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SCUBA Wetsuit Thickness Temperature Guide

By Carlos Sagaro

As divers we often wonder how thick our SCUBA wetsuits should be based on the water temperature we are going to be diving in.  Below is a chart that we created that can be used as a guide to help you dertermine the type of wetsuit you will need depeding on the water temperature you intend to dive in.  

Be aware that this is just a guide and your actual needs will depend on many factors, including your own tolerance of water temperature.  If you would like to learn more about wetsuits, please check out our comprehensive article linked below.  In it we go deep into the nuances of wetsuits and what you need to know to chose the right wetsuit for youself.

The Diver’s Guide to Choosing the Perfect SCUBA Wetsuit

By Carlos Sagaro

SCUBA wetsuits are an essential piece of gear that you need to be familiar with. Choosing the right wetsuit could mean the difference between having a pleasurable dive or being downright miserable. In this article, we’ll go over everything you need to know about choosing a wetsuit that’s right for you.

What is a SCUBA wetsuit?

Simply put, a wetsuit is a suit you wear while SCUBA diving that provides protection from the elements as well as keeping you warm.

Wetsuits are used by divers all around the world in all types of environments.  They come in several thicknesses designed to prevent heat loss and can be used in a variety of water temperatures (more on this later).  They are an essential piece of equipment that every SCUBA diver needs to be familiar with.

Divers in the water with Wetsuits

How do SCUBA wetsuits work?

As divers, we are taught that water conducts heat 25 times faster than air.  Because of this, we need to find a way to provide thermal protection in the water, so we do not go into hypothermia when diving.  They work by trapping a layer of water between your body and the suit.  The suit has seals in the arms, legs, and neck which trap a thin layer of water between your skin and the.  The water in the suit is heated by your body heat.  This prevents you from losing heat in the water.  While no wetsuit can completely reduce the loss of body heat in the water, they help significantly. 

Diver in thick wetsuit with gloves


Wetsuits for SCUBA also provide protection from the underwater environment.  We know that we are not supposed to touch anything while underwater.  While good buoyancy and training can help ensure that we “only leave bubbles and only take memories,” both current and surge can cause divers to accidentally come in contact with reefs or wrecks.  They provide protection for the diver should he or she accidentally touch a reef, wreck, or a stinging creature like a jellyfish, man-o-war, or fire coral.

In addition to thermal and exposure protection wetsuits also help shield your skin from the sun. Because the neoprene that wetsuits are made from is impermeable by UV rays they help to protect divers from getting sunburned both underwater and while on the surface.

Do you need a wetsuit to SCUBA dive?

The answer here is “maybe.”  It is certainly possible to dive without a wetsuit in warmer climates and many divers do.  However, diving without some sort of exposure or thermal protection is not recommended. 

In the end, we do not have total control over what might happen to us when we are underwater.  An unexpected current change or surge can cause us to bump into a reef or wreck.  A rogue jelly could swim right past you and you might miss it as you are looking in the other direction.  Even the warmest of water can cause discomfort or even hypothermia should a person stay in for too long. For these reasons alone, it is a good idea to dive with a wetsuit. 

How to Choose a SCUBA Diving Wetsuit

Before you do anything else, you need to make sure that the wetsuit you are buying is a SCUBA diving wetsuit.  This is important because diving wetsuits are designed to counteract the effects of pressure.  The neoprene used for SCUBA diving wetsuits has been designed to resist compression.  This is essential as, the deeper you go, the more the pressure around you rises.  If your suit compresses, it will not insulate as well as it should.  This is why you must choose a wetsuit that is designed for SCUBA diving rather than one designed for surfing or water-skiing.

Divers in different types of SCUBA Wetsuits


Types of Wetsuits

The next thing you need to think about is the type of wetsuit you are going to need.  There are several different types and we will go over them and their pros and cons below.

Shorty Wetsuits 

Diver in a Shorty Wetsuit


A shorty is a suit that cuts off at the upper arm and thigh.  They are used in warmer climates and do provide some thermal and exposure protection. Shorties tend to be more popular for sports like water skiing and surfing.  While some divers do use shorties, they are not as popular amongst SCUBA divers because your arms and legs are left without exposure protection and subject to getting cut, scraped, and sunburned.

Full Wetsuits

They have long sleeves that cut off at the wrists and legs that cut off at the ankle.  They are more common amongst divers and provide more exposure and thermal protection than short suits.  We recommend that you choose a full suit for SCUBA diving rather than a shorty.

Diver sin Full SCUBA Wetsuits


Long Johns/Farmer John Wetsuit

Farmer_John_Wetsuit_50

Long Johns are suits that come in two parts.  The inner part usually comes over the shoulder like overalls and extend to the ankles.  The outer piece covers the torso and usually has long sleeves.  They can have leg extensions that are similar to a pair of shorts or can be like a bikini bottom. 

 The benefit to long johns is that they can provide more thermal protection at your torso which is the part of the body that can lose more body heat.  Long Johns provide layering.  This will provide extra warmth should a dive require it.

Rash Guards

A rash guard is a dive skin that provides little to no thermal protection.  Rash guards are used to protect from the environment.  They are a good choice for divers who dive in warm waters but still want exposure protection.  They are nowhere near as thick as wetsuits so they do not protect as much as a wetsuit will.

Diver in a rash guard/ dive skin

The Instructor on the left is wearing a Rash Guard

Semi-Dry Wetsuit

Semi_Dry_Wetsuit_1_50

These suits have seals that are similar to those on a drysuit.  The seals are designed to allow a little bit of water in but do not allow the water to be flushed out.  By doing this, they provide more thermal protection than a normal wetsuit will provide.  They are more common in colder environments and are a good choice for divers who tend to get cold easily but do not want to go to a full drysuit.

Wetsuit Fit

First and foremost, our body types are all very different and this causes suits to be cut very differently.  You absolutely must try on any wetsuit that you are interested in.  Manufacturers have sizing charts on their websites which can be used as a guide.  I can tell you from personal experience over several years of buying wetsuits that no two fit alike.  Wetsuit design plays a huge factor in this as well.

Because manufacturers have different designs, a medium in one company may fit well but be way too tight in another company’s cut.  If you do not feel comfortable in your wetsuit, you’re going to have a terrible time underwater.  Be particular about your search before you pull the trigger on something you may regret buying later.  Another thing to consider is that suits are built different for men and women.  Due to the shape of male and female bodies, suits are cut in different ways.

Below is a checklist of things to consider when buying a suit.  While not an exhaustive list, this will help guide you through the process and help you determine whether or not a suit fits properly:

  • The wetsuit should fit snuggly without causing suffocation.
    • A loose suit will not provide thermal protection
  • There should be no excess room anywhere on your body
  • You should be able to squat down
  • You should be able to move your arms.
    • Thicker wetsuits will make this more difficult, but it still should be possible.
  • All the seals should be snug but not causing circulation or breathing issues.
  • The suit should allow for a comfortable range of motion and freedom of movement.
  • Price plays a factor in the durability of wetsuits.

Wetsuit Thickness

Diving Wetsuits come in different thicknesses.  The most common are .5 mm, 1-6 mm, and 7 mm+.  (MM stands for millimeter, the most common method to measure thickness) How thick your suit should be is dependent on two factors.  First, the temperature of the water that you are going to be diving in.  Second, your personal cold-water tolerance.  Colder waters require thicker suits than warm waters.

Diver in semit-dry wetsuit in cold water

Divers in colder waters will wear thicker wetsuits

I want to discuss the second factor now.  Not everyone has the same tolerance for cold water.  Personally, I do not like to feel cold when I dive.  I do everything that I can to ensure that I do not feel cold when I am in the water.  As a result, I always dive 3mm suit at the minimum. 

The majority of my diving is in tropical waters.  A 3mm suit can be overkill on certain days, but I am okay with that.  If I feel overheated underwater, I just break the seal around my neck which lets water into the suit and cools me down immediately. 

There is one fact about temperature and diving when it comes to wetsuit usage.  You can always cool down underwater, but it is impossible to get warm once you are feeling cold.  If you feel overheated on a dive, all you need to do is gently pull the neck seal on your suit.  This will allow fresh water to enter the suit and will cool your body temperature.  If this is not enough, you can unzip your suit which will allow a more consistent flow of water into the suit.

Below is a chart that provides some guidance on wetsuit thickness relative to water temperature.  Please remember that this is just a guide and your level of comfort may require a thicker or thinner suit.

Wetsuit temperature guide

Water Temperature

Divers who Tend to Feel Warm

Divers Who Tend to Get Cold Easily

85 Degrees F or More

(29.4 C or More)


Swim Suit or Dive Skin

2 mm or less

80 - 84 Degrees F

(26.7 - 28.9 C)

2 mm

2 - 3 mm

74 - 79 Degrees F

(23.3 - 26.1 C)

2 - 3 mm

2 - 3 mm

3 mm + hood - 5 mm 

65 - 73 Degrees F

(18.3 - 22.8 C)

3 - 5 mm + Hood

5 - 7mm + hood

50 - 64 Degrees F

(10 - 17.7 C)

7mm Wetsuit - Semi-Drysuit + Hood

Dry Suit with Appropriate Undergarment + Hood

Below 50 Degrees F

(Below 10 Degrees C) 

Semi Dry or Dry Suit with Appropriate Undergarment + Hood

 Dry Suit with Appropriate Undergarment + Hood But This May Still not be Enough

Diving Wetsuit Materials

Wetsuits are made of neoprene.  Neoprene is a synthetic rubber material that is highly flexible and insulating.  The material has millions of tiny bubbles that trap air.  It is important to note that less expensive or poorly made suits have neoprene that is more prone to compression.  This is important for two reasons:  First, when neoprene compresses, it loses some of its insulating properties.  Second, neoprene is buoyant, and it loses some of its positive buoyancy when it compresses at depth. (we will delve further into this later in the article) Another factor to consider is durability.  Less expensive wetsuits are not as durable as more expensive suits.

There are two main types of neoprene for wetsuits and we will go over them here.

Open-Cell Neoprene

This type of neoprene is form-fitting and more porous.  It will require some form of lubrication to put on. A low pH shampoo or conditioner is often recommended.  This type of neoprene is much more fragile than the closed-cell neoprene.  It will require care when putting on and taking off as it can easily tear.  It is however less abrasive and more insulating than closed cell neoprene.  Open-cell neoprene is also more expensive than closed cell neoprene.

Closed-Cell Neoprene

The majority of wetsuits are made of closed-cell neoprene.  These suits are much more durable and last a lot longer than the open-cell type.  They are significantly easier to put on and take off.  They do not require lubrication to doff and don.  They are not as flexible as the open cell suits.  They are also less expensive.

Proprietary liners

Many wetsuit manufacturers have proprietary liners that they add to their suits.  The suits with this type of lining tend to be more expensive.  Regardless of the name the manufacturer gives the liner, the purpose is almost always the same.  The liners are designed to keep you warmer underwater.  The liners tend to make the suits less flexible than suits that are not lined.

SCUBA Wetsuit With Liner

Wetsuit With Liner

There is nothing wrong with buying a wetsuit with a liner and the liners tend to make the suits warm and comfortable.  Which you purchase is up to you.  Always remember that fit is the priority.  Regardless of the cost of your suit or what liner it proclaims to have, it will be useless if it does not fit properly.

Wetsuit Seals

When we talk about seals, we refer to how the stitching is sealed on the suit itself.  There are a few different types of wetsuit seals used along the seams of the suits and we will go over them in this section.

Overlock Stitching

This type of stitch in on the inside of the wetsuit.  It is the most porous of all the stitching and can cause chaffing due to the fact that the stitch is not protected.  While effective, it should be used in warmer water because it allows seepage into the suit along the seams which will negatively affect the suit’s ability to maintain warmth.

Flatlock Stitch

This stitching rests on the outside of the wetsuit.  This is beneficial because the stitching on the interior of the suit seems flat and is less likely to chaff and makes it more comfortable.  However, this stitching is still quite porous and will allow for seepage.  As a result, this type of stitching is better for warm water diving. 

Blind Stitch

This is an excellent choice for wetsuits.  The material is first glued together then stitched. This allows for little to no seepage. 

There are a few different types of blind stitches.

  • Double-Blind stitch: Here a layer of stitching is added to the outside of the suit as well.  This provides another layer of protection and makes it much less likely for the seams to fail.
  • Blind Stitching with seal: This is sealed with a type of sealing solution of tape.  This makes water seepage practically zero and is ideal for cold-water wetsuit diving.

Wetsuit Zippers

Rear Zipper Suit

Rear_Zipped_Wetsuit_50

Front Zipper Wetsuit.

Front Zip Wetsuit 2

Wetsuits are either zippered in the front or in the back.  Which you choose is entirely up to you.  It is more common for rear-zipped suits to be thinner and thus used for warm water diving.  Thicker suits and semi-dry suits tend to have front zippers.  This is due to the fact that they provide less mobility because they tend to be thicker.  Be aware that diving skins may not have zippers because they are very thin.

Wetsuit Accessories

Wetsuit Gloves

Diver with SCUBA wetsuit Gloves on

Diver Wearing Gloves

These are used for several reasons.  They provide protection from the environment and can provide warmth.  They come in different thicknesses.  Like wetsuits, the thickness of the glove will determine how much thermal protection you get.

Wetsuit Boots/Socks

Whether you use a boot or a sock depends on the type of fins you use.  While it is recommended to use open-heel fins, many divers opt for closed-heel fins.  Open heel fins will require you to wear booties while closed-heel fins will require socks.  Please be aware that you should try on your closed-heel fins with your socks on before purchasing them as wetsuit socks will make the fin fit differently.

SCUBA wetsuit boots

Wetsuit Boots

Wetsuit Pockets

Wetsuit_Pockets_50
Wetsuit_Pockets_50

Many divers elect to add pockets to their wetsuits.  These can be used for several reasons.  The pockets can be permanently glued to the exterior of any suit and are using adhered to the outside of the thigh.  There are also shorts that are sold with pockets built into them that can be worn over your wetsuit.

Wetsuit Hoods

Divers with SCUBA wetsuit hoods

Two Divers wearing hoods

The head is an area where a large amount of body heat is lost.  For divers who are diving in colder environments or divers who tend to get cold in the water easily, a hood is an excellent choice.  They add additional warmth and come in several different thicknesses depending on the water temperature you are diving in.  Thicker hoods tend to have two layers and a zipper foe easier donning and doffing.

Wetsuit Vests

Vests are used under your main suit to add additional warmth your wetsuit.  They are designed to add heat to the torso which is the part of the body where you want the most body heat to be stored.  They also come in different thicknesses. 

Wetsuit_Vest_50

Elbow and Knee Pads

Many suits have reinforced pads at the elbows and knees which are designed to protect the neoprene in areas where there may be a larger amount of wear and tear.

How to Clean a Wetsuit

Now that you purchased your wetsuit, you need to make sure that you properly maintain it.  A properly maintained suit will last for a very long time. 

Here are the steps to properly maintain your suit:

  • Soak the suit
    • When you complete your dive, soak the suit in freshwater for 30 minutes to 45 minutes on each side.  You can add baking soda or a wetsuit cleaner to the water to prevent it from smelling bad.  
  • Scrub the Suit
    • Gently scrub the zippers and seams.  If there are scuff marks, you can try scrubbing those too.  Do not use anything abrasive to scrub the suit as it can damage it.
  • Rinse
    • Rinse the suit after it is soaked.  Make sure to rinse both the inside and the outside of the suit.
  • Hang the suit to dry
    • Make sure to hang the suit inside and out.  Leave it hanging until it is fully dry to avoid bad odors or mold.  Do not hang the suit in direct sunlight as that will cause discoloration and can damage the suit.
  • Store the Suit
    • Store the suit either hung on a large hanger or gently rolled in a temperature-controlled environment only after it is COMPLETELY dry.  Leaving suits in hot environments can cause damage to them.  Storing them wet will create odors and promote mold growth.

A Note on Peeing in Your Wetsuit

It is often said that there are two types of divers, those who pee in their wetsuits and those who lie about it.  The truth is that it is rare that you find an individual who has never peed in their suit.  That being said, we recommend that you do not pee in your suit unless it is absolutely necessary.  Pee causes your wetsuit to smell, can affect the longevity of the suit, and is unsanitary. 

The easiest way to avoid peeing in your wetsuit is to relieve yourself immediately before and after your dive.  If you do pee in your suit, make sure that you thoroughly clean it when you are done to avoid bad smells or long-term issues.

Buoyancy and Wetsuits

Whenever you are diving with a wetsuit, there will be changes in your body’s buoyancy characteristics.  These changes will depend on several factors, including the thickness and quality of the suit. 

SCUBA wetsuit diving


Scuba diver weight belt


Thicker wetsuits require more ballast to counteract their positive buoyancy characteristics.  As an example.  I dive a 3.5 MM suit.  When diving this suit, I need to add three pounds of ballast to my rig to maintain correct buoyancy.  If I were to dive a thicker suit or add a vest to my rig, it is likely that I will need more weight.

Wetsuit quality also affects buoyancy.  Less expensive suits tend to compress more at depth.  This will cause your buoyancy characteristics to change.  As the wetsuit compresses, it will become less buoyant.  So, when you are at depth, you will be more negatively buoyant than at the surface with the same amount of ballast.  Compression also affects the thermal protection the suit provides.

Trim and Wetsuits

An often-overlooked element of using a full-body suit is that it affects your trim in a positive way. The neoprene around your legs in particular helps to provide positive buoyancy for that part of the body which in turn helps you keep a horizontal trim. A horizontal trim is beneficial to you because it helps you to conserve gas, reduce the amount of silt you create, kick more efficiently and have better dives.

In Conclusion

Whether you use them to prevent heat loss, exposure protection, or both, wetsuits are a basic piece of equipment that almost every diver on the planet will use at some point.   Knowing how to choose, maintain, counteract the buoyancy of, and accessorize your suit is invaluable to your comfort in the water. I hope that you are able to use some of the information you learned here with you as you go out and choose your first or your next wetsuit.

Please ask any questions you may have below.  Did we miss anything?  Comment below!  We would love to hear your thoughts.  Happy and safe diving!

I you are interested in learning more about drysuits, please click the link below.  In the article below, we go over all the things you need to know about drysuits before you make a choice to switch to drysuit diving

The SCUBA Diver’s Guide To Choosing The Perfect Diving Drysuit

By Carlos Sagaro

If you ever considered whether a SCUBA diving drysuit is right for you, you came to the right place.  You’ve probably spent some time wondering what the best drysuit is or the what the differences are between a wetsuit and a drysuit are when you are in the water. We know that deciding whether to go dry can be both confusing and scary but stick around because in this article we are going to answer a ton of your drysuit diving questions and steer you in the right direction in your quest to determine whether or not you should dive dry.
Diving Drysuit diver in cave

What Is Drysuit Diving

Drysuit diving is SCUBA diving with a suit that keeps water out thus ensuring that you do not get wet when you are in the water.  The drysuit works by holding water out and maintaining watertight seals around the neck and wrists.  Because water conducts heat 25 times faster than air, having a layer between you and the water will keep you warm.  Drysuits keep the water out completely

Many divers have a misconception of the actual purpose of a drysuit.  See, they are not really designed to keep you warm.  While some do provide some thermal protection on their own (we’ll tackle this a little further on in this article), their main purpose is to keep a diver dry.  While this can be counterintuitive, after all, we all know our wetsuits keep us warm, drysuits are not great at thermal protection on their own.

But, how does a drysuit keep a diver warm?  They achieve optimal thermal protection when they are used with an undergarment.  It's the undergarment that keeps you warm. The drysuit is there to keep the undergarment dry. Drysuit undergarments are designed to be worn underneath the suit and the pieces of equipment that provide thermal protection.  We discuss undergarments with more detail a little further down.

Why Go Drysuit Diving?

Drysuits open up an underwater world that would not necessarily be available to divers who do not use them.  Divers use drysuits to dive in the some of the coldest water on our beautiful, blue marble.  They are also worn by divers who are going to be diving for extended periods of time.

It’s not always about diving in really cold water. I use a drysuit when I dive in the Florida Springs. The water temperature there is about 72 degrees Fahrenheit (22 degrees Celsius) year-round. You’ll see people with no exposure protection whatsoever swimming there. However, since I cave dive there, I’ll be underwater for prolonged periods of time. I could probably get away with diving in a wetsuit, but the drysuit provides comfort by keeping me warm throughout the entire dive. It also makes it much more comfortable when I exit the water because I am already dry and do not need to rush to change out of a wet wetsuit.

By keeping the diver dry, the drysuit allows the diver to maintain body heat over a longer period of time. Without a drysuit not only would diving in colder water be extremely uncomfortable, it could also lead to hypothermia, a dangerous condition which occurs when you lose too much body heat.

How Cold Can You Dive in a Drysuit

People routinely use drysuits to dive under ice. So as long as the water hasn’t completely frozen over yet, and provided that you are using the correct suit and undergarment, you can use them to dive in waters as cold as 34 degrees Fahrenheit (1 degree Celsius).

Diving Drysuit diving in ICE

Whether in the artic, Antarctic, beneath an ice-covered lake near a mountain in Russia, in the freezing waters of the cost of the American North East, or off the coast of the cold waters of the UK, the proper drysuit and undergarment can keep you warm enough to enjoy this otherwise inaccessible underwater world.

Diving Drysuit Divers in mountain lake (1)

How is Drysuit Diving Different than Diving in a Wetsuit?

By now you know that drysuits work very differently than wetsuits. Wetsuits keep you warm by keeping the water that is inside the wetsuit and close to your skin at a warmer temperature than the water you are diving in. They keep you completely dry.

Because you are completely dry you now have to be concerned with an extra air space while diving. Because your body is completely sealed inside the drysuit the space inside the suit creates an air space. This air space if not managed properly can become dangerous.

If you would like to learn more about wetsuits check out the article below:

https://greatdivers.com/scuba-gear/wetsuits/

Suit Squeeze

As divers, we know that because of Boyle’s law gasses will compress as we descend. The air space inside your drysuit is no exception. If gas is not added to the suit as you descend underwater the suit will compress around your body to the point that moving will become difficult. It can even cut off your circulation and cause bruising due to how tightly a suit can compress around you.

For this reason, all drysuits have an inflation valve (usually in the front) so that the diver can add air as he or she descends into the water.

Diving Drysuit Inflator
Diving Drysuit Dump Vavle
Dump Valves

Similar to the way that you need to add air to your suit as you descend, you also need to dump air from your suit as you ascend. This is the same as managing the air space in your BCD wing. In order to dump air from your suit, it will likely have at least one dump valve usually positioned on the upper arm (below the shoulder).

Managing the Additional Air Space

Much of learning to dive dry is about learning how to properly add gas to your suit while descending and dump gas from it while ascending. It can be trickier than it sounds. Too much gas will throw off your buoyancy. It can also create a bubble inside your suit which can travel around as you shift positions. This is something you want to avoid!

If you have too much gas inside your suit and the extra gas makes its way towards your feet, it can cause a dangerous situation where you become inverted in your suit. Because there are no dump valves near your feet you may begin to ascend uncontrollably towards the surface feet first.

This is why you may want to consider a drysuit course or at the very least learning to dive dry from an experienced and qualified instructor.

Suit Flooding

Another thing that’s different about drysuits is that you have to consider the possibility of a it flooding. If one of the seals become compromised or your suit tears during the dive it may become flooded with water. In very cold waters this can be dangerous. It’s also why drysuit undergarments need to be made from a material which will keep you warm even when wet. This means you can’t just throw on a cotton sweater and jogging pants underneath your suit.

Drysuit Buoyancy Considerations

Drysuits are generally more buoyant than wetsuits. How much more will depend on the suit material and the undergarments being used.

You’ll need to account for this difference in buoyancy by either adding more weight to your SCUBA diving rig, using a stainless steel backplate to add weight to your rig, or using a SCUBA tank that is more negative than the one you use while diving wet.

In order to determine the correct amount of ballast, you should perform a buoyancy check in the drysuit using the undergarments you intend to dive with. Note, changing your undergarments may change your buoyancy requirements in a drysuit.

Drysuits and your BCD

Because drysuits hold an additional air space some people wonder if they can replace a BCD? The answer is NO! The airspace is the suit is not as easy to control as the one in your BCD. It’s also not designed to balance you out in the water. You should never rely on your drysuit alone for buoyancy. Some divers consider a them a redundant form of buoyancy control should your BCD wing fail. While in an emergency this may be possible it is less than ideal.

What are drysuits made of?

Drysuits come in several different materials.  Neoprene, crushed neoprene, vulcanized rubber, and trilaminate are some of the most common.  The most popular of these is trilaminate and neoprene.

Vulcanized Rubber

Vulcanized Rubber Diving Drysuit

Vulcanized rubber suits are more often used in commercial settings and are not very common for recreational or technical diving. Some of the early drysuits were made of this material, but more modern materials have made these suits rare in the diving community.

Neoprene, Crushed Neoprene and Compressed Neoprene

Neoprene suits are made of the same material as your wetsuit except that they are designed to hold an air pocket between you and the outside rather than a layer of water.  The main benefit of neoprene suits is that they provide some inherent thermal protection on their own.  Still, you will need to use an undergarment in colder water or on longer dives.

Neoprene Diving Drysuit

If you decide to go with neoprene, there are a few things you will need to consider.  First, neoprene suits require the diver to add more weight.  This is especially true towards the end of your dives when you are performing safety stops at shallower depths while breathing out of a tank that is less full. 

They tend to be harder to put on than trilaminate suits and take much longer to dry.  This is important because they must be stored completely dry.  If you will be travelling, they are harder to fold and weigh more.

Finally, you’ll need to decide between a neoprene, crushed neoprene or compressed neoprene suit. The difference is that “compressed” and “crushed” neoprene take an existing neoprene material and using heat and compression compress the material so that it won’t compress as much underwater as you dive deeper. This makes it so the buoyancy characteristics of the suit won’t change throughout the dive. It also makes the neoprene more durable than that of a wetsuit. Different manufacturers use different processes to create their versions of crushed or compressed neoprene so it may be difficult to compare one brand to another.

Trilaminate Diving Drysuit

Membrane Drysuits

Membrane drysuits have become much more popular for recreational and technical diving. Most membrane suits are made out of a trilaminate material. The terms membrane and trilaminate are used interchangeably by most in the dive industry. The trilaminate suits are made out of two to three layers of durable material. The outside is usually a nylon, polyester or Kevlar material.  There is usually a butyl rubber membrane in the middle.  They are extremely durable and easier to patch than neoprene suits.  They are also more resistant to deterioration over time.

These suits offer some benefits that have made them more sought after. They are much less buoyant than their neoprene cousins.  They are easier to put on and take off than the neoprene suits, and they are easier to move around in than their neoprene cousins.  They are not as positively buoyant as neoprene so they will not require as much ballast.

Trilaminate suits also allow you to layer as much or as little undergarment material as needed depending on the diving conditions. This makes them ideal for both cold and warm water diving. They also dry much faster and are easier to fold for travel.  On the other hand, they offer little to no thermal protection so you will have to use an undergarment with them. 

The Parts That Make Up Your Drysuit

You already know that most drysuits will be either a membrane / trilaminate material or some form of neoprene, crushed neoprene or compressed neoprene. You also know that that the suit will need to have an inflator and a dump valve to manage the air space inside. Below are some of the parts of the suit that you need to know about when looking at and considering different types of suits.

Drysuit Seals

Diving Drysuit Wrist Seal
Drysuit Neck Seal

The seals of the drysuit are designed to keep air in and hold water out.  There are two types of seals: Neoprene and latex.  Neoprene seals are less expensive to replace than latex by are a little difficult to slide through.  If you purchase your own suit, you can trim the seals as needed.  This allows you to create a more comfortable fit.

The most common material for drysuit seals is latex. If you happen to be allergic to latex, silicone seals are also available. The problem with all seals is that eventually they will all tear.  When a seal tears, you’ll need to have it professionally re-installed since it is attached directly to the suit.

Many manufacturers make “wrist rings” or “Zip seals” which allow the diver to change out the seal themselves. With these systems, the seals are attached to a ring which in turn is attached to the drysuit. The seal attaches using a system that is similar to that of a zip lock bag. The advantage of this type of system is that, should a seal tear, you can repair it yourself on the fly.

The disadvantage of these systems is that the ring makes the suit a little bulkier around the ring where the seals attach. Also, because it uses a seal that is similar to that of a zip lock bag it’s possible for this seal to become undone and allow water to enter the suit.

Drysuit Zippers

The zipper is an extremely important part of your suit.  Aside from being the most expensive part of the suit to replace, it requires regular maintenance.  You should wax your drysuit zipper as recommended by the drysuit manufacturer with the recommended wax.  Apply the wax on the outside of the teeth so that you do no gum up the inner sealing surfaces of the zipper. This is not a place to skimp.  A dry suit sipper can cost 300 to 500 dollars to replace.  Also, if it breaks, it ruins your diving day and even future dives as they must be repaired by a professional.

Diving Drysuit Zipper Closed
Diving Drysuit Zipper open

The zipper position is another thing that you will have to consider when buying your drysuit.  The zippers can be positioned across your shoulders, in the front, or on the back of your suit.  I recommend you try on a few and see which you prefer.  I like the front zipper because I can zip up the suit myself. 

When zipping your suit, do not yank hard on the zipper.  Zippers are extremely sturdy, but they can break.  Make sure to treat them as gently as possible. Stretch the zipper out as much as possible and steadily pull on the zipper until it closes.

Knee and Elbow Pads

Over the years the knees and elbows of many suits tend to get worn down the most since these areas tend to rub the most while getting ready to go diving. Many suits reinforce these areas with pads. With many suits this may be an option only available with the more premium models, but it is something worth considering.

Drysuit Boots

There are several options when it comes to the boots of your drysuit. Some suits come with the boots already sewn into the suit itself. Others come with a sock-like foot cover allowing you to place a boot on top of the sock. The boot is sometimes referred to as a “rock boot”.

The advantage of having the boot be a part of the suit is that it is streamlined and allows you to use a larger variety of fins. The disadvantage is that if the boot wears out, you’ll need to have it replaced professionally.

Diving Drysuit Boot

The advantage of a rock boot that fits over a sock like finish is that you can easily swap out boots when they become worn out. The disadvantage is that rock boots tend to be bulkier and sometimes the foot pockets of the same fin you use with a simple bootie when diving wet may not fit as comfortably. This may mean you need to get a fin with a larger foot pocket to use with your drysuit.

Drysuit Suspenders

Suspenders are a feature which many drysuits have. The suspenders make it easier for you to put on your drysuit. They also allow you to wear your drysuit with the top part off while you are on the surface and preparing to dive. This makes it more comfortable when the air temperature is not as cold and you don’t necessarily want to have the entire suit on.

Diving Drysuit Suspenders

Drysuit Gloves

Diving Drysuit Gloves
Diving Drysuit Mittens

If you will be diving in cold environments, you may need to dive with dry gloves as well. The gloves like the suit are water-tight keeping your hands dry throughout the dive.

Dry gloves can either be worn over your existing wrist seals or they can be connected to an attachment ring or zip seal if your suit has that option. Dry gloves come in gloves, mitts and three finger mitts. Mitts and three finger mitts are the warmest option, but you lose dexterity with these options.

Whatever option you choose, you should try it out before diving. Make sure you can reach and unclip any equipment you use during the dive and purge your regulator with the gloves on.

Drysuit Hood

The hood you wear with your drysuit is an important part of staying warm underwater. The hoods are typically made out of neoprene and work the same way that wetsuits do. It’s extremely important to try on the hood and make sure it’s a snug fit. It’s also important that it doesn’t fit too tightly around your neck since it can put pressure on the carotid artery, causing a reflex which slows the heart resulting in poor oxygen delivery to the brain. This can cause light headedness and even unconsciousness. This can also happen if neck seals that are too tight!

The Dump Valve’s Position

As mentioned previously, most manufacturers position their dump valves just below the shoulder.  This position allows you to move your arm to ease dumping air when you are in a full horizontal as well as a vertical position.  This is the best position because it does not require you to contort your body into awkward positions to dump gas from your suit.

Please note that there are a few dry suits manufacturers that position the dump valves higher on the shoulder, but this is not recommended as it makes it more difficult to dump air depending on your position in the water.

Diving Drysuit Dump Valve position

Please note that there are a few dry suits manufacturers that position the dump valves higher on the shoulder, but this is not recommended as it makes it more difficult to dump air depending on your position in the water.

Fitting your Drysuit

This is of paramount importance.  It is imperative that you try on the dry suit you are planning on purchasing before you buy it.  One thing to also note is that you should try the suit on with the undergarments that you plan on diving with.  This is crucial to determining proper fit. Different manufacturers cut their suits differently so a medium from one manufacturer may be a large with a different manufacturer.

Diving Dry suit fit

The drysuit should allow you to have full range of motion when you are diving.  Make sure you can reach your valves should you need to perform an emergency shut off. Also make certain that you have as close to full range of motion as possible.  If your suit does not fit properly, you will never be comfortable when wearing it which will make you enjoy your diving less and add to stress load when underwater.  It can also create a dangerous situation because you possibly could not be able to reach your equipment easily or at all. 

Off the Rack Vs. Custom-Tailored Suits

It is possible to get a dry suit custom made for you.  Manufacturers will have you measure your body is several different points depending on their specific measuring guidelines.  They will then tailor a suit to fit you specifically. 

The benefits here are many.  The suit will fit you better which will allow for better movement in the water.  This will reduce or even eliminate restrictions in movement which will provide much more comfort.  A better fitting suit will have better buoyancy characteristics because it will be less likely to create air pockets.  This will make it easier for you to maintain neutral buoyancy and trim when diving. You can add gear pockets wherever you like (more on this later). 

One of the factors that should be taken into account when making this decision in the price.  Custom fitted suits are more expensive than their off-the-rack counterparts.  A drysuit is a big investment and purchasing a custom fit suit adds to the expense.

The drysuit should allow you to have full range of motion when you are diving.  Make sure you can reach your valves should you need to perform an emergency shut off. Also make certain that you have as close to full range of motion as possible.  If your suit does not fit properly, you will never be comfortable when wearing it which will make you enjoy your diving less and add to stress load when underwater.  It can also create a dangerous situation because you possibly could not be able to reach your equipment easily or at all. 

Drysuit Undergarments materials

There are two things all undergarment materials have in common. First, they are designed to keep you warm. Second, they need to be able to keep you warm even if they become wet. Keep in mind that a drysuit is always in danger of having its seals compromised. For this reason, whatever you wear under your it has to be able to keep you warm even if it becomes wet.

A drysuit undergarment is designed to be worn underneath your suit while maintaining warmth.  Without them, you will lose body heat rather quickly rendering your drysuit useless.  Undergarments are an essential part of every drysuit.  A great tip to remember is that undergarments can be layered.  Anyone who has been in cold weather knows that layering is an excellent way to keep warm.  This same concept applies to your drysuit underwear.

Drysuit Undergarments are made of several different materials.  

Thermal under

Thermal Undergarment

Drysuit Loft Undergarment

Loft Undergarment

Diving Drysuit Fleece Undergarment

Fleece Undergarment

Fleece undergarments are designed to be soft.  This material is very comfortable.  Fleece undergarments are great as a base layer in your drysuit arsenal. Fleece also has a tendency to wick moisture off of the body which is good should you sweat of should you have a small leak in your dry suit.  Another aspect of these that make them popular is that they are smaller, so they are easy to take with you when you travel.

Merino Wool is known for its ability to maintain body temperature well.  This is specifically designed to repel water on the outside while absorbing it when worn against the skin.  The benefit here is that it will not get soaked should your suit leak while wicking away sweat from your body.

Loft undergarments resemble the same material used for sleeping bags.  As the name suggests, these undergarments are thicker and are excellent at maintaining body heat in freezing waters. Due to their design, it is recommended to wear a base layer that wicks away sweat so that you do not feel wet while diving.

The question is, which undergarment will you need?  It truly depends on the temperature of the water that you are diving in.  Undergarments are measured by their thickness which is measured in grams.  There is a range of thicknesses available and each manufacturer will spell out the recommended water temperatures for the corresponding undergarment.  It is also a good idea to contact local divers who are familiar with the area where you intend to dive to see what they have been using and what they recommend.

Accessories for Drysuits

There are many accessories that you can purchase to personalize your drysuit.  What you decide to buy wholly depends on your preferences and needs when you are underwater.

Drysuit Pockets

Pockets can be either installed by the manufacturer or can be purchased and glued on by the diver. The pockets will often that have D-rings inside them to attach equipment. You can use clips on your gear, so you do not inadvertently lose you gear when you reach inside. The pockets are usually placed on the thigh on either side of the body or both depending on your needs.

Diving Drysuit Pocket

Heated Vests

If you want additional warmth without additional layers you may be interested in a heated vest. The vest is worn underneath the suit and needs to be connected to an external battery.  It is important to note that, should you decide that you want to add a heated vest, you will need to add a connection that allows you to connect the battery to the vest you are wearing underneath.  Some divers even carry more than one battery with them should they be on a long dive and the first battery runs out of power.

Pee Valves

Diving Drysuit Pee vlave hose
Drysuit Pee valve

Pee Valves are an option for drysuits as well.  These allow you to urinate with your dry suit on. These are typically used when you will be doing longer dives. You will have to attach a connecter to the suit that then attaches to a condom catheter that attaches to the penis.  For women there are internal catheters as well as an external one.  This will allow you to pee when you are diving and is an option to consider if you are going to go on long dives.  The valve itself is connected to a rubber hose which then connects to the end of the catheter. 

It is highly recommended that you follow the instructions of the specific pee valve you purchase to properly learn how to use the pee valve.  If you are going to use a pee valve then we recommend that you add a pee valve to your dry suit when you purchase it.  It is not an expensive thing to add and you can always decide not to use it.  It is better to have it and not need it and installing one later will end up costing you more.

Argon Bottles

Some divers, especially in the technical diving community choose to have a separate cylinder dedicated to inflating the drysuit. When a separate cylinder is used Argon is usually the gas of choice. Argon has a lower thermal conductivity than air or nitrox, so it helps keep the diver warmer during the dive. Because argon can be dangerous if inhaled, the cylinder used to contain this gas need to be clearly marked as containing argon and only used for this purpose.

Drysuit Gaiters

As mentioned earlier one of the tricky parts about learning to dive dry is avoiding putting too much gas into your suit. The most dangerous part about having too much gas in your suit is if you allow that gas to travel to your feet. Drysuit gaiters are wraps that go around the lower part of your legs (around your calves) in order to avoid gas traveling to that part of the suit. The gaiters can even be built into the suit as a feature. While this can help beginner divers still getting accustomed to a dry suit our recommendation is to learn to put the correct amount of gas in your suit and the maneuvers necessary to empty gas from your feet if it should happen. Gaiters are really a crutch that shouldn’t be relied on in the long term.

Alterations

One of the greatest benefits of drysuits is that they can be altered to fit your body better. This allows you to achieve greater comfort over the long run.  Of course, this can only be done if you own the dry suit.  You can cut the seals to ensure a better fit.  You can change the boots depending on whether you prefer one type boot over another.  You can even shorten the sleeves and legs of a suit.  You can even change from dry gloves to wet gloves.  Lastly, you can purchase a suit that is custom fit for your body.  Be aware that custom suits do cost more but the investment may be worth your while if you intend on using your suit often.

Dry Suit Maintenance

Dry suits do require regular maintenance to maintain proper function.  Also, regularly maintaining your drysuit will ensure that it lasts longer. 

Seal maintenance is vital.  Make sure to be careful when donning and doffing your suit that you are not wearing jewelry or hair ties.  Watch to make sure that you do not dig your nails into the seals when you stretch them out.  Check for splitting or cracking of the seals and have that attended to before your dive. 

The zipper is the most expensive part of the suit to repair.  Make sure you store it in the open position and regularly lubricate it with wax to maintain its integrity.

A poorly maintained dry suit will not last as long as one that is properly taken care of.  More importantly, drysuit failure can be very dangerous.  Because your drysuit is being used to keep you comfortable in very cold water, a failure can lead to an emergency situation.  If your suit fails while you are underwater, you can suffer form hypothermia.  This can make It more difficult for you to decompress, focus, and function.  It can even cause buoyancy problems.

Make sure to rinse you suit well after each dive, especially in saltwater.  Make sure you hang your suit so that it can dry properly before storing it long term.  A properly kept and maintained drysuit will last you for years and provide excellent performance throughout its service life.

Drysuit Training

One of the most common questions that we are asked is “should I get training to dive a drysuit.”  The short answer here is “yes!”  While diving in a drysuit is not as hard as you may think, it does offer its own set of circumstances that can be acclimated to much more easily if you are properly trained.

Diving Drysuit divers traning

I remember the first time I dove dry.  I had my own misconceptions as to how it would feel.  I was worried about things like: I am going to feel squeezed?  Will it be hard to move?  Will I be able to reach my valves in an emergency?  What if I end up “feet up” in the water? Is this thing going to stay dry?  The truth is that none of those things were warranted.  If you properly adjust the air in your suit, you will not feel squeezed.  A properly fitting suit does not restrict movement.  And, yes, my suit did keep me dry!  All my fears of diving in a drysuit were not very warranted.

With that said, there are a few things that you need to know.  How to react in an emergency situation.  How your drysuit will affect your trim and buoyancy, how much more weight you will need?  Proper training will address all those things and much more. 

It is important to note that an overly filled drysuit will make it difficult to maintain trim and buoyancy.  Your drysuit does have positive buoyancy but should not be used for primary buoyancy compensation.  It can be used in an emergency situation but, aside from that, you should only add as much air into your drysuit as you will need to keep it comfortable and prevent a drysuit squeeze.

In time and with proper training, your drysuit will feel as natural underwater as your wetsuit does. This is why it’s important that you find a qualified instructor if it’s your first time diving in a drysuit!

In Conclusion

So, you probably came into this wondering “should I get a drysuit?”  I hope that the information in this article has helped you get a better grasp of what owning a drysuit entails. 

Whether or not you should dive dry ultimately depends on the type of diving you’re doing and how cold you get while you are doing it.  In the end, diving dry can be as natural as diving wet once you get used to doing it.  Practice and experience make all the difference.

If you do decide that a diving drysuit  is for you, you should get assistance from a professional dive shop. They can help you in choosing a suit that fits you properly, choosing the correct undergarments and even help with training so that you remain safe.

Did we miss anything about drysuit diving?  Have any questions?  Please comment below and let us know!

Want to Learn more?  Below are some recommended articles where you can find out more about Diving Drysuits.

Scuba Hand Signals

By Carlos Sagaro

If you are anything like me, you’ve had at least one time in your life when you were diving and you felt the frustration of not being able to tell your buddy something important. Maybe it was a once in a lifetime encounter with a shark, or perhaps it was something more important like letting your buddy know that her regulator's first stage was leaking air.

Whatever the reason, not knowing the correct hand signal can be frustrating and possibly even dangerous. 

As divers, we are in a unique position in that we often need to communicate without our voice. Diving with a buddy requires us to be able to communicate underwater using diving hand signals.  

We all learned a series of hand signals when we took our dive courses.  The reality is that we tend to forget them as time goes on.  Just like anything else, the less we use them the more we tend to forget what they are.  

In this article, we will be going over 70 scuba SCUBA hand signals that we feel every diver should add to their skill set to be able to be the best diver and buddy that they can be. The good news is many of these are commmon sense and easy to remember. Keep reading so you can see for yourself. 

A couple of things to remember before we get started.  First, make sure you complete your hand signals deliberately and slowly.  When you are underwater being deliberate will make it easier for your buddy to figure out what you are trying to tell them.  Second, before a hand signal is done, your buddy needs to be looking at you.  I know this sounds like common sense, but it can be easy to forget that you cannot just turn around and yell “hey” to get your buddy’s attention underwater.

Getting your buddy’s attention

There are several ways to get your buddy’s attention underwater.  One of the most common is to use a tank banger, a tool that is attached to your tank that allows you to bang against your tank to create noise.

If you do not have a  tank banger, you can the clips on your flashlight or any other metal object  to bang against your tank to make noise.

Another way to get your buddy’s attention is to yell through your regulator or clap your hands underwater.  In both cases, the buddy needs to be close enough to you to hear it.

The SCUBA hand signals in this article have been broken down into three different sections.  Essential SCUBA Hand Signals, Emergency SCUBA Hand signals and SCUBA hand signals for common marine life. 

(Note: If you'd like to learn more about how to choose a dive buddy, ready out article here: How to find the perfect dive buddy and use the buddy system so that your next dive will be amazing

Essential SCUBA Hand Signals

Okay

SCUBA Hand Signal Okay

This is the universal signal for letting your buddy know you are okay or to answer your buddy should he or she as you a question.

Go up or Ascend

SCUBA Hand Signal Go Up or Ascend

This lets your buddy know that you want to ascend. 

Go Down or Descend

SCUBA Hand Signal Go Down or Descend

This lets your buddy know you want to descend.

End Dive

SCUBA Hand Signal End the Dive

This is similar to the ascend signal but tells the diver it is time to ascend and end the dive. There are times when you may need to call a dive before you originally planned. In 9 reasons to call a dive we explore the various reasons. 

Come here or come closer

SCUBA Hand Signal Come Closesror Come here

Lets your buddy know that you want him r her to come towards you.  This can be done with one or two hands.

Slow Down

SCUBA Hand Signal Slow Down

This alerts your buddy that you want to slow down.  It can be done with one or two hands

Stop

SCUBA Hand Signal Stop

Tells your buddy to stop where they are.

Look

SCUBA Hand Signal Look in a Direction

Tells your buddy to look at something or in a particular direction. 

Go in a Specific Direction

SCUBA Hand Signal Look in a Direction

You will point in the direction you want your buddy to look at.  Please note that is done with an open hand.  Doing this with a close hand has a different meaning which we will go over later.

Buddy Up

SCUBA Hand Signal Buddy Up

This SCUBA hand signal alerts your buddy to dive with you.

Level Off

SCUBA Hand Signal Level Off

Tells your buddy to adjust his or her buoyancy at a specific depth.

3 Minute Safety Stop

SCUBA Hand Signal 3 Min Safety Stop

This signal alerts your buddy to complete a safety stop for three minutes at 15-20 feet.  Please note that this can be done in two difference ways.  The second method allows you to adjust the time depending on your specific practice.

Decompression

SCUBA Hand Signal Decompression

This diving hand signal alerts your buddy that you must complete a required decompression stop.  

Even though you should NEVER enter into decompression without the proper training and equipment this signal is useful to let your buddy know how much time you have on your computer before you reach your no decompression limit. 

Cold

SCUBA Hand Signal Cold

Lets your buddy know you are cold.

Question

SCUBA Hand Signal Question

Alerts that you have a question for your buddy

Leak/bubbles

SCUBA Hand Signal Leak Bubbles

This is used to let your buddy know that there is a leak coming from somewhere on their gear.  You can point to the area on your rig to let them know where their leak is.

Write it Down

SCUBA Hand Signal Write it Down

Alerts your buddy that you want him or her to write something down on their slate.

How to Communicate Numbers 1 – 5

SCUBA Hand Signal Numbers 1 - 5

How to Communicate Numbers 6 – 9

SCUBA Hand Signal Numbers 6 - 9

How to Communicate 100s

SCUBA Hand Signal Numbers 100s

The first number indicates how many hundreds.  In this case we are communicating 100.

How to Communicate 1000s

SCUBA Hand Signal Numbers 1000s

The first number indicates how many Thousands.  In this case we are communicating 1000.

Inflate the BCD (a little bit)

SCUBA Hand Signal Inflate the BCD

This tells your buddy he or she needs to inflate or deflate their BCD a little bit at a time.

Just a reminder, you always want to make sure you have done a proper buoyancy check before the dive. By doing so you minimize the amount of air you'll need to add to your BCD. 

Deflate the BCD (a little bit)

SCUBA Hand Signal Deflate the BCD
SCUBA Hand Signal Deflate the BCD

This tells your buddy he or she needs to inflate or deflate their BCD a little bit at a time.  There is more than method to do this, as seen above.


Inhale and Exhale Slowly

SCUBA Hand Signal Inhale and Exhale Slowly

This SCUBA diving hand signal tells your buddy to remember to breath in and out slowly.  Can be used to calm your buddy down.

Where is the boat

SCUBA Hand Signal Where is the Boat

Asks where the boat is relative to your location. If you are unsure, it may be time to get your compass out and do a boat check

You Lead I follow

SCUBA Hand Signal You Lead

Tells your buddy he or she will be leading the dive.  If you point at yourself first, you are telling your buddy that YOU will lead the dive.

Hold Hands

SCUBA Hand Signal Hold Hands

This tells your buddy you want to hold hands.  It can be used under several different situations including low vis, issues with gear, general anxiety, etc..

Essential SCUBA Hand Signals on the Surface

Okay

SCUBA Hand Signal Okay on Surface
SCUBA Hand Signal Okay on Surface

This is the universal signal for letting your buddy know you are okay or to answer your buddy should he or she as you a question.  This can we done with one or two hands.

Pick Me Up

SCUBA Hand Signal Pick Me Up

 Let the boat know you want them to pick you up

Emergency SCUBA Diving Hand Signals

Out of air

SCUBA Hand Signal Out of Air

Alerts your buddy that you are out of air and need to begin air sharing procedures

Something is wrong

SCUBA Hand Signal Something is Wrong

This alerts your buddy that there is something wrong.  It is usually followed by a signal alerting what the problem is.

Stomach Problem

SCUBA Hand Signal Stomach Problem

Start with the something is wrong SCUBA signal and point to your stomach.

Equalization Issue

SCUBA Hand Signal Ear Trouble

Start with the something is wrong SCUBA signal and point to your ear. If you'd like to learn more about how to avoid ear equalization issues make sure to read our complete guide on how to equalize your ears. 

Nitrogen Narcosis

SCUBA Hand Signal Nitrogen Narcosis

Alert to your buddy that you are feeling narked so he or she can assist you accordingly.

Air Sharing

SCUBA Hand Signal Air sharing
SCUBA Hand Signal Buddy Breathing

Let your buddy know that you are in need of air sharing.  There are two ways to do this as seen above.

Lost Buddy

SCUBA Hand Signal Lost Buddy

Let someone know that you cannot find your buddy.

Danger

SCUBA Hand Signal Danger

Let your buddy know that there is danger.  Please note that in this case you will be keeping your fist closed.

Emergency SCUBA Diving Hand Signals on the Surface

Lost Buddy

SCUBA Hand Signal Lost Buddy

Start by telling them you are okay and let them know you do not know where your buddy is.

Need Help/Rescue

SCUBA Hand Signal Need Help rescue


Use to let someone on the surface know that you are in need of rescue as soon as possible.  This can be done with one or two hands.

SCUBA Diving Hand Signals for Common Marine Life

Shark

SCUBA Hand Signal Shark

There are several distinct shark species around the world.  This diving hand signal is the universal signal for them all.

Hammerhead Shark

SCUBA Hand Signal Hammerhead Shark

This SCUBA hand signal is used to let people know when a Hammerhead shark is nearby.  Due to their uniqueness, they are known to have their own hand signal

Triggerfish

SCUBA Hand Signal Triggerfish

There are several different species of triggerfish.  They are found in costal waters all around the world.

Goliath Grouper

SCUBA Hand Signal Grouper

Formerly known as the Jewfish, Goliath Groupers are known to roam the Caribbean coasts and off the coast of Brazil.

Turtle

SCUBA Hand Signal Turtle

There are several species of sea turtles and they are seen all around the world.  This is a SCUBA hand signal you will use often.

Stingray

SCUBA Hand Signal Stingray

Stingrays are known to roam coastal waters and are seen in tropical and subtropical waters all over the world.  They are known to sit under the sand and wait for prey.

Puffer fish

SCUBA Hand Signal Puffer Fish

Also known as Blowfish, these fish are known to be seen in tropical waters.  The majority of them are poisonous.

Octopus

SCUBA Hand Signal Octopus

The octopus is an eight-limbed mollusk.  They  are found in waters all over the world.  They can change their color to mimic their surroundings and spray ink into the water when spooked.  This SCUBA hand signal is used for all of the species.

Lobster

SCUBA Hand Signal Lobster

Lobsters are found of the coasts of several countries in warm and cold water.

Lionfish

SCUBA Hand Signal Lionfish

Lionfish are native to Indo-pacific waters but have invaded waters all over the East coast of the US and the coasts of South and Central America.

Jellyfish

SCUBA Hand Signal Jellyfish

Eel

SCUBA Hand Signal Eel

There are many species of eels found in waters all over the world.  They tend to live in crevices inside of reefs but have been known to be spotted free swimming as well.

Fire Coral

SCUBA Hand Signal Fire Coral

Fire corals are found on reefs in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic Oceans and the Caribbean Sea.  When touched, they sting the skin and cause irritation.

Dolphin

SCUBA Hand Signal Dolphin

Dolphins are mammals that are found all over the world.  they can be seen in fresh and salt water.

Barracuda

SCUBA Hand Signal Barracuda

Barracuda are found in tropical and subtropical oceans worldwide.

Crab

SCUBA Hand Signal Crab

Crabs are indigenous to waters all over the world.  They can be seen both underwater and on beaches  They reside in holes and hide in shells as well as trash.  There are many species of crab.

Boxfish

SCUBA Hand Signal Crab

Boxfish are native to the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian oceans in tropical and subtropical zones.

Angelfish

SCUBA Hand Signal Angelfish

Manta Ray

SCUBA Hand Signal Manta Ray

Manta Rays are found in most waters around the world.  They are filter feeders so they tend to move around constantly

Clown Fish

SCUBA Hand Signal Clown Fish

Clown Fish are found in the warmer waters of the Indian Ocean, including the Red Sea and Pacific Oceans, including the Great Barrier Reef, Southeast Asia, Japan, and the Indo-Malaysian region.


9 Reasons To Call a Dive

By Carlos Sagaro

Calling A Dive: 9 Reasons to Stay Safe and Dive Another Day

Pop quiz! You’re descending down the line with a new dive buddy.

As soon as you reach the bottom you begin second guessing whether or not you even want to do this dive.

Maybe it’s the fact that something about this guy, his gear, or his attitude about the dive just doesn’t seem right. Maybe it’s the fact that current is bit stronger than you expected or that the visibility isn’t all that great.

Is it ok to end the dive? Should you call the dive?

This is a great question and the answer can vary from person to person. Knowing when you absolutely must end a dive versus when it is okay to just deal with a situation underwater is something you must consider BEFORE it happens.

If you’ve never thoroughly thought this through, make sure to keep reading.

First things first, in case you haven’t heard the term before, “Calling a dive” is simply diver jargon for ending a dive. Typically, the hand signal used between divers to let each other know it’s time to end the dive is the “thumbs up” hand signal.

scuba mask fogging up, SCUBA mask anti fog, defog scuba mask

No doubt that your introductory SCUBA diver course you were taught that your dive is over when you are getting close to your pre-determined reserve gas pressure, your no-decompression time limit, or the pre-determined time that the captain or dive master gives before entering the water. There are many other reasons why you may and in many cases absolutely should end the dive.

Reasons # 1-3: You’re Too Cold, Working Too Hard, or are Otherwise Uncomfortable

When learning about decompression sickness, you were taught to adjust the dive tables by adding a letter group when you are too cold or working too hard. By adding a letter group, you reduce your total bottom time underwater.

If you are diving with a computer you should be extra conservative with your bottom times when you are working harder than usual or cold.

In both the above scenarios, by shortening the bottom time you are reducing your chances of getting decompression sickness.

So, what exactly is overexertion?

scuba mask fogging up, SCUBA mask anti fog, defog scuba mask

The most common cause of overexertion in diving is probably swimming into a current that is too strong.

If you are having to kick nonstop just to hold your ground underwater, then you’re most likely going to end up breathing harder than usual and overexerting yourself.

Other causes of overexertion can be swimming too fast, swimming with too much ballast, inefficient trim, bad buoyancy control, or an inefficient kicking technique.

Overexertion happens because you are working too hard. What a lot of people do not realize is that it can also happen because you are cold.

When you are cold your body will work to keep your body temperature up. Eventually we all know that if you stay cold long enough you’ll begin to shiver. All of this bad because it causes ingassing of nitrogen. 

However, there are times when we are working so hard or are so cold that our dives are no longer enjoyable.

scuba mask fogging up, SCUBA mask anti fog, defog scuba mask

Think about it, for the majority of us, SCUBA diving is a hobby we do to de-stress or to enjoy some R&R. I don’t know about you, but for me there is nothing relaxing or stress relieving about feeling overly cold or overly exerting myself. I mean, I love a good workout as much as the next guy, but not while I am underwater breathing compressed gas.

Bottom line, if you are in a situation where you are no longer comfortable underwater due to heavy surge, current or because the water is just too cold, it is a good idea to stop your dive and begin a nice, slow ascent performing a safety stop before exiting the water.

Reason #4: Your Regulator is Leaking or Performing Strangely

Your regulator is essential to SCUBA diving. Many people do not think about it however, it is life support equipment!

When all is said and done, we cannot spend very much time underwater without it. We count on it to keep us alive and to breathe easily while we enjoy the underwater world.

The problem is that often we do not “listen” to what our gear is telling us.

Bubbles streaming from the SPG or second stage, a leaky alternate air source that you need to keep covering up constantly during the dive, or even having more gas delivered to you from your second stage as you are exhaling are all signs of a regulator that needs servicing.

scuba mask fogging up, SCUBA mask anti fog, defog scuba mask

The problem is that all of these warning signs can suddenly get worse. A significant change in your regulator’s performance or a stream of bubbles indicating a leak is a sure sign that you should cancel your dive immediately and slowly ascend to the surface while you still can. There is no reason to risk having an equipment malfunction while underwater.

Reason # 5: Your Dive Computer Fails or is Behaving Strangely

As stated earlier, as divers we rely on equipment to keep us alive and safe under water. Dive computers have become a staple for most avid divers. However, because they are electronic devices they certainly can fail underwater.

A funky reading (telling you you are at 100 feet (33 meters) when you know you are way shallower, a fading screen that looks like the computer is about to die, or of course if the computer just stops working for whatever reason.

These are all reasons to call the dive!

Because we depend on dive computers to keep us safely within the no-decompression limits it is extremely important for us to recognize that if this vital piece of equipment fails it’s time to call the dive.

NOTE: You should never use 1 dive computer for 2 buddies. A dive computer tracks the nitrogen in-gassed by each dive based on their unique dive profile. Because every diver will usually have a different dive profile (there is no way to be at exactly the same depth as your buddy on most dives), you should never share a dive computer. This is why if this instrument fails, it’ time to call the dive.

Reason # 6: Your timing Device Fails

If you are not diving a computer and your watch fails you must stop your dive and perform a controlled ascent with a safety stop. Not doing so can be very dangerous since you have no way of determining the time that you have spent underwater.

Reason # 7: Your Dive Buddy Makes You Feel Uncomfortable

This one certainly can be one of the most difficult situations to deal with, especially if your dive buddy is someone you know well or have been diving with for years.

At someone point in our lives, we have all felt peer pressure. Something is happening and you do not necessarily feel comfortable with it but you go along because you want to “fit in.”

It can be challenging to say “no thanks” but when you’re SCUBA diving, it is imperative that you always do things that you’re comfortable with. Diving with anxiety can be the precursor to a potentially serious diving accident.

When you are diving with a buddy, it is important that you communicate what your limits are before you get in the water so that expectations can be set. If those limits are pushed or something happens where they are broken, you should be ready to call the dive confident in the fact that you have done the right thing for yourself and your safety as a diver.

It is always better to have an uncomfortable conversation than to have to be taken to the hospital.

Reason # 8: You Don’t Feel Safe

If you are on a dive and you start to feel the “heebie jeebies,” it is a good idea to end your dive. The reasons for this is simple, feeling unsafe can certainly lead to anxiety about the dive you are on.

Being anxious is not the state you should be in if a situation arises that you need to deal with underwater. Dealing with a diving emergency, or even a diving nuisance when you are calm, cool and collected is not the same as dealing with it when you are already mentally stressed.

Being anxious can lead to all kinds of mistakes that otherwise would never happen.

It is always better to dive another day than to end up wishing you had just followed your instincts “that one time.”

Reason #9: Any Other Reason at All

“Any diver can call a dive at any time for any reason!”

This is something we teach all of our students in their entry level SCUBA diver course. It is something that I have instilled in all my students and reiterate to them throughout their classes at all levels.

Because SCUBA diving is a recreational sport, there is no reason to be on a dive if you are not comfortable while doing so.

Also, because you may depend on your buddy in case of an emergency it’s important for them to be comfortable and able to perform when needed. This means they need to be in a state where they are calm, cool and collected.

This is why any diver can call a dive at any time for any reason.

What other reasons do you think should be included in this list? Let us know in the comments below:

Warning: Why Your Weighting May Be All Wrong and How to Fix It

By Carlos Sagaro

If you’re like most divers, you probably have a set amount of weight that you carry with you as ballast when you dive

What you may not realize is that how you carry that weight is almost as important as the amount of weight itself.

Have you distributed that weight evenly across your rig so that your trim is balanced and you’re comfortable during your dive?

What would you do with the weight you carry with you in an emergency?

Is it important to you to be able to ditch your weight? If so, how much?

If you’re curious about the answers to any of these questions, then you’re going to want to read on.

In this article, we’re going to discuss a hot topic which is often overlooked yet critically important to your buoyancy control, trim, comfort and even your safety when you go diving.

One of the things that is counter intuitive when you learn to dive is the fact that you need to add weight to SCUBA dive.

Using an incorrect amount of weight when diving is one of the most common mistakes that many divers make. In many cases, people are diving with more weight than they need.

The cause may be doing an improper buoyancy check, sticking to weight that’s always been used but never tested, or simply adding more weight than what is really needed and compensating for it by adding air to the BCD.

Whatever the reason, in this article, we are going to dig into weighting and how you can use it to your advantage to improve your buoyancy, comfort level, breathing rate, and over all diving experience.

Why is Weighting Important?

Knowing and understanding how to be properly weighted will do wonders for you diving experience.

If you are over weighted or under weighted, your experience underwater is going to suffer. Let’s dig into some examples so you can see how:

What happens when you are over-weighted? 

First, imagine you were diving just 6lbs overweight. There are several problems which you will encounter. let’s go through them one at time.

  • Extra weight to carry around needlessly: That extra weight is going to need to be carried on and off of the boat. You may also be carrying it in your gear bag which is already heavy enough as is. What’s the point of carrying around dead weight that’s not needed?
  • Your propulsion may suffer: Every time you kick you’re moving more weight around than what is needed. It’s not just that weight itself. Because you need to compensate for the extra weight to stay neutrally buoyant you need to add extra air into your BCD. That extra air creates additional drag. This means more weight AND more drag in the water.
  • Your rig is likely off balance: It’s not just the amount of weight that you carry into the water, it’s where you position it that makes a difference in your diving. If like most divers you’re simply adding more weight to a weight belt or a BCD with ditch-able weights, there’s a good chance that, when you stop moving in the water column, your body is not in a balanced horizontal position like it should be.
  • It’s harder to get into and out of the water: That extra weight makes it harder to climb boat ladders. Even if you’re taking your rig or weight belt off and handing it up to climb on to a boat it’s still extra weight that doesn’t need to be there.
  • It can be extremely unsafe in the event of an emergency: If your BCD bladder or wing were to fail underwater this is now extra weight that you will need to swim up. If you ditch it, it may make it impossible to hold a safety stop or even lead to you having a fast or an uncontrolled ascent to the surface.

What if you were to be diving under-weighted? The circumstances are different, but just as serious.

What happens when you are under-weighted? 

  • Not being able to compensate for consumed gas: One of the reasons you may need to carry additional weight is to compensate for the shift in buoyancy which happens as you consume the gas in your tank. The video below explains this shift in gas that happens when you dive.
    • This is especially prevalent when you use aluminum tanks. As you consume the gas in your tank, it becomes lighter and lighter. Eventually the weight of the gas that was keeping your buoyancy negative is no longer there. It’s at this point that you find yourself having to fight to stay down.
  • Needing to change your body position to stay underwater: When you do not have enough ballast, you cannot hover effortlessly underwater. Because of this, you need to either kick or hold on to something to keep from floating up. Needless to say, if you are kicking to stay down you’re consuming the gas faster and the cycle becomes worse and worse as you have less gas and less gas in the tank.



Types of Dive Weights

Now that you understand why it’s incredibly important to be properly weighted, let’s start at the beginning. There are several types of weights used by divers and each one of them has its pros and cons. In this section we are going to discuss a few of those systems and their characteristics.

Solid Lead Weights

Every diver has come across solid lead weights at one point or another in their diving. These are a tried and true type of weighting system.

To be thorough, because the name itself implies what they are, solid lead weights are a piece of lead molded to fit a weight belt. They come in a variety of sizes ranging from .5lb to 10lbs (.23 kg to 4.5 kg). In some cases, they are incased in rubber to make them more comfortable around the body and to minimize lead exposure.

The biggest plus about these weights is that they are the most compact and therefore produce the least amount of drag. They are one of the least bulky of the options. They also tend to last forever. They can be used both on a belt or inside BCD pockets. (more on this later).

The biggest con is that they can be uncomfortable if they’re in a position on your weight belt where they are hitting your hip bone. Also, you must be careful to not drop them as doing so can be very painful and can even cause injury if they land on your foot.

Beaded Lead Weights

These are also extremely common. They range in sizes starting at .5lb to 10lbs (.23 kg to 4.5 kg). They consist of lead beads that are incased in mesh to allow them to dry and so that water will not accumulate inside of them.

There are several benefits to these types of weights. They are softer which makes them much more comfortable to store inside of BCD pockets and pocketed weight belts. Being malleable, they can counter to a diver’s body which makes them more comfortable when work on a weight belt. Lastly, and this has saved many a diver, if dropped they cause little to no damage.

As for the cons, beaded lead weights tend to be a bit more expensive. They also are bulkier, especially when used on a weight belt. Finally, the life span is probably not as long as lead weights since the material used to hold the pellets inside can rip.

Using Your SCUBA Tank as Ballast

It is common knowledge that tanks come both in aluminum and steel. While many divers do not think of them in this manner, steel tanks can be used as a weight.

Steel tanks as ballast

Unlike aluminum tanks, Steel tanks tend to remain negative even when they are empty. Additionally, Steel tanks are generally heavier than aluminum tanks and therefore can be used as a form of ballast. Steel tanks also tend to hold more gas than a similar size aluminum tank.

Finally, because the weight of a steel tank is distributed evenly across your back, steel tanks are often a good choice because they make it easier for you to achieve good trim and body positioning while on a dive.

The cons to diving steel tanks are that they tend to be more expensive, require more maintenance, and are usually heavier out of the water.

Aluminum Tank Considerations When It Comes To Weighting

Unlike most steel tanks, aluminum tanks tend to start negative and then end up slightly positive towards the end of your dive.

Just like steel tanks, when you are diving with aluminum you must consider where the tanks buoyancy characteristics end up at the end of your dive.

If you are neutral with a full aluminum tank at the start of you dive, you will be positive at the end of you dive which could cause all sort of problems. This means that you need to carry additional ballast to compensate for the positive buoyancy caused by a tank that is floating at the end of the dive.

Aluminum tanks are the most common type of tank because they are generally cheaper and also easier to maintain.

The bottom line is, whether you are diving with a steel or an aluminum tank, you must be aware of the tank’s buoyancy characteristics when it is empty or near empty. The last thing you want is to be slightly positive at the end of you dive.

Additional Tank Considerations

It is important to note that all tanks tend to become less negative as they start to empty during a dive. Every tank is different, and tank manufacturers publish charts which you can use to determine which tank is best for you.

Using these charts, you can get a good idea of what the buoyancy characteristics of different tanks are. However, you should be aware that these charts are only a starting point in helping you determine the amount of ballast that you’ll need.

Tank manufactures usually list the buoyancy characteristics of a tank without including the weight of the valve or the tank boot (if there is one). Additionally, the buoyancy characteristics are listed for a completely empty tank (something you should never do). Finally, you should also note if the buoyancy characteristics are for salt water or fresh water.

Armed with this knowledge and knowing the amount of gas that you will need for a dive, you can choose the most appropriate tank for your needs.

Regardless of whether you have a new tank or if you are using the same tank you’ve always used, you should always perform a buoyancy check with the tank being at its reserve pressure, either with your SCUBA gear on, or off the gear by itself in order to determine its buoyancy.

Common Types of Weighting Systems

Weight Belts

Weight belts are exactly what they sound like. A belt that you use to hold weights when you dive. There are two types of weight belts. The first is a basic nylon belt that you slide solid weights onto. The second is a pocketed that you can slip weights into.

The nylon belts can only hold solid weights. If you use this type of belt you’ll also want to use a belt slide or stopper to keep the solid weights in their place.

The pocketed belt can hold both solid weights and beaded weights. Whether you are diving with a nylon or pocketed belt, they both should have a quick release in the event of a diving emergency. (we will go into ditching weights later in this article.)

Integrated weight pockets on BCD

It is fairly common for BCDs to have integrated weight systems. They usually consist of a removable weight pocket on the front side of the BCD attached to the cumber bun. 

These can be used in lieu of a weight belt. Essentially you insert the needed weight into the pockets and then insert the pocket into its slot in the BCD. You can use both solid and beaded weights with these pockets.

Weight Pockets on Tank Bands and on the Back of BCDs.

Weight pockets are often added to BCDs, usually on the back side to allow divers to add weight in other areas besides their waste to help with distribution and trim. They can be an integral part of your weighting because, in addition to providing needed ballast, they also allow you to improve your trim. They can also be added to the cam bands on your BCD should your BCD not have the pockets built in.

Backplates

These are normally used in conjunction with a harness and wing. In recent years, there have been a few more conventional BCDs that have been modified to use back plates as well.

There are generally two types of back plates, Steel and aluminum. Which you should use depends on your weighting needs and the type of diving you are doing. Steel back plates are generally heavier than aluminum and thus provide more negative buoyancy. 

How much negative buoyancy they provide depends on the manufacturer, so it is important to find out how negative a backplate is in the water before you purchase it to ensure you are getting the best one for yourself.

The biggest positive attributed to back plates when weighting is concerned is the fact that they tend to distribute weight evenly across your back which provides more stability in the water by helping to placing your body in a horizontal body position. This is a huge advantage because having better trim reduces drag. This reduction in drag causes you to work less when under water which causes you to burn less gas and enjoy longer, less tiring dives.

There are two aspects to back plates that can be considered negative depending on who you ask (more about this later). First, backplates are a permanent part of your BCD and cannot be ditched in an emergency scenario (see the section on “ditchable” weights if you want to learn more about this). Second, the vast majority of jacket- style BCDs will not allow you to use a backplate. This is something to consider if you are thinking about switching to a back plate.

A note on Ankle Weights

While not as common as the other forms of ballast, there are people who use ankle weights when they dive. This is especially common when using a dry suit.

I do not recommend that divers use ankle weights. They make it more difficult to kick properly which negatively affects your efficiency under water. Their negative effects far outweigh any positive effect they can have in your trim.

The idea is that they help with keeping your feet down. When diving dry, air can become trapped near the legs and cause your feet to become positively buoyant.

If you feel you need more weight at your feet to help with trim, my recommendation is to look for a heavier fin, use one of the many wraps that are available to place around your lower legs to prevent gas from traveling to your feet. Or simply work on placing less gas into your dry suit. Having excess gas near your feet is a common beginners mistake when learning to dive with a dry suit.

Can you figure out how much weight you need using a calculation?

“Ten percent of your body weight!”

There is a common misconception with some people that you can use a formula to figure out how much weight you need in order to dive. One such formula which is the old “ten percent of your body weight” myth.

The truth is that there really is formula you can use to accurately calculate how much weight you are going to need when you dive. The only real way to do this is to get in the water and do a buoyancy check. The video below explains how to do a buoyancy check for yourself. 

How To Do A Proper Buoyancy Check: Part 1

How To Do A Proper Buoyancy Check: Part 2

Once you know how much weight you need for yourself, now you can determine the amount of weight you need for your gear. 

Do your ballast requirements ever change?

As stated in the previous section, only a buoyancy check can determine exactly how much weight you are going to need on a given dive. The reason why is because that number varies depending on several factors that we will go over in this section.

  • Your Gear: The equipment you use will certainly impact the amount of weight you are going to need when you go diving. When diving with a 5mm wetsuit, you are going to need more weight than when you diver with a dive skin or no exposure protection, simply because the thicker suit is more positively buoyant. The same is true if you switch from diving an aluminum tank to a steel tank or vice versa. Also, if you carry additional gear into the water such as reels, lights cutting devices etc.… All this equipment adds up and will affect the amount of ballast you need in the water.
  • Shell Dry Suits: A shell dry suit is a suit designed to keep a diver dry which does not in and of itself provide thermal protection. Shell dry suits require undergarments that give you the desired thermal protection based on your needs and the water temperature. Because these undergarments tend to be more positively buoyant the thicker they get, you will need to adjust your ballast needs accordingly.
  • Your body: Your buoyancy characteristics can change if your body composition changes. Let’s face it, sometimes we let ourselves go and we gain fat. Perhaps at other points in our lives we go on a diet and lose some of the unwanted fat. These changes in your body composition can affect your weighting needs. The more body fat you have, the more weight you need to achieve proper buoyancy.
  • Your Diving medium: Are you diving in fresh or salt water. Are you diving in an area that is known to have more salinity than the regular ocean? These things will affect your ballast needs. You will need to use less weight when diving in fresh water than when you are diving in the ocean. Diving in an area that is known for heavier salinity, The Dead Sea or Salt Lake come to mind.

Variables Which Will Change During the Dive

It’s important for you to know that in addition to needing to change your ballast requirements according to your gear, your exposure protection, fluctuations in your body composition and changes between salt and fresh water, there are also factors which could change during the dive.

  • Lung volume affects your buoyancy. The larger lung volume you have the more buoyancy shift you will feel as you inhale and exhale while you are diving. You can control this by thinking about how you breathe. By taking shallower or deeper breaths, you can make pinpoint adjustments to your buoyancy without having to make ballast changes. This is an important note to make since breathing deeper or shallower can affect your buoyancy throughout the dive.
  • Neoprene compression: When diving a wetsuit or neoprene dry suit, it is important to understand that neoprene compresses at depth. This is not so noticeable with wetsuits that are 3mm or less, however if you are diving with a 5mm or 7mm wet suit this fact is important, especially if you are diving deep (over 66 feet or 20 meters) where the neoprene will compress significantly. 

    This causes a change in its buoyancy characteristics. The thicker your suit, the more this becomes a factor. When selecting your ballast requirements, you must consider the suits buoyancy before the neoprene is compressed as well as after it compresses. We will get into more details as to why this is important when we go into the topic of ditching weights later in this article.

What About “Ditchable” Weights? Don’t All Weights Need to be “Ditchable”?

Most of us were taught in our entry level SCUBA course that we need to be able to ditch all our weight quickly so that we can properly manage an emergency.

When you think about it, it sounds like it makes sense. If there is an emergency underwater and you need to bring yourself or another diver to the surface, ditching the weight may make it easier since there is less ballast to bring up. This is especially true if the diver is unconscious and wearing a lot of lead. It is also easier to establish buoyancy on the surface when there is less ballast.

Now, before we move on, let me ask you something. In the above scenario, why does ditching the weight make everything easier?

I’ll give you a moment to think about it…

Do you know why?

It’s because most of the time the diver is over-weighted!

If a diver is properly weighted, it means that they are carrying just enough ballast to remain neutral at the end of the dive with the reserve pressure in the tank.

Think about it this way, if your tank is 3lbs positive at the end of your dive, you are going to need to add 3lbs of ballast to your rig to offset that change.

Now, let’s look at this using the example of a diver using an aluminum 80 (12 liter cylinder).

The weight needed to offset the positive buoyancy an empty aluminum 80 (12 liter tank) is around 4 pounds (1.8 kg) in salt water. Of course, it is highly unlikely you will ever dive with a completely empty tank.

At its working pressure, an aluminum 80 is about 2lbs (.9 kg) negative.

This means that, if you are properly weighted, you should at most be 6lbs (2.7kg) negative at any point during the dive.

6 pounds (2.7 kg) is NOT a lot of weight. Every BCD or wing on the market that can easily offset that amount of weight. It’s also an amount of weight that any diver should be able to swim up easily even if you were to have your BCD fail on you and not able to hold air.

Why am I saying this?

Because for many divers taking the weight off of their weight belt and distributing that weight either through weight pockets on the tank bands, a stainless steel backplate, or even by using a steel tank instead of an aluminum tank makes a lot of sense.

Distributing your weight around in this manner makes you more streamlined and puts you in a horizontal body trim position when you dive.

The bottom line is that, as long as you are not over weighted, whether your weight is ditchable or not will not be a big deal.

NOTE: There is an exception to this and it’s when you are diving in cold water and using a thick (7mm or more) wet suit or diving a dry suit (more on that later).

Why Ditching Your Weights Can be Dangerous!

What if you really need a lot of ballast to dive?

Maybe you dive in cold water. If you do, I know, you need quite a bit more ballast than if you are diving in warm water. Using a thick wetsuit or a drysuit is very different than diving a 3mm wetsuit on a tropical reef.

Perhaps you just need more ballast because your anatomy requires it.

Either way, when you do a proper buoyancy check, you’ll know that you are diving with the amount of weight you need to offset the positive buoyancy of yourself and your gear.

As a rule of thumb, if that amount exceeds 8lbs (3.6kg) the practice of placing all your ballast either on your weight belt or in the ditchable pockets of a BCD while at depth can be dangerous.

You may be wondering why. It’s because, if you were to ditch all that weight at depth, you could possibly be placing yourself into a situation where you could go into an uncontrolled ascent the moment you lose all the ballast that was keeping you down.

Uncontrolled ascents can have catastrophic effects on a diver.

Things like an arterial gas embolism, decompression sickness, or a reverse block are all real dangers. There is also the danger of being finding yourself in an uncontrolled ascent while hearing the sound of an oncoming boat.

If you still choose to store all your weight in a system that makes it ditchable, you need to think about the possibility that you could accidentally lose all your ballast.

I’ve seen this happen many times over the years. A belt becomes loose or the Velcro that holds a weight pocket in place becomes worn and doesn’t hold as tightly any more. This could cause a diver to unknowingly lose all their weight.

The bottom line is that if you need a lot of weight to be neutral at the end of your dive, suddenly losing that weight can be dangerous. You need to think about where you are placing the weight that you need and why you are doing so.

When You Absolutely Should Be Able to Ditch Your Weights!

There is one scenario where you absolutely need to be able to ditch SOME of your weight. It’s when you are diving deep (over 100 feet / 30 meter) and using a wet suit that is 5mm thick or more.

Why? Because the wet suit will compress at depth. Neoprene is a material that is made up of microscopic nitrogen bubbles. Those bubbles compress the deeper you go.

This means 2 things:

  • Your wet suit will not insulate as well at deep depths as it does at shallower depths.
  • More importantly, because all those tiny microscopic bubbles are compressed, the suit will also be less buoyant at depth.

Because of this, you’ll need to compensate for the positive buoyancy that your suit loses at depth by adding gas to your BCD. It also means that you are more negatively buoyant at depth than you are when you are shallow.

Therefore, it is important for you to be able to ditch some of your weight at depth.

Should you experience a catastrophic event that renders your BCD useless, you may not be able to swim your way up to the surface because of the additional negative buoyancy caused by the compression of your wetsuit.

In this scenario, ditching some of your weight could save your life.

The above scenario poses a difficult decision. You may need to ditch some weight to be able to get to the surface but doing so puts you in a position where, once your suit becomes more positively buoyant, you could find yourself in an uncontrolled ascent.

Yes, it is a catch 22. The way I see it is, I would rather be slightly positive than extremely positive due to the fact that I had to ditch all of my ballast. This is why I think it is important to make only some of your ballast ditchable rather than all of it. The amount that you ditch should not exceed amount of buoyancy lost by the suit.

When Things Go Wrong: Abrupt Changes in Buoyancy

I have a confession to make. When I first started diving I thought that the chances of having a failure of your BCD or anything else that would severely affect your buoyancy was unlikely. Especially if you maintained your gear and always went diving with relatively new gear.

Boy was I wrong!

First, I had a dive where my own BCD broke at the elbow where the low-pressure inflator connects to the bladder.

About a year later I was doing a dive with a student and her high-pressure hose burst while on the dive.

A couple of years after that, I had a different BCD’s dump valve completely come off when I pulled on it to release some gas.

Over the years I’ve heard multiple stories just like these that happened to other people.

I’m telling you this because, if you dive long enough, you will experience equipment failures. It’s a part of the sport. Fortunately, if you are properly trained these are usually just minor annoyances as they were for me and my student.

There are several scenarios where your buoyancy can change quite rapidly and without warning. As a diver, it’s important for you to know about and plan for the possibility of these scenarios.

Equipment failures that can cause abrupt Buoyancy changes

Catastrophic equipment failures are not common but they can happen and it is important to consider these unlikely scenarios and how to handle them.

Becoming Positively Buoyant Unintentionally

Burst disk failure: In the event that the burst disk on the tank valve fails you will be put into a potentially dangerous situation. Firstly, you will be losing the gas in your tank quickly. Your ability to breath will be completely compromised and they tank’s buoyancy characteristics will change very abruptly.

A free-flowing regulator:  Should a regulator fail and begin to heavily free flow, the rapid loss of gas can affect buoyancy. However, the effect will not be as abrupt as in the scenario above.

The high-pressure hose or SPG (submersible pressure gauge) can burst also causing a rapid loss of gas.

Becoming Negatively Buoyant Unintentionally

Wing Failure: Catastrophic wing failures have been known to happen. When wings fail in this manner, they tend to fail at the elbow of the low-pressure inflator or at one of the dump valves.  This renders the wing useless as a tool for buoyancy control.

A tear in the BCD is a possibility, however tears do not always render wings completely useless and are a lot less common. A leak in the bladder can also affect buoyancy, however the leak’s size and position may allow the wing to be at least partially useful as you ascend to the surface.

In any of the scenarios above, immediately ending the dive and ascending becomes of paramount importance. As we discussed earlier, controlling that ascent is also important because rapid ascents can cause all sorts of potentially life-threatening diving injuries.

The Case for Redundant Buoyancy

Being able to swim up without the assistance of the positive buoyancy of your bladder is something that every diver should consider. As we mentioned before, this is especially important if you are diving with thick thermal protection in cold water.

It is because of this that we recommend that you only dive with the amount of weight needed to offset your gas. This will make you just slightly negative in the event that you are in a scenario where your bladder is no longer functioning.

That being said, there are several avenues you can choose should you want to carry redundant buoyancy.

  • Redundant wings: There are wings that have two bladders in them. They are designed to offset each other in the even that one should have a catastrophic failure. They will require two low-pressure inflator hoses attached to two independent low-pressure inflators
  • A Dry Suit: A dry suit can be used as redundant buoyancy in the event of a catastrophic wing failure. This is because by adding extra gas into your dry suit you can make yourself more positively buoyant.
  • Lift Bag: This is the least desirable option. However, should you find yourself in a scenario where your bladder is no longer functioning, a lift bag can be used to offset negative buoyancy. If this is your only option, you must be aware that the bag cannot just be shot up to the surface from all depths and it is important to try to control the amount of lift the bag is providing you in this situation. Controlling buoyancy with a lift bag is not easy therefore it is the least desirable option.

Ditching Weight at the Surface

Many of us were taught that, if there is an emergency situation on the surface, we should ditch our weight as well as the victim’s weight. This is to establish positive buoyancy.

Every choice in diving has tradeoffs. If you dive a steel tank, a stainless steel backplate, or even some pockets on a tank band, you’re carrying some weight that may not be able to be ditched.

The tradeoff for not being able to ditch the weight is being more streamlined and having better body position in the water. Both of these allow you to have longer more enjoyable dives. You also avoid the negative consequences of losing your ballast at depth and having an uncontrolled ascent.

As mentioned before, as long as you are weighted correctly, the negative buoyancy created choosing to distribute weight in this manner should be minimal and easily compensated for by the BCD.

The real problem is that there are a lot of divers that are over weighted.

Ditching weights on the surface becomes crucial when a diver is over weighted. It’s when divers are over weighted that you MUST BE ABLE TO DITCH THE WEIGHT. Not being able to do so makes it difficult to establish positive buoyancy.

So, the bottom line is, if you dive don’t be over-weighted. If you have buddies who dive, don’t let them be overweighed, and if you want to help other divers become aware of this topic, make sure you share this article.

As you can see, there are many factors to consider when thinking about weighting.

Still wondering what ballast options are best for you? Use our buoyancy tool below to determine what kind of ballast will best suit your needs.

Did we miss anything? Do you have any questions? Please feel free to comment below!!

Click here to read more on how to figure out if you are correctly weighted: Are you over-weighted too? How much weight do I need for scuba diving?

Air Sharing: Why Your SCUBA Configuration Matters

By Carlos Sagaro

You're on a relaxing dive enjoying the beauty of the underwater world. You’ve left all your frustration and responsibilities above the surface. After all, this is where you come to “get away from it all,” right??

All of the sudden, you notice that another diver is swimming over to you wide-eyed and in a hurry. They give you the “out of air” hand signal just as they take their regulator out of their mouth.

This is where all your training and the choices you’ve made about how you configure your gear come into play.

How will you deal with this scenario? Is the way you’ll handle it optimal? Can you go through the motions in your mind’s eye right now and feel confident you are ready to handle an exasperated out-of-air diver?

When it comes to sharing air, there are many different configurations that divers use.

If you’ve ever wondered why different divers configure their primary regulator and their octopus different ways, and what the pros and cons are of each configuration, you’re going to want to read on because in this article we are going to touch on exactly that!

Disclaimer: Before beginning our discussion on air sharing techniques and configurations, it’s important to note that air sharing, especially in an emergency, is a skill that must be mastered in confined water under the supervision of a qualified SCUBA instructor. Do NOT SWITCH YOUR CURRENT CONFIGURATION without proper training and coaching from a qualified SCUBA instructor!

The origins of air sharing

When SCUBA diving was still new and considered by some to be an “extreme” sport, the gear that was used wasn’t nearly as advanced as it is today.

Early SCUBA rigs only had one primary regulator to breathe from. If your buddy ran out of air underwater, the only option was to share your only regulator by passing it back and forth between you and your buddy. Essentially, you’d take turns taking breaths from a single regulator.

As SCUBA equipment became more advanced a redundant second stage was added. This redundant second stage, which is commonly known as an octopus, could be given to an out-of-air diver independently. Now both the out-of-air diver and the diver donating the air supply could breathe simultaneously from the same tank.

With the ability to have 2 divers breathing from the same tank come many questions about how to best configure your gear. The first question being….

Which regulator should you give a diver in distress?

Before we can address the issue of how to configure your regulators, we need to discuss the major philosophical difference in opinion that many SCUBA instructors have.

You see, some instructors believe that an out-of-air diver should always receive the regulator which the diver that’s doing the rescue is breathing from, also called the primary regulator.

Others believe the out-of-air diver should receive the octopus.

While there is not “right” answer here, let’s take a look at some of the pros and cons of each method.

Some of the pros of donating the primary regulator (the regulator the diver is breathing from) include:

  • The shared regulator is usually the higher performing regulator:  The out of air diver is likely to have a higher breathing rate because of the nervousness / anxiety cause from being out of air.
  • It puts the diver that is donating the air source in control of the situation:  This means that the diver who is less likely to be in a panicked state becomes the dive leader.
  • Because the regulator being shared is the one the diver is breathing from, it needs to be on a longer hose:  This allows for the octopus to be on a shorter hose and reduces the chances of it dangling along and getting caught on the reef.
  • This configuration is usually more streamlined.
  • If an out-of-air and panicked diver rips the functioning regulator out of your mouth, you can instinctively reach for your alternate regulator which is what you would breathe from under this scenario anyway.

The cons of donating the primary regulator in a buddy-breathing scenario include:

  • It requires more skill / training to share air in this manner then using an octopus for a distressed out-of-air buddy.
  • When using an air2 or other similar regulator that serves the dual purpose of an inflator and a secondary regulator, that secondary regulator may not be as high performing as the primary.
  • Because the out-of-air diver needs the diver donating the air to participate, it is more difficult to simply grab an octopus and begin breathing without the assistance of the diver with air: This will make it more difficult for the distressed diver to get to his or her much needed air.

Diving with an octopus to give out as the alternate air source is probably the most common configuration.

The pros of giving out the octopus to an out-of-air buddy include:

  • Because the donating diver does not need to actively give up his or her regulator, the person who is out of air can gain access to the gas without having to rely on the donating diver’s skill level or proficiency.
  • The diver that is donating the gas never has to take the regulator they are breathing from out of their mouth.

The cons of giving out the octopus to out-of-air buddy include:

  • Because the octopus is on a longer hose and is rarely used, it is more likely to dangle or get caught up on a reef or a wreck.
  • Because it can dangle behind a diver, if a leak or free flow occurs at the 2nd stage it can go unnoticed for far longer than it would with other configurations.
  • Many of the octopus regulators on the market are meant to be cheaper and thus have more breathing resistance. Giving a diver who may already be panicked because they ran out of air a poor performing regulator may aggregate their panic.

Now that we understand some of the pros and cons of using an octopus for an out-of-air diver vs. giving them the regulator you are already breathing from, let’s look at some of the different configurations.

Configurations where you give out the octopus to an out of air diver

The placement of the octopus holder should be somewhere in the “safety triangle”. This is an imaginary triangle that goes from your chin to your waist in front where the octopus can be easily accessed by both the diver and their buddy.

Having the Octopus on a holder

There are many different types of octo holders on the market. Each design has their benefits and drawbacks. The basic premise behind all octo-holders is the same.

They must hold the octopus securely throughout the dive so that the regulator does not accidentally become dislodged and begin to dangle. They must also simultaneously be easy to deploy and come lose if it is needed for an emergency. (IMAGE of Octo holder)

Because of this dichotomy, many octo-holders fail and end up having a diver dangle their octo behind them damaging both the regulator and the reef.

BCD with integrated Octo-holder

Some BCD manufactures have taken note of the issue of keeping the octopus nice and tidy while still making it easy to deploy in case of emergency.

To help solve the octopus dilemma, they’ve designed their BCD’s to hold the octopus for you.

Using a D-ring as an octo holder

Yet another creative way to solve the octopus dilemma is to curl it into the D-ring of a BCD.

While this solution is less likely to result in the regulator becoming loose and dangling behind the diver, it does take a bit of getting used to.

Also, it may seem awkward to have the curled-up hose dangling below the D-ring where the octopus is stowed.

Configurations where the primary air source is donated

Air 2 (Regulator Low-Pressure Inflator Combo)

One of the most common configurations where the primary air source is placed on a longer hose and donated is when a diver is using an Air2 or similar inflator / regulator combo.

There are several low-pressure inflator / regulator combos on the market, but the SCUBA Pro Air 2 was one of the first systems that gained widespread use.

By combining the low-pressure inflator and the alternate air source into one, the diver effectively eliminates one hose from their SCUBA rig.

You also eliminate the possibility of having the octopus dangle because the hose used for the low-pressure inflator is typically much shorter than that of an octopus.

As mentioned before, the downside is that it requires the diver to be more involved in an out-of-air scenario because the must give out their primary regulator.

Because the hose on the Air2 is short, it makes it very awkward and less than ideal to be donated to another diver for air sharing.

Hogarthian set up (long hose tech diving set up)

The final configuration worth mentioning is one that was born in cave / technical diving but has been adopted by many recreational divers.

It is known as the Hogarthian rig named after Bill Hogarth Main.

The rig consists of the primary regulator being a longer hose (up to 7 ft) curled around the diver’s body. The octopus is worn on a necklace right under the diver’s neck.

In this configuration the octopus never comes off the necklace. In an emergency, the diver donates the longer hose and then switches to the octo.

Some advantages to this system include:

  • Most divers using this configuration opt to have 2 high performing regulators on your rig which eliminates the low performing octopus other divers use..
  • It eliminates the possibility of a regulator ever dangling because it’s nearly impossible for the octopus to come loose from the necklace..
  • If a diver ever approaches you in an out of air scenario, you can give away your primary and have almost instant access to your back up.
  • Because this set up often uses a much longer hose, it will give you the freedom to have some more space to move should you ever have to share air.

The only real downside to this configuration is that it does require training and practice in sharing air using this configuration. Also, if using a long hose for the primary, it does require extra care to not drag the primary regulator on the floor since it is on a very long hose.

Below is a Video where we discuss Air Sharing in Different SCUBA Configurations:

What configuration do you use and why? let us know in the comments below.

Nautilus Lifeline Marine Rescue GPS Review

By Carlos Sagaro

You're on a dive enjoying a beautiful reef. The time finally comes when you've consumed your gas and you and your buddy ascend to the surface. Once you break the surface you realize that you're are faced with the nightmare scenario every diver dreads...The boat is gone!

Maybe you just can't see it. Several minutes go by and you realize this is not the case. Maybe they had an emergency, surely another boat will come pick you up.

An hour and a half later you realize that's just not happening. What now? You and your buddy are stranded at sea and you haven't seen a boat for hours. That fancy SMB that can be seen several feet out of the water is useless, same goes for your whistle, they're only good if there's a boat nearby and looking for you. 

SCUBA divers navigating wall

I realize that this is a situation most of us don’t care to think about. Let’s face it, most of us dive to escape reality and relieve the stress we experience in our lives. Unfortunately, this scenario is more common than we want to admit. Being a SCUBA instructor, I read several stories about lost divers every year. Sadly, these divers are not always found before it is too late.

What if I told you there was a product available that could ensure that if, god forbid you ever found yourself on the surface all alone, you would not be left hoping that someone would come get you.

Say Hello to The Nautilus Lifeline Marine Rescue GPS

Nautilus Lifeline Marine Rescue GPS

The Nautilus Lifeline Marine Rescue GPS (Nautilus Lifeline for short) is the device divers have been waiting for years! 

It's is a personal signaling device made just for divers.  It's small enough that you can fit in your BCD pocket or on your SCUBA rig using the optional pouch. This allows you to take it with you on every single dive.

This is the first device of it's kind that can actually ensure that you'll feel secure knowing that you will always make it back to your friends and family no matter what happens on your dives.

In the event that you are lost at sea, the Lifeline allows you to send out a signal to commercial vessels, private yachts, military vessels and the Coast Guard that travels up to 34 miles. This signal will send your position and let any vessels in the area know your position so you can be picked safe and sound.

The truth of the matter is that we are not 100% in control of our destiny when we go in the water. No matter how diligent we are as divers...

There are things that happen that are out of our control!

Things like storms and a change in wind speed can affect surface conditions making it more difficult for dive operators to see you on the surface. Also, changes in current and visibility could make it difficult for you to get back to the boat, especially if you are diving off a private boat. Not to mention an emergency on the dive boat or even a dive operator forgetting you are in the water. All of the above has happened to divers over the years, and these are just a few scenarios that could cause a diver to get lost at sea.

The scary part is that we have no control over these things. 

Just like the seatbelts and airbags in your car, the Nautilus Lifeline is there to protect in case the unimaginable happens. It is your insurance against the unexpected.

It is compact which means that it can easily be stored in a BCD pocket or you can attach it to a BCD strap using the optional pouch. The batteries on the Lifeline can last up to five years and are easily user replaceable. The CR123 batteries and be purchased at any drug store or even online.

As long as you keep the cap closed, it is waterproof to 425 feet. The cap should only be removed on the surface when you are ready to activate the lifeline. It is positively buoyant and waterproof in all surface conditions, even with the cap off. The Lifeline comes with a one-year manufacturer’s warrantee.

 

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How Does It Work?

The Lifeline sends your GPS position to the Coast Guard, all commercial dive vessels and many yachts within a 34-mile radius. The signal is accurate to within 1.5 meters. It’s broadcast via AIS (Automatic Identifications System) and DSC (Digital Selective Calling) which are the two most commonly used nautical messaging systems throughout the world. This means that if you need to use it, all modern vessels equipped with a VHF radio will receive your distress signal.

Nautilus Lifeline GPS sends out a signal to all boats within 34 miles

What is included with the Nautilus Lifeline?

Nautilus Lifeline Review

It comes well packaged in a box with an antenna winding tool. The batteries and pouch are sold separately. You can see for yourself what's in the box as well as how the device works first hand in the unboxing video below. 

The Evolution of the Nautilus Lifeline

As mentioned earlier, this is truly a device designed by divers for divers. The video below shows the story of the Nautilus Lifeline Marine Rescue Radio (this is the first-generation Nautilus) and how the original idea for the lifeline came to be.

The device shown in the original video was the first generation of the device (technically it’s now called the “Nautilus Lifeline Radio”) It is discontinued and no longer available. The newest generation is called the “Nautilus Lifeline Marine Rescue GPS”.

First Generation Lifeline

Nautilus VHF Radio

The newest generation does not have a built in VHF radio. This is actually a good thing. The reason is because it means that the device is half the size, does not need to be registered, it does not require programming, and does not need to be constantly charged.

It makes owning and operating the lifeline extremely easy. You just take it with you on every dive, rinse it off with the rest of your gear, and change the batteries out every 5 years or so. It really doesn’t get much easier. When the latest generation was released, its creator was interviewed about the differences. You can see that interview below: 

How Much does all this peace of mind cost??

The price of the the Lifeline makes owning the device a complete no-brainer. It retails for $200 dollars however, you can purchase the Nautilus Lifeline Marine Rescue GPS here for just $179. Click the link to find our more!

I don’t think there is any price I wouldn’t pay if I were stranded at sea for even a short while. The peace of mind having a device like this gives you is priceless. It’s something every diver should own.

The Nautilus Lifeline Rescue GPS is a great for anyone who is active on the water.  Whether you are a SCUBA diver, free diver, surfer or an avid boater, it will ensure you will never feel alone on the water again.  It is also makes a great gift for anyone who loves being on the water!

I hope you enjoyed our review.  Feel free to share this article with your SCUBA diver friends and leave a comment below if you have any questions for us.

How To Prevent Losing Your Dive Gear – Choosing SCUBA Gear Clips

By Carlos Sagaro

Have you ever lost a piece of expensive dive gear? As divers we all experience this at one point or another. I remember how frustrated I was when I lost a reel on a dive in the Keys. I saw it fall off of my rig and sink to the bottom, powerless to stop it. $125.00 dollars lost…

If this has happened to you, then you are definitely going to want to read on because we are about to go over a few simple steps you can take to ensure that you never lose another piece of expensive dive gear again.

Why You Need to Clip Off Your Gear

As divers we carry multiple pieces of gear. Things like primary and backup flashlights, compasses, submersible marker buoys, reels, whistles, cutting tools, etc. The list is long.

Because we carry so much gear with us, it is essential that we clip off every piece of equipment that we take with us into the water. The reasons could not be clearer.

First, dive gear is expensive and none of us want to lose our hard-earned equipment.

Second, clipping off our gear is important to protect the underwater environment. By making sure that our gear is both clipped off and snugly stowed away near our bodies and in pockets when we dive, we are ensuring the survival of the underwater environment that we so dearly love.

Preventing “Danglies”

We are all familiar with danglies. It is the term used by divers to describe hanging gear. Maybe you’ve seen them on your own dives. You are swimming and you look at another diver who has an octopus or maybe a flashlight hanging low off of their BCD. Maybe you’ve even seen this gear clumsily crashing into a reef or wreck as you cringe in disbelief.

At Greatdivers we take the protection of the underwater environment VERY seriously. Because of this we teach all of our students how to properly stow away equipment so that it does not dangle and cause damage to the fragile underwater environment.

Over the years we have tried several things to stow gear to our BCDs but have found that tire inner tubes tend work extremely well. All you have to do is take a used tire inner tube (I got an old one from a local bike shop for free) and cut it into strips and use it to affix things like lights to the shoulder straps of your BCD.

Please check out the video below to see exactly how we do this and how effective it is at keeping gear stowed away nice and tight:

How to Set Up Your BCD Pocket

Whether your BCD has pockets attached to it or you have purchased a pocket that you strap on to the webbing of your harness, all pockets should be properly set up.

Yes it is true that pockets usually have zippers or Velcro that keep them closed, but that in and of itself is not always enough. It not uncommon for divers to reach into their BCD pockets, go to take something out and accidentally lose a piece of gear in the process.

This is why we configure our pockets to ensure that we never lose a piece of gear when we reach in to retrieve our compass, reel or any other piece of gear stowed away inside of it.

We do this by looping a piece of bungee cord inside our pocket. By doing so we can clip off all the gear in our pocket to the cord so that we can easily have access to anything inside the pocket without accidentally losing another piece of expensive equipment. The short video above illustrates how we do this so please take a minute to check it out.

The Different Types of Clips

There are several different kind of clips that divers use to attach their gear to their BCDs. In this section we are going to review the two we recommend and one that we think is dangerous and no diver should ever take with them in the water.

Bolt Snap

Bolt Snaps: these are the most common clips we use with our gear. They are easy to use and can easily be attached to gear. It is important to note that they must be thoroughly rinsed and should be lubricated from time to time to prevent them from rusting.

Trigger Snap

Trigger Snaps: These are also extremely common for divers to use and are highly recommended in colder environments where heavy gloves need to be worn. This is because their design allows easy access when using heavy gloves. Even though these are less likely to rust than bolt snaps they should still be rinsed out thoroughly and lubricated on occasion

Carabiner

Carabiners: We do not recommend that you use carabiners to attach your gear. Their design allows them to easily be clipped off to your d-rings but they also have a fundamental flaw in that they can easily clip off to monofilament line that is often found underwater. This can cause a diver to get tangled and can create a dangerous situation. It is for this reason that many divers call these “suicide clips” and why we DO NOT recommend you use them to clip off your gear.

How to Tie Your Clips to Your Gear

Most SCUBA equipment comes with loops that are designed to allow divers to tie clips to it. One question we get asked is what we use to tie the clips to the equipment.

We recommend braided nylon line. There are two reasons for this. First it is easily accessible since most dive reels and spools come with the line. In our experience these reels usually have more line that you need and it is not difficult to take a few feet and use it  attach clips to gear. Secondly, this line is EXTEMELY resilient underwater.

We do not recommend that you use tie wraps to affix gear to clips. Tie wraps tend to deteriorate after repeated exposure to salt water and can fail. This happens quite often.

Below is GIF showing exactly how we tie clips to gear. Please take a minute to watch it so that you can ensure that your dive gear remains with you for years to come.

If you found this post useful, just click below to download our free guide “The 8 Navigational Tools you should Never Dive Without.” In it we go over 8 little known tools you can use to help you navigate while you are underwater.

 

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How outside pressure affects the diver's ear

Equalizing Your Ears: Preventing SCUBA Diving Ear Problems

By Carlos Sagaro

Have you ever had problems equalizing on a dive? Maybe your ears hurt underwater when you descend? If you’re unlucky, maybe you know the feeling all too well. If you’re extremely lucky however, maybe you haven’t experienced this yet. If there’s one thing that’s certain in diving, it’s that sooner or later you’ll have a dive where the dreaded ear equalization problems will creep up. That’s where this guide will come in handy.

In my sixteen years as an instructor, I have seen all kinds of students who have had difficulty with equalization. Hell, even I had some problems with this skill when I first started. After all, it is not natural for us to “pop” our ears.

The good news is that the vast majority of the time SCUBA diving ear problems are easily correctable. Things like being able to equalize one ear easily but not the other, being afraid to push too hard and having sinus congestion are just a few examples of the things that happen which you can easily overcome. Below we will explain how to stop your ears from hurting underwater so you can dive comfortably for years to come.

Why do my ears hurt underwater?

Before we get started, let’s talk about what causes the pain we feel when we descend. It all has to do with pressure.

As we descend into the water column the pressure surrounding us increases. That increase causes our ear drums to compress. This happens because the water pressure outside of our ear is greater than the air pressure inside of our ear.

How outside pressure affects the diver's ear

Equalization is the process whereby we equalize the air pressure in our inner ear to the pressure outside of our ear. We do this by pushing air from our sinuses to our inner ear through the Eustachian Tube, a thin tube that connects our inner ear to our sinuses.

Because the Eustachian Tube is so thin, it is easily compressed. Once compressed, it becomes extremely difficult to pass air through the tube. This makes it almost impossible to equalize and is the reason why we must equalize early and often when we begin our descent into the depths.

What happens if you do not equalize?

Have you ever wondered what would happen if you did not equalize or were unable to equalize? Well, there are a couple of things that can occur and they are not pleasant.

First, you could theoretically cause your eardrums to burst if you were able to stand the pain caused by not equalizing and were able to descend deep enough into the water column. This is unlikely since the pain alone would likely cause you to stop your descent. What could happen is that, once you feel pain in your ears, you would try too hard to equalize by pushing air too forcefully. This can cause too much air to go into your ears and possibly rupture your eardrum. Not very pleasant!

There are two things that can cause you to push too hard:

  • The first is, you do not equalize early and often. This causes the Eustachian Tube to close which forces you to push air harder through your sinuses. Forcing the air in this manner could cause your eardrums to burst. This is why you should stop descending immediately when you feel pain in your ears. Forcing air into your ears on descent when you feel pain can cause your eardrums to burst.
  • Secondly, you dive while congested. The congestion causes the air to not pass through the Eustachian Tube properly. Upon ascent, the air in your inner ear cannot escape which, if not handled correctly, could cause your eardrum to burst. This is called a reverse block. I would like to note that, in the event that you feel pain in your ears on ascent, you MUST NOT attempt to equalize. In this case, you need to slow your ascent to a crawl so that the air can slowly escape. The last thing you want is to have an ear drum pop.

 

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When to equalize when SCUBA diving?

When we equalize is as important as how we equalize. Equalization occurs early and often. Before you break the surface and begin your descent, you should begin to equalize. You should equalize every couple of feet as you descend to your dive site. If you do not equalize early and often and force yourself down, your eardrum can compress causing pain. The pressure can even seal your Eustachian Tube. This is known as the “trapdoor effect” and can be avoided by equalizing early and often

ears hurt underwater, SCUBA diving ear problems, valsalva

A good rule thumb here is to understand that, if you feel pain in your ears, you have waited too long to equalize. In the event that your feel pressure in your ears, stop your descent and ascend a few feet until the pain goes away and you can equalize. Once this happens, you are free to continue to descend to that wreck you are dying to see!

You should never equalize on ascent. The air in your ear needs to escape as the surrounding pressure decreases. Because of this, there is no need to add more air to your inner ear on ascent.

Remember that, due to your dive site’s topography, your actual depth may change while you are diving. Whenever you ascend a little to see that shark swimming at the top of the reef, you have to equalize again to check out the eel in the hole at the bottom!

How to equalize underwater

There are several different ear equalization techniques you can use for ear preasure relief. Which one is best for you truly depends on your physiology, how your sinuses are functioning on the day you are equalizing and simple preference. The good news is that there is something for everyone here. In my experience as an instructor for several years, I can tell you that I have never had a student who I was not able to teach how to equalize. While there are rare cases where people cannot equalize due to physiological problems, the vast majority of people are able to do so once properly trained.

The most common method of equalization is called the Valsalva maneuver. This is probably the one that you were taught in your dive class. The Valsalva maneuver is named after Italian anatomist Antonio Maria Valsalva, who was the first to document the technique.

You perform the Valsalva Maneuver by pinching your nose and gently pushing air to the back of your throat through the Eustachian tubes and into your inner ear. Here’s the thing, in order for you to complete this correctly you should be able to physically see a bulge forming on either side of your nose if you look down. Think of it as blowing up a balloon. A good way to practice this is to equalize in front of a mirror while watching your nose. You should be able to see the skin on your nose expand. It is important to remember that, while you do not want to blow too forcefully, you do need to apply enough force to feel your ears filling with air. Go ahead and try it now.
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If the Valsalva maneuver does not work, do not worry!

There are several ear equalization techniques you can try. 

  • Turning your head from one side or the other while performing the Valsalva Maneuver helps
  • Swallowing while doing the Valsalva maneuver helps
  • A combination of the above can help as well.
  • Tilting you head back while attempting the VM helps too
  • The Valsalva maneuver while wiggling your jaw forward can assist as well
  • The Toynbee Maneuver and can be used in lieu of the Valsalva maneuver. You perform the Toynbee maneuver by swallowing with your mouth closed and your nose plugged. You do not have to blow out while doing this
  • The Frenzel Maneuver is another alternative to the Valsalva maneuver. It is performed by pinching your nose while pressing your tongue against the back of your throat while making a “T” or “D” sound.

What you are doing with the vast majority of the variations above is relieving pressure on the Eustachian tubes to allow the air to enter them so you could equalize.

What if I still Can't Equalize Ear Pressure??

Believe it or not, despite all the variations you saw above, there is still a very small percentage of people who have difficulty equalizing. If you are one of these people, keep reading for some other tips to help you get to that dive site you’ve always wanted to see!

  • Descending feet first: If you have trouble equalizing, try descending feet-first rather than doing a head-first descent. This reduces the change in surrounding pressure drastically. Remember that the greatest pressure change occurs in the first 33 feet (10 meters) of water. By starting your descent feet-first, you reduce the dramatic nature of the pressure change increasing your chances of equalizing.
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Diver Equalizing While Descending Feet First

  • Descending on a line: If you’re still having difficulty equalizing, you can control your descent even further by descending feet-first on a line. The trick is to go slowly and equalize early and often.
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  • Chewing gum: Chewing gum before your dive relaxes your soft palate which has been known to assist in equalization. That being said, DO NOT chew gum during your dive! Besides the fact that chewing gum with a mouthpiece on is difficult. When you dive you’re breathing through your mouth which could cause you to choke on your gum. This could cause a potentially dangerous situation, so do not do it!

Congestion and diving

When you are congested or have a cold, it is not recommended that you dive. Congestion can make it extremely difficult to impossible to equalize. Also, as mentioned above,diving while congested could cause a reverse block, that’s where the air in your inner ear cannot escape and could potentially cause your eardrum to burst.

Some people have advocated taking medication to relieve congestion before a dive. This is potentially dangerous as the side effects of medications while under pressure are not completely understood and their effects could wear off mid-dive causing a dangerous situation.

The big takeaway here is that, when done properly, equalization is not difficult and it is safe. Just like anything else we try to do, it requires practice to master. Whichever method you decide on using, just remember that you will get better at it as you continue to dive.

A couple of things to remember:

  • Equalize right before you begin your descent and continually all the way down to your dive site.
  • Remember that we never equalize on ascent.
  • If you feel pain in your ears on descent, stop and ascend until the pain is relieved before attempting to equalize.
  • If you have difficulty equalizing remember that it is easier to equalize when you descend feet-first.
  • Do not dive when you are congested.
  • Practice several methods of equalization, just because one doesn’t work does not mean a different one won’t.
  • Finally, remember that practice makes perfect.

If you would like to learn more about the medical aspects of equalization including some video on what happens to your ear drum when you equalize, click the link below:

If you would like to learn more about the valsalva maneuver along with the other equalization techniques mentioned in this article. Make sure to watch this video from Dr. Edmond Kay on how to resolve common SCUBA diving ear problems.