Learning Diary Diving with a Dry Suit | Learnings
„I don't want to dive in cold water.“ „The visibility is just awful in cold water.” “Diving in a dry suit is nothing I can picture myself doing.” – those were pretty much my thoughts about diving in cold water.
And yet, somehow, I did. Not because I was so keen to freeze in cold water, but because I wanted to dive more and experience more. During my trip to Canada this summer, my friend encouraged me to signed up for a Dry Suit course in Edmonton (aka somewhere with no ocean close by).
Why should you dive dry?
I tend to get cold even in water as warm as 27-30°C. I, also, dove in 12°C water. With a 7mm wetsuit. I wouldn't particularly recommend anyone doing so. And since those really cold dives, I never thought of diving in cold water again. But if you still want to dive in colder water than the Caribbean or many other destinations, you'll have to give dry suits a try. For me, that was starting to dive at home in Austria as well.
They say water temperatures lower than 20°C should be dived in a dry suit. (I dived in 22°C with a dry suit because I just didn't want to rent a wetsuit.) Water temperatures around 10°C require a dry suit and some (=many) layers of thermals underneath. Plus a neoprene hood. Plus neoprene gloves (or mitts as they call them in Canada). Some even use dry gloves and woolly liners beneath – which I don't really like.
Before the Dry Suit Course
To dive in a dry suit, you need to take a dry suit course and have an instructor helping you get comfortable in the water. Since it's a course you'll have to read the PADI manual. I liked how I got some insights in the different suits on the market, but yet it was kind of a lot of dry theory.
Before I was able to hit the water, I had to run to the dive shop and try on some dry suits that fit best. How did that feel? Like a gigantic plastic bag. I don't even want to talk about the neck seal – it feels like I was being strangled, I swear! Just after a few seconds, my face was completely red and I kind of wanted to call it quits!
Dry Suit Course Pool Session | Dive with Dry Suit #1
My first “wet interaction” with the dry suit was the pool session. I couldn't really imagine myself diving and not getting wet. And wearing more layers than I do skiing at home.
On the surface, I felt like a complete beginner. As if I had never dived before. All the air in my suit confused me. I had too much air around my chest and too little air in my legs, where it began to squeeze a bit.
We, then, started some exercises in the pool and I couldn't help but notice that weird feeling and the sensation of diving for the first time ever. The suit felt like it had only one mission: getting on my nerves!
Hint #1: the tight neck seal only bothers me on land – as soon as I was in the water I didn't even notice it anymore.
Dry Suit Course in Lake | Dives with Dry Suit #2 and #3
12-17°C | pretty cold for a wetsuit, perfect for a dry suit
My dive instructor led us around the lake going from deeper to shallow to deeper on purpose to give us the feeling of how the suit changes, which I thought he was only trying to give us a hard time. But really I was learning so much with all the different shallow depths.
The pressure on the suit and the air in the suit changed constantly. I tried to use the valve to release air but had I was in the wrong position so of course, it didn't work. Therefore, I shot to the surface a couple of times, or “popped up” like they said.
Hint #2: the tank is still going to get lighter by the end of the dive –> so better pack another 1-2 kg of lead.
Hint #3: it's easier for me to leave the valve on the dry suit as loose/open as possible. I thought I'd forget which way was open and which way closed, but it's quite easy (at least for mine): lefty loosey, righty tight so the saying goes 😉
Hint #4: Visibility in lakes is surprisingly good, but still depends on which lake you go to.
First time in the Ocean – Porteau Cove | Dives with Dry Suit #4, #5, #6 and #7
12°C | Visibility: ~ 1m | it's cold, but not too cold to dive
Dive #4 with dry suit was a lot more difficult than I anticipated: too much air pulled me feet first to the surface. As if that wouldn't have been enough I lost my dive boot plus a fin (I did find them again though – BONUS 🙂 ).
The next dive went a lot smoother, but then my dive buddy shot to the surface because she had too little lead.
Hint #5: 3 thermal layers on top + 3 thermal layers on the bottom = not freezing in the water
Hint #6: I rented short dive boots that were a little too big- that's why they slide off. –> better tall ones that go over the ankle.
Hint #7: Just because it's the ocean, doesn't mean that the vis is better than in lakes. Vis can change instantly.
Hint #8: Fold your thermal layer pants well to avoid pressure points in the suit.
Tyee Bay | Dives with Dry Suit #8 and #9
Ankle Weights make all the difference!
It's getting easier! The getting ready, the moving, the safety stops – and I start focussing on the diving and not the suit anymore.
Hint #9: Ankle weights are miracle workers to stay trim.
Hint #10: If it's hot outside, get your gear ready and then get into your suit just before the dive to avoid overheating.
Sea Lions at Vivian Island | Dives with Dry Suit #10 and #11
Staying trim was my main purpose on those two dives. I was able to play with my buoyancy and the valve. We really only stayed at 5m depth and watched the playful sea lions flying around us.
This time I noticed that my buoyancy didn't change the less air my tank held.
Hint #11: I still prefer to keep my valve open and continue to put air in the suit during the dive than losing control and shooting to the surface like a balloon.
Ocean Dives North of Victoria | Dives with Dry Suit #12 and #13
I'm finally finding it easier to stay trim and I know how to use the suit better and better. I don't have any troubles staying at a certain depth and doing my safety stops.
Hint #12: I really like it that I don't have to feel the cold water directly on my body!
Ogden Point | Dives with Dry Suit #14 and #15
Ogden Point is definitely a great dive spot, but it's hard to get there. The huge concrete blocks are more than waist high and it takes practice and good control of your body (with all the gear on, it's really not so easy).
Hint #13: Lead is really heavy on land. Carrying 16kg on hips and the BCD isn't that much fun really.
Hint #14: Even though I look like Michelin man, it's still a lot of fun (once I'm in the water)
Pichlinger Lake | Dives with Dry Suit #16 and #17
I'm taking everything back I've learnt so far. My first dive in Austria was simply awful (that was about three weeks after my last dive in Canada). I had way too much lead and my buoyancy was a mess. I couldn't even stay trim or anything.
The second dive, though, was much easier. Less lead and a lot more relaxed!
Hint #15: renting tanks in Austria is different than in any other country so far. The tanks have different volumes and hence different sizes. We had 15 litre tanks for the first dive and 12 litre tanks for the second dive. I had a lot of troubles with the first tank, probably because I'm not used to such big tanks.
Hint #16: I guess that the tanks that we rented weren't aluminium ones but made of steel. One reason why my lead calculation was completely wrong.
Hint #17: more layers of cloths —> more lead
Hint #18: less lead in fresh water than in salt water (I knew that, but it makes a lot of a difference in the dry suit too)
Concluding Thoughts about Dry Suit Diving
It's an incredible feeling not freezing while diving!
Diving in cold waters is different than in warm waters – but it is still a lot of fun!
After initial troubles, I climbed the learning curve (and got thrown back down). I'm glad I did the course and I was able to dive quite a lot to learn the suit and find pleasure in diving in cold water. It was really helpful that I have quite a lot of experience diving in warm water and was familiar with all the equipment, so I was able to focus on figuring out the suit.
I met an Open Water student in Porteau Cove who started diving in a dry suit. Kudos to you, I'm not sure if I could've done it and would have continued diving!
In the end, I decided to buy a dry suit. I bought the one that I dove in in Canada (just a size smaller). Not a new one, because it's just a lot of money first starting out. And it didn't have many dives, so it was kind of new. I paid ~540€ for the Bare NexGen dry suit with interchangeable neck seals and wrist seals. The suit is great for starting to dive dry, but it will not be as good as a custom made one (obviously).
There's no magic trick or ultimate how to dry suit dive. A well fitting suit, enough weight, the right fins and practising (a lot) will pay off in the end and make you a great(er) dry suit diver.
And one last tip: go pee before diving 😉
ps. Pin me 🙂