Wet or Dry?
The ultimate goal of wearing a "scuba suit" is to stay warm. There are two basic options; a wet suit, or a dry suit.
A wet suit is a close fitting neoprene suit worn by a scuba diver which acts as insulation. A wet suit functions by allowing water to flow into the suit, which the diver heats with their body, and subsequently reduces heat loss. A 'semi-dry' suit is effectively a wet suit with tighter seals, thus reducing the flow of water through the suit and slowing heat loss.
All wet suits are compressed at depth, and continue to lose their insulation capability the deeper they are used.
Dry suits can be made of different materials; tri-laminate, neoprene, crushed foam or varying combinations. Either way, the end goal is to keep the diver dry. Tight seals prevent water ingress and trap air in the suit which helps keep the diver warm. As the diver descends the trapped air is compressed so the diver must inject more air, via an inflate valve, from a scuba tank (or dedicated bottle) to prevent the suit crushing the diver. On ascent the air must be released via a dump valve.
A dry suit alone is rarely adequate, and the diver must wear appropriate undergarments to stay comfortable.
I ARE DIVER SUITS
As a diver in Northern Ireland diving in a dry suit is almost mandatory. The water varies from 4C in winter, to 14C in the summer months. It's never that warm on the surface either. I did all my open water training in a semi-dry and continued to dive wet for 18 months. I wouldn't say this was a pleasant experience, but it was an experience. One that i haven't gone back to since i got my dry suit.
Dry suits, like everything scuba, are full of many options and many reasons why a particular suit is better than the rest. Really when it comes down to it, if it fits you correctly it will work well. If not, you're either going to get wet, and subsequently cold, or the suit will cause you more problems in the water than it's worth and you'll question why you continue to persevere with this stupid pastime.
Neoprene, crushed foam, trilam, membrane, rear entry, front entry, dump valve variations, inflation valves, padding, the list is endless. I can only tell you what i went for and why.
SANTI DRY SUIT (PRIMARY)
My main suit is a SANTI E.MOTION made to measure (MTM). I chose this suit for a number of reasons; it looks fab, membrane suit, has a plastic zip, great boots, interchangeable wrist seals, excellent pockets, cracking customer service, a dry reputation, and I am friendly with the UK distributor.
The ordering process was straight forward. I placed the order over the phone with Santi UK, a Skype meeting followed to aid the measuring process, and i received the suit 5 weeks later.
*Unfortunately the suit needed further adjustments, but Santi were very accommodating and I didn't incur any expense.
Front entry zip - so i can don (put on) the suit and doff the suit (get it off) all by myself. I know diving is a buddy system but sometimes i just like to do things myself, so a rear entry suit wasn't for me. Plus i find the heavy zip across the back restricts my shoulder movement.
Plastic Zip - Extremely easy to use, nicer action than metal zips.
Zip cover - to protect my main zip as they are expensive to replace so reducing the risk of abrasion when messing around wrecks and generally keeping crap out of the teeth sounded like a good plan.
2 Leg Pockets - to keep all my stuff in for the dive. I needed pockets big enough to stash my spools, wetnotes, back up stuff, smbs etc. Small zip compartment on right pocket.
Latex neck seal - easier to use with long hair than a neoprene type.
Neck warmer - to insulate the latex neck seal.
Antares Ring Ssytem - see below
Flexi Boots - A fantastic compromise between boots and neoprene socks; not as annoying as the welly boot system, but saves having to carry rock boots.
Apeks valves - All my suits had them and they worked fine. If it ain't broke, don't fix it.
Pee Valve - I can now pee at will in a dry suit.
Red colour - it looks fantastic.
DRY GLOVES (SANTI)
DRY GLOVES (SANTI)
I have the Si-Tech Anatres Oval Ring system permanently attached to my e.motion. This system allows interchangeable wrist seals and the use of silicone seals. Of course it also facilitates drygloves.
SEASKIN DRY SUIT (BACK UP)
Let me introduce Seaskin. A MTM (made to measure) drysuit company which for me has turned out to be one of my best purchases.
Seaskin have an online web form where you fill in your measurements, choose your material, add ons, bang in your credit card details, hit send and 6 weeks later you're ogling over your new suit. They are excellent value for money and much cheaper than the majority of dry suits for sale in stock sizes only.
Material: Membrane was the material for me. I knew this as i wanted to use my suit as much as possible because i'm always cold. Even in 20C water i'd dive dry by choice. With a membrane suit i can wear a thin base layer in warm water and not overheat, but not be cold either. In the winter i can layer up and still be warm. A membrane suit doesn't compress at depth either so my buoyancy wouldn't be affected as i descended and my kit wouldn't loosen off as the suit doesn't change characteristics under pressure.
Front entry zip - metal.
Zip cover - protection.
2 Leg Pockets - I have Halcyon pockets on my Seaskin, and are the best pockets ever. I have zip compartments on both sides.
Neoprene neck seal - warmer than latex, but a pain to manage with long hair.
Latex wrist seals. These would allow the easy addition of dry gloves at a later date.
Neoprene socks. I don't like the big welly boot that you get on most suits as you end up with too much room around your feet. I just wear wet suit booties over the top of the suits neoprene socks. This means the boot can be replaced when they wear out, rather than having to ship my suit off for replacements.
Apeks valves. Always Apeks.
Black colour. I'm a heavy metal fan so everything i have is black. Plus i look like i'm in the SAS and therefore look like a scary, awesome diver.
The service from Seaskin was very good, but i would recommend telephoning rather than emailing if you want any updates.
DRY GLOVE (SEASKIN)
A ring goes inside your dry suit wrist seal and you pop a glove with a ring fitted to it over the top and an O ring seals it. Job done. I love them, and i can put them on myself. Even better.
Check out Dryglove for a better explanation and video.
As i said i have neoprene socks built onto my Seaskin dry suit so these have to be protected by wearing a boot over the top. They are a few options, rock boots, neoprene slippers or wet boots. You can even get a rubber sole glued onto the sock if you prefer, known as a turbo sole as i understand. The rock boots are glorified converse boots to me and offer great grip and protection but usually require a bigger fin pocket as you have to get a bigger size to compensate for the neoprene suit sock.
They're not the best boots in the world and i have gone on my ass due to the grip not being amazing, but they do the job and i will upgrade when i have all the money.
HOOD (BOTH SUITS)