Staying warm under water
If anything can ruin a dive and chill you to your very bones, it’s going under water without a proper neoprene wetsuit. Protecting yourself from the cold is very important in this sport, because we lose body heat – starting with the limbs – between 20 and 25 times faster than on land.
Wetsuits are made of neoprene. Different thicknesses are available for different water temperatures, and generally range between 0.5 and 9 millimeters. Recommendation tables are available, indicating the right thickness for a given water temperature, although each user must choose their own in accordance with their ability to withstand cold and their own comfort needs without endangering their well-being: scuba diving while you’re too cold can lead to hypothermia, which is a serious condition that requires medical attention.
For scuba diving in tropical waters of about 30 degrees centigrade, you might wear a wetsuit of between 0.5 and 3 millimeters to be comfortable, and increase the thickness in lower temperatures, up to a wetsuit of 9 millimeters in thickness for water below 21 degrees. At 18 degrees, use of a drysuit is recommended. Here, you will have to learn a new skill to handle it, once you have become an open-water scuba diver.
Wetsuits can be short or long, with a zipper in the front or the back, may have a hood or not, or even pockets for more advanced models. The important thing is for the suit to feel like a second skin: it should be snug but allow you to move and breathe naturally. If it’s too tight, that won’t be good for your circulation, and you have to be especially careful with the neck area to avoid any asphyxia problems. But if the suit is too big, it won’t keep you warm. Some people try diving in very warm waters without a wetsuit, but this is usually a mistake, because a suit will also protect you from cuts on coral reefs, metal in shipwrecks, impacts against rocks, or even scrapes on your shoulders when using a buoyancy control device that doesn’t fit quite right.
Wear and tear from intensive use erodes the thickness of a wetsuit and, thus, its capacity to keep you warm. It is also important to check to make sure there are no holes or slits that will allow new cold water to get in, as the basic function of a neoprene wetsuit is to maintain a thin layer of warm water between your body and the suit throughout the dive. Check your gear on a regular basis and make sure it’s in good condition so you can enjoy your scuba diving worry-free.
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