Wetsuits and Dry Suits
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.
Standard Wetsuit Features
- Wetsuits are made from closed-cell neoprene with large, uniform bubbles that provide good insulating qualities. The neoprene is usually coated or lined with fabric or sprays to add strength and color, plus make it easier to slide into. Bare neoprene on the inside doesn’t slide on as easily, but does minimize water circulation within the suit.
- Wetsuit thickness is primary to warmth. Thicknesses start at 1 millimetre (mm) and progress up to 9 mm, with the most common being 3 mm (warm water), 5 mm (temperate water) and 7 mm (cold water) or a combination of these.
Style is also important to warmth and versatility.
- Shorties are one-piece suits that generally have short sleeves and thigh- or knee-length legs and cover your torso with around 3 mm of neoprene.
- Full body suits (jumpers or steamers) cover your arms and legs. They usually have either a long front or back zipper. They come with a variety of thicknesses for different water temperatures.
- Two-piece wet suits are popular because when you use the pieces together, you get double the insulation. You can also use the pieces separately, so you get two suits in one.
Optional and Desirable Features
- An attached hood prevents cold water from flowing in through your wetsuit collar as you swim.
- Wrist and ankle seals minimize water entry and circulation inside a wetsuit.
- Ankle and wrist zippers make getting into and out of your wetsuit easier.
- A spine pad fills in the channel made by your spine, which reduces water flow. Lumbar or kidney pads protect your lower back.
- Kneepads are common, but you can also get elbow pads. Many suits have special anti-abrasion material on the shoulders and in the seat.
- Preshaped arms and legs (bent knees and elbows) add comfort and prevent the neoprene from having to stretch so much as you move around, which reduces wear and tear.
- Pockets are good for carrying things like slates or keys. Pockets usually are placed on wetsuit thighs, calves or arms. Some suits also have interior key pockets.
How to Choose Your Wetsuit
- The dive professional at your PADI Dive Center or Resort will ask you where you plan to dive most to determine what style of wetsuit will work of you.
- Find the appropriate size and try on several suits.
- Take your time. Pulling a wetsuit on for the first time may take a little effort – so work your way through it without rushing. However, if it’s a real struggle, perhaps you need a larger size.
- Evaluate the fit. A wetsuit should be snug, but not overly tight. There should be no big gaps anywhere.
- Narrow down your choice by fit and comfort. Then, make the final decision based on style, color, optional features and personal preference. A wetsuit is an investment that should last for several years, so choose wisely.
- If you just can’t find a wetsuit that fits well, it’s possible to order a custom one that’s measured and made specifically for you. Ask your PADI dive shop staff about custom suits.
Take Care of Your Wetsuit
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.
Standard Dry Suit Features
- All dry suits need a special watertight zipper. Suits with a zipper across the back of your shoulders may require the assistance of another person to get into and out of. There are many suits with zippers positioned for self-donning.
- Wrist and neck seals must fit snuggly against your skin to keep water out, but not too tight to avoid breathing or circulation issues.
- To add air as you descend and to release air as you ascend, your dry suit must have an inflator and an exhaust valve. Some suits have a wrist dump valve and others have shoulder or automatic dump valves.
Dry Suit Styles
- Neoprene dry suits are made of the same material as wetsuits, except they exclude water. They fit close to your body, provide excellent insulation and are really buoyant.
- Shell suits refer to the fact that the outer shell keeps you dry, but your wear undergarments underneath it to keep you warm– thicker undergarment for really cold water, or thin protection for temperate water.
Optional and Desirable Dry Suit Features
- Kneepads, elbow pads and seat pads to better protect these areas of your dry suit.
- Pockets are useful for items like slates, and are usually located on the thigh.
- Some manufacturers offer the option of connecting a hood to your dry suit for extra warmth.
- Certain dry suit models have foot coverings that allow you to wear heavy-duty boots over them.
How to Choose Your Dry Suit
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 Diverspecialty course to learn about choosing, using and caring for dry suits.
- Pick your dry suit style based on your local dive conditions and the advice of your dive professional.
- Find the appropriate size, usually ranging from extra small to extra large. Choose what undergarments you will use and try on several suits with your undergarments on.
- Undergarments made from ThinsulateTM or Polartec®, or similar synthetics, are relatively thin and provide effective insulation even when wet.
- Many undergarments wick perspiration away from your skin. Look for garments that have an outer layer that is wind and water resistant.
- Evaluate the fit including boot comfort, snug wrist and neck seal, ease of zipping, ease of pushing inflator and deflator buttons with gloves, and ease of moving around in.
- Narrow down your choice by fit and comfort. Then, make the final decision based on style, color, optional features and personal preference. A dry suit is a big investment, so you want the right one. Don’t forget to also purchase your undergarments.
Take Care of Your Dry Suit
- After a dive, rinse your dry suit in fresh water, but make sure to close the zipper to avoid getting water inside. If there is already water inside, rinse the inside too.
- Flush water over and through the inflation and exhaust valves.
- Pay close attention to the zipper. If it’s dirty, gently clean it with a soft brush and soapy water.
- Hang your suit out of direct sunlight to dry. Dry the interior first, if you rinsed it, by gently turning it inside out.
- Lubricate the zipper as specified by the manufacturer.
- Store the suit gently folded up as recommended by the manufacturer. You can tuck latex seals into the suit arms and body to help protect them.
- If you need to launder the undergarment, follow the manufacturer’s instructions because some detergents may harm the insulation characteristics. Store undergarments on a wide hanger.
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.
Body Suit Styles and Features
- Body suits are made from a variety of synthetic fabrics, such as Lycra®, that offer lots of stretch, so the suit fits skintight. These fabrics are also designed to offer abrasion resistance.
- Some have plush inner linings that add a little warmth underwater and wind protection while on the surface.
- Many are colorful with choices ranging from bright solids to flower prints to funky camouflage patterns.
- Body suit styles allow you to cover a lot or just a little depending on your needs. Many are unisex because they stretch, but there are a few designed specifically for women or for men.
- Jumpsuits, or full-body suits, are the most popular because they completely cover your arms and legs. You’ll find foot stirrups and thumb loops on most models, which keep the suit in place while you slip on a wetsuit.
- Top-only suits (also known as rash guards) come in long sleeve, short sleeve or vest styles.
- Hooded vests are another top-only option and can be worn under a wetsuit.
- Bottoms come in shorts or long pants, and are usually used to make slipping into a wetsuit a little more comfortable.
How to Choose a Body Suit
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.
Take Care of Your Body Suit
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.
- Visit your PADI Dive Center or Resort to try on wetsuit, dry suits or body suits.
- Enroll in a PADI Dry Suit Diver course to learn how to use your dry suit.
- Sign up for a PADI Equipment Specialist course to learn more about gear.
- Create or update your scuba gear locker on ScubaEarth®.
- Browse the PADI Course Catalog.