Cold Water Diving
What do you think of when I say scuba diving in February in a quarry in Lancashire? I think, how many layers! I have been diving now since late 1996, with dives around the world including the crystal clear, tropical waters around the equator to glacial water in the middle of winter in Iceland. I have used board shorts and rash vests, to 7mm neoprene drysuits with multiple layers underneath with dry gloves and 10mm hoods. So I am writing this article from experience. Over the years when I have told people that I have dived in the middle of winter in the UK and Iceland I more often than not met with a mixture of bemused insanity. Sometimes I have to admit, when I have got my thermal protection wrong though, I have even questioned it myself. Cold water diving is part of diving in the UK, but it doesn’t need to be uncomfortable and can be really fun. A lot of people talk about adequate exposure protection being essential. I sometimes feel that simply having adequate protection may not be the best solution, especially if you are having fun, have plenty of gas left and lots of bottom time to play with. I have tried and tested lots of the undersuits/thermal products in my time as a scuba diving instructor and dive centre owner. My general recommendation has always been to use multiple layers of undersuits under your drysuit to trap as much air between the layers to keep you warm. I personally choose to wear a combination of different undersuits from Fourth Element. I was fortunate enough to be given a Fourth Element Halo3D undersuit when it was launched in 2012. It is an interesting product unlike any thermal protection I had ever worn before. The advertising material says “Maximising thermal protection whilst minimising buoyancy, the HALO 3D has body mapped insulation, strategically placed to enhance protection when in horizontal trim”. So what does all that mean. The Halo3d has a crazy SpaceTek Compression Resistant Panels which basically creates an additional 8mm layer of air on the torso front, thighs and shoulders. This benefits you by effectively simulating the use of multiple layers and keeping you warmer with more air being trapped in your undersuit. The back, kidney region, buttocks and hamstring region are protected by three layers of high density material. This combination offers your body core the best protection from the cold water. Since I got the Halo3D I have lost over 5 stone, so wearing my XXL Halo3D is now no longer an option, but I did find an old blog post of mine from February 2012, the first weeks wearing this undersuit which I thought I would share with you: “This weekend I was teaching a PADI Open Water Scuba Instructor course, due to the nature of the dive, evaluating instructor candidates running open water training skills, I really did not move. I descended to 6 meters and hovered stationary for 35 minutes in 4 degrees of water and watched my students, I made no physical exertion at all. Yes I came out of the water cold, but after this type of dive I was staggered at how long it was before I felt the cold. I did find that I needed more lead than usual, to say this suit is more buoyant than my previous undersuits would be an understatement, but it is really warm. I added an extra 4kg of lead from my normal weighting, totaling 16kg of lead in fresh water. I was using a single 15ltr steel cylinder and wearing a 2.1mm neoprene O’Three Ri2/100 drysuit. At this point I should mention that the one set of Xerotherm socks on my feet were NOT enough thermal protection for my toes. I literally came out of the water with frozen feet, I was only wearing these socks as I had lost my Arctic socks :-( Thankfully they have now been found, so warm feet this weekend :-) I wish I had read the rest of the advertising material before taking this diving this weekend that says “In a layering combination with Xerotherm, HALO 3D is suitable for the harshest diving conditions on the planet.” Fourth Element say that this product is designed for use underneath membrane and trilaminate suits, I think it is perfect for use underneath neoprene suits too. So this weekend I will be running with both the Halo3D and the Xerotherm. So what do I think? A great product which I think will be an awesome addition to my undersuit arsenal. I will post an update to let you know what impact the Xerotherm has this weekend.” I still love the Halo3D and can’t recommend the Fourth Element gear highly enough. If you are not familiar with it, then drop down to Scuba Leeds this week and check out the full range of Fourth Element thermal protection products that we have in store. Cheers Alex

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