If you are scuba diving in colder water you may want to invest in a dry suit. They are considerably more expensive than wet suits, but the level of warmth and protection is unmatched by any other form of thermal protection. A dry suit can be made out of foam neoprene, crushed neoprene, vulcanized rubber or heavy-duty nylon. They use a combination of wrist seals, a neck seal and a waterproof zipper to keep you dry.
Most dry suits incorporate fully attached scuba booties as well. For added warmth you can wear dry-suit underwear underneath the dry suit. The underwear traps a layer of air between your skin and the water, which warms to your body temperature and helps to keep you warm. Like any thermal protection, the amount of underwear you need is based on the water temperature, your activity level during a dive and your body size. It is important for you to try different amounts of insulation to determine what you need.
Dry suits are easier to put on when compared to thick wet suits, but they do require training and practice to learn how to put them on properly and how to use them properly. Maintaining neutral buoyancy in a dry suit requires different skills than maintaining buoyancy in a wet suit. Buoyancy control is achieved using an inflator valve, which allows you to add air into the dry suit, and an exhaust valve, which allows you to release air from the dry suit. The exhaust valve is commonly found on the outside of the left bicep and it automatically releases air as you ascend. The inflator valve is similar to the power inflator on a buoyancy compensator vest. The most common location for the inflator valve on a dry suit is in the middle of your chest. This provides easy access while scuba diving and ensures your buoyancy compensator does not impede your access.
You do wear a buoyancy compensator with your dry suit as a backup surface flotation device. You should never add air to both your dry suit and buoyancy compensator at the same time. It is very difficult to control both the dry suit and buoyancy compensator at the same time and could distract you from scuba diving safely.
If you choose to use a dry suit for cold water diving, always take a specialty course regarding how to use a dry suit. Drysuits are too complex to risk figuring it out on your own.
Maintaining Dry suits
The key to keeping your dry suit clean and odor-free is its proper maintenance after each dive. These maintenance procedures will help to keep your dry suit in good shape for many years of scuba diving:
- Rinse your dry suit in clean, freshwater after each dive and allow it to dry thoroughly before storing. After a dive your dry suit will be covered in a salty residue and/or dirt. This must be rinsed clean to prevent the neoprene, rubber or nylon from degrading. If your dry suit is completely dry inside you do not have to rinse the inside of your suit. If the inside of the dry suit is wet, always rinse the inside as well. Your dry suit must be completely dry before storing to ensure the suit stays clean, odor-free and free of mildew or mold.
- Dry suit zippers should be lubricated occasionally to prevent degradation of the metal or plastic. Only use paraffin wax or beeswax to lubricate the zippers of a dry suit.
- Always store your wet suit rolled up in a bag and away from heat and ozone-producing machines, such as hot water heaters.
- Have the valves and zippers on your dry suit inspected annually by a qualified repair technician to ensure proper function.
Always consult your dry suit manual and/or scuba diving gear store about maintenance and care procedures for your dry suit.