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August 16, 2020 4 min read

Is a wetsuit waterproof? How does a wetsuit work? A wetsuit is not waterproof. When you are underwater, it soaks water immediately, absorbing only a small amount because of tiny holes in the suit that prevent excessive water retention and help maintain the wetsuit's buoyancy. Water that seeps in comes in contact with your skin but does not soak through it.

How does a wetsuit keep you warm, when you're underwater? A wetsuit helps regulate your body temperature underwater. A wetsuit gives thermal heat to the body, protecting it from cold sea water. It helps to retain body heat and avoid hypothermia, which is when body temperature drops below 95 degrees Fahrenheit and may lead to failure of the heart or respiratory system. It also protects the body from the sting of sea creatures and from abrasion.

Wetsuit material is neoprene, foam rubber, which is chemically stable; whose cellular structure has nitrogen gas bubbles trapped in it. The bubbles trap body heat which makes neoprene a good heat insulator. A hot object releases its heat when it is in contact with cold water; this is the law of physics. Your body temperature warms the cold sea-water when your body comes in contact with it. If the water temperature is, say, 30 degrees, body heat adds to the water temperature so that the thin water layer is now 90 degrees.

The three layers now maintaining the warm temperature are your skin, the insulating layer of neoprene of your wetsuit, and the thin water layer trapped in the wetsuit. This water layer is in a vacuum so It can escape only when you remove your wetsuit.

Neoprene is flexible material and stretches to fit body contours. The fit of a wetsuit, which serves as your second skin, and its sealing portions must be in place, to maintain the warmth of this water layer. It must not allow cold sea water to constantly seep in, making it impossible to maintain the water layer temperature.

 

Wetsuit vs. Drysuit vs. Semi-dry Wetsuit

Wetsuits

Wetsuits are made of neoprene, a heat insulator. The wetsuit allows water to seep inside the suit, traps the water; the body heats the water layer inside between the suit and skin, and slows down the amount of heat the wearer loses.

 

Drysuits

Drysuits are made from material which is tri-laminated and waterproof. Unlike wetsuits, drysuits are baggy. Water does not penetrate any part of the drysuit. These are used in very cold water, as in the Arctic and Antarctic regions.

Drysuit is a full-body design that is entirely water-tight. Drysuit material is neoprene or synthetic rubber and has a very tough outer shell. The wearer's neck and wrists are secured with flexible rubber seals or gaskets, to prevent water from entering. There are two parts to the seals, an inner and outer seal. Each part has a flexible rubber membrane around the skin to prevent entry of water. These membranes are flexible so the wearer can move easily. The zipper of the main suit is waterproof.

And since the drysuit fully keeps out water, the wearer can wear any clothes underneath.

 

Semi-dry Suits

A disadvantage of a wetsuit is that is not able to completely prevent the heated water from escaping. And cold sea water enters the suit, replacing the warm water. To address this problem, there are now semi-dry suits, made possible by modern wetsuit technology such as special seams, seals, fleece . Or latex and rubber seals are sewn in to these semi-dry suits to prevent the escape of heat.

 

Types of Wetsuits

All types are made of neoprene. Wetsuits mainly aim to keep divers warm underwater, in different weather conditions, different seasons.

Different Types of Wetsuits

Different Types of Wetsuits

 

Wetsuit Thickness

Types vary according to the thickness level of neoprene to adjust to each season or regional climate.
  • Wetsuits for warm water diving are between 2 - 4 millimeters thick
  • Wetsuits for moderately cold water diving are between 5 - 7 millimeters thick

 

Wetsuit Designs

  • Full length suits are called "steamers" and cover your whole body until the joints of your feet. Cover the entire arms until the wrists. Can be worn with a hood, diving gloves, booties. Used by divers in cold water dives.
  • Shorties or shorty suits cover the torso of wearer with short sleeves and short leggings. Shorties cover the torso, a portion of the arms up to the mid-biceps and a portion of the legs onto the middle of thigh. They offer least warmth and are worn for protection from sea creature stings and sun damage. Used by surfers and snorkelers in warm tropical beaches
  • A pair of trunks with a dive vest for shallow dives. A full wetsuit is not needed in warm climates, as in the Middle East.
  • 1 piece wetsuit covers the entire body, except for the wrists and ankles. Material is neoprene, with insulation properties. It is light in weight.
  • 2-piece wetsuit are usually for cold waters. The first piece, or bottoms, covers the torso and legs down to the ankles. The second piece, or tops, covers the torso and arms, onto the wrists. Added insulation around the torso makes it warmer than a one-piece wetsuit. Divers in cold weather prefer this double layer at the torso that ensures that the central core is warm.

 

Do Wetsuits Keep You Dry?

Wetsuits are made of neoprene foam. Neoprene can be produced in open-cell form or in closed-cell form. Closed-cell form is waterproof. With this, fact we can state that wetsuits can keep you dry. Taking it further to wetsuit seams. Seams connect two or more wetsuit panels with thread. To have a waterproof seal, panels can be glued together. Seams can be reinforced by applying rubber seal and neoprene tape on high-end wetsuits. These are different from flatlock or overlock stitching, mostly done on shorties and summer wetsuits, which are not glued nor waterproof. Taped seams do not allow water to enter. This way, wetsuits keep you warm.

 

Liz H.
Liz H.


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