Photo to the left... surface -9 deg, water +9 deg, December 2010.
So now that winter is drawing in, here are our top ten tips for successful winter diving…
- Thermal Protection… make sure your drysuit is working well and the zips and seals are maintained, waxed and in good order. Wear more thermal layers under your suit, remembering that more thermals will likely mean more lead too.
- Flasks… some of us take two flasks… one with soup/coffee/tea and one with boiling water. Soup mostly stays warmer longer than coffee/tea and the boiling water – use it to fill your diving gloves and hood before you put them on for a head start in beating the chill.
- Dive Times… You should make your dives shorter and more conservative than you may otherwise do. For example, keep dives to relatively short times, maybe 25 minutes instead of 45. This helps you to maintain your core temperatures throughout a diving day without going past the chill point most of us feel around 30 minutes in. Additionally shortening your dive times, and not pushing your limits, will mitigate increased risk of DCS in cold water.
- Regulators… ensure you are using in service, cold water rated regulators and that both primary and octopus 2nd stages are up to the job. In water less than 10 degrees non-cold water rated regs (typically those without environmental sealing) increase their propensity to free-flow. Practice your free-flow breathing technique and always ensure you have adequate reserve air supply, consider working to a two-thirds rule, and always start a dive with a full cylinder. Do not leave your regulators in the boot of your car, or a wet dive box, prior to the dive day; always have your regs inside overnight and consider putting them inside your car when not in use. Breathe as little as possible from your regulator in cold air temperatures and always ensure you enter the water with the octo mouthpiece pointing downwards; both of these will avoid accidentally causing a freeflow to occur.
- Surface Interval Warmth… stay warm on your surface intervals. Buy several pairs of cheap gloves so that you always have a dry pair to put on. Have a decent thermal hat and a windproof coat to wear.
- Put your Gloves On … Consider putting your diving gloves on prior to building your gear, kitting-up, and buddy checking. Neoprene gloves generally have better grip characteristics than normal surface gloves, you get to keep your hands warm and saves time later when you’re at the water’s edge.
- Have Two… Two pairs of well-fitting quality diving gloves, 5mm or more, and two 5mm+ hoods can be a great idea. Relatively inexpensive and invaluable if you’re prone to the cold.
- Spare Thermal Layers… if you happen to get wet thermals they’re unlikely to dry before a second dive!
- Look after your Kit… keep an eye on your gear. In the coldest of air temperatures your wet dive equipment will suffer freezing and icing. Particularly prone are the LPI, hose ends and regulators. Turn off air sources when not in use (ensure good buddy checks!) and keep those items off of the ground, where pooling water will cause a slippery and freezing surface.
- Chill out… winter diving is great fun if approached with the right attitude and preparedness. Relax and enjoy the environment!