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Diving in cold water can be a very different experience from diving in warm, tropical waters. However, locations with cold water can offer unique diving experiences. For example, the waters of Iceland’s Silfra Fissure stay at a chilling 2 - 4 °C (36 - 39 °F), but they are the clearest waters on the planet with a visibility of over 100 meters (330 feet)!
Cold water diving is worth it, but there are certain pieces of equipment you will need to add to your regular dive gear. We are going to look at the must-have gear for diving in cold water.
No one enjoys diving if they are cold because it is not a comfortable experience. But the main risk of becoming too cold in the water is getting hypothermia. Hypothermia is when the body temperature drops too low, and it becomes difficult for the body to replenish the heat that is needed for normal metabolic and bodily functions.
There are three stages to hypothermia, with differing signs and symptoms:
That is why it is so important to exit the water if you begin to shiver and to make sure you have all the equipment you need to stay warm when diving in cold water.
First, let us go over the basic dive gear you need for diving in any water temperature:
It is important to have a properly fitted mask for diving. When buying a mask, it can help to try on a few different ones before you decide which to get. Put the mask against your face and ensure there are no gaps in the seal.
You can breathe in through your nose and if it stays on your face without having to use the strap, this means that the mask is a good fit for you. Many of these masks are available to try on at your local SSI Training Center.
Snorkels are important for scuba diving because they allow you to breathe on the surface in choppy conditions or while swimming to the descent point without having to waste the air in your tank. You can get roll-up snorkels that fit into your buoyancy control device (BCD) pocket, or you can choose a snorkel that attaches to your mask using a snorkel keeper.
Fins are essential for scuba diving; they help you move easily underwater, and they help you adjust your position, or move you out of danger in an emergency. Some fins are heavier than others, but everyone has a personal preference.
It is good to test out some different fin styles in the water before buying your own. You can choose open-heel fins, which attach around your ankle using a strap and are used if you are wearing dive boots. Alternatively, you can choose closed-heel fins that you slide your bare feet into. These are used if you are not wearing dive boots.
For diving in cold water, boots should be worn to help keep your feet warm. In warmer waters, you might choose to go without boots, as long as you do not have to walk over rocky terrain to get to the dive entry point. These 6.5mm boots will help keep your feet toasty!
Dive computers are a key piece of equipment to keep you safe. A dive computer like this Mares dive computer tells us how long you can stay at a certain depth without risking decompression sickness. A dive computer will also log your dives, and many have other helpful features.
Regulators connect the air in the tank to your mouth and the BCD. Dive regulators are mostly all designed the same, although some will come with added features, or the hoses might be in a slightly different position.
A buoyancy control device allows you to adjust your buoyancy underwater to keep you neutrally buoyant (not sinking and not floating at the surface). They all work very similarly but there are different styles of BCD, so try out a few different ones to see which you like best. The Grace Ergotrim is an excellent BCD for all levels.
A weight belt is most commonly used for scuba diving. This is a belt that has lead weights threaded onto it to allow you to descend under the water and stay down for as long as you need. Sometimes divers will use integrated weights instead of a belt; these are pockets which slide into the BCD and lead weights can be put inside.
A surface marker buoy (SMB) is an essential piece of equipment in areas with boat traffic and similar surface hazards. SMBs are inflated when you are ready to ascend at the end of your dive to alert boats that you are about to come up. The SMB is inflated using air from the regulator.
For diving in cold water, you will also need the following items:
A wetsuit is most commonly used in scuba diving to keep us warm underwater and is made of layers of neoprene. When we enter the water wearing a wetsuit, a small amount of water enters the suit and sits between the neoprene and our skin. This water is warmed a little by our body heat and this is what keeps us warm.
28 - 32˚C (82 – 89 ˚F): A dive skin or 1mm shorty wetsuit.
24 - 29 ˚C (75-84 ˚F): A 3mm full-length wetsuit.
18 - 24 ˚C (65 - 75 ˚F): A 5mm full-length wetsuit.
10 - 18˚C (50 – 65 ˚F): A 7mm full-length wetsuit.
This is just a rough guide, so remember that everyone handles the cold differently, depending on many factors. You might need to choose a thicker wetsuit in warmer waters if you get cold easily. Check out the range of Mares wetsuits to see what might meet your needs.
If you are diving in very cold waters, less than around 10 - 18˚C (50 – 65 ˚F), you will most likely need to wear a drysuit instead of a wetsuit.
A drysuit works differently from a wetsuit; it does not allow any water to get inside, and the diver can wear regular, warm clothes underneath. Drysuits have watertight seals on the neck, wrists, and ankles. The air in the drysuit compresses as you descend underwater, so the drysuit can be inflated and deflated similarly to the BCD, by attaching an extra hose from the regulator directly to the drysuit.
It can take some practice to get used to adjusting your buoyancy using a drysuit. It is a good idea to take a drysuit diving specialty before diving in open water wearing a drysuit.
A lot of body heat is lost from your head, so a neoprene hood can be used to help you stay warmer for longer while diving. A diving hood works in the same way as a wetsuit does and they can add a significant amount of warmth on cold water dives. This 5mm neoprene hood is made with revolutionary graphic fibers.
Just like a wetsuit and diving hood, neoprene gloves and socks can keep you warmer for longer. Diving with cold fingers can make it harder to adjust your buoyancy or handle your equipment while diving and no one likes having cold toes! Both diving socks and gloves come in various thicknesses depending on how cold the water is. These 3mm diving gloves from Mares are a great choice for diving in cold water.