The first thing most drysuit virgins worry about is floaty feet. Combined with dire warnings about inversion, the new feeling of floaty feet can soon turn to a paranoia that has fuelled a whole industry in strap-on ankle-weights.
Yet floaty feet are only a perception, rarely a reality. Many divers coming to a drysuit will be just past the beginner stage in a wetsuit. Their buoyancy control will not be a subconscious habit. Chances are they will be used to swimming along slightly negative, 30% of their effort being used to stop them sinking.
Such divers are not used to having their legs horizontal in the water. It feels unusual, hence uncomfortable, and they worry that they are on the verge of doing a feet-first Polaris. So they take the advice of someone who went though the same paranoia a year or two before and buy ankle-weights.
Given a chance, floaty feet are actually one of the nice things about drysuits. Its great being able to float horizontal or slightly face-down, keeping fins away from stirring up silt.
A bit of air round the toes helps to keep them warm, too.
When you think about it, a 1kg ankle-weight has little impact on buoyancy. When they fall off during dives, the owners seldom notice until they are back on the boat.
So why do ankle-weights feel good to wear Membrane suits can be cut slightly long in the legs to enable a diver to sit down, and the straps from ankle-weights prevent loose boots from popping off. But its not the weight that does this, its the strap.
With a neoprene suit, I leave my legs uncluttered. With a membrane I sometimes wear straps round my ankles to make sure the boots are secure.
For the average diver, properly weighted at the start of a dive, adding a little air to the suit is all that should be needed to maintain neutral buoyancy. Add just enough to make up for compression of the air in the suit and compression of the suit itself.
Keeping all buoyancy control in the suit makes it easy to get a good horizontal attitude in the water. It is both simpler and safer to have only one source of buoyancy to remember when ascending. The BC is there only as a back-up and for use on the surface.
There are exceptions. With a thick neoprene suit on a deep dive, compensating for compression of the neoprene in addition to the suit volume can result in the suit becoming uncomfortably full. Adding a little air to the BC makes it more comfortable. Its one of the reasons why divers doing a lot of deeper diving often prefer membrane or compressed neoprene suits.
With full technical kit, the buoyancy change during a dive as gas is used will be much greater than with a single cylinder. A diver weighted to be neutrally buoyant on the 3m stop at the end of a dive will be quite a bit negative at the start of the dive. So again, the BC can be used to compensate for the additional weight of gas carried at the start of a dive.
A lubricated zip will slide more easily, and so is less likely to become damaged in the process. Zips dont need to be lubricated for every dive. Doing it when preparing kit before a trip is quite often enough, and also prior to storing a suit for any period of time.
The most common lubricants are beeswax and proprietary zip-lube.
Beeswax comes in bars that can be rubbed along a zip. Zip-lube is painted on with the spreader brush on the cap. In both cases the slider needs to be pulled up and down a few times to finish the job. Either lubricant will work well, but dont use both on the same zip, as it seems to prevent them from working.
At a push, all sorts of lubricants can be used. The main thing is to avoid anything that could rot the zip or suit (like WD40). In the past I have loosened up a sticky zip with margarine from
a dismantled sandwich.
The only addition to such a procedure was to wipe off any excess so as to not leave globs that could trap dirt or grit, and to eat the rest of the sandwich.
The classic lubricant to get hands through wrist seals is French chalk, or a light, unperfumed talcum powder, the rationale being that perfume rots the rubber. This may have been an issue for latex seals 50 years ago, but in practice it doesnt matter. A light dusting of any old talc will do.
It isnt just talc that can be used with wrist seals. All sorts of liquid lubricants will work, though petroleum-based ones are best avoided with latex seals. Washing-up liquid works quite well.
Surgical lubricant, better known as KY, has a dedicated following. Consider the young lady who arrived on location without her KY, popped into the chemist to get a tube, then commented: Havent you got anything bigger That wont last a day, let alone a week.
Liquid lubricants are not so practical with neck seals. A latex neck seal can benefit from a light dusting of talc, but dont bother with a neoprene neck seal. Because it reverses, the nylon lining will slide over skin and hair. Talc will just clog inside the nylon and make a mess.
For those with long hair, try an old stocking. The stocking goes over your head and the seal slides over the stocking, then the stocking is removed and pocketed, to be handy for taking the neck seal off later.
The main source of zip damage is bending a zip too tightly. While some bending will naturally take place while wearing a suit, the main source of excessive bending is when a suit is packed away. Drysuits are best packed
in separate bags. The suit bags can then be loaded last, after the heavier bags have been stacked below.
Better protection is needed for air travel, where bags are crushed in whatever way pleases the baggage-handlers. I once arrived in California, suited up and jumped off the boat only to have my zip burst as I hit the water.
A pair of teeth had broken while it was packed. Luckily the skipper had a wetsuit that fitted me, then a couple of days later I had a day off, so managed to buy a zip and sat in the local park gluing it in.
The best solution for air travel is careful packing in a hard-shell suitcase. However, such cases weigh a lot and can be awkward on a boat, so the next best solution is a section of drainpipe cut to the length of the zip and slotted to fit over it. The drainpipe both protects the zip and prevents it from being bent, and the rest of the suit can be rolled round it.
A less sophisticated variation is a length of wood and some tape. This is the opposite of general packing, where most divers prefer to roll from the boots upward, wrapping the shoulders round the rest so that the zip doesnt bend too tightly.
This is another source of damaged and broken zips. First the undersuit gets caught in the zip, then, when manufacturers put a baffle in, that gets caught too.
There is a very simple solution to closing a drysuit zip without getting whatever is underneath snagged. Leave a finger or two inside while youre doing it. The trailing fingers push the under-suit or baffle clear of the zip as it closes.
The first source of leaks is usually through the wrist seals. Most wrists are too small for a stretchy seal to be fully effective, and tendons close to the surface make nice little channels for water to seep along.
For some divers, if latex seals leak, neoprene seals may be dryer, or vice-versa.
Most practical fixes are variations of the old Navy solution of tight elastic bands an inch or more wide, called greys for their colour. These could be pulled on top of the seals to hold them tighter. Making a set out of neoprene can work. My preference is neoprene wrist seals and a simple pair of Velcro straps I can tighten over them as needed, even during a dive.
Another fix is to add a second set of seals behind the first set, which works well, but can be very hard work to get on and off. Dry gloves that lock to the cuff can also help.
On a new suit, check that the valves are tight. It is not unusual for a suit to arrive with valves that are only gently tightened rather than firm against the suit. Its also worth checking that the valves are tight every now and then. They can work loose, particularly on neoprene suits as the neoprene thins with age.
There are really two issues here, drying a suit fully at the end of a trip, and drying out the inside between dives.
Most suit materials are damaged by excessive exposure to sunlight, so hanging a suit out in the sun is not the best way to dry it unless you need fast results. Its not something to be paranoid about, and a bit of sun every now and then wont be a problem, but habitually leaving a suit to dry in strong sunlight will shorten its life.
Between dives there is no useful purpose to drying the outside of a suit. Unless the inside needs drying, I tend to leave mine rolled up. If it is damp I turn it inside out and let the sun and wind do their work.
Between trips, a suit needs to be bone dry before storing. Some divers like to wash and disinfect the inside of their suits to keep them smelling nice, which means that extra drying of the inside will be needed.
The ideal way to hang a suit up for drying is by the boots. Scubapro distributes a clever hanger that does just that - I keep on meaning to get myself one.
Failing that, folding the middle over a section of plastic pipe is my usual method. The pipe is wide enough that air gets between the folded parts.
The difficult bit to dry is always the inside of the boots, particularly heavy-duty boots that wont turn all the way inside out.
The standard trick is to stuff them with balls of newspaper, replacing the damp paper at regular intervals until it no longer comes out damp, then making sure that fresh air can circulate inside to get the last bit of moisture out.
A modern hi-tech and speedier alternative is the proprietary Dampire Dryzone, a pair of socks filled with a moisture muncher that sucks the damp from the boots.
If the boots are still damp before the start of a dive, wearing plastic bags over the feet feels great, keeps the toes warmer, and helps the boots to slide on easily.
|Rubbing beeswax along a zip lubricates it and prolongs zip life. |
|A light dusting of talc helps wrist seals to slide on. |
|Leaving a finger trailing inside the zip when closing it can prevent it fouling on the undersuit. |
|A loop of bungee in a pocket provides a convenient retainer on which to clip everything. |
| Remember to close the pee-valve â€“ should this be part of the buddy check |
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