HOW TO ENJOY DIVING IN COLD WATER
The fear of immersion in cool, cold, or crack-the-ice-temperature water keeps many an avid diver on dry land and away from experiencing the delights that are cloaked by the world’s more temperate waters.
“There’s no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing.’’, Alfred Wainwright.
The wise Mr. Wainwright imparted this wisdom about hiking in England, but it’s as true for that activity as for any outdoor pursuit involving exposure to the elements. Thermal protection is key to both warmth and enjoyment.
The thicker the wetsuit, the more protection it provides. Wetsuits can be used down to a temperature of 10 °C (50° F). There is, however, a clear difference between toughing it out and enjoyment so consider your threshold along with the topside temperature. A chilly wind when you surface is not a fun way to end a cold dive.
They key thing to remember is that to keep you warm a wetsuit needs to be a snug fit. If it’s baggy or allows water to flow through it will not keep you warm. Your body heat will be conducted to the water within the suit, and if the water can flow out, then you lose that heat along with the water. The more this process is repeated, the more heat you lose.
Dry suits keep you warm by keeping you dry. Seals at the neck and ankles are designed to keep water out. Underneath the suit, you can layer garments to keep you warm. Most divers opt for this thermal solution from 15°C (60° F), but I know of many divers using them in warmer water particularly when the conditions top side are far from tropical.
I bet your mum told you this!
Hats, hoods, gloves, dry clothes, hot drinks, and warm food will all have been thrust your way at one time by someone who cared enough to keep you warm; and they were right.
Start your diving day off with a good plate of hot food; burning it keeps you warm. Hot food and drinks during your surface interval will help a lot too.
Underwater, hoods, and gloves will make a world of difference to your comfort level. However, gloves will alter your dexterity (so will numb hands) so think about tasks like inflating an SMB.
Making sure you have warm, dry clothes, including a hat, to change into immediately is well worth the effort particularly if you are wearing a wetsuit. Do this first, then worry about your gear, even if you only have an hour between dives; trust me, it’s worth it and will make all the difference to how you feel on your second dive. Some divers use a bathrobe rather than a towel to facilitate changing, this immediately negates a good amount of wind chill and is far more conducive to decency.
As with scuba diving, a good wetsuit is key to warmth; one specifically for freediving is best. Typically these suits are unzippered and have glued seams with a binding stitch and, once on, will feel like a second skin. Due to the time on the surface breathing up, freedivers have a greater exposure to the elements so wind chill will have more of an effect and should be considered alongside water temperature when selecting a suit for the session. Not only will a thicker suit keep you warmer but so will an unlined suit; it traps less water which means less heat loss via evaporation while on the surface.
Regardless of the temperature, the more sun you get, the warmer you will be. A good horizontal position on the surface will expose the greatest part of you to bask; choose a time to dive when the sun is highest.
Some freedivers use flasks of warm water to heat their suits and warm up after exiting the water. Another tip is to slather yourself in oil – choose a suit-safe option – this not only helps you get into your suit but, when you get out of it, you will be somewhat drier and negate some of the icy wind chill evaporation effect.
A shiver is the first sign that you’re too cold. Shivering is your body’s way of trying to generate heat and should be a clear indication that you need to get out of the water and get warm immediately. Don’t ignore this; hypothermia can follow surprisingly quickly in cold water.
Do you dive in cold water? How do you ensure you stay warm and enjoy your dives?