The P Valve Struggle

By: Jon Kieren

Warning: Graphic language, reader discretion advised.

I somehow managed to make it through 5 years of technical diving without finding the need to install a P-valve in my dry suit. However, about halfway through my TDI Rebreather Full Cave Diver Course, I realized just how important this accessory would be if I was going to be making 4+ hour dives. Towards the end of a 3.5 hour training dive, we had just come out to the cavern zone and all I could think about was the excruciating pain in my bladder and rushing for the exit so I could drop my gear, get to the nearest tree, and relieve myself. At that moment, my instructor told me to tie off for a lost diver drill. All I could do was respond by raising the appropriate finger to him, shaking my head violently and signaling that we needed to abort. He responded with the shoulders shrugged and muttered through his loop “what’s wrong?” I pointed to my crotch, saluted “see you later” and made a dash for the exit. The whole way out I could hear him laughing hysterically, and I knew it was time to install a P Valve.

I left my suit with the manufacturer that weekend to install the accessory, and over the next week I started to research how this mysterious piece of equipment worked. It was overwhelming; pages and pages of forum threads on the subject, with only little bits of vaguely useful and often contradictory information scattered throughout. The process could have been made much simpler by just asking someone with experience, but how do you start that conversation? “Excuse me, can you please show me how to connect this tube to my penis?” Umm, no thanks. So I had no idea what to really expect, and when it came time to start trying things out, I was very grateful that my wife has a good sense of humor (and compassion).

p-valveWhat is a P Valve?

First things first, if you don’t know exactly what a P-valve is, it’s pretty basic. Essentially, it’s a tube that has a valve on one end that vents to the outside of your dry suit that allows liquids to pass from the inside of the suit to the outside. Simple enough. The other end is the interesting and intimidating bit. This is the end that connects to your “anatomy” and allows you to urinate without making a mess on yourself.

The connection happens by using an interesting piece of medical equipment, the condom catheter.

  • Condom – I know what that is, and am familiar with using one. The condom is associated with pleasant and enjoyable experiences. I’m comfortable with this.
  • Catheter – I know what that is, but have never needed to use one. The catheter is associated with extremely unpleasant circumstances, and honestly, the thought of using one horrifies me.

So then what is a condom catheter, exactly?

Well, it’s a mix of the two. It’s essentially a condom (good, familiar), that you glue on to your manhood. Wait…. WHAT!? Yes, that’s right; the condom is produced with a strong medical adhesive on the inside. When you roll it on, pretty much just like you would a condom, you are securely gluing it in place (this is extremely important, as you do NOT want the condom catheter to come off prematurely!). The “tip” of the condom is left open so it can be mated with the “tube” of the P-valve. When you pee, everything (hopefully) travels straight into the tube, and out of your dry suit.

p-valveOK, it’s not as bad as the typical catheter that you think of. Just roll the condom on, hook up the tube, and pee freely. Awesome, let’s buy some of these catheter things and go diving! Go ahead and Google “Condom Catheter”. Actually, I’ve already done it for you, just click HERE. As you will quickly realize, there are A LOT of options out there. Many different manufacturers, varieties, and yes of course, SIZES. Where to start? A quick search on the common diving forums will result in a few of the varieties and manufacturers preferred by divers. The “wideband” varieties are equipped with adhesive from almost the tip, all the way down. The “freedom” styles have a much narrower band of adhesive. More adhesive means a better hold… it also means more difficult to remove (more on that in a bit). You may want to consider the material the catheter is made out of. Some are latex, and some are silicone. If you have latex allergies, the decision is pretty obvious, but I have found the silicone to be more comfortable anyway. So it really comes down to personal preference. Personally, I don’t want to worry about whether the glue is wearing off of my catheter when I have a couple hours of deco to do, so I prefer the wide bands.

What size condom catheter do I need?

I want the best hold, I know that. Now, what size? Many catheter manufacturers produce a “sizing guide”, which is essentially a chart you hold up to your unit and see how you measure up. Guys, this is not a time to be macho. Nobody cares what size catheter you order (however if you’re really embarrassed, you can always keep an “XL” in your gear bag in case anyone ever asks to borrow one). I do suggest ordering a small batch of the size you determined, as well as one size up and one size down, and try each to see which you prefer. You want it to be snug, but the goal is not to strangle your buddy. You also want to consider the temperature and whether shrinkage may be a factor (yes ladies, it shrinks).

Like any new piece of dive gear, the excitement builds when your first box of catheters shows up on your doorstep. As you open the packaging and get a good look at your new device, the reality sets in. “What did I get myself into here?” It is a good idea to go ahead and give things a try and get sorted out well before your first attempt to use your P valve on a real dive. These first dry runs are intimidating, uncomfortable, and can be downright terrifying and painful (but very entertaining for your spouse).

There is a bit of trial and error here, but here are a few “tips” that I have found useful:

  • Manscape – This is an extremely important step. You don’t need to go overboard, but cleaning up the area around the base will help you avoid trapping hairs in the catheter adhesive. This won’t affect the functionality of the catheter, but will make removal much less painful. Also, a trapped hair may get tugged during your dive, this is a painful surprise and usually happens at the worst possible moment (gas switches, shooting an SMB, tying in a jump reel, etc.).
  • Don’t be afraid – When you first take a close look at the catheter, you’ll quickly notice how strong the glue is. Remember what job that adhesive has, it’s an important one and it’s got to be strong. Don’t be afraid of it, it’s there to help you. Being timid here will only result in a misplaced and incorrectly installed catheter, which does you no good and will need to be removed and replaced.
  • Get right in there – Having too much “extra” space at the tip of catheter will increase the likely hood of it pinching or kinking and restricting the flow of urine. This is bad, painful, and often results in a “blow off” (which is exactly what it sounds like). Once you’re all the way in up top, grasp your tip nice and tight and roll the catheter down just like a condom. Once it’s rolled all the way down, give it a good squeeze (just one, you don’t want to get excited) to set the glue in place.
  • Be smooth – Wrinkles, creases, and air bubbles can cause discomfort and problems, try to get the catheter on as smooth and straight as possible. This takes some practice, so don’t stress out too much. As long as you don’t glue the hole shut, you should be fine.
  • LEAVE IT! – Once it’s on, you have to leave it for a while. Remember that super strong glue that’s in there? It bonds to your skin immediately, and that bond is strongest the moment it’s applied. If you try to remove the catheter right away, it will not be a pleasant experience, and you may take some skin with it. Yeah, it’s terrible. After a couple of hours, your skin’s natural oils will begin to break down the glue and it will be easier to remove. I’ll be honest; I screwed it up a little on my first try. Things didn’t go well, and I tried to take it off right away. I was so horrified; I decided to leave it half on for a day and half. My wife still has not let me forget that one.
  • Show your wife or significant other – Not a requirement, but it’s pretty funny. Just be warned, they may never look at you the same way again.
  • Just like a Band-Aid – When it comes time to remove the catheter, there’s no gentle way to do it. Grip it and rip it, quick like a Band-Aid. It’s intimidating, I know, but there’s only one way that thing is going to come off. There’s no magic solution, but you will find various techniques that may help make removal more comfortable. Some people find that a hot shower and soap helps loosen the glue up a bit. There are several medical adhesive removal products on the market, and I’ve heard of people using baby oil as well, but most of these work best to remove the excess glue from your skin once the catheter has been removed. I’ve personally found that they make more of a mess than they are worth.

Make sure it’s comfortable

Once you have the installation down, the rest is pretty easy. Make sure the tubing for the P-valve is routed so it will not kink or get pinched by any equipment. Up vs. down, right or left, doesn’t really matter as long as you’re comfortable. If you have the type of valve that is unbalanced, be sure to “prime” the valve before you begin your descent. Remember what happens to air spaces when you descend? Remember that little air space in the tip of your catheter? Yup, fill it with urine before you head down to avoid a “squeeze” (read – pair of pliers to the tip of your penis). If your P-valve is a balanced model, you do not need to worry about priming, as the balanced valve will equalize the pressure inside the tubing.

Cleaning the P Valve

It is extremely important to properly clean your P-valve after each day of diving. Failure to do so can result in serious urinary tract infections that can ruin your month. There are a lot of options out there for sterilizing the plumbing, isopropyl alcohol and Steremine (a product often used to disinfect rebreathers) are good options, but anything that will sterilize the tubing will work just fine.

While all of this may sound intimidating, you will sort it all out after just a couple of dives (the learning curve is steep here). Once you have it all dialed in, your P-valve will be your new favorite piece of gear, I promise.

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22 replies
  1. John Conway
    John Conway says:

    Just a help word of advice – The glue is designed no to come off – when removing warm water and soap helps -DEAR GOD Just DONT PULL!!! – Also if your doing multi day diving, there are skin prep wipes that will prevent the loss of skin, Sort of look like those alcohol wipes at the restaurants, (but don’t use them; these are different) It allows the catheter to stick, but leaves the skin behind when you remove it – You can find these in medical supply places as they are very commonly used to help with bandage changes.

  2. Steve Lewis
    Steve Lewis says:

    Neat article, but a couple of suggestions. 1) Using isopropyl alcohol is not recommended since it can have a damaging effect on rubber components… a 10% solution of DETTOL (CVS and WALGREENS, BOOTS, Chemist, et al) is effective and benign. Rinse with water. 2) Baby Wipes are easy to find and provide a pleasant way to pre-clean before “Connecting”, and post-dive to remove any residual adhesive whether you are using CCs or a She-Pee.

  3. Cornel Fox
    Cornel Fox says:

    Takes a few dives to get the process efficient and relatively painless, but I don’t do a long dive, more than 2 hours, without it!

  4. Pablo Wolter
    Pablo Wolter says:

    It’s amazing how much adults make this issue more complicated to talk about than it is. What’s the matter with asking another adult (with more experience than you) on how to use a catheter? (for diving!!!)

    What’s the matter in calling things by its name also? It connects to your pennis on one side and to the suit on the other …. isn’t it? Aren’t we adults? Mature? This IS the reason we heard so much wrong information in the internet regarding issues when not called by their names.

    Sadly you also put yourself into the real of forums threads with statements like: “These first dry runs are intimidating, uncomfortable, and can be downright terrifying and painful.” Don’t make things sound more complicated than they really are. It is painful … a little, nothing you can’t handle removing it. Uncomfortable? As any new gear in diving at the beginning (remember doubles for the first time?) Terrifying??? Really?

    And to close I missed the most important part (and the one you should have expanded in much details as the initial one) the cleaning. I THINK here is where the focus should be and more expansion and details should be provided in an article about underwater urination.

    Any advice to the women on their p-valves? Sorry but from TDI I was expecting way more information on the subject …

  5. Al satkoski
    Al satkoski says:

    Some condoms are ribbed at the end some are not
    The tube stays on better with the ribbed. But
    If it is not ribbed use a couple of small wire ties.
    Tube will not slip off. Just don’t tighten too tight
    To stop flow. And don’t let your ego get in the
    Way. Tight is better then loose.

  6. Blessed relief
    Blessed relief says:

    Three hint that I hope will be found useful:
    1) I found that some catheter condoms have relatively long tube on the end which is supseptable to twisting and blocking. To stop this happening I cut the tube in half prior to donning.
    2) I have also found a small hole in the leg of my undersuit really aids routing of the drysuit pipe and makes it more comfortable.
    3) When I started out I found that some manufactures when approached directly will send out a trial pack with two of each size free of charge. Really helpful in finding the right size.

  7. Dan Schoeneman
    Dan Schoeneman says:

    I tried a Gee Whiz condom which uses a different method to put it on. It stays in place and was easier to remove than others I have tried. Its different than any other one I’ve seen, has a quick disconnect to the tubing, and I think it works better.

  8. Geoff b
    Geoff b says:

    Easiest way to remove I’ve found. Pinch the end and pee. Breaks most of the glue. Then use skin care wipes to have it off with in a few minutes with out any pain.

  9. Tim Martin
    Tim Martin says:

    1) Determine where to put the hole with your thermals on as the suit may fit differently. I also needed to buy a special marker (from Michaels or Joann) as a standard sharpie (even a colored one) wouldn’t write on my black dry-suit leg. I mounted mine on the left leg, inner thigh. High enough that I could reach it without having to bend over and towards the front, so it doesn’t rub if I am swimming or walking.
    2) I punched the hole with a standard punch set. The outer layer was easy. The inter layer I had to cut with scissors (it’s a material not plastic) once the hole was marked. For some reason, the punch wouldn’t cut it cleanly.
    3) Follow the instructions that came with the valve to get it installed, make sure you use their gloves (or use your own) and try not to spill any glue. Once glued, leave your suit in an area where it won’t get moved. Also put a plastic cup inside the leg of the suit to ensure it doesn’t get glued to the other side of the leg while the glue dries.
    4) Once the valve was installed and dried, I tried it on to determine where the put the holes in the underwear. One style had a double-zipper but it didn’t go down low enough so I had to make a hole. I used a soldering-iron to put the holes in the underwear (all sets). This prevented the hole from spreading while I tested it to ensure it was in the right place. Now that I know it is, I plan to have them sewn with a machine, like a button-hole. A typically alteration shop should be able to do this. If you wash them before you stitch them, the hole may spread.
    5) Once the hole was in the undergarments, I ended up cutting about 8 inches off the p-value hose. The attachment is easy to re-thread, just ensure you don’t cut the connector if you are shortening the host.
    6) I called several vendors to get catheter condoms. Some wanted my prescription info and medical info. Since this isn’t for a medical condition, I skipped them. will give you a few samples of various models to find the one that you like best. Be sure you download a sizing guide, cut it out and place it on to ensure you get the right size. Too small and it will be very uncomfortable, too large and you will have leaks. Again, cut out the paper and use it as it says. I also sent them a picture of the value connector to ensure their catheters would fit. Seems to be a standard size.
    7) I used two types they sent this past weekend and both were good fits. Their Freedom Clear Advantage Aloe was very comfortable and the sealant did not cause an irritation. However, when unrolling the catheter, you do get some gel on your hands. Not a big deal because its aloe but it may stain your undergarments. I also used their Conveen Optima 22130. These come in a small breakable hard-plastic cause, so they are not likely to get bent or torn if traveling. This one was also very comfortable and it comes with a band you pull on when installing it so you won’t get any gel on your hands. Very nice. The only negative of this one is it was very short. I didn’t have a leak issue but was concerned it may come off. They do make longer ones which I plan to test on a future dive.
    8) If you have questions, let me know. PADI MSDT 177413


    diving with drysuit for at least 18 years, I never felt the need to use the p-valve, I was increasing the bottom temperature doing diaper tests, we have diapers on the market that are spectacular, they are comfortable shorts, in 2 opportunities, for be a public safety diver, i stayed 7h in the water having urinated 11 times, no drop of urine leaked on my clothes, i’ve already dived with water at 5 degrees to 9 degrees and i never had any problem with diaper use, now urine infection by using p-valve I’ve seen several cases, so I still believe in the most comfortable and least problematic way

  11. Glenn
    Glenn says:

    Pee valves are the second most important invention for diving – after the demand valve! They’re amazing as you can properly hydrate before a dive with no pee worries. This is vital for effective decompression. I wear one for every dive, unless in a pool!

    Some things I’ve found….

    Trim the forest, but don’t do it on the day as if you cut yourself shaving, it stings. A bit of stubble’s fine, but too long and it’s painful when rolling on the catheter.

    Get a pee-valve quick disconnect. There’s two types; get the one with the integral flow-stop valve. These enable one piece to be connected to the catheter before wearing (I put that in with the catheter when packing the drysuit). Push the plug into the catheter, then roll it on. The other end will be in the pee-valve pipe which you can connect when you put the drysuit on later on, i.e. catheter on at your convenience earlier in the day with the ‘plug’ and you’re all set for donning the suit later.

    Donning. It’s best to put them on somewhere a little warmer. Standing in a freezing car park and you may find your friend has done a tortoise impression and needs to be dragged out of bed as it were. Make sure the top of the catheter’s pushed over the head before you start rolling (especially if it’s cold). Once the first roll or two has stuck, you can pull it out. (Oh the double-entendres…). You need to roll it down the whole length as it’s important for it to stick, but don’t let it wrinkle (which is why using the right size is essential).

    Catheters: Bard/Rochester Widebands are extremely reliable and stick very well. They’re quite large in terms of the packaging, so you can’t get many into a small box (if you’re away for a week’s diving). Convenes are in smaller packaging and are easier to use. However they’re lighter duty.

    Getting out of the drysuit. I will pull the plug out of the catheter and shake out any residue and put ‘it’ away. Then I take the pee valve pipe and a bottle of drinking water; take a swig of water and blow it down the pipe so the water goes through and my breath follows to blow everything out. I repeat that 5 or more times. Then you can get out of the suit. I tend to do this over the stern of the boat, standing on the diver lift (if you’re disgusted, then diving’s not for you!). Doing this keeps all the smells at bay; and no smell means minimal bacterial growing.

    Catheter removal. Convenes are much easier to remove than Rochesters. Rochesters are quite painful to remove unless you use Medical Adhesive Remover such as Appeel; one squirt of this and it comes off easily. (Actually a few squirts).

    Clean the pipe occasionally with Chemgene (standard rebreather disinfectant).


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