Cold-Water Gear Explained
Why all the gear?
Diving in the Arctic is different – it is unique. One of the most obvious differences compared to most other diving destinations is the extreme water temperature. Cold-water puts many people off diving, but here in the Arctic it is the -2-1 °C degree water that makes diving here so special.
Rare ecosystems that are only found here have adapted to the extreme and seasonal conditions of the Arctic. Impressive ice formations from stately icebergs to the dynamic flow edge create dive sites unlike any other. Beluga whales, narwhals, walrus and polar bears are just some of the marine mammals that can be discovered when diving the Arctic.
The cold-water is a small price to pay for the chance to witness such an array of exceptional sights. But, the cold-water is a serious issue that must be addressed, especially when the air temperature is also freezing. There are three primary factors that affect a person’s tolerance to the cold:
- Physiological – body shape, size and circulation.
- In general females and slimmer people feel the effects of the cold more than males and larger people.
- Physiological – perceptions and expectations.
- Being prepared and confident is key to enjoying your dives. Arctic Kingdom believes in thorough training and support to ensure you are happy before entering the water.
- Equipment – how effectively the body is insulated makes a huge difference to your comfort.
With the right equipment diving in cold-water becomes a comfortable and enjoyable experience:
Here we will discuss certain pieces of equipment that warm-water/less experienced divers may not be familiar with and why you need to use this equipment when diving in the Arctic.
Just by keeping your body dry during a dive makes a huge difference in terms of heat loss. The air in a drysuit acts as insulation. Heat is lost more slowly when your body is surrounded by air in comparison to water. Heat is lost 25% faster when surrounded by water.
Staying dry also reduces heat loss upon surfacing because a damp body exposed to cold will suffer considerably more than a dry and thermally insulated body and here in the Arctic this is a primary consideration. Heated tents are used at our dive sites.
Drysuits allow layering in terms of the thermal protection. Here in the Arctic socks, a wicking base layer and a thicker thermal layer is the minimum required to stay warm.
There are two types of drysuits: Neoprene and tri-laminate. Neoprene drysuits are used more regularly in the Arctic than tri-laminate drysuits because they are excellent insulators and require less thermal layering underneath. But, tri-laminate suits can be used here. They offer more flexibility, but require more thermal protection underneath in order to maintain a comfortable body temperature.
Your hands are a vital piece of equipment during any dive – you may need to adjust gear, help a buddy or grasp a line. When your hands get extremely cold you lose dexterity and experience discomfort. Therefore, dry gloves are included in all of our drysuit packages. Dry gloves will keep your hands well insulated while offering comfort and dexterity.
Thick wetsuit gloves can be used, but a thickness of at least 7mm is recommended.
When air from a cylinder under-goes a drop in pressure as it passes through the regulator first stage, with a further drop in pressure at the second stage, it cools. The very cold air caused by temperature drops in each stage of the regulator will cause any water droplets within the mechanism to form ice crystals, which in turn can cause a freeflow. In cold-water there is a greatly increased risk of this happening so you must use a regulator designed specifically for cold-water and be familiar with how to deal with a freeflow should one occur.
Our regulators are designed for extremely cold diving. They have ribbed connectors, which act as a heat exchangers – reducing air cooling in cold conditions. They are also environmentally sealed, which is a must for any cold-water diving. A sealed spring chamber prevents water and contaminants from damaging your regulator.
As another precaution should a freeflow occur we use isolator valves on the second stages of our regulators. This valve allows a diver experiencing a freeflow to isolate the freeflow and switch to a secondary air source (more on this below).
It’s important to understand why free flows occur and how to handle them should they ever occur. Regulator second stages essentially act as pressure relief valves – they are designed to freeflow so that the air source is never completely shut-off. If the cause of the freeflow is thought to be a 1st stage problem, the effect will still be a freeflow. But, the regulator will not work properly even on dry land and in a warm environment.
If you have a 2nd stage with a breathing resistance adjustment, remember to always have the adjuster set to minimum when it is not being breathed from.
If you intend to bring your own regulator please check with the manufacturer that it is suitable for cold water diving in water temperatures between -2°C and 1°C.
Back-up Air Supply
A secondary air supply when diving in cold-water is important. If your regulator goes into free flow the air supply in your primary tank will diminish very rapidly. Your air supply won’t suddenly run-out (unless your tank is near empty). But, it won’t last longer than a few minutes when freeflowing. Should an emergency arise a secondary air source will allow you to make a safe ascent back to the surface.
Our secondary air supply is often a pony bottle – this is another tank of air, usually smaller than your primary tank and fitted with its own regulator. If you use a pony bottle you must know exactly where to find it – fumbling around in an emergency situation will only exacerbate the situation.