It’s called exposure protection because while scuba diving you’re not only exposed to water’s cooling ability but also to things that can scrape, cut or sting. Because water temperatures vary from really warm near the equator to icy cold in some areas, there are three basic styles of exposure protection – the wetsuit, dry suit, and body suit. Visit your PADI Dive Center or Resort to get more advice about exposure protection.
Wetsuits get their name because you still get wet while wearing one. Your body quickly heats the thin layer of water that gets in and you’re insulated from the cooler surrounding water by the wetsuit material. You choose your wetsuit style and thickness based on the water temperature where you’ll dive.
Style is also important to warmth and versatility.
You need to rinse, dry and carefully store your wet suit after diving. It may occasionally need a good wash and there are special wetsuit soaps available for the job. Store your wetsuit on a wide plastic or wooden hanger to avoid creasing in the shoulders. If you must fold it, do so gently with the zipper on top, or as directed by the manufacturer.
Dry suits keep you dry by creating a seal at your wrists and neck. Because your boots are usually attached to the suit, you just need to keep your head and hands warm with a hood and gloves. Dry suits also keep you more comfortable in cooler surface temperatures and in a brisk wind.
If you dive where the water or air temperature makes a dry suit necessary or desirable, don’t hesitate to get advice and help from a dive professional at your PADI Dive Center. Then, take the PADI Dry Suit Diver specialty course to learn about choosing, using and caring for dry suits.
Body suits (skin suits or dive skins) have little or no insulation, so they’re intended either for very warm water diving, or as an extra layer under another exposure suit. They also provide good sunburn protection. Since the suits are light and foldable, like clothing, they’re easy to take along on every dive trip.
The first recommendation is to get a full-body suit, or at least a rash guard. Find the right size, try it on (it should be clingy, but not restrictive), and choose the color you prefer. You’ll use it maybe just as sun protection, but it’s easy to take along.
Rinse in fresh water and dry thoroughly before storing it, preferably on a hanger. Your body suit may need washing with a mild soap every now and then if it starts to smell.