I always thought of SCUBA diving as a summer activity, but recently I was luckily proven outright wrong! Together with ice-cream and beach time, SCUBA diving can be enjoyed throughout the year, especially during the mild Mediterranean winters. It may take more preparation time, more gear and less actual underwater time, but winter diving offers so much more, as well as helping a diver maintain dive fitness until the new season. The success of a winter dive, such as of any other dive, depends on good preparation, with extra emphasis on keeping warm during and right after the dive.
In Cyprus, the water temperatures between the months of December and March hover around 16 °C but if the surface temperature is low enough and there is a breeze, a day of diving can be a somewhat chilly experience. I bet this doesn’t do justice to the term “winter diving” for divers who choose to dive in half frozen lakes, but bear in mind that people who live in the Mediterranean climate are accustomed to warmer weathers and are considered to be far less tolerant of the extreme cold.
Keeping warm during the dive
To fight off the low water temperature, the main form of exposure control of divers in the Meds is a thick full-body wetsuit. It is imperative to make sure the wetsuit is tight fitting since if it is loose anywhere, circulating cold water will bring the body temperature down very fast! Long sleeves, a hood, thick gloves that combine warmth with enough dexterity and can be removed easily when necessary, and boots are also a must. Some people find it convenient to wear a vest with a hood under the wetsuit. Boots should be easy to slip on and off as well, while if the bottom of the boot is made from hard rubber they can help in another tricky part of diving, walking at rocky dive sites in full gear! Keep in mind that increased body movement in cold water does not help you get warmer, but it actually makes you lose heat quicker. Therefore, being well prepared and dressed for the (chilly) occasion is the only way to stop the heat loss and fight off any chances for hypothermia.
Keeping warm after the dive
Once you are out of the water, it is not a time to be checking out the beach crowd! In fact, you must act fact to stop the heat loss and get comfortably warm again. Remove all equipment and do not start to undress unless you are either in a warm location or you have your towel and dry clothes ready. Since the water drips down, start undressing at the top by taking off hood and stripping the wetsuit down to your waist. Dry the top off and put on a dry shirt and extra layers of warm clothes which will make you start feeling warmer. After this, remove the boots and bottom of the wetsuit, dry off the lower part of your body and finish getting dressed. It is important to warm up completely before the next immersion.
Other things to consider
On the morning of the cold water dive, divers must also make sure to eat a good breakfast including hot drinks. This will help built the calorie reserve needed by the body to generate enough heat to offset the heat drain into the cold water. Also, at the surface intervals between the dives, divers should consume light snacks (e.g. sandwiches, chocolates, nuts and fruits) and plenty of liquids, which ideally should be warm (e.g. soup, tea or hot chocolate).
Lastly, it is vital to never hesitate or feel ashamed to end the dive ahead of time if you feel cold. It will only get worse leading to shivering and considerable energy loss. And remember that you need enough energy to make a proper ascent, swim back to the dive site exit, get out of the water carrying the equipment and get undressed. Also, staying in the water when you are cold can cascade not only to hypothermia, but worse possible outcomes if you are unable to come to the aid of your dive buddy.So join me in stretching our comfort zone by combining a nice cup of hot choc with our swimsuits and a wonderful winter day at the beach! – xoxo