How many times have I skipped a dive because I thought the water temperature was too cold? I’d rather not say to be honest. This mindset has denied me the beautiful underwater world far too often.
There’s more at stake than simply missing a cool sighting underwater. If you continue to dive when you’re too cold you may put yourself at increased risk of decompression sickness; when you’re cold your blood vessels constrict and blood flows slower, therefore it takes longer than your dive computer might predict for nitrogen to make its way out of your body.
Remember that feeling cold is subjective and varies hugely from person to person, but don’t be afraid to be the person diving in a thicker exposure suit than everybody else – you’ll be smug and toasty-warm when everyone else on the boat is complaining about the cold!
Tip 1: Choose the right wetsuit
Everyone feels comfortable in different water temperatures and also everyone has certain preferences and demands when it comes to wetsuits. It is important that the suit really fits like a second skin. If it is too small, it pinches and makes diving uncomfortable. If it’s too big, it doesn’t warm the way it’s supposed to.
Consider a semi-drysuit if you’re feeling you need a bit more warmth than regular wetsuit offers. They feature more sophisticated seals at the neck, wrists and ankles, and dry zips in order to minimise water movement inside the suit. They also often include thermal properties to reflect heat back to your body. Now that I’ve tried semi-dry I absolutely love it for Cape Town diving.
Remember that the neoprene becomes less effective over time. Continually compressing the bubbles inside it at depth means that the suit doesn’t keep its’ warmth as well as it gets older – even though it might still look perfect from the outside! If you’ve purchased a second hand suit, or you’re diving with one which is a few years old and you’re feeling the cold more than you used to, this could be the reason why.
Tip 2: Neoprene hood
Before you upgrade to a thicker wetsuit or a semi-dry, try a chicken vest with a neoprene hood. We quickly lose a lot of body heat through our heads and with a simple hood we can – in my experience – make up a few millimetres on the suit.
I discovered this on a trip to Mozambique – I thought I’d be warm in 20degC water but after successive dives I was getting cold. I added the hooded chicken vest and was perfectly warm from then on.
Tip 3: Add neoprene socks under your dive boots
Initially I dived with just the dive boots but my feet were always getting cold. I added the neoprene socks and much like the chicken vest it makes enough of a difference to make it an essential part of my dive gear.
Tip 4: Neoprene gloves
Not everyone likes to dive with gloves – and thick gloves can make handling things like torches and cameras difficult. You’ll need to balance the lack of dexterity against freezing fingers. Personally I love my neoprene gloves.
Tip 5: Drysuit
Drysuits are generally recommended for diving in water temps below 15°C. Hahahaha. Clearly Cape Townians are tougher than that. Our best dive conditions often come along with colder water. We regularly dive in water 15°C and colder. But if you’re always getting cold maybe it’s time to try a drysuit. Even if it is a little more tedious to put on, a dry suit might be the key to enjoying the cold water around the Cape Peninsula. Definitely more suited to boat diving than to shore diving, but for someone who is always feeling cold, but still wants to go diving, maybe it time to try out a drysuit. Remember that you will need to undertake the correct speciality course to learn to dive dry safely as you have an additional airspace to learn to compensate for whilst underwater.
Tip 6: Undergarments
Layers are your best friends when it comes to keeping warm underwater, when diving in both wetsuits and drysuits. Whilst rashguards are often added underneath wetsuits, they don’t necessarily offer any additional warmth. Options such as Sharkskin undergarments are fantastic as they can add significant warmth without adding any additional buoyancy.
Tip 7: Correct warm-up
It is especially important to warm up between dives on surface intervals to prevent further cooling down. If you are on a dive boat, it usually helps to take off the wetsuit halfway and to dry yourself in the wind and sun. If it is very windy, then reach for a warming windbreaker. And if nothing else helps, put on a beanie to warm up.
Tip 8: Dry off between dives
Microfibre towels are great for drying yourself off quickly and efficiently, or a changing poncho turn this into a wearable layer for warmth between dives, as well as somewhere to discretely get changed on the side of the road.
When diving in warm places an air temperature which may usually be bearable or even hot can start to feel cooler after repetitive dives, so have a hoodie and perhaps even a beanie on hand to keep your core temperature up on your surface interval.
Tip 9: Stay fed and watered
We all know that we should be staying hydrated in order to lower our chances of getting decompression sickness, but did you also know that being dehydrated impacts your body’s ability to keep warm? Dehydration can cause your core temperature to drop, which is the biggest problem when doing repetitive dives across multiple days. Hot drinks or even soups can be a great option to warm yourself up between dives, but avoid excessive caffeine intake.
Your body requires a lot of energy to keep you warm, so ensure you’re fuelling up with healthy, balanced meals throughout the day. The way that liveaboards generally structure their days is a great example of this; there are often small meals and snacks offered in between every dive in order to keep energy levels consistent.
Tip 10: DON’T BE A MARTYR
Sometimes, the best precautions aren’t enough. We’re not polar bears, after all. Once you start to chill, there’s not usually much you can do underwater except end the dive. Once you get that cold, diving is no longer fun.