Keeping warm diving in the cold

Keeping Warm in the Cold

There is no denying that the winter this year has been cold. But so many of us want to keep diving all year. Without the appropriate thermal protection the diving will stop being fun. Having the right equipment, specifically thermal gear, can make the diving so much more enjoyable. So I have been diving in the UK for around 15 years and completed dives where my computer has registered 1 degree centigrade. No matter who you are, that’s chilly!! I have also done my homework and read loads of articles about how to keep warm while diving. Some of the information out there is ok, some of it is so basic and doesn’t really apply to the cold water that the UK, Europe or more northern countries, or southern depending on where you are in the world. So I wanted to write a series of articles about Thermal Protection in Diving. This is more of an introduction article and will outline links to the detailed articles which will allow you to find the right information depending on the water temperature. Knowing what is “appropriate” for you will be defined by your thermal characteristics, but also by the water temperature where you are going to dive.

Roughly what is warm or cold?

The simplest way to break down water temperatures can be defined as cold water, temperate water and warm water.
  • Cold Water = Below 12 degrees
  • Temperate Water = Between 13 - 20 degrees
  • Warm Water = Above 21 degrees
Cold water thermal protection requires drysuits. There are some who will dive in thick wetsuits in cold water, however for most divers drysuits are recommended. Temperate water thermal protection gives you options of either thick wetsuits or drysuits, however in these water temperatures it is still my opinion that a drysuit is the best solution. Warm water thermal protection is generally the world for wetsuits. Of course there are exceptions to the rule. Technical divers may choose to use drysuits even in warm water due to the extended durations and depths of the dives.

Getting cold

There’s a reason people flock to the ocean when it’s hot. Submerging in cool water draws heat from your body at a rapid rate and lowers your core temperature. That’s great if you’re taking a quick dip to cool off, not so great when you’re 30 feet below the surface trying to appreciate the parrotfish. Feeling too cold not only affects the enjoyment of your dive, it can also be dangerous. As your core body temperature declines, so does your reaction time and thought process. Your body also uses more energy to keep warm, so you have less endurance for your dive. Here are a few simple points which will help you hold onto your body heat and enjoy your dive. Cover your head. You wouldn’t go skiing without a hat; don’t go diving in cold waters without a hood. It should be the first piece of thermal protection you consider. While near-surface blood vessels elsewhere in your body close down to minimize heat loss, those in your head continue at full flow. 2. Keep the water out. Even the best wetsuit or drysuit is worthless if it lets in too much cold water. Repair broken zippers and split seams. Pay special attention to the collar seal because as you swim forward it can act as a channel for water. A hood can pull double duty keeping your head warm and sealing the neck opening. 3. Bare nothing. Heat loss is huge where cold water flows over bare skin, so a thinner, full-length wetsuit will keep you warmer than a thicker shorty. 4. Stick to shallow waters. The deeper you dive, the more the insulating neoprene of your wetsuit compresses—effectively making it thinner and less insulating. Also, breathing air under less pressure chills you less. 5. Surface if you shiver. Uncontrollable shivering is a warning sign of hypothermia. If you or your buddy ever find yourself in this position, end the dive immediately and seek warmth. 6. Wrap up on deck. On deck, your wetsuit effectively becomes a swamp cooler as you sit there in the sea breeze. Many divers actually lose more heat between dives than when in the water. Wear a parka or a windbreaker during your surface intervals or remove the suit completely and dry off. 7. Have a hot drink. A thermos of hot cocoa can help warm your core between dives. Just steer clear of the spiked variety, drinking alcohol will send blood to your skin’s surface making you lose more heat.

Here to Help

Whether you are a warm water diver looking to take the plunge into the colder British waters or a well seasoned pro looking to improve the comfort and enjoyment of your cold water diving, Scuba Leeds is here to help. Come visit us at the shop to discuss everything from the PADI Drysuit Diver Speciality course to our new range of drysuits, undersuits, gloves and hoods. Some of the best diving in the world is in colder waters… lets make sure that you are fully prepared to enjoy it!

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