You have probably asked yourself a few times are wetsuits waterproof. It is a common misunderstanding that wetsuits are waterproof, when in actuality they are designed to get you wet. A wetsuit is designed to keep you warm while regulating your temperature using your own body heat. They also protect you against abrasions and cuts.
Once you have an overview of how wetsuits and the neoprene which they are made of work you’ll soon see that a wetsuit can’t be waterproof to work. There are other types of marine gear available termed dry suits, but they are only highly water-resistant and not completely waterproof. Here’s a look at how a wetsuit is made highlighting the dynamic nature of and science behind this invaluable technology.
What Wetsuits are Made of
Wetsuits are made from a synthetic rubber called neoprene. Neoprene is a fantastic insulator which is a creation from the of polymerization of chloroprene. Chloroprene is a colorless liquid which is the product of acetylene and hydrochloric acid.
The resulting synthetic is vastly superior to any natural rubber used in marine applications. It is an excellent insulator which allows water in and then traps it, thanks to its fantastic oxidation rate, which also coincidently makes neoprene last for ages.
Carbon black is added to the neoprene. This filler dyes the neoprene rubber which increases its ability to absorb heat while upping structural integrity and elasticity as well. Black is the first color to absorb photons which not only grants outstanding UV resistance to your wetsuit, but is a factor which helps the water trapped within to stay warm.
How a Wetsuit Keeps You Warm
A wetsuit keeps you warm by trapping in the heat which is generated by your body. Once water enters the area between your skin and the neoprene, it becomes encapsulated with very little room to circulate. As this warms, it becomes a solid layer of insulation while the neoprene protects and regulates this temperature by keeping out the outside elements.
The easiest way to grasp how neoprene locks in water and heat is to imagine it as a compressed array of multiple layers of bubble wrap. As the water enters the oxygen is trapped as air pockets within the neoprene. This locks in the water which is then heated by your own body’s thermal energy.
Because of the way that neoprene insulates, it is critical that your wetsuit fits tightly. It is pointless to wear a loose wetsuit, because your body would not generate enough heat to warm the massive amount of water which is trapped within the suit.
Dive Suits & Surf Suits
Wetsuits are designed according to what they are used for. Diving wetsuits are generally much thicker and are cut slimmer to allow less movement and more warmth. The neoprene used for diving wetsuits can sustain the immense pressure of a deep dive, while a surf wetsuit would lose all its water absorption capabilities if it was taken to the same depth.
Despite both working on the same principle, it is important to buy the right wetsuit for the job. Surfing wetsuits give you far greater freedom of movement, but you can’t put them under the pressure of a dive or your wetsuit simply won’t work anymore.
Any wetsuit which is not the right thickness will be crushed by the pressure of a dive. The air pockets present within the neoprene will be unable to form if the synthetic rubber has had its structure damaged. Without the suit being able to lock in water and thus heat, your wetsuit would be pointless. All wetsuits work on the same principle. The only suit which comes close to being waterproof is a dry suit, but they are suited to specific dives only.
Semi-Dry & Dry Suits
Dry suits aren’t waterproof either, but they do come close. The first thing you should know is that semi-dry and dry suits are very expensive. A semi-dry suit works on the same principle as a wetsuit, trapping water in and creating a thermal layer.
However, this water flushes out quickly in a normal suit. Water within your suit is trapped for far longer, thanks to rubber or latex seals in the cuffs, ankles, and zipper openings of a semi-dry suit.
Many prefer the fit of a semi-dry, as it allows you to wear a T-shirt or other top underneath. The majority of dry suits are used by recovery divers and other professionals who want to spend as much time under the water as possible.
They are extremely bulky, and most divers who use them undergo specialized training. A dry suit is a very complex device and should not be used prior to undergoing formal instruction. The entire course takes a day, but without taking it many dry suit divers find themselves dwelling on the complexity of the suit and never capitalizing on its benefits.
Form Fitting Warmth
Keep in mind that your wetsuit needs to feel quite tight when putting it on dry. As soon as you hit the water, it’ll feel much looser and will actually work to trap in heat. Don’t make the mistake of buying one too big or you’ll be lugging around lots of water and empty pockets of air.
Even if you pick up a few pounds and find your suit fitting too tightly after a season, do yourself a favor and squirm into it. Once you hit the water, the suit will fill and become more flexible, gradually adapting to your new form and size.
Keep in mind that once a wetsuit adopts a larger form it will not quickly shrink back down, and if it does by force (for example, a run through the dryer) then it will most likely not be snug. This leaves too much water in the suit, thanks to the distorted flexibility.
Wetsuits are one of the best ways to stay warm regardless of what you’ll be doing in the water. They may not keep you dry, but the insulation makes everything completely comfortable no matter how icy the water may be. Find the right thickness of suit, and you are set in any water temperature.