Wet suits and dry suits are very important when it comes to scuba diving. Your normal body temperature hovers around 98.6F (37C). If you are scuba diving in water that is cooler than your body temperature your temperature will drop. In all water, even the warmest, tropical waters, you will need thermal protection, like a wet suit, dry suit or dive skin, to keep warm and to keep safe while scuba diving. The cold affects our ability to think and our physical response time slows, which can lead to an accident. Warm tropical water will begin to feel cold after prolonged scuba diving, so it is always a good idea to wear light insulation at a minimum.
When choosing thermal protection, like a wet suit or dry suit, you need to consider the following factors:
- Water temperature
- Your activity level during a dive
- Your body size
You should always wear more insulation in colder water and lighter insulation in warmer water. Your level of activity can be a good indicator of how much insulation you should wear during a scuba dive. The more active you are during a dive the more heat your body generates and the warmer you remain throughout your dive. Larger scuba divers may need less insulation than smaller scuba divers and small, muscular scuba divers may need less insulation than larger scuba divers. It is important for you to try different amounts of insulation in differing water temperatures to determine what you need.
Some scuba divers need more insulation than others, regardless of activity or size. Some scuba divers can dive in tropical water wearing only a lycra body suit, commonly known as a dive skin, while others need a 2mm wet suit. Some scuba divers can dive in cold water wearing only a 6mm wet suit, while others need the protection of a dry suit. If you are scuba diving in water below 55F (12.7C), a dry suit is the warmest type of thermal insulation available.
Dive skins, wet suits and dry suits also protect your skin from cuts, scrapes, abrasions and stings which can occur while you are scuba diving. A simple brush against specific forms of coral and fish can cause painful irritations and burns on bare skin, but may not be noticeable or even occur, if your skin is protected.