Buying Your Own Equipment: Exposure Suits
A dive suit is used to protect you underwater, not only from the water temperature but from the environment as well. The first thing you should consider when buying a suit is how cold you get when you’re diving and what temperature of water you’ll be diving in. There’s no use buy a 7mm full length wetsuit if you’re going to be spending your time in the warm Caribbean waters every year. So how do you choose the right wetsuit for you?
There are three types of suits: A wetsuit, a semi-dry suit and a dry suit. A wetsuit is commonly used in water temperatures from about 18 degrees to 28 degrees Celsius, depending on your body type. A wetsuit does not keep the water out, it restricts the amount of water passing over your skin and conducting heat away from your body. Because of this it’s very important to get a wetsuit that fits you correctly, if it’s too tight then it will restrict your movement and be uncomfortable. If it’s too loose then it won’t protect you from losing valuable body heat.
A wetsuit is made from a material called neoprene. There are different thicknesses such as 3mm, 5mm and 7mm and they also come in different styles like a shortie, full body, two piece and with other accessories including gloves or a hood for extra warmth. For warm water a 3mm shortie would be suitable, for cold water you may consider a 7mm full body or two piece which will be warmer but the thicker you go in mm, the harder it is to move so if you get really cold then consider a dry suit for the most comfort.
If you’re diving in deep water then you might need to consider getting a thicker wetsuit and using a hood because the deeper you go, the more your suit will compress and the water is usually colder. If you’re diving in very warm water, over 30 degrees, then it’s possible you don’t need a wetsuit. Diving in a pair of shorts and a 1mm rash vest will be sufficient and you’ll love the freedom of not wearing a suit. It’s advised you wear some sort of cover when diving, while it might be nice to dive without it, you need protection from the sun as light still penetrates the water on your dive.
It’s best to get a good quality wetsuit, one way to ensure this is to check the stitching. It should have blind stitching (not overlocked stitching) meaning the stitches don’t go all the way through the neoprene, creating holes that water can get through and bumps that can irritate your skin. The stitching should also be treated with glue but make sure it isn’t raised on the inside as this will be uncomfortable.
The next suit is the semi-dry, which is actually still a wetsuit as water does get in but the difference is that they have neck, wrist and ankle seals and therefore trap the water inside the suit, allowing your body to warm it and keeping you warmer for longer. Be sure to get the right fit because if it’s too tight you may experience a squeeze under the water. The advantage is that if you’re diving in cold water then it will keep you warmer than any wetsuit but is half the price of a dry suit.
For very cold water, or if you have the money and want to be warm in the water no matter what, then a dry suit is for you. The suit protects you completely from the water, allowing no water at all to enter the suit. This is possible because of the latex watertight seals around the neck, wrist and ankles (some actually have full foot booties attached to the suit). The great thing about this is that you can even wear warm clothes or undersuit beneath the dry suit if you’re very cold!
Diving with a dry suit requires proper training, do not attempt to use one if you don’t know how as it can be very dangerous. Your adjustments for buoyancy as you descend and ascend are via an inflation valve on the front of the suit and it takes a little practice to get this right. Dry suits are very expensive and not usually used by people diving once or twice a year, but if you’re working in the dive industry or diving a lot in cold water then they are an excellent investment.
Be sure to take care of your suit. Wash it in fresh water (with some anti bacterial wash too) after every diving and make certain that your suit is dry before packing it away to avoid mould and bad smells. Do not leave your suit in the sun for long periods as the material will deteriorate. Most suits come with a warranty so make sure you follow the manufacturer’s directions on how to care for it properly.
(By Kelly Luckman)