by Dr. Thomas Powell:
Comfort is one of the most important factors that can influence how often a scuba diver gets wet. In the middle of winter, the warmth and protection provided by dry suits are often the only reasons that many divers are willing to accept cold temperatures. Conversely, the summer is a time when more layers come off and divers look forward to warmer temperatures. Despite the change in the weather, many divers choose to use one exposure protection suit for every type of diving and wear a dry suit year round. If a person chooses to wear a dry suit throughout the year, some considerations must be made, and certain factors must be recognized. These factors may include temperature, comfort, general maintenance, and basic physiology.
The first thing to remember is that a dry suit is designed to encapsulate certain parts of a diver. The diver must then choose what thermal layers are worn underneath, unless the suit being used is neoprene. Despite thermal needs, any type of encapsulating material with no breathability can cause a person to perspire in the summer heat. For this reason, a diver must monitor the temperature outside and his or her own core temperature to ensure that he or she does not overheat preparing for a dive or waiting on a dive buddy. One suggestion would be to don the dry suit halfway and then finish prepping any other dive gear. Then, do not finish donning the suit until the time to gear up and get wet arrives. The goal is to stay relaxed and to prevent overheating.
Summer heat and perspiration go hand in hand. If a person is wearing a dry suit, that person must remember to take in fluids and calories. Even floating on the surface of the water on a lazy sunny day can cause a person to grow warm and sweaty. Over time, fluid loss and excessive caloric burn can cause many issues that everyone learns about during basic open water training. To prevent this problem, during surface intervals, a diver should drink water and consume a snack. Time on the surface can also equal a period during which the dry suit seal can be opened and the diver can cool off by removing the top portion of the suit as needed.
One factor divers seem to have a habit of forgetting is basic equipment care. In the winter, divers often protect their dry suits because it is the only thing letting them get wet. In the summer, some think it is an asset to leave drying on the hood of the car, but a wet suit can be used if needed. The problem is however, the hot summer sun can damage seals just as severly as freezing dampness. Similarly, certain wax types can melt in the hot sun leaving a zipper unlubricated. The reality is that being lazy with equipment is always a bad idea. Dry suits need to be hung properly out of the hot summer sun in a manner that allows the suit to ventilate, dry, and remain protected.
Finally, diving dry in the summer must be a comfortable adventure for any diver. Sometimes, cooler waters do require undergarments of heavier thicknesses, but the diver must remember to stay cool on the surface. The process of diving should be fun. Sweating to death on the surface, but then racing to the water to cool off, and finally using the dive to properly acclimate is not fun. Dry diving in the summer is something that should planned out, and the diver should take the time to stay comfortable.
Diving dry during the summer can also allow a diver to remain well-practiced (on dry suit technique) and comfortable. Similarly, it eliminates the need for multiple wetsuits for various water temperatures. No matter what a diver chooses to do, comfort is key and the proper amounts of time and effort must be put into maintaining equipment, staying safe, and having fun.
– Dr. Thomas Powell
Owner/Instructor Trainer – Air Hogs Scuba, Garner, NC