Modern wetsuits may resemble stretchy superhero uniforms that might make you feel a little like Batman or Catwoman (now how cool is that?!) minus the long cape and pointy ears, but let’s not forget that their primary purpose is to provide temperature insulation and abrasion protection.
Interestingly, water conducts heat away from the human body 25 times faster than air because it has a greater density (therefore a greater heat capacity) – so a temperature that is comfortable in air can actually cause hypothermia under water. However, a properly chosen wetsuit can keep a diver comfortable in water temperatures as cool as 10ºC and up to as warm as 32ºC. For more extreme temperatures, a diver should consider using a drysuit.
Wetsuits are made of synthetic rubber foam (called neoprene) with billions of tiny bubbles for insulation and like their name suggests, do not keep you dry. However, the small amount of water that gets trapped between the wetsuit and your skin is rapidly heated by your body and serves to keep you warm for as long as the dive lasts. For this simple system to work, the wetsuit must have the perfect fit. The wetsuit should feel comfortable and allow ease of movement but it must not have any loose or saggy areas that would allow cold water to flow in and out. For it to work well, a wetsuit should essentially make contact with your whole body.
A wetsuit, along with a pair of fins and a mask, are some of the SCUBA gears, recreational divers are encouraged to purchase rather than rending. When looking at wetsuits, there are two major variables to consider: the wetsuit type and the material thickness.
The wetsuit type determines how much body coverage the suit affords. In warm waters a wetsuit with short arms and legs (a “shorty”) will be ideal just to keep the chill off. For additional warmth, a wetsuit with full length arms and legs (a “full length steamer”) would also offer protection from scratches and minor cuts, especially when diving near wrecks.
The thickness of the wetsuit in millimetres must help make your dives the most enjoyable. The thinner the material, the most flexibility and ease of movement you will enjoy, but at less warmth and buoyancy. Typically, for tropic and warm waters, 3mm wetsuits are considered perfect, whereas for colder destinations 7mm are more suitable. For SCUBA diving in the Mediterranean a 3mm wetsuit would be ideal.
In essence, wetsuits are the ocean lovers’ uniform, a neoprene layer that protects and, along with the rest of the SCUBA equipment, sets divers apart from the non-divers and enables them to venture in exploring deeper and colder waters.
So wear your wetsuit proudly and just take that next SCUBA dive!