YES, YOU CAN DIVE IN A WETSUIT IN THE UK!
Exposure protection is critical. Being nice and warm on a dive is what makes dives enjoyable, and it also helps keep our focus. Yeah, our local waters are cooler than some of our holiday destinations, but we can still dive in a wetsuit in the UK!
In the summer, the sea temperature here in Northumberland is about 14°c so our divers and students find it perfect for diving our local sites in their wetsuits. If you’re diving further down south or in inland sites, you’ll find the temperatures even warmer still.
You can even dive wet in the winter here too. It’s all about choosing the right suit, picking the right features and knowing what works for you. If you’re not sure where to start then Jim and Nic are here to help! Here’s the honest truth about wetsuits.
NEED TIPS TO HELP CHOOSE THE BEST WETSUIT FOR UK DIVING?
WHY A DECENT SUIT MAKES A DIFFERENCE…
The last thing you want to do is get cold. Without the right exposure protection, you’re going to spoil the dive. When you’re cold underwater you can’t concentrate, you can’t focus on anything other than how much you’re shivering – the amazing dive just passes you by. All you can think about is counting down the minutes until you get out. In extreme cases, you’re putting yourself at risk of hypothermia and it can even be a predisposing factor to getting bent – your body doesn’t off-gas in the same way because blood flow is restricted.
Always plan to be as warm as possible. We find it’s a lot easier to cool down when you’re too hot (just flush some water down your suit!) than to warm up when you’re feeling cold (swim faster… err, no thanks!) You need to find what works for you and the conditions you’re diving in. Even if we dive in extremely warm water, if we stay down long enough we still get cold. If we think back to our diving theory, water cools us down 20 times faster than air does. We can sit happily all day in 28°c sunshine. But after a day’s diving in warm water of the same temperature, we’re going to start to feel chilly.
If you’re really clever with your diving wardrobe, you’ll be able to build an equipment selection that will keep you warm in any temperature. You mix and match for a combo of suits, gloves, hoods, fin socks, rash guards and baselayers that fits the conditions. You’ll have the right gear to dive in a wetsuit in the UK and abroad!
KNOW YOUR RATINGS
If you want to get technical, exposure suits are rated on their thermal performance from A to D. It’s a CE requirement so they’ve all been tested to assess how well they keep you warm. A Category A suit will keep you the warmest. It’s normally dry suits and top of the range semidry wetsuits in this bracket. A suit in Category D has the lowest thermal performance. This will be warm water suits and shorties.
This is a great tool that allows you to compare wetsuits, not just based on their thickness, but based on the other features that are designed to keep us warm (special seals, special zips, special materials – we’ll talk about them more in a minute).
To be honest with you though, what you need to do is look at the performance of the suits based on your physiology and what will work best for you. Some divers don’t feel the cold at all, some chill quickly and it’s important you know where you fit on that scale so you can get the best exposure protection to suit your needs.
It’s also important to consider temperatures above the water. Think about when you’re standing around on your surface intervals. If you’re thinking about a dive in a wetsuit in the UK, you need to factor in the great British weather too! In the winter our local dive sites crash down to about 6°c. The coldest we’ve dived in the UK was 2°c in a lake in the middle of winter. Wetsuit diving in these temperatures is still possible (if your physiology allows) but we’ll be honest – it’s not exactly comfy. Plus forget multiple dives in a day. You might be able to stay warm on the first dive, but standing around in a wet wetsuit when the wind is blowing a hoolie and it’s chucking it down… there’s no way you can do a second. On these type of days, you’ll really appreciate some dry suit diving!
I WANT TO DIVE IN A WETSUIT IN THE UK… WHAT DO I NEED?
Whether you diving in the summer or the winter in UK waters, you’re gonna have to invest in a high-quality suit. Don’t go cheap, we promise you – you’ll regret it and end up spending more money to fix the mistake.
In the summer months most divers find a 5mm wetsuit keeps them comfy. If you’re one of those colder divers, you can pick those extra items from your wardrobe to add a bit of extra warmth – a baselayer or a hood, something liek that.
The thing is, not all 5mm suits are the same. You can get ones that are made for surface water sports (like triathlons and surfing). These suits tend to be cheaper than ones that are designed specifically for diving. They’re made for flexibility rather than warmth. Think about those activities, right? They’re quite high energy, you’re keeping warm by moving. Diving is the complete opposite of that. We want to be nice and chilled and relaxed. We don’t want to move too much. So our suits have to be built differently. They’re built for warmth rather than for movement and the design features that they have tend to make them more expensive – but it’s totally worth the extra investment, we promise!
FEATURES TO LOOK OUT FOR…
Basically, we’re looking for any wetsuit features that reduce flushing. We’ve all experienced a flush – that moment when you first jump in and the cold water rushes down your back!? But it can also happen throughout the dive – we just don’t notice it as much because we’ve adjusted to the temperature. A wetsuit keeps you warm by trapping that flushed water between your skin and the suit. Your body warms it up and the idea is that it stays there and keeps you warm. If your suit isn’t a good fit (or it’s in one of those lower performance categories), water will move through the suit throughout the dive. You get colder quicker because there’s fresh, colder water coming in, transferring the heat away from your body.
For a wetsuit to use in the UK, you need to make sure the suit has features that reduce the effect of flushing. For a wetsuit to use in warmer waters, these features aren’t as important.
Most top-end suits will have specialised ankle and wrist seals that minimise flushing. They’re usually made from a different material that hugs the skin better than the normal neoprene that the rest of the suit is made from. The only downside is that these nice tight seals can make the wetsuit a bit of a pig to put on – but you’ll be glad of them in the water! Check out the Aqualung Dynaflex – life is a little bit easier with zips and stretchy skin seals!
We’ve already mentioned that horrible cold flush down your back when you jump in… yuk! The Fourth Element Proteus (3mm: men’s | women’s, 5mm: men’s | women’s) has an awesome design feature to help us cope with it a little better. This suit has an overhead bib so the water that gets in hits neoprene rather than your bare back! It takes a little bit of practice to put on by yourself, and if you’ve got short arms like Nic, you’d better find your buddy to help!
If you want to dive in a wetsuit in the UK all year round, then you need to look for a good quality 7mm or better yet, a semi-dry wetsuit. The downfall of this though, as we add layers and neoprene to keep us warm, we’re going to lose flexibility and we’re going to be a lot more buoyant. If you don’t want to go down the dry suit route, then that’s the compromise you have to make.
Semidrys have a watertight zip – just like a dry suit. And, where most top-end suits have specialized ankle and wrist seals, semi dries have them on the neck too. This seal won’t completely stop the water like a dry suit one would, but they really cut down on that flush.
WHAT WETSUIT DO I NEED FOR HOLIDAY DIVING?
If you only dive on holiday, then you don’t need to worry about flushing quite so much (yay!) The water that goes in the suit is already pretty warm!
Manufacturers are creating new types of neoprene that are more flexible and easier to put on. The worst thing is when it’s a hot sunny day, you’re already a bit sweaty and you’re trying to climb in into your wetsuit! These new designs make it super easy.
Check out the Fourth Element Xenos suit (shortie: men’s | women’s, 3mm: men’s | women’s, 5mm: men’s | women’s.) It’s designed for quick transitions which means it dries super quick and it’s dead easy to get on. It’s perfect for live-aboard diving when you’re doing lots of dives every day. There’s also the Aqua Lung AquaFlex. Its made from really stretchy neoprene which gives you flexibility, but still keeps you warm.
Going somewhere where the water is so warm you can dive in just your swimming cozzie? (Not jealous at all…!) You might still want to think about wearing something to cover up. A rash vests or skin suit would be perfect and it would give you some protection against sunburn, jellyfish and hydroids and also to stop equipment rub. Check out Fourth Element’s Ocean Positive range – it’s really stylish and it’s even made from recycled materials! What more could you ask for?!
THE DARK SIDE OF NEOPRENE…
Unfortunately, neoprene is really unsustainable. The manufacturing processes aren’t eco-friendly at all.
It’s really cool to see a lot of brands recognise the environmental impact caused by neoprene manufacture. It’s forcing the development of new types of eco-friendly neoprene and neoprene alternatives. If you need a warm water suit, you’ve got a lot of greener options available. The Aqualung Dynaflex (wetsuit: men’s | women’s) is made in part from old car tyres and Fourth Element’s Thermocline range is made from ghost fishing gear!
Unfortunately, there’s still some way to go before these processes can be developed and used to make thicker suits… but it’s getting there!
We hope our little guide has helped, if you’ve got any more questions then get in touch! We’d love to help.