What is a Diving Suit?

Kerrie Main

Scuba divers, surfers, sailors, kite surfers, water skiers, cavers and swimmers are often exposed to many elements in the water and need to wear protective clothing. Many of them utilize diving suits, which are garments or devices designed to protect the wearer from the underwater environment. There are two main types of diving suits: soft diving suits, also known as ambient pressure suits; and hard diving suits, also known as atmospheric pressure suits. The preferred diving suit usually depends on the activities being done, the water temperature and the underwater depth.

Sea animals swimming near a coral reef.
Sea animals swimming near a coral reef.

Ambient pressure suits are designed to protect the wearer from cold water as well as provide defense from sharp objects, such as coral reefs. They usually are made of neoprene or PVC, and they provide buoyancy, which means that they typically are worn with weight belts. This type of diving suit can come in several different forms, such as dive skins, wetsuits, dry suits, semi-dry suits and hot water suits.

Diving suits should be worn to protect divers from sharp coral and other objects.
Diving suits should be worn to protect divers from sharp coral and other objects.

Dive skins are made of spandex or lycra and are commonly worn when diving in water temperatures above 77 degrees Fahrenheit (25 degrees Celsius). They are sometimes called “Stinger Suits” because they protect the wearer from jellyfish stings, abrasions and sun exposure. Wetsuits are made from neoprene and are commonly worn in water temperatures between 50 and 77 degrees Fahrenheit (10 to 25 degrees Celsius). They are supposed to be worn tightly to prevent excess body heat loss, and they often are custom-tailored to fit the diver’s body.

Diving suits, which are also called wetsuits, keep divers warm, give them some extra buoyancy, and protect the skin.
Diving suits, which are also called wetsuits, keep divers warm, give them some extra buoyancy, and protect the skin.

When a person plans to dive or swim in very cold water, a dry diving suit usually is worn. This type of diving suit prevents water from entering the suit by using seals at the wrists and neck areas, and it is commonly worn in water temperatures between 28 and 59 degrees Fahrenheit (minus-2 to 15 degrees Celsius). It is made of Neoprene and air-containing fabric to provide protective pockets of air between the body and the frigid water. Semi-dry diving suits allow the wearer to get wet, but they limit the amount of water entering and leaving the diving suit. They can come in single pieces or two pieces and usually are worn in water temperatures between 50 and 68 degrees Fahrenheit (10 to 20 degrees Celsius).

Wetsuits can help keep an injured diver warm during an emergency.
Wetsuits can help keep an injured diver warm during an emergency.

Hot water diving suits and atmospheric pressure suits usually are worn for extremely deep dives and in freezing water. Both types of suits provide exteriors that protect the wearer from low temperatures and typically prevent decompression or atmospheric pressure. Dry suits usually incorporate a backup air supply using helium mixed with oxygen.

Equipment like prismatic compasses may be worn over diving suits.
Equipment like prismatic compasses may be worn over diving suits.

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Discussion Comments


I never considered the fact that diving suit material is designed to protect against the pain from jellyfish stings. I'm always concerned with jellyfish when I'm swimming in shallow water, but I didn't think about deep sea divers being prone to attacks, as well.

The pain of a sting is intense, and it lasts a long time. My skin gets goose bumps that linger, and sometimes, purple streaks show up from where the tentacles hit me.

I have always wanted a way to avoid getting stung, and maybe a diving suit is the answer. I like to vacation on the coast of Alabama, and the only bad thing about it is the massive jellyfish population. I would love to be able to go there and not have to worry about getting stung.


@LisaLou – That's a good idea! I never thought about using a wet suit just to stay warm, because I never go all the way under the water. However, I do get pretty chilly on vacation while walking around and swimming in the sea.

Even when it's hot out, the temperature of the ocean can be chilly. It's hard to get used to, and it makes swimming a lot less fun.

If I had a wet suit, then maybe I could enjoy splashing around out there. I would probably get some funny looks, because I never put my head under water, but I think it might be worth the embarrassment to enjoy my vacation a little more.


@Oceana – My uncle used to go scuba diving in cold water, and he would wear a full face mask to protect himself. He didn't do it for fun, though. He only jumped in to save people or to search for bodies, because that was his job.

His diving suit was black and designed to seal in body heat and keep water from entering. The face mask was also black. It was made of rubber, so it wasn't rigid and uncomfortable.

It had goggles built right into it, and it had one hole for the mouthpiece to fit through, but that was the only hole in the entire mask. Some people just dive with suits, but he couldn't stand the cold on his face.


I had no idea that people could even dive in water that was 28 degrees Fahrenheit. Wouldn't that mean that the water was frozen?

I wonder what people who dive in cold water wear to protect their faces from the freezing temperatures? Are there full face masks out there to go with these diving suits?

I've seen divers wearing goggles and mouthpieces, and maybe these are enough to cover up the face. It sure seems that you wouldn't want to have any bit of skin coming in contact with 28 degree water, though.


When we took a cruise with our kids, a couple of them took a scuba diving course. They were able to rent scuba diving wet suits, and all the gear they needed to learn how to dive.

Once they went through the training, they got to go out into the ocean and go on an actual dive. This was the first time they had done something like this and it was a lot of fun for them.

I know they have places where we live where you can get certified to dive. We live in the middle of the country, so I don't think there would be many opportunities for us to take advantage of using a wetsuit on a regular basis.

For us, it was much cheaper to rent them for one time use than to go out and buy one for everybody. They would have also taken up too much space when we were flying there and getting to the cruise ship.


We go tubing in Colorado almost every summer and there have been many times I have been tempted to buy or rent a dry suit for diving. Even though I am not going under the water, the water in the mountains is very cold.

There is no way you can keep from getting wet. Even though you get used to it after awhile, I think I would enjoy it more if there was a way to stay a little warmer.

I don't know what the water temperature is that far up in the mountains, but it feels like it is around 55 - 60 degrees. If I had a two piece suit, I could probably get by with just wearing the bottom part.


One year our family went to California for Christmas and our kids wanted to go surfing. Not knowing when we would get another chance to do this, we decided to give it a try.

The outside temperature was pretty warm, but the ocean water was freezing. We rented wetsuits and boards so we could spend some time in the water.

I saw a few people in the water without a wetsuit on and wondered how they could stand it. The water was much too cold for me to enjoy if I didn't have the protection of a wetsuit.

This was the first time any of us had worn one, and it was quite a challenge getting them on and off. If you were used to spending time in the water like this, I can see how you would like to own your own wetsuit.

Who knows how many people before us wore the same wetsuits we had on. They looked like they had been around for quite awhile, but it was a lot cheaper than buying one when you never knew when you would use one again.


My husband is certified to scuba dive and has his own scuba diving suit. He was certified many years ago, and has not gone diving for quite a few years now.

His suit is made of neoprene and is hanging in our basement, but I don't even know if he could fit into it any more. They fit so close to your body, and he has put on some weight in the last few years.

These suits also need to be conditioned on a regular basis so they stay soft and pliable. Since he hasn't gone diving in so long, he has not taken very good care of his wetsuit.

If he ever takes up diving again, investing in a new suit will probably be at the top of his list.

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