When most people think diving, they think tropical. Another thing a lot of people think is that diving is primarily a summer time activity. This isn’t true, especially if you live somewhere like I do in British Columbia, when the best vis comes during the late fall to early spring. After that it’s all algae blooms and luck for getting good conditions. Aside from the obvious hazard of cold, there are some other things to consider for your winter dives, so here’s seven things to remember for your cold water, cold weather dives!
1.) Make sure your exposure protection is good to go. I’ve done my share of wetsuit dives in the winter, so they can be done, but unless you’re a warm person, this might not be a great plan for you. Drysuits are a must for anyone planning to do a lot of winter diving. I’d recommend neoprene, but if you’re doing a lot of travelling, a trilaminate suit might be a better call. Either way, you need to make sure that you layer up underneath to keep warm. Remember, water transmits heat 20x faster than air.
2.) Check your regulators for cold water operation. Not all regulators perform the same in cold water, and some can even freeze up during a dive, leading to an emergency situation. Some brands are better than others, and if you’re looking into a regulator set and you know that you’re going to be diving in cold water, and especially in the winter, it’s well worth it to pick up a cold water adapted set. They work just as well in warm water, and can save you a headache in the future. Getting your regulators checked on a regular basis is a good plan too.
3.) Be ready to dry off and change! In the summer, you can air dry and enjoy the sun, in the winter, this may not be an option. Bring a towel and a set of clothes that are quick to change into. I usually use a heavy sweatsuit for the clothes, since it’s warm and easy to get into with cold fingers. A toque (or wool knit cap for those non-Canadians reading this) is also key for winter diving.
4.) Have a tarp handy. Diving in the winter, especially from shore, may mean that there’s snow on the ground. You’ll need a place to change, and a tarp can be that place. You can also roll it over any spare tanks that you have to keep them protected while you do your dives. Even if you’re boat diving, it’s handy to have something you can spread out behind the car while you get changed!
5.) Bring a dive light and back up light. Diving in the winter can mean varying light conditions owing to overcast skies, so places that have great light in the summer may be a touch dark. This is especially true if you’re doing deep dives. Lights aren’t an option in winter diving.
6.) Do some check out dives before you start hitting your dive sites. Find a safe, calm area and test your gear for winter use. Find your buoyancy with the extra layers you have on. It’s a quick process, and it’ll save you a lot of strain and effort for the rest of the season.
7.) Have something warm to drink and a snack waiting. Dives in the winter are more strenuous, cold, and calorie eating than dives in warmer seasons. I recommend tea or hot chocolate, and sandwiches (they’re easy to eat with cold fingers) or stew (spoons are easy with cold fingers too!). Don’t forget to make sure you’re good and hydrated before you hit the water too.
Diving in the winter can be a fun a rewarding experience, if you make sure that you’re ready. The only other advice I have is to be ready to terminate dives owing to cold. It’s an entirely legitimate reason to end a dive. So, with all of that said, have some great diving experiences in the winter, I know I’m going to!