Scuba diving in a dry suit in Scotland Loch Long course PADI

Becoming a Dry Suit Diver in Scotland

When I think of a dream diving destination Scotland doesn’t immediately jump to the front of my mind. I’m happiest when I can roll off a boat in a bikini and follow up my dive with a nap in the sun. But I merely adopted warmer waters. I was born in cold water, moulded by it. I didn’t see a tropical island until I was already an adult…

I spent my formative diving years in a surgey washing machine of cold East coast New Zealand water. Bikini waters were a treat I didn’t experience until I was 22 years old.

Now because we’re all hard bastards in New Zealand we dive in wetsuits down to about 13 degrees and because we’re grovelling under rocks for crayfish our high activity levels will keep us pretty warm. Water temperatures in Scotland however, will vary between 5 and 12 degrees and even I am not enough of a hard bastard to brave that in a wetsuit.

So what’s the solution? Become a dry suit diver of course.

My journey starts in the same place that most of my best ones do, the pub. I had been introduced to Deep Blue Scuba by some Koh Tao friends and I was heading along to their Thursday club night to have a nosey. Having been let down by multiple buses I was running late and was informed that I was three pints behind everyone else. With work the next the day I was adamant that I would not be playing catch up. Three pints of Guinness and a whisky later I had signed up to do my dry suit course that coming weekend.

So what is a dry suit? I hear you ask…

The name kind of gives it away but it is essentially a suit that keeps you dry inside by using a pocket of air next to your body and latex seals around the neck and wrists and fully enclosed booties. A wetsuit is the opposite in that it will allow a small amount of water into the suit which your body heat warms up and keeps next to your skin. The issue with this is that water conducts heat away from your body much faster than air and you get cold more quickly.

A dry suit has a valve on the chest that you connect to an LPI (Low Pressure Inflator) and uses that nice air pocket to keep you warm instead. This also means that you are no longer using your BCD to achieve neutral buoyancy underwater, instead you will play around with the air in your suit to make sure all of your limbs are floating just right and you will only use your BCD at the surface.

 

So how does the course go down?

First you will have a pool session to get used to the suit. I would advise going with fewer under garments for this because the water is likely to be heated and the general environment will be warm. If you’re a sweaty betty like me you will probably feel pretty rank by the end of it. This is also the time when you realise you’ve conditioned yourself to pee while you dive and that is no longer possible in a dry suit. I’m not saying go in dehydrated but I would advise keeping liquids to a minimum and visiting the loo just before you get in your suit to save any embarrassment.

In the pool you will practice hovering and swimming in your new suit as well as skills like removing and reconnecting your suit’s LPI underwater, and full kit and weight belt removal on the surface. You will also learn how to deal with excess air in your suit and how to purge it if you end up with floaty feet pulling you towards the surface.

It’s a strange sensation to get used to and my fins felt a bit like I was kicking in custard. It was hard to get a good slice with them when the legs of your suit are made for someone considerably taller and the boots are sliding down your foot. If you aren’t a regular sized and proportioned human (I am not) then you might find your suit a bit awkward. If you’re super keen then you can have a custom suit made but on your course it’s likely you will have something that is meant to fit the average homo sapien.

The second part of the course is the two open water dives where you will practice the skills you did in the pool only now you will be wearing a lot more weight and have 5ml gloves on that means you’re essentially doing your LPI removal with oven mitts on. Entirely frustrating. You will be in proper cold conditions now so wear something warm under your suit and prepare for a surface interval where you’re just being pelted with rain.

Finally it’s just a wee knowledge review and you’re done! If you’re like me you will do this in the car on the way to the dive site…but I attribute this to the fact that I only got my book the day before and not laziness. Anyone who has worked in the PADI system will know that knowledge reviews can be done pretty quickly and with minimal effort if you aren’t a complete numpty.

 

So what are my thoughts on dry suits?

They’re brilliant!! I want to bring them back to NZ and change lives with dry suits. I am a total convert, a born again dry suit diver as it were. It’s a really cool course that is going to open up even more avenues for you as a diver.

This way you can drop between the tectonic plates in Iceland or see the wrecks of Scapa Flow. Cold water is great for preserving things and different creatures live there too so why not chuck on a dry suit and go and see them!?

If you have any other questions then comment below.

Before you go here are some of my other thoughts on dry suits and the course:

  • If you have done any twinset diving you will find that body position useful for maintaining your trim. Body flat, knees bent, feet up.
  • If you get really cold easily then this is a great option.
  • It’s not that convenient if you need a wee between dives.
  • The suits are pretty delicate so be really careful when you’re putting them on, taking them off and mucking around on shore.
  • Your mobility and dexterity is really limited in them which is very frustrating and you will rely on your Divemaster a lot.
  • Get good at doing helicopter turns with your fins because it can be annoying to deviate from a flat body position. The air in your suit will move around to different parts of the suit and make you floaty in weird places.
  • Try not to let this course be the first time you ever wear a hood. If you’re claustrophobic this will be a weird and possibly uncomfortable feeling for you.
  • You will wear more weight than normal but not always loads more. My first dive I went in with 12kgs which dropped me like a stone. On the second I went with 8kg and that was perfect.
  • If you’re a dude have a think about how hairy your neck is and whether you want to shave it because this may compromise your neck seal.
  • Your seal should be tight but it shouldn’t feel uncomfortable. The first suit I tried made my eyes feel like they were pulsing which is obviously not normal and dangerous underwater. It will feel awkward but it shouldn’t be causing you any real discomfort.
  • You might see some cool stuff in a Scottish loch…I saw a bunch of crabs eating a dead jellyfish and that was pretty rad.

Not a diver yet? Perhaps think about becoming one and discovering the other 70% of the planet! Read all about becoming an Open Water Diver, becoming a Divemaster, or all the courses you need to do before you go pro.

Photo by paul morris on Unsplash

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