Most avid divers won’t let being cold stop them from pursuing a day of diving and exploring, even if it means getting a little uncomfortable every once in a while. Some divers have developed high degrees of tolerance for the cold surroundings, and are more than capable of enduring these somewhat challenging situations and seeing the dive to the finish. However, despite all the grinning and thumbs up signs, you can be sure that these divers are doing their best to keep themselves warm while underwater. But why bother staying warm while scuba diving? After all, you’re underwater, right? Isn’t it supposed to be cold down there in the first place?
Why Is It Important to Stay Warm During a Dive?
Feeling cold while diving can be a very uncomfortable experience. But aside from comfort, a far more important reason why it’s crucial to stay warm during a dive is safety; specifically, to avoid hypothermia.
What Is Hypothermia?
Hypothermia is a condition where your body temperature drops below normal levels. This happens because body heat loss happens faster underwater than on land. The body still produces heat while diving, but it is insufficient to compensate for the lost heat. Cases of hypothermia aren’t very prevalent, but they do happen. When they do, divers can become cold and uncomfortable, making it difficult for them to complete the dive. At worst, hypothermia can lead to a variety of side effects which can prove to be fatal when not checked.
Hypothermia comes in three stages, from mild to moderate and severe. Symptoms vary from one stage to another, and so do the dangers associated with them.
Mild Hypothermia (Stage 1)
Divers experiencing mild hypothermia exhibit shivering, apathy and lethargy which then leads to a decline in motor function. Although the cold being felt by diver isn’t severe enough to threaten the diver’s life, it can negatively impact his or her dexterity and cause numbness in his or her hands. Thus, the diver will have a difficult time performing diving tasks properly and controlling their diving equipment such as weight belts and buoyancy compensators which many divers would consider as dangerous.
Moderate Hypothermia (Stage 2)
Unless mild hypothermia is addressed, it will lead to uncontrollable shivering and more decline in motor skills. The blood vessels near the surface of the skin will contract further as a result of the low body temperature, which then makes the diver look pale. The more obvious signs of moderate hypothermia include lips, fingers, and toes turning blue. When a diver experiences moderate hypothermia, they will still remain alert but their coordination will be greatly impaired.
Severe Hypothermia (Stage 3)
At this stage, the shivering will stop. Many of the diver’s body functions like his or her metabolism will slow down because of the low temperature. Divers with severe hypothermia will have difficulty speaking and show signs of memory loss. Some even become unconscious or experience cardiac arrests.
Considering the varied symptoms of hypothermia, suffice to say that this condition can lead to a disastrous diving expedition. As such, it is very important to keep yourself warm while diving. Here are some things you can do to achieve that and keep hypothermia at bay.
Warm Up before the Dive
After checking your diving equipment and reviewing your dive plan, you may think that you’re all set and ready to face the deep, cold waters. Well, not yet. In order to prevent hypothermia from ruining your diving adventure, you’ll want to warm yourself up first before you plunge into the water.
Experts recommend that you have a pre-dive ritual to get you warmed up before the dive. If you start the dive cold, it will only get worse as you progress into the dive. Thus, you’ll want to take some time to prepare yourself for the cold waters ahead.
Some people skip their meals before the dive, thinking that it may cause them to be seasick en route to their diving destination. However, doing this can negatively impact your performance underwater and put you at risk of hypothermia at the same time. Aside from giving you the strength to swim underwater, eating right will also provide your body with energy so that it can generate heat. Remember, your body will be working hard to keep you warm while diving, and you’ll need all the energy you can possibly get.
You’ll need to plan your meals before the dive. Your usual diet of coffee and doughnut won’t do you any good on your dive days. Instead, eat something healthy, like brown rice for instance. This is an excellent source of carbohydrates which you’ll need because your body will burn more calories while you’re underwater. Dried fruit like dates are also recommended since they’re high in natural sugars, fiber and magnesium which can help prevent you from getting leg cramps while swimming.
Wearing warm clothes before the dive will help to conserve your energy, which means you’ll be able to bring more heat with you enter the water. Wear long pants, a jacket and a cap while on the boat. A windbreaker would be nice, too. Not only is it useful before the dive, but you can use it to protect yourself from wind chill during your surface interval.
Get a Diving Wetsuit
One type of exposure suit which you can wear to keep yourself warm while diving is a diving wetsuit. A wetsuit works by letting a little water into the suit and trapping it there. The water inside the suit will then be heated up by your body, and the heated water is what will keep you warm throughout the dive.
The insulating properties of a wetsuit is generally dependent on the neoprene fabric that the suit is made from. Neoprene is a foam-like material which contains thousands of air bubbles. Once there is enough water inside the suit, these bubbles ‘float’ towards the surface of the fabric to cover the holes, thereby trapping the water inside.
Wetsuits come in varying thicknesses, and which one you choose will depend on the water temperature at your dive site. For instance, if you’re diving in the tropics where the water temperature isn’t that low, a 2mm wetsuit should be enough. On the other hand, if you’re diving in places where water temperatures can go as low as 20 degrees centigrade, a thicker wetsuit (between 7mm and 9mm) will be the better option. Some manufacturers have recommendation tables to indicate the right thickness for a given water temperature, and you can use that as a reference when shopping for a wetsuit.
- Make sure you are buying a wetsuit that is suitable for diving since there are also other types of wetsuits available like surfing wetsuits and windsurfing wetsuits.
- Choose a wetsuit that fits you properly. The rule of thumb is that a proper-fitting wetsuit should feel like a ‘second skin’. If the wetsuit is too tight, it will affect your comfort levels and blood circulation. If it’s too large, then the water will flow freely in and out of the suit, making ineffective in keeping you warm.
- Some wetsuits come with a hood while others don’t. Hoodless wetsuits are acceptable for shallow dives. If you plan on using the same wetsuit for deeper dives, you’ll want to get a separate dive hood since this will be necessary to keep your head warm.
- Even if you’re diving in warm waters, make it a point to wear a wetsuit. Wetsuits don’t just keep you warm; they also protect you from cuts and scrapes when swimming near coral reefs or rock walls.
- Regular wetsuits aren’t meant to be used for deep diving. This is because the higher pressure at deeper depths causes the air bubbles in the neoprene fabric to compress. When you dive to depths of a hundred feet or so, the air bubbles will have been flattened, which means that your wetsuit is no longer effectively providing you with insulation. Also, note that when these air bubbles are completely flattened, there is very little chance that they’ll go back to their original size, meaning you’ll have to get yourself a brand new wetsuit for your next dive.
- Store your wetsuit properly if you’re not going to use them for some time. Improper storage can cause damage to the neoprene fabric and the air bubbles in it. Keep it protected from ultraviolet rays and air borne chemicals which can damage it.
Wear a Drysuit for Colder Waters
Unlike wetsuits, drysuits keep you dry and warm at the same time. If you’re diving in deep, cold waters, then wearing a drysuit is more of a necessity than a choice. Drysuits are completely watertight with seals or gaskets around the wrists and ankles. However, the suit itself isn’t directly responsible for keeping you warm since drysuits have very little insulating properties. Drysuits keep you dry, and the garment you’re wearing under the drysuit is what will keep you warm during the dive
Wearing a drysuit would be pretty useless if you don’t wear the right type of clothing underneath it. An undersuit basically looks like an overall or a jumpsuit and covers you from the neck down to your ankles. It has a loop at the end of the sleeves where you slide your thumb in to keep the sleeves from rolling up while you’re diving. It also has a heel strap to keep the legs of the pants in place. Undersuits come in various thicknesses, and just how thick of an undersuit you’ll need will depend on how cold the water will be in your diving destination.
- Choose drysuits and undersuits that fit you well. Fit is critical not only for warmth but also for dexterity.
- Check the seals in your drysuit regularly to make sure that they are in good condition. Otherwise, water will start trickling into your drysuit while you’re underwater. Have the zippers checked as well and have them replaced if necessary.
- Keep the zippers well lubricated to keep them from jamming or breaking.
- Have your drysuit checked and maintained by a professional every couple of years. Doing so will ensure that you’ll be able to use your drysuit for many more years to come.
Wear a Dive Hood, Dive Gloves and Scuba Footwear
Aside from your exposure suit, you should also consider wearing other accessories like diving footwear, gloves and hoodies. This is especially true if you’re diving in cold waters and plan on staying down there for a significantly long time.
Experts agree that a huge percentage of diver’s body heat escapes through the head, which is why wearing a diving hood is important. When choosing a diving hood, make sure that it fits you well. Wearing a dive hood that is too small leads to discomfort as it tugs at your neck and face. On the other hand, a dive hood that is too big will allow water to easily flow in and out, thus doing a miserable job of keeping you warm. In addition, choose a dive hood that offers more coverage as this is more effective in keeping you warm. By covering your chin, cheeks, and forehead, only a little of your face is exposed to the cold.
Keeping your hands warm is critical since you’ll rely on them to communicate with your dive buddy, manage your buoyancy control device, and more. If your hands get cold, their dexterity suffers and so will your diving performance. Thus, even if you feel like you don’t need them, it’s still prudent to don a pair of diving gloves whenever you go diving. Most diving gloves are made from neoprene which means that aside from being waterproof, they’re quite comfortable and allows you to move your hands without any feelings of restriction.
Diving boots and shoes are essential to keep your feet warm during the dive. There are several things you need to consider when choosing either of the two. For instance, experts recommend that you use diving boots if you’re planning on using adjustable fins. If you’re using full foot fins, then a pair of diving shoes would be the better choice. This is one reason why you’ll want to buy your diving fins and diving footwear at the same time. This way you can try both footwear and fins together to see if they fit perfectly. You should also consider wearing a pair of scuba socks with your dive boots. These neoprene socks will add another layer of protection and insulation for your feet.
More Tips to Keep You Warm While Diving
- Pour some warm water on your wetsuit after you put it on. Some divers have a habit of pouring warm (not hot) water all over their wetsuits after putting them on. Accordingly, doing this traps the warm water inside the suit which then means that you’re already insulated before you dive into the water. In a way, this helps to conserve your energy since your body doesn’t have to heat up the water that goes into your wetsuit anymore.
- Prepare your diving gear in advance. Make it a habit to prepare your diving equipment before you reach the dive site. This way, you’ll spend less time out in the cold setting up your gears.
- Consider getting custom-made wetsuits if possible. Off-the-rack wetsuits come in various sizes, but sometimes you’ll find that the standard sizes don’t fit you well. In such cases, you may want to consider getting a custom-made wetsuit. It may cost more, but this is one investment that’s worth the money.
- Change into dry clothes during surface intervals. Keeping warm after the dive is just as important as keeping warm before and during the dive. Some divers recommend that even in short surface intervals, you should get out of your wetsuit, dry yourself with a towel and put some dry clothes on.
- Stay out of the wind during surface intervals. Avoid sitting out in the open during your surface intervals since being exposed to the wind further reduces your core body temperature.
- Wetsuits and drysuits do get damaged and wear out from intensive use. Thus, its ability to keep you warm during your dive also suffers. If you feel that your wetsuit isn’t working as well as it used to, consider getting a new one so you have lesser worries when diving.
- Don’t dive deeper than necessary and stay near the surface. The water near the surface is generally warmer. If your dive computer has a water temperature reader, you’ll notice that the water temperature drops the deeper you dive.
Globo Surf Overview
Most people think that it is natural to feel a little cold when diving. After all, what kind of temperature should you be expecting underwater, right? Although a little cold may be normal, you should still be vigilant for any signs of hypothermia, even when it is still in its mild stages. By staying warm while scuba diving, you reduce the chances of hypothermia ever occurring. But should any of the symptoms start to manifest, be sure to alert your dive buddy and be prepared to surface when necessary.
Heat Loss and Hypothermia When Diving, Dip n’ Dive