A lot of divers have an instant reaction to cold water diving, and one that is very understandably negative.
Depending on where you live in the world, your concept of hot and cold water will vary considerably.
For instance, one of the WeDiveToo team lives in Florida. For her, anything under 77F is considered best avoided. Another lives in Ireland and would probably panic at such a high temperature, as it generally hovers around 50F all year round.
No joke, I’m the one in Ireland, and I’m still suspicious of the idea that the ocean can even get that hot!
Remember, it’s a big world! However, if you feel the water is cold then based on what you are used to, that’s true for you.
The advantages of cold water diving are that it opens up new climates and species to you. Most species are climate dependent, and even if you meet the same species in colder waters they can act very differently.
Think Leopard Seals, Sea Dragons, most of the wrecks in Europe, Canada and Scandinavia, and of course the kelp forests of British Columbia.
There is another important advantage in being able to cold water dive – you can dive all year round!
Diving in the summer is great, no arguments there. However, being able to dive all year round is a lot better.
If you’ve ever dipped a toe in a cold ocean and given a little scream, this is the section for you. The equipment used to dive in warm waters is not the same as that used to dive in cold waters.
If you have ‘tried it’ using warm water equipment, then you’ve given yourself a bad experience for no reason.
If you normally dive in warm waters then your wetsuit is probably only a few millimeters thick. This is great for warmer climates or the summer, but totally insufficient for cold water diving.
As an example, my next wetsuit for Irish diving (50F) will be 7mm thick, but 5 in the areas needed to flex. If you ever tried a wetsuit like this in warm waters then you probably felt like you were being cooked and restricted. In a colder climate it’s perfect. In warm waters it would be hell.
However, and this is a twist based on personal experience, if you are used to very warm waters then you would probably need a dry suit to dive in the same waters as myself, to feel as warm as I will feel in my 7mm wetsuit. That is because I’ve adapted for the cold.
I’d be in the same situation if I went Diving in Iceland, as the locals happily swim without wetsuits but I’d need a dry suit. Otherwise we would be back to the familiar ‘dip-a-toe-and-scream’ scenario.
As well as the thickness of wetsuits, you can also get wetsuits with heavy protection from cold winds. This is useful for when you get out of the water. Most wetsuits have at least some protection built in from the wind, but cold-water specific wetsuits will often have an additional layer for this purpose.
Cold-water specific suits will also usually have welded seams, which are important for retaining heat, and are less important in warmer climates. 3 finger gloves can make a big difference as well.
A dry suit isn’t like a wetsuit. A wetsuit limits the amount of water in contact with your skin, and provides insulation so that water heats up. A dry suit stops the water getting in at all. It traps air inside the suit with you to create an air pocket that insulates you, and keeps you very warm.
Additionally, as you will remain dry, you can wear additional layers.
If you are a diver that isn’t familiar with dry suits then you are probably already wondering about the air trapped in the dry suit, and how it reacts at different depths. That’s why PADI offer a ‘Dry Suit Diver’ course.
The ‘Dry Suit Diver’ course enables you to learn to use a dry suit without having it ruin your buoyancy, or become uncomfortable during your accent.
Here is the important take away; you can feel warm in almost any climate while diving. And with that in mind, are you missing out on seeing a lot of different marine environments just because you ‘dipped a toe’ once? With the right equipment, and training, the world’s oceans are open to you.
Colin is an inventor, author, guitar player, amateur scientist and steampunk enthusiast. During his years as a ships navigator his luck was so consistently bad that he was briefly known as 'Jonah', presumed cursed, and subsequently barred from setting foot on any boat docked in Ireland. Due to his misadventures he spent more time underwater than most divers will achieve in a lifetime. Not deliberately, but he was still down there!