Most divers seem to laugh or think you are joking when you mention diving in the dead of winter. Cold water diving is not the best concept for everyone out there. But for some, cold water brings the best visibility, solitude, and a very unique aquatic environment. Around the world, quarries, lakes, rivers, and even ocean dive sites are swamped with people when the weather is warm and the required exposure protection is minimal. When the weather turns cold, you often have many of these dive sites to yourself. This means when you head to the water to dive, you and your buddy may not have many other divers to ask for support, so you need to take the items you need to remain comfortable. A few of the items that you may wish to have are listed below.
Any type of physical activity can cause a person to get dehydrated. When the weather is warm and the sun is shining, it is much easier to recognize that we have been sweating and need to replace fluids. Conversely, cold weather often makes us bundle up and avoid cool drinks. When you head out to any dive site, especially a cold-weather site, remember to throw some water in the car. Between dives and around our aquatic activities, we need to remember to replace fluids and stay hydrated. This will make us feel better and ensure time at the dive site is much better. Similarly, cold weather always means it is a good time for hot drinks. Prepare a thermos and take some hot chocolate (or another hot fluid) out to the dive site. Nothing is better than leaving the water, throwing on your warm clothes, and then sipping a hot cup of coffee or chocolate drink. Your dive buddy will think you are the greatest person in the world.
Just like fluids, we burn off calories when we dive. The act of adding bulky equipment such as extra exposure protection and the longer preparation time needed to set up and don gear for cold water diving can make a diver burn off a large number of calories. As we exercise, we get tired and our bodies need more fuel to operate at a maximum level. Taking snacks to the dive site will make sure we have something to munch on and to replace calories after a long dive in cold waters. Essentially, these snacks can be true comfort food to make a diver feel better.
Extra Thermals and Liners
One of the most critical things that a cold-water diver needs may be undergarments. If you do not know what these are, they are clothes worn beneath a dry suit to provide thermal protection. When you pack your gear up and head to the water, why not throw some extra items into the car? Most companies that make undergarments often make layering systems. By taking more than one set of thermals to the water, you will know you have multiple options available to you to help you stay warm. Things like liners also fall into this category. Liners help wick sweat away from the body and provide an extra layer of thermal protection beneath normal undergarments. In many instances, liners can really help your hands and feet to stay warm. They are inexpensive items that take up almost no room. So why leave them at home?
Cold Water Regulators
If you have never seen a first stage fail in cold water, it is amazing to see. Many divers would be surprised to know that a first stage can freeze in water temperatures well above freezing. Cold high-pressure gas moving through tight spaces expedites the freezing process. So if you know you are planning on diving in cold water, why not give yourself peace-of-mind? Make sure you get your hands on regulators ready for cold water diving. Often, these are diaphragm first stages or a first stage with an environmental seal to protect the system. You should not have to worry about temperatures and failing life-support gear during a dive when worries such as these can be completely avoided.
Hoods and Gloves
If you have done much cold-water diving, then you have misjudged temperature at some point and experienced an ice cream headache without the delicious treat underwater. Cold water against the soft tissues of the head can be a miserable experience. Similarly, if you have stayed in chilly water too long before, then you know what it is like for your hands and feet to begin to chill. Eventually they become like blocks of ice. For these reasons, thermal protection for your head and hands should always be carried along for cold-water dives. Hoods and gloves take up minimal space, so it may even be worth carrying multiple options with various levels of thickness and protection. If you do not need these items you will not mind leaving them at home, but you will kick yourself if you need options and just did not throw them into the car.
Socks and Foot Protection
One of the most miserable things for me when diving in chilly waters is if my feet grow cold. Once they get too cold, it seems like my feet will never be normal again. This worry causes me to pack multiple socks when I head out for a cold-water dive. These socks may include normal running socks, heavy wool socks, and even Thinsulate undergarment socks. The ability to layer thermal protection on your feet will help you stay warm, but having extra pairs of socks means you can keep your feet dry and warm no matter what happens. In a dry suit you almost never stay truly dry. Be it a small leak or sweat, you will be damp somewhere. Remember that fluid runs downhill, so having dry socks in the car on a cold day can fix a world of problems if they happen. Similarly, remember to carry real shoes or boots to the dive site. Cold weather may mean slush, snow, or just low temperatures. Keeping your feet warm and covered while you prepare for your dive, or following the dive, will help you remain comfortable.
Jacket or Over Coat and Sweats
Just like socks and shoes, a jacket and warm clothing can serve similar purposes on a cold dive site. The ability to remain warm while you prepare and break down your gear can be critical. Why would you risk being cold when a jacket could fix this problem? Remember to toss warm dry clothes into your car that are not used as undergarments. This will give you a warmth option on the surface if nothing else is working.
People lose a huge amount of heat through the head. Wearing something as simple as a hat or beanie can help a diver stay warm while walking around a dive site. Think about it. Almost every thermal protection company makes and sells beanies. You wear a hood to remain warm underwater, so why not a hat on the surface? Simply wearing a hat can help a diver retain large amounts of body heat and remain warm before, between, and after dives.
One of the wildest helpful items on a cold-water dive is anything heated. Various companies make heated undergarment systems. These systems often require battery packs. If you have one of these, why leave it at home? Accessories such as heated systems for dry suit diving can make a day of diving much more enjoyable. Take time to check out what is available and see what is right for you.
Storage Bins for Gear
Lastly, no one likes breaking down and cleaning equipment in the cold and wind. One of the easiest ways to simplify your life is to keep large tote bins in your vehicle. Bins allow you to simply place damp equipment into containers that will protect your car. Once home, you can carry the totes inside and break down and clean your gear in comfort. This type of planning will keep you from standing in frigid air breaking down gear and worrying about getting your car wet.
Cold-water diving can be very fun. It is a unique experience that offers different types of challenges, but challenges can be fun. Just remember that when you head to the water, plan for your own personal comfort. There is no reason not to try and remain warm. Toss the extras into the car that can make you have a good time and remain comfortable. Again, these are just a few suggestions that can help you enjoy your time at the water when it is cold, but think through what you may need or want, and develop your own list.
– Dr. Thomas Powell – Owner/Instructor Trainer – Air Hogs Scuba, Garner, NC