How to

14 December 2016

How to Use a Wetsuit Properly

Whilst many of us in Britain stay chilly over winter, some will be jetting-off to scuba diving holidays around the world. However, whilst anybody can run, it seems that not everyone is so good at actually escaping the cold. The main reason? A flawed use of the humble wetsuit.

As we’ve written before, a wetsuit works by trapping water close to the skin under various layers of synthetic material, with a view to having the body warm up that layer of water and keep it held against the skin; thereby preventing it escaping into the surrounding ocean. However, after learning how it works, many people make a relatively rookie error: thinking the wetsuit itself will do all the work for them. Many who have used them, however, will attest to the fact that you can get pretty cold pretty quickly if you’re using it wrong. After all, although most of your warmth will come from the suit, there are still a number of things you should be doing for yourself in order to stay toasty.

Get the Right Suit
Sometimes a basic suit just isn’t enough. A good quality, tailored one with no leaks and extra layers on the head and legs is a good start. You also need to bear in mind that waters of differing depth and temperature require suits of differing thickness and material: whilst temperatures below 30 degrees Celsius would only require a thin skin suit or normal wetsuit, anything below 26 would merit a 3mm suit; below 24 needs a 5mm suit; below 21 needs 7mm; and below 12 means it’s time for a dry suit. Indeed, for all of the above, you’ll need to go one level up if you’re deeper than 60 feet.

Exercise Before You Dive
In order to maximise your body heat when under water, you’ll need to do some exercise and get the blood flowing. Even if you aren’t trying to stay warm, a warm-up is advisable before you do any exercise (notably you should also stretch to loosen your muscles, open up circulation channels and so forth). But seeing as how you are indeed keeping the cold at bay, the extra body heat will be trapped and will last a lot longer once you’ve stepped into the suit.

Keep the Wind Off
During the surface period (i.e. when you take a break on land or deck), you should either towel-off the outer layer of your suit and wear a rain coat or, even better, take off the suit entirely and dry yourself. That way, you can prevent the wind stealing all your heat; after all, it’s far easier to get cold in the air than in the water. Indeed, if you’re eating during your surface time, it couldn’t hurt to have a cup of tea and a burger instead of a beer and a sandwich (just let it digest before you get back in). 

In sum, however, the above steps are only going to be secondary to your own judgement and common sense. It’s always necessary to be switched-on during a dive; but it’s also key to be equally aware during the planning and preparation stage. Cold can be lethal, or at least reduce your capacity to perform the tasks you’re getting up to underwater; so, staying warm is a really important part of the diving experience. 

James Stannard

James has a Bachelor’s degree in History and wrote his dissertation on beef and protest. His heroes list ranges from Adele to Noam Chomsky: inspirations he’ll be invoking next year when he begins a Master’s degree in London.