Have you ever wondered why you need an exposure suit when diving Koh Tao? After all the water is a lovely warm 30 degrees Celsius! The main reason is that water takes heat away from your body twenty times faster than in air. Whilst on land you’ll be very comfortable in a pair of shorts and a t-shirt at 30 degrees Celsius, underwater you can quickly get cold at the same temperature, especially if you are under the water for period of time.
Another reason for wearing exposure protection in any temperature water is to protect your body from cuts, scrapes or stings and also rashes from equipment that may rub on soft bare skin. Your skin softens up after being in the water for long periods of time and therefore becomes much more susceptible to any skin abrasions.
There are different types of exposure suit and garments and which one you would chose to wear would mainly depend on the temperature of the water you are going to dive in.
Skin Suits & Rash-Guards
Skin suits are generally thin material one piece skin suits that offer practically no insulation but are an effective way of protecting the skin against scrapes, stings whilst diving and sun-burn when on the surface. They are either worn on their own in very warm water or can be worn underneath a wet-suit for extra coverage. Most body suits have stirrups for your feet so that the suit doesn’t ride up when you put on your dive boots or wear it under a wetsuit.
Rash-guards are made from lightweight elastic materials like spandex, are short or long sleeved and come in various thicknesses with the better quality ones also having Ultra violet protection of 50 and 80. The Ultra Violet Protection factor is similar to SPF found in sunscreen and basically tells you how much a rash-vest will protect from harmful rays of the sun. Rash-guards can be worn on their own or underneath a neoprene wetsuit for extra warmth.
Wetsuits are made from neoprene and you want to choose and wear one that is a nice snug fit because they are designed to allow a thin layer of water to squeeze between your body and the suit. This layer of water is warmed by your body and protects you from losing too much heat during your dives.
So if you go diving in a wetsuit that is way too big for you the water is just going to instantly flush all that precious body heat way and will not keep you warm.
Shorty wetsuits are one piece 2mm or 3mm suit that is short sleeved and generally go down to your mid thigh and have a zip up the front. They provide protection where you need it most on your torso as well as your other important heat loss areas such as armpits and groin. They are perfect for warm weather diving above 27 degrees Celsius and can also be used over a long suit for extra warmth in colder water.
Here at Crystal Dive we provide all our divers with the option to wear a 3 mm short wetsuit which is more than comfortable when exploring Koh Tao’s dive sites.
These are wetsuits that cover you from your neck to your wrists and ankles and can either have a zip on the front or back. They keep you warmer as cover your whole body but will restrict movement a little more than a shorty until you have worn them in a bit. They are normally made of a thicker neoprene so you also have to remember that you’ll be more buoyant in a long suit and therefore are going to need to put on extra weight.
Full suits come in a range of thicknesses and some have a slightly thicker torso than on the arms and legs, therefore protecting the most important area but giving you more flexibility on your limbs.
Farmer Johns & Janes
These are two piece wetsuits and used to be very popular, though most people prefer all in ones now. They are good for those who have odd legs to torso proportion as you can often buy each part separately.
The base part is sleeveless but covers you from your neck to your ankles and looks a bit like an overall which is where the name came in.
The second part is a jacket that you wear over the top that is similar to a shorty wetsuit. These are a great combo for cold weather and versatile as you could also wear the overall part with just a rash-vest or the jacket on its own.
However, worn together it is quite a cumbersome suit and very buoyant.
Semi- Dry Suits
These are wetsuits that are normally 7-8mm thick and have dry suit style cuffs at the neck, wrists and ankles. The purpose of these cuffs is to seal the suit which restricts any more water entering the suit which your body would have to heat.
So semi-dry suits will keep you warmer in the colder conditions before you have to start considering moving on to dry-suits diving.
These are used when the water is too cold for wetsuits and keep you nice and dry throughout your dive as they are fully sealed and have special waterproof zips. The air inside them keeps you warm and you can also add extra clothing underneath them for more warmth.
You do need extra training to use a dry suit though as they have air and dump valves similar to those on a BCD, this means your dry suit will become your main method of buoyancy control rather than your BCD.
History of Neoprene
Are you one of the people who always want to know how things were invented and have wondered how Neoprene came about, well here’s a brief history.
Back in the 1920s there was an ever increasing demand for natural rubber which resulted in the price of rubber sky rocketing. Therefore chemists searched for ways to make an equivalent synthetic rubber. By the early 1930s a chemist working for Dupont had invented a rubber like substance which they originally marketed under the name Duprene.
There was one major flaw with this initial production, one of which was it had a horrible smell, so they kept on improving their technique and finally produced a synthetic rubber at a lower production cost and odour free. Dupont changed the name of this new improved product to Neoprene and it was initially used in things such as soles for shoes.
However it wasn’t until the 1950s when people were experimenting with ways to keep warm under the water that Neoprene was first used to make a wetsuit.
Getting Your First Wetsuit
For those who are planning on diving on a regular basis this is one of the first things they would consider buying after a mask. Most people prefer to wear something close to their skin that is personal to them and not previously worn by everybody else.
When you are going to buy your first wetsuit you first need to consider which type would serve you the best for the type of diving you are going to do. Then you just need to try several different styles and makes on to get the one that is the most comfortable and best fit for you.
Author: Emma Greenaway (Retail Manager)