Staying Warm in 50F Water

This winter has been unseasonably cold. Whereas we would normally get a boost in temperature due to a counter current flowing from the South, this year it did not happen. Blame it on La Nina, or whatever, it has resulted in reported temps even colder than seen in the summer. This past weekend alone I heard values from 42 to 47 in Carmel. I do wonder about the 42 - was that from an Oceanic Data Plus computer (my dataplus reads 2-3 degrees lower than my data sport)? In any case, this isn't good for people wearing off the rack wetsuits. Actually, below 50 it may not matter - most people will be cold in wetsuits, but they can be less cold.

Titanium Suits?
Many suits tout a titanium foil layer as a feature that results in a much warmer suit. However, Rodale's Scuba Diving has investigated this and could not substantiate the claim. (I'll pull in references/excepts shortly). The reason for this is that most of the heat loss is not through the suit, but due to conduction through the water in the suit. On the positive side, the extra cost for the titanium seems to be slight now, perhaps just $20. When it first came out, it seemed to add closer to $80. You can probably treat it as a non issue.

Custom Wetsuits
There are two custom wetsuit makers near the bay area divers - Monterey Bay Wetsuits which recently moved to Santa Cruz, and Otter Bay wetsuits which is an family offshoot and remains at the old location in Monterey. I'll include more information on this later in the week. The short story is that you can get a very precise fit (a few dozen measurements) that will make the wetsuit more pleasant to don/doff, and will reduce water flow. Last summer it cost me about $410 for the suit and a hood, or about $60 over typical prices off the rack.

I went to Otter Bay last summer when my girlfriend needed a wetsuit that didn't have an extra 10 inches or leg or arm (she's not very tall). Women seem to have a much harder time with off the rack suits. Is tall, thin, and stacked the only models they get at these manufacturers? It takes three visits to get a full suit. On the first, 60 measurements are taken from head to toe. They then make the suit, but don't stitch the seams yet. On the second visit, you put it on and they check to see what adjustments are necessary. Bring your mask and the hood can be trimmed to fit as well. On the third visit, your suit is ready. This was about a 2 week process for both Julie and me.

Otter Bay makes suits of all types, but have essentially two for divers. The Otter Suit is the common two piece suit - a farmer john coupled with a beaver tail jacket. The jacket has a neoprene drysuit seal at the neck. This is coupled with a short hood. I'm much happier with this arrangement, as the hood can be donned just before entry. This suit is recommended for those who get particularly cold.

The Sea Lion suit is for the warmer types out there like me. It is a one piece suit with a zipper down the back. (The otter suit has a zipper from the sternum down to the waist) Matched with this is a vest with the same neoprene seal for the neck that is matched with the hood. This suit is particular good for trips to LA where in the summer months you can go without the hood and vest (fine in 64F for me last August). However, this winter the temp has pushed down past 52 often and I am finding that personally the suit isn't doing enough. For the normal range of 52-55, it does fine, but then again, I have yet to find a wetsuit that does well at 50. There's no getting around the compression that happens as you descend.

Those two suits run about $410 at last check. That includes the hood and a pair of lycra socks that really make putting the suit (and especially the booties) on an easier task. Otter Bay also makes a neoprene type drysuit for $850, including the hood and heavy boots. My friend, Eben, had bought a used dry suit and needed a short hood; they made him one in short order for about $50.

[Most of this information is dated now, so it's best to go directly to their website to see the latest in suit offerings and prices. Their 10mm hoods have been VERY popular with the heavy divers and worth a look.]

Chris Grossman recommends Aquaflite for those in the LA area, their office being in La Cresenta.

Mobby's Dry Suits
I was on a deep wreck diving trip in Los Angeles last month, meeting a lot of people I knew only in an online sense. One of them was Peter Den Haan , a drysuit rep (among many other things) for Mobby's. I wasn't thinking of getting a suit until the end of the year, but he had a good deal going and I decided I shouldn't be doing any more dives to 145ft in wetsuits - too damn cold when your suit compresses to nearly nothing. Their twin shell pro is a trilam suit, but it has a second distinct layer of cordura nylon on the outside. Some trilam suits have this sewn into the outside of the trilam, but in this suit they are separate. It results in a less billowy suit and should be tough enough for years of rough beach entries. It also includes hard rock boots standard (unlike DUI) and has seals that are much more resistant to tearing. The boots are also zippered, which made it much easier to don the suit then the last one I tried.

Learning to dive dry was an interesting couple months for me, with lots of email based discussions in addition to the in water practice.

Last Edited: July 25th, 2001