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  • Cold Water Diving Wearing a DRYSUIT is fun!
    by Jeanne Bear Sleeper

    Repeat after me, 'Diving in cold water is fun when wearing a drysuit.' Really, it is. Drysuits like the Bare Nex-Gen Pro Drysuit, available along with many others at Scuba.com, make diving cooler waters comfortable year-round. When you are warm and enjoying the underwater world, your anxiety level drops, your positive attitude is accentuated and your loved ones may actually encourage you to go diving more often!

    Drysuits are easy to use but require training before you plunge into the open water. When researching those available, factor in the cost (if any) and the convenience of the orientation and training classes that will be needed for that particular brand of suit.

    Drysuits may be fabricated from several types of material. Some look like rubber sheeting, others like nylon canvas and a few look like heavy duty neoprene, similar to a wetsuit like the Pinnacle Black Ice 7mm Neoprene Front-Entry Drysuit, available at Scuba.com. To keep you dry, all have neck and wrist seals and usually have attached boots. Some hoods are attached and have a face seal. Other hoods are separate.

    As with most scuba equipment, there is no 'best choice.' The prime pick for you depends upon how or where you plan to use the suit, your tolerance for don/doff contortions, tight neck seals and which model suits your physique the best. Talk to people who have different types of suits. Ask them if they are happy with their suits and why they bought that style versus others on the market. Owner comments are amazingly informative and will likely hit on the features and benefits you've been thinking about.

    Underwater Techniques

    Once you have found a suit that best meets your needs, it is time to get in the water. In training, you will learn how to effectively dive in a drysuit and stay out of the dreaded head down, feet rocketing to the surface position. You will learn how to fine tune your buoyancy, wear less lead and have confidence in your ability to safely dive dry.

    When ascending intentionally, remember to vent both your BC and suit. Some drysuit divers add D-rings to their BCs so they can clip cameras, lights etc., on and have both hands free for buoyancy control. Other divers vent the suit first, then the buoyancy compensator, then back and forth as needed. The air in the drysuit is for a comfortable, non-binding feeling, it is not a substitute for a BC or a liftbag. There really should be a minimum of air in your suit; it is not a good idea to turn yourself into a human liftbag.

    Unplanned, feet-first rapid ascents are not cool. They are hazardous to your health and should be avoided. If you rise to the surface feet first, it is possible to trap air in your lungs and you risk an air overpressure diving malady. Here's how to correct a feet first ascent:

    1. If you are close to properly weighted and feel your feet rising, turn on the power kick, tilt your head toward your back and kick your way to a head-up position. Then, vent your suit.

    2. If you are slightly positively buoyant, tuck your body into a ball, roll upright, then untuck and vent your suit.

    3. If you are positively buoyant but can still control your body position and have bottom time available, consider a hard power kick, driving yourself toward the bottom to compress the air in your suit. When you get to the bottom grab something;a boulder, kelp stalk, anchor;and pull your legs down toward your chest, then lift your head upward, stabilize and vent your suit.

    4. If the bottom is flat sand, do a hands-first power kick crash into the bottom. When you bounce off the bottom, whip your legs up toward your chest and regain a heads-up attitude. Once repositioned, vent your suit. Wait until you practice this one!

    If all attempts to power yourself out of the feet up position fail, flare out like a sky diver. This creates maximum drag and slows your ascent.

    Sticky Vent Valve

    Other great moments in drysuit diving occur when a valve sticks open or shut. Regular, manufacturer recommended maintenance helps prevent this. Not dragging your suit through the sand or storing it in the bottom of a sandy dive bag are also preventive measures.

    When a low pressure inflator valve sticks in the open position, it is a rare but invigorating experience. You feel like a party balloon being inflated on a helium tank. The simplest solution is to disconnect the inflator hose from the suit.

    An exhaust valve sticking shut is another rare occurrence that a drysuit class teaches you to handle. If the valve will not vent air, a damp alternative is to hold both arms above your head and use one hand to stick a finger under the seal of the other wrist. Excess air in the sleeve will vent out.

    Remember to have the seal you plan to open as high on your body as possible. The air goes to the highest part of the suit. It is easy to forget this simple principle. If you do, and hold your arm at waist level, you're in for a shock when the water rushes in!

    Underpressure

    Difficulties

    The textbook term underpressure is commonly called strangling. In the vertical position, drysuit divers can experience a pressure differential between the neck and feet. Depending upon your height, it could be as much as two psi. Having less pressure at the neck, compared to the feet, causes air to migrate to the upper part of the suit. This causes an uncomfortable (at the least) or strangling feeling (at the worst) on the diver's neck and carotid arteries.

    To reduce this choking feeling, select a neck seal no tighter than is needed for a watertight bond. If you feel like gagging on the surface because a neck seal is too tight, it is only going to get worse underwater. Limit the amount of air in your drysuit while underwater. Try to maintain a neutrally buoyant swimming position while diving, rather than continually going vertical in the water. Remember, use your BC for surface buoyancy, not your drysuit.

    Summary

    Once you master the techniques, drysuit diving is no big deal and it opens up a whole new world of comfortable, cold water diving. No buoyancy drysuits make neutral buoyancy diving easy and achievable by a beginner.

    Drysuit training is frequently free with the purchase of a new suit. Even if you have to pay a small fee, it is a tiny investment for your safety and underwater enjoyment. Drysuits make multiple, comfortable dives per day possible. They open up new seasons and locations for diving. Most important, drysuits enhance the comfort and joy of being underwater.