Many experienced scuba divers cut their teeth in the warm, clear waters of the Caribbean. Starting off in a tropical climate is a great way to break into the sport. For those who seek more adventure, cold water diving in the North Atlantic serves up a different type of challenge. New Jersey‘s murky offshore waters are littered with shipwrecks. While you won’t find bright and colorful corals, there’s no shortage of spooky vessels and twisted hunks of metal to explore. Such excursions, therefore, require additional training and different types of equipment. There are up to 3.5 million active scuba divers in the U.S., a large number of which come from the tri-state area. These thrill-seekers have to get their kicks from somewhere. With proper preparation, cold water diving can be just as comfortable and enjoyable as diving in warm water. Here’s what you need to know if you’re thinking about taking a dip in the cool depths of the Atlantic.
Should you wear a wetsuit or drysuit?
Everybody has a different tolerance level when it comes to feeling cold underwater. Some might be perfectly happy in a 7mm wetsuit in 60F water. Others wouldn’t even entertain the thought. Cold water diving temperatures can dip below 50F. Thicker wetsuits or drysuits are required in order to avoid hypothermia. Drysuits are the safest. There are a number of different types that can affect warmth, buoyancy, durability, and freedom of movement. Do some research to determine which drysuit would be best for you. The use of a drysuit requires extra training. Enroll in a drysuit specialty course to learn about how to use a drysuit, mastering buoyancy control and safety measures.
Get ready to carry more weight
Thicker wetsuits and drysuits are more buoyant and therefore require more weight to dive than your typical scuba setup. For drysuits in particular, you will need to inject air into them to counter the effects of increased water pressure as it squeezes the suit against your body. Steel tanks are heavier than aluminum ones, and will, therefore, help to add more weight. If you’re using a wing-style buoyancy compensator device it’s possible to increase weight with a steel back plate. If you’ve scheduled a dive through a company, the staff should be able to help you add a few extra pounds if necessary. Either way, be prepared to carry more weight than you would diving in warm water.
Use a regulator designed for cold water
Sticking on the subject of cold water diving equipment, it’s vital you use a regulator made for use in cold water. As your regulator feeds you with air while underwater, air expands as the pressure is reduced from the tank to the first stage, and again as it reaches the second stage. A non-cold water regulator may “freeze” due to cooling from the expanding air and chilly temperatures. If this happens it can cause the regulator to free flow. There are a few more things you can do to minimize this risk. These include trying not to inflate your buoyancy compensator device while inhaling, refrain from purging the regulator and don’t breathe from the regulator while out of the water. It’s also a good idea to have your regulator serviced regularly by a technician.
Cover your head and hands
Protecting your head and extremities in cold temperatures is key. If your drysuit doesn’t come with a hood, wearing a neoprene one will help reduce heat loss from your head. Be sure you find one in an appropriate size. It must be snug to minimize water circulation, but not so tight as to be unbearable. It’s possible to make use of drysuit gloves depending on the wrist seals. An easier option, however, would be to use neoprene gloves. The gloves need to be thick but also allow for freedom of motion.
Be prepared for the shock of cold water
Jumping from the warmth of the surface into cold water can deliver a momentary shock to your system. For the first few moments, you may feel as though you have difficulty breathing. This is a physiological reaction known as the mammalian diving reflex. It’s a perfectly natural response to one’s head being submerged in cold water. It normally passes within one or two minutes and you begin to relax. Just give yourself time to acclimate on the water’s surface after jumping in before starting the dive.
Air consumption will increase if a diver gets chilled
A cold water diver has to burn more calories in order to keep warm. This means increased air consumption and a higher rate of breathing. If the diver’s temperature continues to decrease, they may begin to shiver. This will increases air consumption even more due to the extra energy required for shivering.
Thicker wetsuits and drysuits, in addition to the extra weight needed due to the added buoyancy, increases drag. This also results in a rise in air consumption. Keep your body’s temperature in mind while cold water diving. A drysuit will better protect you against cold temperatures. If you feel chilled, consider ending the dive and surfacing to warm up.
Take time to practice clearing your mask
Water in the Atlantic Ocean normally offers less visibility than water in the Caribbean. This makes clearing your mask all the more important while cold water diving in New Jersey. One thing you should prepare for is the rush of cold water hitting your face during this task. The shock you get can be overcome with practice. There’s no replacement for first-hand experience. It’s not fun, but it is essential in order to be safe.
Let’s go cold water diving!
The idea of cold water diving may be frightening to some, but when done correctly it can be as thrilling and safe as diving in warm climates. After acquiring the right training and equipment, you could be exploring the secrets of New Jersey’s offshore waters in no time. The more experience you get, the better it will become.
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