Drysuit Care and Maintenance
By: John Bentley
For people who are technical diving – whether that’s ocean, wrecks, or caverns – a drysuit is an essential piece of life support equipment. Cold exposure has a direct relationship with decompression stress, not to mention it makes things less fun. Divers invest big bucks into their drysuits and making that investment last should be a goal of every technical diver.
A drysuit course gives students the opportunity to learn how to dive with a drysuit, including emergency procedures. Instructors also cover the different types of drysuits and maintenance procedures. Drysuit specialty training is recommended for all divers interested or participating in drysuit diving. This article is not a substitute for a drysuit course- obviously. You should always follow manufacturer’s recommendations for care, maintenance and storage, even if it contradicts information in this text.
There’s an old saying that goes “proper prevention makes it more of a surprise when things break”.
Before the dive
Inspect your zipper for dirt, sand, and fraying. For brass zippers, coat lightly in lube and remember to keep away from sand and dirt. Never force a sticky zipper. While lube helps the zipper close, it is a magnet for contaminants.
Plastic zippers should be inspected for dirt and contaminants as well. Lubrication and care differs slightly for plastic zippers but they still need to be inspected and lightly lubricated. Certain parts of the zipper should be lubed according to the YKK care guide.
Remember to be kind to your seals. If you’re struggling like a dumb kid at the SATs to get your seals on you are most definitely doing it wrong. A combination of stretching the zipper slightly and contorting your head/hand will create a glide that’s mildly uncomfortable but not a struggle.
During the dive
Technical diving is, oftentimes, a contact sport. It isn’t commercial or military diving though. If you’re engaging in underwater spaz-fests inside the wreck, then you’re in the wrong hobby. Make your movements calculated to prevent the accidental tear of a drysuit. Even sump divers – the undoubtedly dirtiest of all divers – can take proper care of their drysuits. Be more like a ninja – gently hopping from tree to tree, instead of the drunk guy at the football game knocking turkey legs out of people’s hands and running into doors. Moving to not rip a suit is an important but often overlooked aspect of drysuit diving.
GIFs credit Chris Garguilo
Pay special attention to your forearms, dump valve, and belly when moving through restrictions. Ensure the fabric doesn’t get caught and pulled and try to make it bump more than drag.
After the dive
Rinse your drysuit with freshwater. Pay close attention to the zipper, dump valve, and inflator. If you’re getting sand, dirt, and gunk in your zipper, use an old toothbrush (or your current toothbrush if you’re gross) to gently remove the gummed up portions.
Make sure your dump valve is clear of debris like sand and rocks. This is a huge safety issue as well as a cause for leaks.
If your zipper has frays, which is a sign of wear, you need to remove these frays so they don’t get bigger or cause leaks. Running a flame over the frays or using a sharp knife/scissors are the best methods. Take care to not burn or cut any other part of the zipper, though. The goal is to make the frays stop coming out, like the “thread in a sweater”.
Finally, store your drysuit out of the sun, preferably hanging on a hanger made for drysuits. According to YKK, brass zippers should be stored open and plastic zippers should be stored closed. These recommendations are to discourage bending and stretching that will cause deformation.
Drysuit leaks can be elusive. Typically, they spread throughout the dive and all of you is wet – making it hard to determine where the leak is coming from. A good leak test involves 3 items: wrist stoppers, a neck stopper and soapy water. The stoppers should be sized so they don’t stretch the seals but allow you to make the suit inflate. Slowly inflate the suit keeping an eye on the stoppers. Small plastic cups typically work for the wrists and jugs for the neck seal.
Drysuit leak tests aren’t rocket surgery but there are a number of things that can go wrong. First, you can shoot a stopper out of a hole, rip a seal, or damage your suit in another way. For example, one time I was performing a leak test in my garage and the only large container I had was a half-empty jug of peanut oil (the superior frying fuel). My leak test went well but the jug decided to come open and when I unzipped the suit it was filled with peanut oil. Not only was that disgusting and hard to clean, but I couldn’t fry dinner that night.
The peanut oil disaster. Circa 2021
Dive shops have the custom bits, even if it’s one or two small items, that make drysuit leak tests easier and more successful. If you don’t have a dive shop nearby be careful and make sure you have the time to set your drysuit places and take photos.
Alternatively, if you have a pool, you can put a base layer of undergarments on and hop in. Give the leak a few minutes to make you wet and then pop out. Wherever you’re wet is where the leak should be.
A drinking buddy.
Tears ‘n’ holes
Aquaseal and a patch are the field repair needed to make the suit waterproof. Yes, sometimes duct tape will seal a tear up for a dive, but ultimately you want that sucker sealed up. Professional repairs will look better and last longer than tossing some aquaseal on a hole, but if you’re traveling you don’t always have the access or the resources to get a pro on the case.
Mix the aquaseal and the cure accelerant together to get a sticky paste and apply a coating to the hole area and the patch. Let it get tacky, and then apply another small coat and mate them. A final coating over the top of the patch should seal things the rest of the way up.
Ring systems for swapping seals makes it a waterside task. When replacing, take special care to make sure hairs and debris aren’t interfering with the seal’s sealing surface.
There are benefits – primarily comfort related, in not using a ring or zip system for seal. When they fail, it isn’t the end of the world, but it’s best addressed by a drysuit pro. This typically involves heating the glue so the old seal can be removed, cleaning the glue area, and gluing a new seal.
Zippers fail. It’s part of owning a drysuit. Eventually you’ll break a tooth, rip it, or do something inventive. This means the suit needs to be sent to a professional for repair or replacement. Individual teeth from a drysuit zipper usually can’t be replaced – it’s all or nothing. So, expect a turntime and pricetag to reflect that.
Integrated boots are faster to put on but eventually will need to be replaced. The tread wears down and they’ll need to get taken to your local drysuit repair facility. Alternatively, you can swap from integrated boots to a sock and rock boots. Rock boots can be replaced without cutting and gluing.
Your local dive shop is the holy grail of making sure your drysuit dive goes as close to planned as possible, but it is good to have the knowledge to implement a field repair when you’re traveling or in a remote location. Most importantly, you should be comfortable with knowing potential failures and the severity of a flooded drysuit so you’re not tempted to continue a dive or begin a dive with a potential issue.
Learn more about drysuit diving HERE.