Tip 1 – Getting Started
Just about all drysuit divers recall how their first few drysuit dives were all over the place but once past the initial learning phase they don’t look back and never want to dive wet in cold water again. It’s like learning to drive – you are going to stall in the traffic a few times but do you really want to walk everywhere for the rest of your life? Most dive shops offer formal drysuit diving courses and they may be an effective way of covering the basics and getting into dry diving but it depends on the skill and experience of the instructor and the course price. If you buy your drysuit from a dive shop then it’s a good idea to negotiate to have the course included in the price of the suit. Learning by just diving with an experienced dry diver is fine as long as you cover the basics. These include preventing and dealing with a feet first ascent, controlling a slow ascent from depth and dealing with valve failures and suit flooding.
Tip 2 – Everyone’s an Expert
Quite often I hear drysuit divers dispensing advice to wanabe drysuit divers on exactly which suit, seals… the wanabe should get. Normally they promote the suit they have invested in themselves. The problem is that quite often that’s the only suit they have any experience with. Why are people so prone to advice when they have no experience of all the alternatives? Dive shop sales people are the worst. You can be sure they will only recommend the suit they have for sale. That doesn’t help much. I suppose if you spoke to all the drysuit divers and sales guys in your area and got all their advice you could come up with some reasonable info. Or just come to BlueFlash – We have helped hundreds of divers dive dry successfully and we have no ulterior motives as we don’t sell suits.
Tip 3 – A Suit to Suit
My first drysuit (a used Otter neoprene) was no fun at all. It was uncomfortable, it leaked badly, the boots were 2 sizes too big and I spent a lot more time drying and patching it than I ever did diving in it. My second drysuit (a new Typhoon TRS tri-lam) was nice and comfy but it had persistent minor leaks on just about all the 300ish dives I did in it. My third drysuit (a slightly used Northern Diver neoprene) was a bit big for me so I struggled through about 20 dives with it until I gave up. My forth and current drysuit (a very old Otter tri-lam, with new boots new silicon seals and a new zip) is just about perfect. Its super-comfy, 100% dry and very easy to dive with. So I’ve had more success with tri-lams but I know a few divers that have only had success with neoprene suits. I think getting dry diving right consistently has more to do with the fit of the suit and matching a specific diver to a specific suit rather than being anything to do with suit brands or types. In South Africa we have so many instructors and tech divers diving in entry level suits and new divers buying completely the wrong suits. Eish!
At BlueFlash we are always willing to advise divers looking to buy drysuits – Just phone or e-mail us before you jump in.
Tip 4 – Fabric Fracus
Shell, Tri-lam, Bi-lam, Compressed or Uncompressed Neoprene, Hybrid, Fusion, Rubber… What’s best?
Since diving in drysuits began, the suits have been made in either a laminated shell fabric or with neoprene. The debate over which material is best has raged for years and I’m afraid to say it will never end because there simply can never be a clear winner. Both materials have their pros and cons and there are also numerous variants of each type, all with their own specific properties. Neoprene suits generally have the edge when it comes to shallow dives and for working divers while shell suits have the edge for deep and technical diving. Decent laminates will outlast most neoprenes as neoprene dries out a with age. But decent neoprenes are generally more puncture and tear resistant than most laminates. And then there are the so called hybrid or fusion suits which combine an inner waterproof shell suit with an outer flexible layer of thin neoprene or lycra to keep it snug to the body. Our view; There is good and bad in all of them although some definitely have a lot more bad than good.
Tip 5 – The Rise of the Pseudosuit
A few years ago some drysuit manufactures realised that the main reason drysuits were difficult to sell is because they were expensive, uncomfortable and getting standard sizes to fit un-standard divers meant shops holding too much stock to be viable; Their solution; make drysuits cheap, light and with flexible sizes. Sounds perfect,, and dive shops started selling more drysuits than ever before. Problem is that after just a few dives (particularly dives in Cape Town) they would wear out/puncture/tear/leak/fall apart. They are generally not cost effective to repair and quite a few divers have had bad experiences with these suits just not being up to the job. So,, beware the pseudosuit.
Tip 6 – The Silicon Seal Revolution
Silicon drysuit seals first appeared on the market in 2011. Waterproof and SI Tech in Sweden were first to introduce them (the same basic product from the same factory) and DUI in the US followed about a year later. Silicon doesn’t stick to anything so the seals have to be attached to suits with some kind of ring system. The Swedish ones fit onto plastic rings while the DUI ones fit onto their Zip Seal system which used to be for their latex seals. Both systems are great but we only supply the SI Tech ones as we found DUI to be uber-expensive. We can fit SI Tech rings to most shell and neoprene drysuits although they are more suited to shell suits which have more space to take the rings.
We love silicon seals and find them preferable to neoprene and latex seals in just about all applications. Please don’t think we promote them just because we are SI Tech agents – we promote them because we know they are better than the alternatives. Still diving with neoprene or latex seals? Join the silicon revolution today.
Tip 7 – Powder Puff
Let’s face it, latex drysuit seals are not going to last longer than 5 years tops. But why do some divers need to replace their seals after only a few months? Well latex is very delicate stuff and it needs to be protected from exposure to light, air (the ozone in air eats latex), heat and chemicals. The light, heat and chemicals part is easy – just keep them away. But how do you keep air away? Pure Talc powder applied liberally on both sides prior to storage is the answer. Talc powder forms a thin protective layer on latex and it also makes the seals slide on easily the next time you get dressed to dive. If you have silicon or neoprene seals they won’t need talc applied during storage but we still advise the use of talc to help them slide on easily and reduce the risk of a torn seal. Avoid using baby powder (scented talc) as there is a chance that the chemical scent could damage latex.
Tip 8 – Dry Inside?
Everyone sprays off their drysuit after a dive and lets it dry in the shade but just about nobody dries the suit on the inside. It drives me crazy! Even if your suit didn’t leak during a dive there will normally be a bit of wetness inside the suit after the dive. You really should, after drying the outside, turn it inside-out and let the inside dry. It’s a bit of a pain but doing this prevents those nasty smells and the buildup of the moisture which is often blamed on non-existent leaks. See the “Read this First” page for a little video which shows you how to turn a suit inside-out all the all the way down to the boots if you got the inside of the boots wet.
Is it the inside or the outside that you want dry anyway?
Tip 9 – Drink Up
Most drysuit divers don’t hydrate themselves properly for fear of needing to urinate during a dive. This is a bad idea, in fact it’s very dangerous because dive de-hydration is linked to an increased susceptibility to DCS and other unpleasant conditions. The solution is simple – Drink plenty of liquid before the dive but stop 1 to 2 hours before the last pee opportunity. Some drinks pass through much faster than others so you need to get the type of drink you use and the period it will take to pass fine tuned so that you start the dive hydrated but with your bladder as empty as possible. If you still need to pee during your dive then bite the bullet and install a P-valve or P-zip. The valves can be used underwater but unfortunately the connecting plumbing is somewhat cumbersome. For gents, especially technical divers, P-valves are becoming very common. Technical diving ladies can import a device know as a “She-P” (I won’t go into the attachment technicalities) which is connected to a standard P-valve. The P-zips can’t be used underwater but they are very useful for divers (men only) that spend long durations in their drysuits on the surface. I have a P-zip and find that if I use it just before a dive, and can use it just after a dive, 80 minute dives are no problem. For women I recommend adult dypers; That sounds terrible but actually modern dypers have very hi-tech gels that absorb huge amounts of liquids and they don’t smell or make you look odd. They are also an option for guys that don’t want the P-valve plumbing hassles. We keep the valves, zips and dypers in stock.
Tip 10 – The Truth about Warmth
Keeping warm in cold water is all about using the scientific principles of thermal insulation, conduction and dissipation along with an understanding of the human body thermal properties to your advantage. If one considers these factors and you know how drysuit and wetsuit materials work then the following basic conclusions can be made:
- Keep your head warm. Hands and feet are also important but the head is critical.
- The deeper you go the less a wetsuit insulates you. Drysuits are unaffected by depth.
- The physical nature of wetsuit material is important but the thickness is critical.
- Water flow inside a wetsuit (bad fit) completely destroys insulation.
- Drysuits are only as good as their undergarment.
- Undergarments are useless without sufficient air in them.
- Physical movement generates body heat.
If you want to be warmer underwater then I reckon the most important issue is to listen to good and appropriate advice when buying a new drysuit or wetsuit. The vast majority of dive shop sales personnel have no idea about cold water and they will just sell you what they happen to have in stock. Doing some research and talking to several experienced cold water divers makes much more sense.
Tip 11 – What Lies Beneath
In the pursuit of warmth underwater drysuit divers go to great lengths and expense to stay dry but often neglect their undergarment. Ja, not very clever Frikkie. Broadly speaking there are 3 types of undergarment; The fleece types, the Thinsulate filled (from 100 grams to 400 grams) and the high-tech diving specific low bulk varieties. And broadly speaking the warmth they deliver is also stepped up in that order. Fleece undergarments are more suitable for neoprene suits where the suit itself is giving you a bit of insulation and the low bulk matches a tighter fitting suit. Thinsulate (a micro fiber by 3M) is a fine thermal filler but it makes for quite bulky undergarments particularly when lots of it is used. So they go better with shell suits. The diving specific ones are from companies like Weasel and Forth Element are brilliant but cost the earth. If you can afford one you will find the warmth they deliver to be quite amazing. You could try a freezer suit (made for cold storage workers) which will be very cheap but the fillers used are not great and exceptionally bulky, so we don’t recommend them. If your budget doesn’t reach the heights of a Weasel or Forth Element undergarment set then there is one little hack which we find can deliver a spot of extra warmth without much expense – super warm socks. Try Heat Holders® from Dis Chem pharmacies or thick mohair socks from the mohair factory shop in Epping.
Also consider properties like “moisture wicking” (to take dampness from sweat and minor leaks away from the skin), warm when wet fabric, versatility in layers and a waterproof outer layer as important when selecting your undergarment.
If you are dry, have a good undergarment, warm socks, a good hood and good gloves and you’re still getting cold,, then it’s time for battery powered electric heating. But that’s another story.
Tip 12 – Why No Dry?
There is a common misconception among drysuit divers that a little bit of a drysuit leak or just a little bit of moisture finding its way in is fine, everyone has that they say. Well I say that any leak, no matter how small, is not acceptable. You should be 100% dry. Why live with tiny leaks that could be easily fixed? A suit with pinprick leaks could conceivably be dived in hundreds of times with the owner just accepting that the suit is slightly wet hundreds of times. Rather just get those leaks fixed from the start and get new leaks fixed as soon as they occur. That said, it is sometimes very difficult to find or repair leaks and leak repairs are occasionally a whole lot more complex than they might appear. Seam leaks, one way leaks, leaks that only show if the fabric is stressed and leaks that flow horizontally through neoprene or laminated fabrics test my calm demeanor and threaten my sanity all too often. We have known some suits that caused us and their owners frustration (and cold wet dives) over several years and multiple unsuccessful leak repairs. Still, the vast majority of leaks are easily fixed and we are committed to keeping you dry, without undue expense, even if we do find a more persistent leak in your suit.
Tip 13 – Touchy Feely
Wearing nice thick 5mm neoprene gloves or better still, dry gloves is great for keeping your hands warm in cold water but every time I promote them to cold divers I get the “but then I can’t feel anything” line. What exactly do you need to feel? I suppose those little buttons on a digital camera might be tricky but everything else can be operated perfectly using really thick gloves. It just takes practice and sensible gear selection. Steer clear of small buttons on power inflators and hoods without a sufficiently gripable rim around the face opening. You need hats on your inflator hoses. These are little plastic rings that go over the connection to make them easy to disconnect. I can supply them. It helps to avoid fancy octo clips. Rather have your octo kept DIR style with a bungee cord around your neck. Use the largest available size brass or stainless steel spring-clips (dog leash type) for attaching all your paraphernalia and you’re sorted. No feeling required.
Tip 14 – Too Big For Your Boots?
I estimate that at least half of South African drysuit divers have boots on their drysuits which are the wrong size. What a pain! Either they flop about and make swimming difficult or they are uncomfortably tight even with thin socks. The solution is simple – visit the BlueFlash drysuit workshop in Tokai, find a pair that fits and we will pop them on for you. We do it all the time and have a big selection of used and new boots to choose from. Suits with socks for over-boots can also be converted to normal drysuit boots.
Tip 15 – Sock It To Me (just a little bit)
What’s the story with drysuits that have socks instead of boots? Some drysuit manufactures moved to socks instead of boots a few years ago primarily because socks allow for more flexible sizing so they don’t need to produce so many sizes to accommodate all those different size feet. Then came the “rock boot” which just sounds wonderful and completely fits into tech diving jargon. So socks and rock boots must be the hard-core solution for dry comfy diving feet. Err, we think not. Sorry. In our experience the regular neoprene/rubber drysuit boots is superior to socks and over-boots in terms of durability and comfort. We have repaired so many socks with punctures but hardly ever have trouble with standard drysuit boots.
Tip 16 – Tendon Trouble
Many drysuit divers find that their suits have leaks at their wrists and sometimes their necks, because the seals can’t seal over their protruding arteries and veins. It is most common with skinny divers or divers that hold onto things tightly. Here is my list of solutions in order of decreasing effectiveness/ increasing lunacy:
- Get tighter seals. Wrist seals can be very tight but tight neck seals are dangerous.
- If you are using neoprene seals then replace them with latex seals or silicon seals which don’t have a join/seam and generally seal better.
- Get yourself some Apollo Bio Seals. These are wrist and neck bands made out of a very soft and flexible gel. They conform to the shape of tendons much better than latex so a better seal is guaranteed. They are separate loose items with the suits latex or neoprene seals just sealing on top of them.
- Wrist seals can sometimes be pulled down the arm a few inches away from the wrists where tendons are more pronounced.
- Get dry gloves that have their own seal over your wrist seals. A double seal.
- Insulation tape wrapped around the area where the skin meets the wrist seal works well but the glue on the tape could harm latex seals.
- Don’t hold onto anything too tightly. The more you squeeze the more you leak.
- Hair on the wrists and neck don’t help the seal. Shave it off.
- Don’t twist your neck around so much. If your buddy insists on swimming behind you then accidentally kick his/her mask off until you rectify this.
- Eat fatty foods and don’t exercise. Seals on plump soft wrists and necks won’t leak.
Tip 17 – Don’t Go with the Flow
Air flowing around inside your drysuit makes for a really unpleasant dive as buoyancy and trim are difficult to control. It’s mostly flow from the top part of the body into the legs and boots which leads to that horrible feet-up position which is irritating and potentially dangerous. So what can be done? Firstly one must realize that you may simply have too much air in the suit to begin with. There are a few reasons for this: It may be because you are carrying too much weight and using your suit for buoyancy (not a good idea) or you may need that air to make an inferior quality inner suit warm enough. It could also be that your suit and in particular the boots are too big for you and there is more excess volume than there should be. Secondly, one can stop the flow by wrapping your legs with gaiters. Drysuit legs have to be quite wide, more so in tri-lam suits, because you need to get your feet through them to get the suit on but that excess volume just allows the air to flow easily. Leg gaiters that fit between the ankle and below the knee are very effective. BlueFlash supplies very good and comfortable neoprene gaiters with wide velcro strips as fasteners. One could also use wetsuit pants over your drysuit to similar effect. I recommend these solutions over the use of ankle weights as they prevent the problem rather than trying to solve it.
Tip 18 – Re-Acting Badly
Some divers develop a skin rash when they use latex seals because skin contact with latex can cause an allergic reaction. It happens most often with latex neck seals worn for long periods. Barrier skin creams are not an effective solution to the problem. So what can you do? We find the only solution is to convert to neoprene seals, convert to silicon seals or get Apollo Bio Seals which act as a physical barrier between the latex and the skin.
Tip 19 – Climate Control
Unfortunately Cape Town cold water diving often happens when the air temperature is quite high. I sometimes see fully kitted drysuit divers standing around waiting for their dive in a blazing hot car park – Are you crazy? Here are some tips on keeping cool before the dive:
- Kit up in the shade. If there is no shade then bring your beach umbrella along and set it up next to your car.
- Mike at Stingray Marine recommends you wet the outside of your suit and lay it in a shady breeze so that it chills before you get into it.
- Wait in the water. You can float about next to the boat or jetty while waiting.
- Keep the top part of your drysuit and inner undone/off before the dive.
- If the boat trip is fairly long ask the skipper to stop so that you can take a quick dip.
- For shore dives; never climb down steps or paths fully kitted if it’s hot. Rather carry everything down to the waters edge and kit up there.
- Wear a big hat. Having your head in the shade makes a big difference.
Tip 20 – Zippity Do’s and Dont’s
Your metal or plastic waterproof zip is the most expensive component on your drysuit to replace so it makes sense to do everything you can to keep it from failing or wearing out. Zips do wear out with regular use and although metal and plastic zips have there strong and weak points no zip will last more than about 500 dives. A durable drysuit is going to last much longer than 500 dives so at some stage most drysuits will require a new zip. The best you can do is read our “Drysuit Care” guide for info on how to lubricate, clean, store and prevent tight bends so that you can extend the life of your zip to it’s maximum.
Tip 21 – Buoyancy Blues
All drysuit divers know how dry diving buoyancy is quite different and more difficult to control than wetsuit buoyancy. You have a second inflatable device in a rather strange shape with air flowing around in there. Here are a few tips to help you keep control:
- Don’t use the suit for buoyancy. The BC/wings are for buoyancy and the suit for warmth. Only add enough air to the suit to prevent squeeze.
- Never add weight with the intent of having more air in your suit so that you will have more insulation and be warmer. We used to do that when we were young and stupid – Trust me, it’s a bad idea because the extra air forms bubbles at high points in the suit. It does not increase the thickness of the insulating layer anywhere else, so it’s like folding a jersey and tying it to your back instead of wearing it the normal way.
- A good quality inner suit is essential as it will keep you warm with less air and hence less buoyancy control problems.
- It takes longer than you think to dump the air from your suit so that you can begin your descent. Think of all that fabric that traps air in you inner suit. It’s not like a BC/wing – it may take up to 10 seconds of continuous dumping to get it all out.
- Position your weights low down and forward. Lots of drysuit divers use tank weights and a weight belt but I prefer having weight lower and further to my front like with a weight belt and BC pocket weights.
- Gaiters are better than ankle weights when it comes to keeping your feet down.
- Heavy fins, like Jetfins, are also useful at keeping your feet down and the air in the top half of the suit.
Tip 22 – Damp at the Dump
Adjustable dump valves leak. Yes it’s a known fact that when an adjustable dump valve is fully open or nearly fully open the rubber diaphragm is not going to be able to keep water that is splashed or forced on it from getting into the suit. With the valve open the balance between the inside and outside pressures is just too fine for it to handle sudden increased pressure from the outside. It happens most frequently at the surface with waves washing over the valve or underwater with the valve facing a current or any substantial water flow like with scootering or being towed through the water. The Apeks low profile adjustable dump valve (fitted as standard on many drysuits) is most prone to this type of leak, not so much when they are new but quite often once they have done 50+ dives. The older Apeks high profile valve and the Si Tech dump valves seem to be much less prone to leak. So what can you do? Well when you go into the water to begin your dive you should have your valve in the closed position and then only open it when you are actually underwater and needing to vent air to descend. Then just before you reach the surface after your stop close the valve again. And if you do have the Apeks low profile valve you could consider changing to the high profile valve or a Si Tech valve. Note that Apeks and Si Tech require different valve ports (rubber disc glued to the suit) so its better to stick with the brand you have. Also, the Apeks low profile valve is the highest performing dump valve meaning that it can dump air faster than the high profile valve so if you are changing between valves you should be aware of this difference.
Please let us know if you found this info useful or if you think we should add or edit anything.