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Not Just a Day at the Beach

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10 Ideal Dives with Dry Suits

by Dr. Thomas Powell:
dry suit diver
The scuba industry is one that inspires thoughts of tropical islands, warm waters, and amazing water clarity. Despite those images, there are still times and places where the water is not so pristine and a swim suit just won’t cut it with regard to physical warmth. Situations such as these make divers seek out environmental protection suits that can keep them warm in all sorts of diving conditions. Differing divers of unique backgrounds may have alternate views on the use of these suits. To show how dry suits specifically can help any type of diver, the following are the views of five different divers regarding two ideal uses for dry suits.

Jerry Davis – Dive Master

I remember diving a dry suit for the very first time. It was 1993. I was in the Navy. It was one I had checked out of the gear locker, and it was pretty close to fitting me perfectly. I received my instruction on how everything worked; what to do and what not to do. Then it was off to the pool for hands-on instruction.

I left the Navy after eight years of service and decided almost 15 years later I wanted to dive again year-round. This time, the experience was totally different. I was measured three different times for my new dry suit to make sure it would fit properly. I was able to hand pick each and every thing I wanted in the dry suit.

For me, there have been two primary types of diving using a dry suit.

  1. The first was the dive I had to do. I was serving my country and needed to be able to go anywhere to accomplish my job. For that I needed quality exposure protection.
  2. Second, there is the dive I chose to do. Later in life I have been able to go farther in the realm of diving and I choose to dive year-round in central North Carolina. Forty degree water is not fun every other day when you are diving wet. A dry suit makes year-round diving possible.

Josh Norris – Instructor/Owner – Air Hogs Scuba

When a person imagines going diving, there is often a thought of beautiful beaches and 100 ft viz through the 85 degree water. Others imagine diving in a completely different way. When I first began diving in a dry suit, I remember thinking (and saying) this is far too much work. Not only was it difficult to put on and take off, but the bulk of the suit itself made everything that was once very easy – an adventure in basic yoga skills. I swore that I would never get the hang of diving dry, and could not understand why people would want to anyway.

Fast forward five to ten dives into the future, and my opinion quickly changed. A basic reminder in manning up and admitting that I was not going to automatically be great at every type of new diving I tried was the first, and hardest step. As a diver who is used to having a certain degree of self-perceived skill in the water, flipping upside down and having air rush to my feet was clearly not my fault. The folks who were not having this problem in their dry suits were obviously using some sort of witchcraft to master this waterproof sac. Once calm in the water however, there was no looking back. After five dives, I felt very comfortable in the water. After ten dives, I swore that I would never go back to using a wetsuit. With the suit itself being just another tool in the scuba “tool box.”

  1. In my opinion, the best dry suit dive is one that is accomplished on the coldest of days. Bear in mind that the water itself may not be dreadfully cold, but the risk of hypothermia comes in, and out of the water. One of the biggest flaws in strictly wetsuit diving may be that a diver cannot sufficiently warm up during their surface interval to complete a second, or third dive in the same day. A dry suit allows you to never get that cold to begin with, and also allows you to never have to expose a wet core to the cold. On that coldest day of the year you can keep diving when others cannot.
  2. Another facet of the dry suit that I love is the cost associated with it. While I understand that there is no wetsuit out there that costs $2000, I would also say that there is no wetsuit out there that can be perfect in any condition. If you dive all year long in different waters, you may find that it can actually be more cost effective to dive dry. I went from having a closet filled with wetsuits to having one suit, and one set of cold-weather undergarments. As an added bonus, the dry suit does not smell like an old gym sock after a year of use. Everyone knows that smell. My second type of dry suit dive is the dive I do at any place at any time using the same type of exposure protection year-round. There is no picking what suit to use and no full closet of options.

Rob Bradish – Instructor- Air Hogs Scuba/Blackbeard Scuba

With over thirty years of scuba diving experience, over the past three years I have advanced into a role as an Instructor with SDI, TDI, and ERDI in the eastern North Carolina region.

When considering the various technical improvements to diving over the past few years, dry suits come to mind. With improvements such as zippers (yes, I remember when dry suits didn’t have them), latex seals and hybrid materials, comfort, fit, and ease of use have all dramatically improved.

  1. Before, a long stay in a cave system that used to become uncomfortable after 60-70 minutes, now, I can remain comfortable long beyond that.
  2. Second, any dive where the air is colder than the water is now a comfortable option. Walking back to the car in 35 degree weather, I have a warm core during changing, as opposed to remaining cold for an hour or more after the dive has ended.

Bear Yates – Dive Master Candidate

I’m a rescue and recovery diver working towards becoming a public safety diving instructor. I am also a disabled Veteran living with issues most people could never imagine having to deal with. Diving has been one of the best therapies that could have ever helped me.

What I’ve seen so far is that the benefits of dry suits are too numerous to mention, but I’ll break down a few. There are many situations where a dry suit is a good idea, and then there are times when it is the preferred choice.

  1. Ideally, dry suits can expand the experience of diving to times and places that most people would just rather pass by. Let’s face it, there are some times when a wet suit just will not do. Especially in those colder months when those of us who still want to dive are still looking for places to do so. Some of these places include lakes, rivers, quarries, even the ocean, and others some wouldn’t even consider, such as caverns and caves. Essentially, the first ideal dive for a dry suit is in your own backyard swimming hole.
  2. Recreational diving is just the stepping stone to a vast world that most of humanity will never get to experience other than seeing it on their television or in a movie theatre. If you are one of the lucky few that get to go see this world in a wet suit, but you don’t feel you get enough of it, try a dry suit. You may discover that all of the things you thought you knew were just scratching the surface of another wonderful experience. Dry suits can allow you to remain warm in the water for a longer period, thereby making your second dive situation one where you stay down in chilly water temperatures long enough to truly max out your bottom time and enjoy the experience.

Dr. Thomas Powell – Instructor Trainer/Owner – Air Hogs Scuba

There are many ideal situations for diving dry. Dry suits can allow a person to stay down longer, remain warm for a longer period, and dive during harsh conditions. Dry suits are an essential piece of a dive “kit” that can allow you to remain active in the sport during the most unique conditions.

  1. One situation in which a dry suit is ideal is when you are looking at a more advanced dive profile. For instance, if you are diving a rebreather and have the gas and ability to remain underwater for three or more hours, a dry suit may hold back the chill and maximize your underwater enjoyment. The same situation applies if you chill quickly in a wetsuit and have never maxed your gas usage or no-decompression limit because of the cold.
  2. Second, last night I spent the evening with a group of people who needed to dive in 34 degree water to recover a weapon used to harm someone else. When there was a need for people to enter the water on a snowy cold evening, dry suits not only allowed them to do this, but kept them safe. In a situation where a diver in swim trunks or a wetsuit could not normally dive, dry suits allowed this particular group to perform a competent and safe recovery operation.

As we have seen here, there are many uses for dry suits in the world of scuba. They protect your body, keep you warm, help you maintain core temperature for surface intervals, and possibly allow for longer dives. Dry suits therefore make sense when doing longer, colder, deeper, or even penetration dives. They let you stay and see things when a wetsuit would not provide sufficient protection. So give it a try and see how diving dry can expand your year-round scuba experience. If nothing else, dry suits let you pick your own undergarments. So choose how warm you wish to be and go diving.

– Dr. Thomas Powell
Owner/Instructor Trainer – Air Hogs Scuba, NC

3 Things to Keep Your Public Safety Dive Team Safe

by Dr. Thomas W. Powell:
psd diversIn the modern scuba industry, individuals have many paths to choose from. One of the most complex routes an individual may take is that of the public safety diver. A public safety diver must first be a recreational scuba diver, and then choose to entertain black water, dangerous environments, and complex procedural standards. These factors suggest that a dive team made up of public safety divers must work hard to ensure member safety while seeking objective completion. Three of the most important factors that can keep a public safety diver safe are: knowing the environment and bottom, understanding risk versus benefit, and having the proper equipment.

Understanding the Environment

Understanding the environment in which a public safety dive team operates is critical. Every ERDI public safety course starts by telling students to “size up” a scene and take note of important information. This information may include objects such as vehicle wreckage or dangerous entry points, or even problematic odors such as the scent of fuel or dangerous gasses. If divers cannot prep and perform in a safe fashion, the associated mission is likely to grow problematic or unsafe.

Similarly, divers are taught to obtain information from outside resources and even witnesses to better understand a dive environment. A witness may help to focus a search area, while a local may know the bottom features of a body of water. Fishermen often know where lines get snagged or boats have trouble. If a witness can help narrow a search area, the divers will have a reduced area to cover which may reduce diver exhaustion and the total time underwater. If a local can provide information, a team leader may be better prepared for planning the proper search patterns or team resources to overcome possible hazards that were otherwise unknown.

Finally, public safety divers are taught to obtain information about water quality. This information may come from local labs, state facilities, or even the Environmental Protection Agency. This information can be filed and maintained to ensure that when a team deploys, as much data as possible is available to determine if a dive operation should be performed. Knowing the quality of water in a specific location may help a diver plan what equipment and support resources are needed. This knowledge may also help to show the need for resources maintained at differing departments (such as a HAZMAT team) to be made available on the scene of a dive.

Risk vs. Benefit

In regard to risks versus benefits, all forms of diving involve some level of risk analysis. A recreational diver must analyze possible depths, temperatures, personal health, and other factors to determine if a dive should be considered reasonable and safe on a satisfactory level. Public safety diving is no different other than to involve a greater set of risk factors. Team leaders and individual divers must determine if the lack of visibility, dangerous water quality, underwater hazards, and various other factors make a search worthwhile. For example, if a criminal has admitted to a crime, and other evidentiary factors have almost sealed a case for a prosecutor, the handgun lost in a swamp may not be worth seeking if the risk associated with harming a diver is too great.

Divers operating on public safety dive teams must recognize potential threats and safety concerns. Every diver is a dive safety officer when it comes to the safety of his/her self and others. If entries are too dangerous, another route must be planned. If the water quality is too poor and dry suits are not available, the team must decide not to dive. No item, weapon, or remains, is worth the life of a healthy public safety diver. All divers accept risks when they choose to entertain the sport of scuba diving. Despite this, a team or dive organization must remember that liability is a constant issue when the safety of others is in question. The reality is that a team and its members must determine what level of risk they consider to be safe (following historical and data-based guidance), and work together to not violate this limitation. Finding a missing item is a success for any dive team, but the family members of an injured diver may not recognize any level of success over the injury.

Having the Right Equipment

Finally, a dive team must have and maintain proper equipment for the missions in which the team may choose to participate. ERDI divers are taught that all dives should be considered to involve contaminated water unless definitive proof shows otherwise. This education suggests that divers operating within public safety parameters should be fully encapsulated with dry suits, fitted and attached hoods, full-face masks, and attached gloves and boots. The equipment used by dive team members should also be standardized to ensure that every team member knows where items are placed and how to assist one-another during an emergency. Similarly, a diver should never be required to bail out of his or her mask if at all possible. For this reason, switch blocks become essential to allow a diver to switch to backup gasses as needed. The lines used to connect divers to tenders must be sturdy and rated to handle contact with sharp objects underwater. In regard to secondary search equipment, metal detectors or sonars can reduce search times, decontamination equipment ensures a higher level of individual safety, and even items like cylinder stands can ensure increased comfort and safety when dealing with diver exhaustion during decontamination. psd diver

A dive team must be prepared to provide to its divers the equipment that they need. Once this equipment is possessed, it must be maintained and serviced on a regular basis. When equipment is subjected to the worst possible environments, service is critical to prevent possible failures.

If a dive team seeks to understand its operational environment, maintains proper equipment, and ensures the benefits of an operation outweigh the risks, that team is more likely to experience success and higher levels of diver safety. Safety should be the first concern of any dive team. No operation is worth the lives of team members, and the risks associated with public safety dive operations must always be recognized and monitored to the highest degree possible.

-Dr. Thomas W. Powell
Owner/Instructor Trainer – Air Hogs Scuba, Garner, NC