Congratulations you are now a certified scuba diver. If you are like most new divers, you are thinking about your next dive, buying your own equipment and improving your diving skills. Most dive instructors suggest that students get their own mask, fin, and boots while in training. A mask that is uncomfortable or floods can cause you to lose focus in your training, making it much more difficult. If you do not have your own mask, then that really should be your number one purchase. Boots are important as well, as a poor fitting boot can cause blisters and make it difficult to control your fins.
Purchases your own equipment is the next step for many divers. When you are beginning, it may be hard to justify getting a full kit. You may not be sure how often you will dive and the price can be far out of your budget. After the mask and possibly your boots, your wetsuit should be your next purchase.
There are a number of reasons that you should have your own wetsuit. The reason you hear most often is most likely that you do not know who wore it last. There is a saying there is two type of divers. The ones who pee in their wetsuit and the ones who lie and say they do not. It is natural that divers do. You do not want to come up early to relieve yourself, even if the boat does have a head. There are also physical properties at work as well. Immersion diuresis is a reaction to cold water and pressure. The blood vessels in the skin and extremities contract keeping more of the blood in the core of the body. However, the kidneys see the increased volume as too much fluid and start creating urine to bring the body back into balance. Your bladder fills faster than normal. It is not really the matter if the person who used it before you pee in it or not, but how well was it cleaned. A wetsuit not properly cleaned could become smelly or cause you to have a rash, think diaper rash. If you have your own wetsuit the cleaning is your responsibility.
There is a better incentive to getting your own wetsuit, better buoyancy control.
Wetsuits and Buoyancy Control
Buoyancy control for a new diver, and many experienced divers, can be a daunting task. You want just enough weight so that you are neutrally buoyant at the end of the dive. One factor of your buoyancy is your wetsuit. There are calculators that will help you understand how much weight you will need to adjust when you go from one thickness of wetsuit to another. However, these are just estimates and are based on new wetsuits. As wetsuits age, they lose some of their buoyancy.
Consider this, after your first dive of the day before returning to the boat you check if you are positive or negatively buoyant. You make an adjustment of a few pounds. At the end of your second dive, you check again and you find that with a near empty tank, no air in the BCD you are neutrally buoyant. The next day you suit up, add the same amount of weight as the previous day. When you release air from your BCD you sink very fast. You find yourself keeping more air in the BCD during the dive and at the end of the dive find you are 5 pounds overweight. The most likely reason, you had a new wetsuit the first day and a worn out one the second.
When I replaced my first wetsuit, I found that I needed to add 5 pounds of weights. The old one did not have any buoyancy left, it had become nothing more than a dive skin. If you are changing suits each day and there may be as much as 5 pounds difference with a 3 mm suit, how can you have control with your buoyancy unless you start over at the beginning every dive?
Things to Consider
The article “Keeping The Chill Out -Exposure Suit Basics” gives a good overview of what a wetsuit does and the basic styles they are made in. It also discusses thickness of a suit and what they are best used for. If you are not familiar with wetsuits, you might want to review that article as well.
- Wetsuits are designed for specific sports – If you are scuba diving then you want a wetsuit designed for scuba diving and likely they will cost more. A surfer, as an example, does not want to spend much time at depth, a scuba diver does. The Neoprene used in scuba diving suit must be able to stand up to repeated changes in pressure. As a diver goes deeper, the suit compresses and loses buoyancy. It also has a reduction in its ability to hold water which is warmed by your body and acts as a buffer. The Neoprene in his suit will try to resist this lost. A wetsuit that is not used at depth does not need this more expensive type of material. Another related factor is the style of the cut. A surfer uses his upper body and arms frequently. His wetsuit is cut so that there is a better range of motion for the arms and shoulders. For diving, the range of motion most needed is in the legs. A diver’s wetsuit will have a better range of motion for the legs. Upper chest and arm motions are not used as often as surfing the fit can be tighter.
- Where will you dive and how often – This is likely the most important question. As mentioned above not all Neoprene is created equal. Upper-end wetsuits will have material that is more durable. This is even more important as you get into the thicker suits. However, if you are only planning on diving a few times a year, your suit may last long enough where you do not need the upper-end standards. Where you dive will also influence how thick a suit you will need. Diving in the Caribbean and you will not need a 7mm jumpsuit. Look at the range of water temperatures you will dive at and find a thickness that suits those waters.
- Do you get cold fast – Every person handles temperature differently. Part of that is acclimatization. If you live in a place where it is always hot, you may be cold faster than someone who spends most of the year in cold weather. If you are used to colder temperatures then you might be more comfortable with a thinner wetsuit or maybe just a shorty. Many logbooks will have entries for water temperature, exposure suit used and if it was comfortable. Record that information to help guide you to what is best for you.
- What styles of wetsuit are you most comfortable in – There are three main styles, the shorty, a jumpsuit and the farmer John/ Jane. Also to be considered is the location of the zippers. Both front zippers and back zippers have their pros and cons just as they have those that strongly favor one style over the other. (front zipper fan here)
- Do you need knee pads and elbow pads – Kneeling in the sand is a big no-no, and if you were allowed to do that in training, do not do it again. That being said many divers will benefit having knee pads on their suits as well as elbow pads. They are a big plus if you do wreck dives. (after additional certification)
- Color and design – You are spending your hard earned money, so get a suit that the colors look good on you.
Putting it All Together
Once you know what your needs and wants are, then it is time to go find that perfect wetsuit for you. Unless you are getting a custom made wetsuit where you have to submit a dozen or so measurements do not buy a wetsuit online without seeing the model and if possible trying one on in person. A wetsuit needs to be form fitting and not everyone has the same form. Also, there is no real standardization of sizes. A medium from one company may be large in the next. You want to make sure that what you get will fit you. Too tight across the chest can cause breathing problems under pressure, loose places can hold air pockets making buoyancy difficult. The chest, torso length, neck, and shoulders are the most common concerns. However, there are some problem areas that you might not consider at first. The problem areas for a good fitincludese the small of the back, crotch, shoulders, and arm pits.
Taking your time and finding the best suit for you, will have benefits in the long run.