DO I NEED A DRYSUIT TO DIVE IN THE UK?
Every diver starting their scuba diving adventure in the UK comes to me with the same question. "Nic, do I need a drysuit to dive in the UK?" And the answer is... not necessarily. It kinda depends on you. It depends where you see this adventure taking you, how often you want to be out there diving and the golden question you need to ask yourself - "do I feel the cold?". In this article, I'm going to pose 5 questions you can explore to work out if you should be going down the drysuit diving route.
1. Do I feel the cold?
Geordie lasses famously don't feel the cold. Take a coat on a night out?! Yer must be wrang in yer mind. Although you'd never spot me in a short skirt and heels doon the Bigg Market back in the day, I'd still refuse to take along anything that would keep me warm during a night on the toon. £2.50 to put my coat in the cloakroom, howay man...
I'm sure the beer jacket helped me avoid hypothermia in those days, but I am generally a warm person - especially my hands. People think I'm a total freak because I come out of the water after a dive with hands warmer than when I went in, but that's a story for another time.
If you're like me, and you don't tend to feel the cold then you might find diving in a wetsuit super comfy. Do I need a drysuit to dive in the UK? Probably not.... although I actually NEVER dive in a wetsuit in the UK, but it's not anything to do with the water temperature, I'll explain later...
In the summer, our amazing Northumbrian dive sites will reach max temperatures of about 16°c. In the winter, we're down to about 6°c.
The North East dive season looks a little bit like this:
Jan - Mar ~ 6-9°c
Apr - Jun ~ 10-12°c
Jul - Sep ~ max of 16°c
Oct - Dec ~ 14°c dropping to around 10°c
According to ISO standards (which all wetsuit and drysuits are tested against to give them a performance rating), if you're diving in water temperatures of less than 10°c, you should be in a drysuit. So essentially, if you want to dive in the UK during the winter, you should seriously be thinking about drysuits. If you see yourself as more of a fair-weather diver and will be diving mainly in the summer, a wetsuit might be perfect for you.
2. Where do I see myself diving the most?
The extreme version of a fair-weather diver is someone who only dives abroad. If I only want to dive in the tropics then the whole "do I need a drysuit to dive in the UK" question is pretty pointless!
Obviously, I am TOTALLY biased about UK diving. Having been lucky enough to dive in some incredible tropical places, I still think UK diving is world-class. Yes, it's colder (and as you read through this article you're learning how to deal with that!) but the marine life below the waves and the banter top side is epic.
Seriously, if you've not dived in the UK before because you think it's too cold or that nothing lives in the North Sea, PLEASE come and try it out. You're going to be pleasantly surprised, I promise!
But as I was saying before I started flying the flag for cold water diving... if you only see yourself scuba diving on your annual holiday, swimming over a beautiful coral reef somewhere, then you don't need to think about drysuit diving.
Having said that... I still take my drysuit to the Red Sea!
"Eh?" I hear you mutter under your breath... this lass says she doesn't feel the cold but she takes her drysuit to dive in Egypt?!
And it's for the same reason that I don't dive in a wetsuit in the UK. I absolutely HATE putting on a wet wetsuit AND being semi-naked and cold taking one off.
At the majority of dive sites we visit in Northumberland, there's no changing room. You get changed and kit up by the side of the road or in a carpark. The one thing that swings my decision about whether to go wet or dry is that in my drysuit, I'm wearing normal(ish) clothes underneath. I can rock up to a dive site in my drysuit undersuit. After the dive, I go home in my drysuit undersuit. I've even gone to the pub on the way home (and not received too many strange looks) in my drysuit undersuit. You step out of your drysuit, you're dry. And on the Red Sea liveboard... I'm always the first one to the post dive snack haha!
3. How frequently do I want to dive?
For many divers in the UK, underwater adventures at the weekend is their escape from the 9-5 grind. If you think that you are going to be diving most weekends (perhaps you joined our diver subscription, Submerge), or you want to make the most of your free time and do multiple dives during the day, you need to think about repeated exposure to the cold and how that relates to your original conundrum of "do I need a drysuit to dive in the UK".
Diving regularly wears down your resistance. If you're just doing the odd UK dive here and there, excitement and novelty override the routine of getting dry and warm after a wetsuit dive. But when you're doing that regularly, and especially if you're wanting to dive all year round, peeling off a wet wetsuit when it's chucking it down with rain and the wind is howling is not fun. And the thought of doing that every weekend?! It's enough to put anyone off UK diving.
It's actually not the time that you spend in the water that should be the deciding factor in this question. Unless you're aiming to become a technical diver, (more on that in a moment) you'll probably only spend an average of about 30-45mins underwater. James is adamant that regardless of whether he's wearing his wetsuit or drysuit on any given day, he feels about the same temperature and comfort level while he's underwater.
The big difference is on the surface. Imagine this scenario:
James and I are on a boat trip out at The Farnes. It's coming towards the end of the summer - the water temperature is about 14°c. It's a bit overcast but it's still warm and the sea is flat calm. A perfect day for diving.
As usual, I'm in my drysuit. I've got my summer undersuit on underneath, nothing too thick. James is in his 7mm wetsuit.
Dive one is amazing. We see seals, lobsters and big shoals of pollock. Neither of us feel cold underwater. As we surface and sit waiting for the boat we notice that the wind has picked up. There's an autumn nip in the air.
Back on the boat, I unzip my drysuit and fold it down so it's hanging around my waist. I'm feeling a bit cold because of the wind so I chuck my hoody on.
Looking over to James, he's cowering in the captain's cabin to get shelter, hopping from one foot to the other and blowing on his hands.
This is where the drysuit really outshines wetsuits. I'm dry. I can chuck extra layers straight ontop of what I'm already wearing. James is wet through. If he wants to warm up, he'll have to strip out of his wetsuit, get dry and then layer up with warm clothes.
When the surface interval is over, who do you think is most excited about getting back in the water?! Me who just needs to slip my arms back in the suit that I'm still standing in, or James who has to struggle back into a cold, wet wetsuit?? And in this situation, there's no doubt who will be more comfortable on dive 2 - James will start this dive feeling cold already. I've warmed back up to normal levels.
Of course, there are other tricks that James pulls to stay as warm as possible. He's got a dryrobe that he can chuck straight on top of his wetsuit (the Fourth Element Storm Poncho) this keeps the wind out. He can also wear a rashy underneath as an extra layer (like the Apeks ThermiQ that actually distributes heat from warm spots to cooler parts!) But there's no denying if you want to dive as much as possible and be as warm and comfy as possible all year round, you've got to go drysuit regardless of how much you think you can handle the cold.
4. Where do I see this diving adventure leading?
How many times have you said to yourself "this is the last diving course I'm doing". And yet, you find yourself jumping at the chance to get involved in the next lot of training!
If you think that your diving adventure could lead to a professional level or take you down the technical diving route, you might want to seriously consider learning to dive in a drysuit.
Divemasters and Instructors spend a lot longer in the water compared to recreational divers. On a busy day with students, it's not unusual that I find myself doing 3 or 4 dives in a day. Plus, rather than spending most of my dive on the move like I would when I'm on a fun dive, when I'm with students there's a good chance I'm hovering in one place practising skills.
Do I need a drysuit to dive in the UK as an Instructor? YES! I don't think I could do a teaching day like above in a wetsuit. Yet another beauty of drysuit diving is that I can choose what I wear underneath and customise it to the temperature and my comfort. For example, if I'm diving in the summer, I might just wear a light undersuit underneath (maybe my Fourth Element Xerotherms or something like that). As the day goes on and my resistance to the cold starts to drop then I might start adding extra layers, like my Xcore Vest or an Arctic top.
I can prepare for the temperature like this for the different seasons too. If I'm diving in the middle of the winter then I'll wear a much thicker undersuit and layer up even more.
Technical divers spend extended amounts of time underwater. They'll be down there for a good few hours plus they'll be diving deeper where the water tends to be a bit chillier. When you're doing these type of dives in the UK, there's no way a wetsuit would cut it. The last thing you want is to have another 45mins on your deco stop and be absolutely freezing. You've got no choice to sit and wait it out and complete your stops, but inadequate exposure protection in a situation like this could lead to some serious problems.
If either of these types of diving are on your horizon, get yourself drysuit trained now. The earlier you do it, the more time you have to practise diving this set up (it is slightly different when compared to wetsuit diving). It means less of a task load when it comes to learning the skills of your next adventure. If you've already nailed your drysuit skills and have some experience of diving it, then it's one less thing to worry about.
5. Is PADI Master Scuba Diver on my radar?
Maybe you're not aiming to go pro or become a technical diver. But, you might have your sights set on becoming a Master Scuba Diver - PADI's most prestigious rating for recreational divers.
To reach these accolade, you need be a PADI Rescue Diver, have at least 50 dives under your belt and hold 5 certifications. And yup, you guessed it - the PADI Drysuit course counts as one of those specs.
Diving in a drysuit is a little bit different. It changes the way you think about your buoyancy slightly and there's some special procedures you need to learn. I definitely wouldn't recommend buying a drysuit and jumping in without any kind of formal training.
We offer this course at The Fifth Point. You'll jump in our training tank for two sessions to get used to being dry. We'll show you how to use it, how to control your buoyancy and we'll practise some emergency drills too. Then once you're feeling confident, we'll hit the sea for two dives!
If you're currently looking at the PADI Open Water Course or the PADI Advanced Open Water Course, you'll notice that there's a bolt-on for the drysuit course. You can actually incorporate it into your training and save money by bundling them together! I honestly think that all divers training in the UK should do their drysuit course at the same time. It's going to make your training a lot more comfortable, especially when we're out diving in the sea and doing a couple of dives a day (but, just FYI the training tank is the same temperature as the sea!). Plus, it'll set you up for year round diving in the UK and the rest of your diving journey.
So, what's your answer to those questions? I hope it's helped you figure out "do I need a drysuit to dive in the UK". I love my drysuit, I think it's an absolute game-changer, and not just underwater. The fact that it's so flexible and the same suit can be used in lots of different scenarios plus I don't need to get nakey after a dive, I always recommend going dry for UK diving.
If you have any more questions about this, reach out. I can help!