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.
We are often asked about the differences between diving wet and diving dry. Other than the obvious answer – “you don’t need to dry anything but your hair after the dive” – there are some key differences.
by Dr. Thomas Powell:
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.
- 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.
- 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.”
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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