All suit manufactures have sizing charts for their stock suits so check those first to see if a stock suit will fit. The closer you are to those measurements the better the suit will fit. Sizing and fitting a dry suit can take some time so make sure you are sized by someone who has the knowledge and doesn’t just SWAG it. If you have a size that is outside the dimensions it would be for your comfort to consider a custom cut.
Fit is one reason why a large percentage of drysuit divers become discouraged and either sell their suit or reduce the number of cold water dives. Once properly fitted and beyond the initial learning curve divers look forward and never want to dive wet in cold water again.
I suggest 10-20 dives before you really get the hang of your dry suit since every diver’s learning curve and every suit is a little different.
Some dive shops will offer formal drysuit diving courses and they may be an effective way of covering the basics and getting into dry diving but it depends on the skill and experience of the instructor and the course price. Talk with the instructor and see what they cover, how many dry suit dives they do, what they expect from you as a student. Courses should at a minimum cover preventing and dealing with a feet first ascent, controlling a slow ascent from depth and dealing with valve failures and suit flooding.
It is a fact that latex drysuit seals will not last longer than 5 years tops. So why do some divers need to replace their seals after only a few months? Maintenance!!!! Latex is delicate and needs to be protected from exposure to the sun, air (the ozone in air eats latex) heat and chemicals. The sun, heat and chemicals part is easy – just keep them away. But how do you keep air away? Pure Talc, use talc powder (SCENT FREE) applied liberally on both sides prior to storage is one method. Talc powder forms a thin protective layer on latex and it also makes the seals slide on easily the next time you get dressed to dive.
Another way is when your dry suit is not in use; use a vacuum sealed space saving type bag. Lay out the suit as flat as possible so it will still be able to fit inside the bag, attach the vacuum and vacuum out the air.
A third method, which is more costly initially, is when your latex seals need to be replaced, have new silicone seals installed. Silicone is not as sensitive to ozone and is less likely to tear during the donning of the suit.
Divers may develop a skin rash when they use latex seals. It happens most often with latex neck seals worn for long periods. If you have this problem or are allergic to latex then all you can do is convert to neoprene seals or buy silicone seals.
Seal It Up
Many drysuit divers find that their suits have leaks at their wrists and sometimes their necks, because the seals can’t seal over their protruding arteries and veins. It is most common with skinny divers or divers that hold onto things tightly. Here is a list of solutions in order of decreasing effectiveness/ increasing lunacy:
• Use tighter seals. Wrist seals can be very tight but tight neck seals are dangerous.
• If you are using neoprene seals then replace them with latex seals which don’t have a join/seam and generally seal better.
• Get yourself some silicone seals. These are wrist and neck seals made out of a very soft and flexible silicone gel. They conform to the shape of tendons much better than latex so a better seal is guaranteed.
• Wrist seals can sometimes be pulled down the arm a few inches away from the wrists where tendons are more pronounced.
• Use dry gloves that have their own seal over your wrist seals. A double seal.
• Insulation tape wrapped around the area where the skin meets the wrist seal works well but the glue on the tape could harm latex seals.
• Don’t hold onto anything too tightly. The more you squeeze the more you leak.
• Hair on the wrists and neck don’t help the seal. Shave it off.
• Don’t twist your neck around so much. If your buddy insists on swimming behind you then accidentally kick his/her mask off until you rectify this.
• Eat fatty foods and don’t exercise. Seals on plump soft wrists and necks won’t leak.
Everyone sprays off their drysuit after a dive and lets it dry in the shade but just about nobody dries the suit on the inside. It drives me crazy! Even if your suit didn’t leak during a dive I can guarantee that there will be wetness (condensation) inside the suit after the dive.
You really should, after drying the outside, turn it inside-out all the way down to the boots, and let the inside dry. It’s a bit of a pain but doing this prevents those nasty smells and the buildup of the moisture which is often blamed on non-existent leaks.
Is it the inside or the outside that you want dry anyway?
There is a common misconception among drysuit divers that a little bit of a drysuit leak or just a little bit of moisture finding its way in is fine, everyone has that, they say. Well I say that any leak, no matter how small, is not acceptable. You should be 100% dry. Why live with tiny leaks that could be easily fixed? A suit with several pin sized leaks could conceivably be dived in hundreds of times with the owner just accepting that the suit is slightly wet hundreds of times. That’s silly, just get those leaks fixed from the start and get new leaks fixed as soon as they occur.
To P or Not To P
Most drysuit divers or divers in general, fail to hydrate themselves properly for fear of needing to urinate during a dive. This is a bad idea; in fact it’s dangerous because dive de-hydration is linked to an increased susceptibility to DCS and a host of other unpleasant conditions.
The solution is simple – Drink plenty of clear liquid before the dive but stop 1 to 2 hours before the last opportunity to use the facilities. Some drinks pass through much faster than others so you need to get the type of drink you use and the period it will take to pass fine-tuned so that you start the dive hydrated but with your bladder as empty as possible.
If you still need to urinate during your dive then install a P-valve or P-zip. For a male, these valves can be used underwater and is connected by using a condom catheter. Drysuit diving ladies can import a device known as a “Shepee” which is a glued on (after shaving down there) “pad” type device and then connected to a standard P-valve. The P-zips can’t be used underwater but they are very useful for divers that have an urgency to go without having to strip down.
Not quite ready for the P or She P-valve? Then I recommend an adult diaper; that sounds terrible but actually modern diapers have hi-tech gels that absorb huge amounts of liquids and they don’t smell or make you look odd.
Warm And Fuzzy
Keeping warm in cold water is all about using the scientific principles of thermal insulation, conduction and dissipation along with an understanding of the human body thermal properties to your advantage. If one considers these factors and you know how drysuit and wetsuit materials work then the following basic conclusions can be made:
• Keep your head warm. Hands and feet are also important but the head is critical.
• The deeper you go the less a wetsuit insulates you. Drysuits are unaffected by depth.
• The physical nature of wetsuit material is important but the thickness is critical.
• Water flow inside a wetsuit (bad fit) completely destroys insulation.
• Drysuits are only as good as their undergarment.
• Undergarments are useless without sufficient air in them.
• Physical movement generates body heat.
Wearing nice thick 3-5mm neoprene gloves or better still, dry gloves is great for keeping your hands warm in cold water but every time I promote them to cold divers I get the “but then I can’t feel anything” line. What exactly do you need to feel? I suppose those little buttons on a digital camera might be tricky but everything else can be operated perfectly using really thick gloves. It just takes practice and sensible gear selection. Steer clear of small buttons on power inflators and hoods without a rim around the face opening that you can grasp ahold of. You need an inflator hose that either has a large ring or purchase plastic hats for the hose. It helps to avoid fancy clips that will make it difficult to grab and secure. Use the largest available size stainless steel (marine grade) BOLT SNAPS for attaching all your paraphernalia and you’re sorted. No feeling required.
Do you know what they say about drysuits with big boots? They probably belong to a diver with small feet. What a pain! Either they flop about and make swimming difficult or they are uncomfortably tight even with thin socks. The solution is simple – purchase a suit that has the correct sock size.
Since sport diving in drysuits began, the suits have been made in a laminated shell fabric, neoprene or a combination of the two. The debate over which material is best has raged for years and I’m afraid to say it will never end because there simply can never be a clear winner and more materials are being introduced all the time. Today you have tri laminate, cordura, crushed neoprene, compressed neoprene. The list goes on.
All materials have their pros and cons and there are also numerous variants of each type, all with their own specific properties. If you happen to find yourself in the position of needing to choose which type to use then my tip will be: Don’t listen to my advice. Get advice from divers that dive where you will dive and divers that use both types of drysuit. It gets confusing because somehow everyone thinks what they use or sell is best. Just take your time and get it right the first time.
Cold water diving often happens when the air temperature is quite high. I sometimes see fully kitted drysuit divers standing around waiting for their dive in the blazing hot sun – Are you crazy? Here are some tips on keeping cool before the dive:
• Kit up in the shade. If there is no shade then bring your beach umbrella along and set it up next to your car.
• Wet the outside of the suit. The evaporation will cool you down.
• Wait in the water. You can float about next to the boat or jetty while waiting.
• Keep the top part of your drysuit and inner undone/off before the dive.
• If the boat trip is fairly long ask the skipper to stop so that you can take a quick dip.
• For shore dives; never climb down steps or paths fully kitted if it’s hot. Rather carry everything down to the water’s edge and kit up there.
• Wear a big hat. Having your head in the shade makes a big difference.
All drysuit divers know how dry diving buoyancy is quite different and can be more difficult to control than wetsuit buoyancy. You have a second inflatable device in a rather strange shape with air flowing around in there. Here are a few tips to help you keep control:
• Don’t use the suit for buoyancy. The BC/wings are for buoyancy and the suit for warmth. Only add enough air to the suit to prevent squeeze.
• Never add weight with the intent of having more air in your suit so that you will have more insulation and be warmer. Trust me, it’s a bad idea.
• A good quality undergarment is essential as it will keep you warm with less air and hence less buoyancy control problems.
• It takes longer than you think to dump the air from your suit so that you can begin your descent. Think of all that fabric that traps air in your undergarment. It’s not like a BC/wing – it may take up to 10 seconds of continuous dumping to get it all out.
• Position your weights low down and forward. Lots of drysuit divers use tank weights and a weight belt but I prefer having weight lower and further to my front like with a weight belt and BC pocket weights.
• Gaiters are better than ankle weights when it comes to keeping your feet down.
• Heavy fins, like Jetfins, Rocketfins, Quattros are also useful at keeping your feet down and the air in the top half of the suit. Avoid the use of ankle weights since they tend to place undue stress on the ankles and knees.
• If you have a variable dump valve and you are new to using it you will be tempted to fiddle with it and make small adjustments all the time. Experienced variable dumpers only touch it 3 times during a dive.