When diving in very warm water, two of the most popular types of diving suit you can choose from are dive skins and wetsuits. To pick the most effective and suitable gear for your dive, you must take into account several factors such as water temperature, the depth of the water, your proneness to cold, and more. Let’s look at the differences between a dive skin and a wetsuit so you can make the right decision.
Wetsuits have quite a long history. The neoprene wetsuit was invented in 1952 by physicist Hugh Bradner, who was investigating the problems encountered by frogmen in cold water. Bradner, a diver himself, developed a suit that could trap water between the body and the neoprene, but his invention failed to gain commercial success. His work, however, inspired other watersports gear manufacturers who have popularized the wetsuit among surfers and scuba divers.
The dive skin was invented in 1981 by Tony Farmer of Sports Suits of Australia. Farmer wanted to provide divers exploring very warm waters with an inexpensive suit that could protect them against animal stings and sunburn. The idea came after he observed some swimmers and surfers using pantyhose as swimsuits. He tested his first dive skin model in 1982 and released the production models in 1983. Dive skins soon became very popular among swimmers, surfers, and shallow water divers.
How They Work
Both dive skins and wetsuits work by trapping a thin layer of water between the diver’s body and the garment. In the case of wetsuits, this layer of water is warmed by the body and the material of the suit is what actually helps prevent heat loss. Dive skins, on the other hand, are made of materials that provide very little thermal insulation.
Dive skins, also known as stinger suits, sunsuits, or UV suits, are useful in two ways. Firstly, they are used on their own for protection against jellyfish stings, stinging critters, coral abrasion, and sunburn. When worn alone, however, they provide negligible thermal protection. Secondly, they are worn as a first layer under a wetsuit to get in and out of the wetsuit faster and without any struggle.
The main use of a wetsuit, on the other hand, is temperature control. The wetsuit helps divers retain body heat and keep warm. The thickest of wetsuits can withstand temperatures as low as 3° C/38° F. And just as dive skins, wetsuits help protect your skin against animal stings, abrasion, and UV rays.
Dive skins are usually made of very thin layers of Spandex, or Lycra. Some dive skins are made from Lycra combined with other materials such as polyolefin microfibers for extra wind resistance. The new generation of dive skins are made from fabric composed of Polyester and PBT yarn.
Wetsuits are most often made of closed-cell foam neoprene, but it is also possible to find wetsuits made of open-cell neoprene coated with Titanium. Others are made from a blend of neoprene and butyl rubber. Spandex and nylon are commonly used for the lining of the wetsuits, but actual wetsuits made entirely of these materials do not exist.
Dive skins are less than 1mm thick, lightweight, and extremely flexible.
Wetsuits come in a variety of thickness levels for different water temperatures. Neoprene wetsuits can be as slim as 1mm and as thick as 8mm. The suit’s thickness is often described with two numbers, one being the thickness of the neoprene and the second reflects the thickness of the flex points. A third number may be used to indicate the thickness of the neoprene around the arms. Several factors should be taken into consideration when choosing the thickness of the wetsuit: how prone to cold you are, how deep you go, how many dives you make in a day, the presence of thermoclines, and even the topside conditions.
|Below 3° C|
Below 39° F
|Type of suit||Dive skin||1mm Wetsuit (fullsuit, springsuit or shorty)||2mm Wetsuit (fullsuit)||3/2mm|
*Use this table for reference only. The dive skin or wetsuit required for a dive depends on many other factors, not just water temperature.
The material and thickness of a dive skin make it suitable for very warm climates where the water temperature reaches up to 29° C/85° F or more. Dive skins offer little thermal protection on their own but may be worn beneath a wetsuit to increase its thermal insulation properties.
A wetsuit’s main job is to keep divers warm when immersed in water. The closed-cell foam neoprene that is used for most wetsuits contains small bubbles of nitrogen gas. Nitrogen has very low thermal conductivity and the gas bubbles in the suit minimize heat transport, thereby greatly reducing heat transfer from the body to the water outside the suit. The wetsuit must have a snug fit to work efficiently.
Dive skins are neutrally buoyant and do not require any additional weight.
The neoprene material used for the manufacturing of wetsuits weighs significantly less than an equal volume of water and, therefore, will always float. A wetsuit will always provide the wearer with additional buoyancy and the thicker the wetsuit, the more buoyant you will be. Age can also affect suit buoyancy, as the neoprene foam tends to compress with time. There can also be significant differences in buoyancy between suits made by different manufacturers, despite having the same thickness.
As such, choosing the right diving garment for you and proper weighting are key in achieving good buoyancy when wearing a wetsuit.
|Use||Protection against animal stings, coral abrasion, sunburn||Protection against animal stings, coral abrasion, sunburn|
|Type of Activity||Swimming, snorkeling, and shallow water diving in tropical waters||Deep diving and diving in colder waters|
|Material||Spandex, Polyester, and PBT yarn||Closed-cell or open-cell neoprene lined with other materials|
|Thickness||Less than 1mm||1mm to 10mm|
|Water Temperature||26°+ C|
|3° C or less and up to 25° C|
39° F or less and up to 79° F
|Thermal Insulation||Negligible||Very effective|
|Comfort Level||Easy to put on and flexible||Can be hard to put on and restrictive to wear||Buoyancy||Neutrally buoyant||Positive buoyancy|
Remember, wearing an exposure suit is beneficial not only to help you keep warm but also to protect your skin from stings, scrapes, and sunburn. Nonetheless, heat loss is a real threat even in tropical climates. Fortunately, there are many types of dive skins and wetsuits available to keep your skin safe and your body warm at different water temperatures.
What’s your go-to diving suit for warm water?