So I did.
It was a great experience, and I learned a lot. One of the most valuable things that I learned during that class had nothing to do with caverns: I learned that I wanted to get a dry suit.
Up until this point, I was convinced that I could handle diving the freshwater springs of north Florida while wearing my beloved 5 mil Waterproof W2 Wetsuit. I’d made several dives over the years in waters cooler than the year-round 68*F waters in the springs.
Besides, I’d always sort of assumed that dry suits were only for technical divers.
Or for diving with penguins.
The problem was that I’d never really considered spending upwards of 10 hours in my wetsuit.
It’s not that we made a 10 hour-long dive (we didn’t). It’s that we made several dives, with surface intervals spent on the boat as we headed to the next spring. By the time the day was over, I was completely exhausted. The instructor and one of my classmates were both diving dry, and seemed annoyingly chipper when compared to how wiped-out the wetsuit divers were feeling.
Immediately I knew that I must have one of these awesome suits that somehow magically keep you from getting wet while scuba diving.
Why Dive a Drysuit?
As I learned more about how dry suits work, I realized that I had been wrong in my assumption about this being a tech diver’s toy: diving dry is something that all recreational divers can learn to enjoy safely. I’m sure this comes as no surprise to our readers in more…. chilly…. climates, but in this part of the world, your average recreational diver doesn’t see too many dry suits unless they are hanging out with cave or technical divers.
In addition to making long days in the springs (or the ocean) more enjoyable, I learned that there are several other benefits to diving dry:
In the winter, you’re warm out of (as well as in) the water
Here in north Florida, Many people dive year-round. During the winter months, the water temperatures in the Gulf may drop into the low 50s, while the air temps can be anywhere from 20*F to 80*F. Even though I’d been able to ‘tough it out’ for an hour when diving wet in the 55* water, I never looked forward to stripping off my wetsuit on a 40*F cloudy, winter day.
Greater range of movement
If you’ve ever been diving in 7mm (or thicker) wetsuit with a hooded vest, you have probably dealt with some of the following issues:
Putting your fins on without help.
Looking remarkably silly when climbing stairs.
My wife likes to explain it this way:
I feel like Randy, the little brother in the movie ’ A Christmas Story’. “I can’t put my arms down!!”
In a proper fitting drysuit, it’s much easier to move around than it is in average thick wetsuit. Bonus: you’ll be much warmer at the same time!
No more getting cold at depth
With a wetsuit, the suit compresses with the increased pressure as you descend. A side effect of this compression is that the suit loses much of it’s insulating abilities at depth.
With a dry suit, you add gas to the suit as you descend to counteract this effect. Problem solved.
You can use the same suit for a very wide range of temperatures
With the style of suit that I use and recommend (called a membrane or shell dry suit), the suit itself provides very little insulation. I wear thicker undergarments for colder water, while I wear thin (or no) undergarments in warmer water. As a result, I’m now diving my drysuit about eight months out of the year.
A dry suit lasts longer than a wetsuit
Whereas it’s not uncommon for a wetsuit to have lost most of it’s insulating abilities after a couple hundred dives (or less), a dry suit that’s properly cared for can last for thousands of dives. Although a dry suit is more expensive than virtually any wetsuit, the cost per dry dive can actually be less than that of a wet dive due to the longevity of a well made suit
Some people will think that you look like an astronaut
To be perfectly honest, this has only happened once (that I’m aware of) but it made me laugh so hard I just had to include it.
To the would-be space explore: you know who you are.
Learning to Dive a Dry Suit: Choose a Great Instructor
If you ask around a bit, I’m sure you can find tons of divers that have a drysuit and absolutely hate it. On the other hand, there are many divers that absolutely love their drysuits, and choose to dive dry even when on vacation in the tropics.
Considering the cost involved in purchasing my first drysuit, I definitely wanted to be in the latter group rather than the former.
This is why finding a great dry suit instructor is key.
Instead of enrolling yourself in a drysuit course without knowing the instructor beforehand, It’s a great idea to spend a little time hunting for a dry suit teacher. As you meet potential instructors, find out the following information:
- Do they enjoy diving dry? Anything other than an emphatic ‘YES’ should be considered a red flag
- Ask them about how a dry suit should fit. Answers that are in any way similar to “Big and Baggy” are another warning sign. Proper fit is the #1 thing that will either make or break your dry suit diving experience.
- How cold does the water have to be before they will dive dry? There will be a lot of variation here, but you’re looking for someone who prefers the fit, feel and function of a dry suit. These people are usually happy to break their suit out as soon as they can.
- Ask about their personal (i.e. not instructing) diving. If their idea of a fun weekend involves the sort of diving that results in long amounts of time in a drysuit, you can bet that being happy in that suit is high on their priority list.
If possible, decide on who your instructor will before you purchase your first suit. If possible, seek their advice on things like suit materials, zipper styles and undergarment selection. Buying ‘blind’ can result in some expensive mistakes: there’s not much worse than spending $3,000 on a top-of-the-line suit, diving it a few times and then discovering that the reason you’re having a tough go at it is because the suit is much too big for you.
After spending a few months talking to various instructors, I decided to take my dry suit training class with Heather Choat Armstrong. I couldn’t be happier with my decision, and highly recommend her as an excellent teacher.
Purchasing Your First Dry Suit
There are hundreds of options available to the first time dry suit diver. So many, in fact, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed when trying to decide on boot styles, seal materials, valve designs & placement and custom cut suits not to mention all the things to consider when looking at undergarments.
To make matters worse, all these options sound rather expensive when looking at diving dry for the first time.
Because they are.
The fit & finish of the suit is the one thing that can seriously impact the amount of enjoyment you find in diving dry. Unfortunately, this is also the one thing that’s very difficult (if not impossible) to change after you purchase a dry suit.
Once you find your drysuit instructor, have them help you through the purchasing process for the first time: It’ll save you tons of money in the long run, as well as untold hours of frustration. Purchasing ‘blind’ on the internet and then showing up for class with whatever shows up on your doorstep should be avoided at all costs.
Some drysuit manufacturers have demonstration events, where divers can be guided through suit selection and fit and can then experience a few test dives under the guidance of an experienced instructor. If there is such an event in your area, be sure to check it out. This will really help you understand what to look for in a new ‘suit before you spending money!
Drysuit Diving: Is it Worth the Cost?
Yes. A hundred times, yes.
Learning to use a dry suit is something I should have done years ago. Although the initial cost is significant, the increased comfort and safety just can’t be found when diving wet. Besides, going dry earlier on in my diving would have saved me a bundle of cash on wetsuits over the years.
If you’re not sure that a drysuit is for you, then look up your nearest DUI demo tour event and try one out for yourself!