Tales of a Drysuit Diver - Part 1

The water in the midwest is a bit colder than in other parts of the world. This of course necessitates more extreme exposure protection. It is not uncommon to see a 7mm 2 piece wetsuit in our waters. This is what Cam dives. I developed a passionate dislike for these suits from the very first time I wore one. They are heavy and restrictive. I could never get comfortable with 14mm of neoprene surrounding my core. So, as the weather turned colder this fall, I decided to, as my dry suit instructor said, cross over to the dark side, and dive dry this winter. In October of 2016, I purchased an Aqualung Fusion Bullet suit from my Local Dive shop. This series chronicles my adventures with that suit and learning to become a drysuit diver.

Diving dry is a unique experience. I have no comfort issues with the neck or wrist seals. it is interesting to feel the pressure and temperature of the water through the suit on descent without actually feeling the water. It is a different experience in the water  than a wetsuit. I don’t know that I think it is better or worse. Just a different way to experience our underwater world. The principle is simple. Create a sealed airspace. Fill it with a volume of air that is heated to the body temperature of the wearer, and allow the under layers to keep the wearer warm through the insulating properties of the air. Ulike with a wetsuit, you remain completely dry within the confines of the suit (well...at least that's the theory). A sealed airspace is a great insulator. Note the sealed air space bit. That means that on descent the suit gets smaller as the air compresses. Boy can it grab you if you're not careful. It is a big challenge of drysuit diving to manage the amount of air in the suit and the resulting changes in buoyancy. I had to learn to manage my buoyancy all over again. The drysuit gets a power inflator as well as a dump valve to control the amount of air trapped in the space.

Diving dry presents a few more considerations than a wetsuit. First, there are more components and thus more maintenance. Seals, inflater valve, dump valve, zipper, dry shell, and glove seals (if you equip the suit with dry gloves as I did) all have to be looked after and maintained. I find prepping for a dive to take a bit longer. It just takes more effort to get into the thing and get organized and adjusted. Weighting and trim are quite different in a drysuit. Expect to spend lots of time fiddling to get this right. I find underwater, everything moves slower in the suit. It is more massive and creates more drag. I cannot get in a hurry with the suit either above or below the surface. Finally, it is another massive airspace to manage and maintain as a part of your buoyancy control. Being warm in cold water means trapping a LOT of air inside the suit and underlayers. This means more lead to compensate for the suit. More mass to lug around on the surface. More inertia in the water. Diving dry is certainly a workout and not a place to get in a hurry. It is also a challenge to learn exactly how much air is required in the suit. Too much and it becomes unwieldy. Too little and I am cold. What’s more, this bubble of air moves based upon position in the water. Since there is only 1 dump in the left arm of the suit, it is possible to get into a feet up position with a rapidly expanding bubble of air. Not a fun experience. Not to worry though. Managing this is taught as a part of the class.

After my first drysuit dives, I felt like a new diver all over again. It really is a completely different experience. I highly recommend a training class. The techniques are not difficult to master, but there are tips, tricks and important details that are covered in the class. Then it just takes time, patience, and a lot of practice to become proficient. At first I felt like a whale lumbering through the water in the thing.  Nevertheless, I will not be putting back on my 7mm 2 piece wetsuit. If the water is that cold, I’ll dive dry.