For years I procrastinated about using a dry suit, until a friend, who was tired of hearing me complain about being cold, offered to let me try his. To ensure that I knew what I was doing before heading for open water, I enrolled in a Dry Suit Diver specialty course.
Donning a dry suit is a little more involved than slipping into a tropical skin suit, but can actually be easier than stretching on a properly fitted wet suit. If the suit is donned correctly you’ll stay dry throughout the dive.
The dry suit itself doesn’t necessarily keep the diver warm, although neoprene suits do provide some insulation; it keeps him dry. Being dry allows the diver to wear various types of dry-suit underwear beneath the suit. It is the underwear that provides the primary insulation. Many dry-suit divers wear shorts or jeans and a T-shirt beneath their suits, and then, depending on water temperature, layer dry-suit underwear on top.
When donning a dry suit, timing is everything. Don’t don a dry suit until you are ready to gear up and enter the water. Otherwise, you may overheat, even when the air temperature is cold. In cold conditions divers often don the underwear to keep warm while preparing for the dive but delay donning the dry suit.
The technique used for donning dry-suit underwear varies depending upon the style of undergarment; it normally is as simple as donning a pair of long johns or a one-piece ski outfit. Simply slip into the underwear and zip or snap it closed.
Dry suits fall into two general categories — neoprene and shell — and are either front zip or back zip. From a distance neoprene dry suits look similar to wet suits, except they have neck and wrist seals and integrated boots. Shell suits are made of rubber or laminated material, don’t fit as snuggly and also have built-in boots and wrist and neck seals.
Wrist and neck seals, which are designed to prevent water from entering through those openings, are made of either latex or neoprene. Latex makes a better seal but tends to be less rugged. Neoprene seals aren’t as pliable but tend to last longer. Generally, most shell suits have latex seals and most neoprene suits come standard with neoprene seals. Slightly different donning procedures are used for each.
The first step to donning a dry suit is readying your gear. Remember that a dry suit requires a separate low-pressure inflator hose that runs from your first-stage regulator to the suit’s inflation mechanism.
Diving in a dry suit also requires more weight and quite often it is distributed differently — ankle weights, weight harnesses, etc. Even though you will fine-tune your weighting after entering the water, before donning the dry suit estimate the amount of lead you’ll need and have the appropriate system ready to go.
Fins also are a concern. The ones you use with a wet suit may be too small for dry-suit boots. Make sure your fins are the proper size and the straps are adjusted to fit over the dry-suit boots.
Have your scuba unit and all accessory gear assembled, tested and set up at the entry area before donning your dry suit.
Wrist and neck seals don more easily if they are first “lubricated“ to slide over your skin. Divers use a variety of solutions for this purpose but talcum powder is commonly used with latex seals and silicone on neoprene cuffs. Before beginning to don the suit, lubricate the inside of each seal.
Jewelry and dive watches require special attention when using a dry suit. To avoid damaging the suit during donning, remove watches, bracelets, necklaces and protruding rings.
Donning The Dry Suit
The safest approach to donning a dry suit is “baby the suit,” especially the neck and wrist seals, and zipper. Treat them with gentle respect and they will keep you dry for many dives. Abuse them even slightly and you soon may experience the sensation of water trickling down your back or up your sleeve.
Donning a dry suit begins with putting on the undergarment. This is easiest when seated. Point your toes and slide your feet through one leg at a time. Gently pull each leg up to above the knee then stand and pull the suit to waist height. If you meet resistance, pull with a steady but gentle pressure, using caution not to dig your fingernails into the fabric. You occasionally may have to work a neoprene suit into position, as you do a wet suit.
Once the lower half of the suit is donned properly and feels comfortable, pull the upper portion to shoulder height and insert your arms in the armholes. With fingers together and pointed, slide your hands toward the ends of the sleeves. If you have lubricated the cuffs, your knuckles should slide through with minimal resistance, but still use extreme caution not to snag, stretch or damage the cuffs, especially latex ones.
Latex cuffs provide a good seal once your hand is pushed through the wrist hole; just make sure that the latex is flat and not twisted or puckered. Neoprene cuffs, however, must be folded under. You can do this by yourself but it is easier with two people. While holding your arm steady, have your buddy grip the cuff and fold it under an inch or two (2.5 to 5 cm). Here again, make sure that the folded cuff is flat against your wrist and not twisted or puckered.
Squeezing your head through the neck seal is the most challenging part of donning a dry suit. Latex seals are often easier than neoprene because they tend to be more flexible. Neoprene seals are usually tighter and can be more difficult to stretch over your head.
To don the neck seal, latex or neoprene, position the neck opening above your head and place your palms inside from the top. Now turn your head sideways and gently pull outward on the seal, elongating the neck opening. In the same motion, slip the seal down to neck level and turn your head forward.
The latex neck seal lies flat against your neck whereas the neoprene neck seal must be folded under in the same manner as neoprene wrist seals. Have your buddy carefully examine the neck seal to ensure that it is flat, not twisted or puckered, and free of hair.
The next step is closing the dry-suit zipper. Front-zip suits are often called “self-donning” because they can be closed by the wearer. When the zipper is in the back, however, it is much easier and safer to have your buddy close it for you.
Dry-suit zippers appear to be rugged but must be handled with extreme care. The zipper should be waxed with beeswax before and after each dive outing.
To close the zipper, firmly grasp the bottom end with one hand and slowly and steadily pull the zipper handle until the zipper is completely closed. Take care to avoid zipping foreign matter or undergarment material in the zipper. A properly closed zipper will lie flat and smooth. Make a final check to ensure that the zipper is fully closed and secure.
Once the suit is zipped, burp it of excess air. Insert two fingers from each hand inside the neck seal and gently pull the seal away from your neck. At the same time, crouch down like a cat preparing to pounce. This maneuver allows excess air trapped inside the suit to exit through the neck seal.
The final step of donning a dry suit is connecting the low-pressure inflator hose to the suit. This cannot be done until your scuba unit has been donned.
Getting into a dry suit takes practice but once you’ve mastered it you will stay warm and dry throughout the dive.
Story by Lynn Laymon