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'Suiting Up For The Dive,' Wetsuits And Other Options

diving Nusa Penida wetsuit molamola
When water temperature drops to 18 degreesC like here at Crystal bay in Nusa Penida, you might want a 5mm or even a 7mm wetsuit

We have all experienced the absolute struggle that comes from putting on the wetsuit before a dive. But what are the other options out there and how do I know which is best for me? There are many different options for what to wear on your dive. The biggest deciding factor will usually be the temperature of the water. In this post we will take you through the options and go through the benefits and drawbacks so you can make the right decision for you!

1. The Skin Suit for Warm Waters

The skin suit is usually made of Lycra or Spandex and holds very little thermal benefit so it is more used for its protective properties. Most skin suits come with an SPF of 50 to protect from the sun and can help protect the diver from contact with corals and marine life like jellyfish stings.

Skin suits are easy to put on and great for providing a little extra protection for warm water diving. Some divers use them under the wetsuit to provide a little extra insulation and as an aid to slip the wetsuit on easier.

2. The Alternative to Neoprene for Warm Waters

If you're looking for a little more thermal insulation but not wanting the hassle of a wet suit, the neoprene alternatives are a great option. The biggest names in the game are ‘Sharkskin’, ‘Fourth Element’ and ‘Lavacore’.

These garments are made with several layers, most using Nylon and some with a fleece lining. They can have the same insulation effect as a 2 or 3-mm neoprene wetsuit. They are easy to put on, comfortable to wear and easy to move in. They, like the skin suits, also have UV protection and are lightweight and machine washable. But maybe the most favored benefit of the neoprene alternative is the fact that they are neutrally buoyant in the water, meaning you don’t need anywhere near as much weight as if you were wearing a neoprene wetsuit.

There are many different options to choose from and generally come as separate pieces; shorts or trousers, long sleeve, short sleeve and no sleeve tops, with or without zips, with or without hoods, the options go on!

diving wetsuits scuba
On warmer dives, you'll be fine with a 3-mm wetsuit

3. The Wetsuit for Tropical to Warmish Temperate Waters

Then we come to the well-known and classic wetsuit! These are made of neoprene, a synthetic fabric that has been around since the 1930s. Neoprene is water resistant, incredibly flexible as a fabric and has good insulating properties.

Wetsuits work by trapping a layer of water between you and the suit, which is warmed by your body heat. For this reason, it is important to have a wetsuit that fits, too large and water will flush though, taking away your natural body heat, but too tight and you will be restricted in movement and maybe even blood supply.

The down side of wetsuits is that neoprene is positively buoyant, meaning it will float. The more neoprene you are wearing, the more weight you will need. Another annoyance among divers is the difficulty in donning the suit and the inflexibility of the diver once wearing it. However, once you are in the water, wetsuits are generally fairly comfortable and are very good protection from the sun as well as against scrapes and stings from corals, rocks and marine life.

Wetsuit options concern the thickness of the neoprene; most common are the 3mm, 5mm and 7mm suits. The thicker the suit, the better thermal protection it holds, but the more buoyant you will be in the water. There are also several options here; shortys, long suits, front zip or back zip, attached or separate hoods to name a few.

3. The Semi-Dry for Cooler Temperate Waters

The semi-dry is still a neoprene wetsuit but with added features to enhance its thermal qualities. Usually available in 5mm to 7mm thickness, they aim to be more watertight than the wetsuit. This is achieved with the use of tight seals around the ankles, wrists and neck as well as watertight zips. These drastically reduces water movement in and out thanof the suit, thus conserving body heat. Some designs also come with a lovely fleece lining around the torso of the suit.

Although semi-dry’s do make a big difference from a wetsuit and benefit in keeping the diver warmer, they can be somewhat more difficult to put on.

4. The Drysuit for Cold Waters

The drysuit is the most thermally protected option and designed for cold water. Dry suits are also made from neoprene but the suit is completely waterproof. No water can enter the suit due to the use of watertight seals. This keeps the diver completely dry and is therefore significantly better at maintaining the divers body heat for much longer.

Since there is a layer of air in the drysuit, not water, there must be extra training for the diver. As the pressure changes with depth, it will cause the volume of the air in the suit to change and must be equalised to avoid a squeeze. This is achieved with the use of special valves on the suit. The seals are tight, especially around the neck so the diver must be aware of the 'carotid sinus reflex'; a condition which can occur if the neck seal becomes too tight.

The benefit of the dry suit is that the diver can wear lovely thick under-suits and will remain dry and warm - obviously then, important to remember not to pee in your drysuit!!!


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