictor, and lack of emergency offboard connections, as well as some electronics features. Yet anything negative I can say about the Liberty sidemount CCR is far outweighed by the overall advantages of the unit. Divesoft, is a truly intuitive company that communicates with its diver and has created something tremendous with the Liberty sidemount and I look forward to diving and teaching with it.