Cooler Waters are Cool
As the nights start to draw in, the leaves turn golden brown and everywhere you look in town there are adverts for pumpkin-spiced hot drinks, it’s clear that the autumn and winter months are fast approaching. Some divers choose this time to hang their fins and regs up until next spring, but many others prefer to make the most of the quieter season and put their adventuring hats on.
If you’re planning to explore some of the hidden diving gems of the UK this autumn, whether that be inland quarries and lakes such as Wraysbury, Vobster, Chepstow, etc., shore dives from Chesil Beach or Swanage, or the rusty graveyards that make up the waters around Plymouth, Portland, Porthkerris and Scapa Flow (to name a few), then it’s a good idea to have a packing list with a cold water focus. So here’s one we’ve put together, with both essential and recommended kit for maintaining comfort below and above the water.
The Actual Dive:
Dry Suit. The absolute number one bit of kit used for UK and cooler water diving. Not only does it ensure you stay warmer on your dives, but it also allows you to extend your annual diving season and the geographical extent of your diveable locations. All of the OTD team use dry suits on our dives, and it’s one of our most popular speciality courses we run.
Thermal undersuit (s). Worn under the dry suit, these add to the insulation which the air in the dry suit provides already. Many people have thinner base layers which trap body heat close to the skin, with thicker padded layers on top. This gives you the option to add and remove layers as necessary and finetune your insulation depending on water temperature, air temperature and your personal sensitivity to the cold.
Regulators. A good, reliable set of cold water-rated regulators (which applies to most makes) will reduce the possibility of a cold water-induced free-flow and with frequent service and use will last you yonks.
Mask and snorkel.
Cylinders, weights and a small toolbox for spares. As you learn on the Dry Suit course, thicker undersuits and neoprene dry suits trap air for insulation and will therefore increase your buoyancy. It is recommended to take some spare weights to compensate for this, in addition to any extra weights you might need for the saltiness of sea diving.
Hood and gloves (2 pairs advised). Very important – a 5-7 mm neoprene hood and similar thickness gloves are ideal. You can even opt for “lobster claw” three-finger mittens, to reduce the surface area that heat can escape from, if you’re prepared to fully embrace the sea creature that you are. You can also go down the dry glove route if you have a ring system fitted to your dry suit cuff seals, which keeps your hands even warmer and preserves dexterity.
Reel and DSMB. Many boat charters will request that you have a Delayed Surface Marker Buoy (DSMB) and reel between each buddy pair, to ensure that you are identifiable at sea.
Knife or cutting tool.
Torches. A nice, powerful main torch and a backup are key for poking around in nooks and crannies at any dive site, as well as for night dives. Along the UK’s south coast, this may mean the difference between seeing spiny lobsters, conger eels, tompot blennies and spider crabs, or not.
Camera. The absence of algae in the UK in later months means that the visibility can be crisp and clear, so the time is right to use this to your advantage and snap some photos, depending on the weather and other factors.
Any additional personally preferred items.
The Surface Interval:
Woolly gloves and hat. It’s definitely uncomfortable after a dive to have an unprotected head and feel the water evaporating away, draining your precious body heat in the process. A beanie or other warm hat helps to counteract this, as does running your diving hoods and gloves under hot water before putting them back on for the next dive!
Dry Robe or equivalent. Chances are, any diver you speak to will either own a Dry Robe or know someone who does and loves it. The fleece lining is incredibly insulating, coupled with the windcheater-style exterior for when it’s slightly breezy on the surface.
Towel. For us ladies with longer hair (braids all the way!), a towel, either cotton for thickness or microfibre for compactness, is needed for drying hair after the day’s diving and minimising heat loss from the head. It’s always a good idea to have one on-hand anyway in case the worst happens and your dry suit leaks.
Food! Eating generates body heat through respiration and digestion, and funnily enough, we need it to survive, so pack plenty of snacks for your surface interval and your stomach will thank you. Many inland dive sites will offer hot drinks and food on site, but it’s also a good idea to pack a thermos of tea or other preferred hot drink to last you throughout the day.
Fluffy socks. I wear thick/fluffy socks on every diving expedition, and they haven’t let me down since, above or below water. Bonus points for bright colours.
Any personally preferred items.
Everyone has a preferred diving environment and a reason for why they dive. Whilst we’re looking forward to being able to dive abroad in the near future, we love having the opportunity to introduce people to the underwater world right on their doorstep and open their eyes to the simultaneous serenity and excitement that British diving can offer. Personally, I will definitely continue to dive throughout the autumn and winter months in this country, and we all hope to see you in the water soon.
Blog by Stephanie Hodnett