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Wet suits and dry suits insulate scuba divers and prevent hypothermia. Wet suits are the most common diving suits, since dry suits are most commonly worn in very cold waters. If you scuba in a tropical climate, you probably will want to invest in shorties, knee-length diving suits with short sleeves.
If you dive in waters below 50 or 60 degrees Fahrenheit, you probably will need a drysuit. Just ask the urchin divers and mussel harvesters who scuba dive daily in the frigid North Atlantic waters.
Drysuits keep the diver dry and warm with a water-tight seal. Frigid waters cannot seep into the suit. Undergarments -- thermal underwear and wool socks -- are worn under the drysuit for an added layer of protection. Wrist and neck seals often are coated with silicone spray. Gloves and a hood also are worn.
Drysuits are inflated when divers enter the water. The air helps with buoyancy and keeps divers warm. Drysuits are deflated on ascent.
Look for Henderson suits with "hyperstretch," which is stretch neoprene that provides a custom fit divers of all shapes and sizes. Unlike traditional wetsuits, Henderson suits have more elasticity, shaping to the contours of your body. If your wet suit gives you a rash, wear a Lycra top and shorts underneath.
A fun dive suit style is the core warmer. This scuba suit definitely is for very warm waters. It is a sleeveless shortie that is perfect for free diving or scuba diving in the Bahamas, Florida Keys or Cozumel.
With its sleek design and "slippery skin," the core warmer has the most fashionable look of any wet suit on the market, if that makes a difference to you.
Core warmers also allow for greater range of arm motion in the water. Say you're diving for stone crabs in the Dry Tortugas, it may make sense to wear a core warmer.
Core warmers also provide an additional layer of protection in colder waters. Layer a core warmer over a full wetsuit or dive skin, depending on your needs.
Dive skins are for warm-water diving. Some people even wear skins on cold-weather beaches, or at indoor swimming pools.
Made from Lycra or Spandex, dive skins aren't designed to keep divers warm, but they are helpful in protecting skin from cuts and scrapes. Some divers wear thin dive skins underneath their scuba suits.
Dive skins can get damaged from the salt and sun, so it is a good idea to always wash your dive skin in freshwater, hang it up, and let it dry. Don't throw it in the dryer; the heat will destroy the material. Do not try to store it wet either, or mildew will grow on the material.
How can you tell if a wetsuit fits properly? First, it needs to feel snug but comfortable. An overly tight suit can hurt your circulation and impede your breathing. It won't keep you any warmer either.
Make sure the neck and chest don't feel too tight. Your suit should be form fitting, meaning there should be no loose folds.
Check out how the suit feels in the water. Once the suit fills, feel how the water heats and then warms your body. Try swimming around in the suit, to ensure that it does not allow too much water in, which will have the reverse effect and make you feel cold.
Wet suits are not just for scuba divers. Surfers, water skiers, snorkelers and jet skiers wear wet suits. Wet suits are popular for their fit, comfort and material -- neoprene.
Neoprene contains tiny gas bubbles that create a buffer between you and the water. Neoprene insulates the wearer from the cold water. Neoprene also compresses as you dive, so your tight suit is likely to loosen some as you descend.
When you buy a scuba wetsuit, follow the manufacturer's guidelines for sizing. Usually, the wet suit maker will have a sizing chart that makes ordering easier.
If you are trying on a one-piece suit, pull it up to your waist, then stick your arms in one at a time. Ask a salesperson or buddy to zip up the back, so you won't catch your skin or hair in the zipper. Make sure the wet suit does not cut off your circulation.
Finally, when purchasing a wet suit, don't forget to order your scuba gloves, hood and booties.
The first thing you need to do after a dive is hose off your equipment. Salt is corrosive, so you need to protect your fins, mask and wetsuit.
Your wetsuit needs to be sprayed thoroughly with freshwater. Soak the inside and outside of the suit. This will get rid of any odors as well. Then hang up your scuba suit and let it dry. Do not store it wet. Mold and mildew will grow, which are impossible to get out. Here are some other tips for maintaining your wetsuit:
Wet suits come in several styles. While the standard color is still black, increasingly color accents are used in angled patterns that flatter the diver's physique.
Here are some of the more common wet suit styles:
Unless you plan to scuba dive under ice floes in the Arctic -- which some sport divers do -- stick with neoprene wet suits. They provide thermal protection for the wearer. The thicker the neoprene, the warmer the wet suit. Wet suits allow a thin skin of water to soak the diver. The trapped water is warmed by the diver's body, providing an additional layer of heat.
Neoprene is a heavy sponge-like fabric made from rubber. So it also also offers some protection for the diver against sharp or rough objects, such as coral rock or barnacles.
|Jennifer Mathes, Ph.D.|