Are Scuba Wetsuits Waterproof?

Divers are accustomed to being soaking wet after they dive – and they are okay with that. Scuba suits, more commonly known as wetsuits, are sometimes the most overlooked and underestimated piece of equipment a novice diver selects.  

New divers are inundated with learning, purchasing, and mastering a variety of accessories such as a regulator, tank, and “octopus.” All are designed to keep you safe and providing an enjoyable diving experience. A scuba wetsuit is another critical piece of equipment you need, and there is a reason it’s called a wetsuit.

Are Scuba wetsuits waterproof? No. Wetsuits used for scuba divers are not waterproof. These suits are primarily used to keep the diver or surfer warm when it is cold and wet. They do this by keeping a layer of warm water inside the suit next to your body. Scuba wetsuits are typically made of a versatile and reliable material called neoprene.

Even though wetsuits (NOAA) are used by surfers, swimmers, kayakers, and personal watercraft enthusiasts, divers are the primary users of scuba wetsuits. A common misconception with scuba suits is that they are waterproof. 

How Does A Scuba Wetsuit Work If It’s Not Waterproof?

Scuba wetsuits are designed to let water in. Neoprene suits are designed to provide warmth by using the water instead of fighting it. Wetsuits are not made to be waterproof. They allow the water in, so the user maximizes his or her body heat.

In order to understand why a wetsuit is not made to be waterproof, we need to understand how warmth in the water works. 

There are different types of swimming attire used for water sports and activities, with wetsuits being the most popular. While there are many differences between regular clothing and scuba wetsuits, the tangible benefits are the same. 

We all know from our parents as children that when the weather gets cold, you dress in thin layers instead of one thick layer. The warm air trapped in between layers is what keeps you warm. Wetsuits depend on keeping warm water from your body heat close to your body and separate from the surrounding colder water.  

This is referred to as insulation. There are a variety of other options and clothing protection to keep you safe and make the most out of leisure time in the water. The main two are:

  • Wetsuits: The most common type of protective diving clothing is made of neoprene, which clings tightly to the body for the most considerable amount of insulation. It is best for cold weather or water applications. The fit is almost skintight to maximize the effectiveness of layering. For more specific advice, read our buyer’s guide.
  • Drysuits: Unlike a wetsuit, a drysuit IS waterproof! Drysuits are loose-fitting and more like a shell for the user, so they have minimal thermal insulation. They are commonly made of stockinette fabric coated with vulcanized rubber, laminated layers of nylon and butyl rubber known as Trilaminate or Cordura® proofed with an inner layer of polyurethane. Drysuits are best suited for “out of water situations,” such as kayaking or intense diving situations.
Temperature versus wetsuit thickness

Selecting The Best Scuba Wetsuit For You

So now you know the basics of wetsuits, which one is best suited for the type of diving or water activity you do most? Which type and thickness will you need? A lot of the selection is based on common sense in matching the environment with your preferences. They include:

  • Diving Environment: Environment is one of the primary deciding factors on selecting the proper wetsuit or drysuit. Are you diving in freshwater or saltwater? (yes! it makes a difference.
  • Temperature: Temperature of the water usually dictates the type of suit you need to select. Warm weather diving, such as in the Caribbean, is much different than diving in the Pacific. This is discussed in the above video.
  • Depth: Water becomes much colder the lower, the deeper the depth, so material weight and fit are critical to providing comfort, safety, and mobility. If the suit is not used in the water, for example, used by a kayaker, then a drysuit with mobility is a better choice. 
  • Fit: Watersports are intended to be enjoyable, so properly choosing a suit that fits comfortably and matching the environment is paramount. Fit should complement the activity you plan to enjoy most.
  • Versatility: While most scuba diving is done in ocean salt water, many enthusiasts also enjoy diving in freshwater lakes. This drastically affects the suit you select due to the differences in saltwater and freshwater buoyancy. (Dictionary)
  • Cost: There is a significant variance in the price of wetsuits and preferred brands, so your selection will be dictated by your particular situation and how much you plan to dive, kayak, or surf.

How To Correctly Find The Right Fit

Finding the right size that fits you, your personality, and your requirements are easy if you know what you are looking for. Wetsuits are skintight, unlike drysuits, so understanding the sizing and other environmental factors is significant. A couple of simple measurements will result in you understanding the best way to determine the best size for you.

Use your height and weight to begin with. Then measure your chest circumference. The correct way to measure chest circumference is by using a flexible cloth measuring device across the nipple line. Then, measure your waist, hips, neck and inseam. Many specialty dive sites, such as ScubaPro’s Amazon Store, have extensive charts to aid you in your fit selection process. Other stores on Amazon like Cressi divide their selections into Cressi shorties and Cressi full suits.  O’Neill has a vast catalog for men, women and kids.

The final step is trying the wetsuit on. It is essential to make sure:

  • The arms and crotch fit tightly
  • You’re able to lift your arms without too much resistance
  • Your neck is sealed tightly
  • You’re able to bend down and forward without too much resistance
Sizing advice with chart at the end

Evaluating Scuba Wetsuits And Drysuits

Now that you have the criteria and made some preliminary reasons to a scuba suit make sure you do a final check to see the pros and cons of each type of suit.

Wetsuit Advantages:

  • Material; made of neoprene, so it is tough and has an expected long lifespan
  • Economical; easy to repair if damaged or ripped
  • Elasticity; it stretches, so the fit has wider tolerance for sizing fluctuations
  • Warmth; wetsuits require fewer undergarments due to the layering incorporated in them 

Wetsuit Disadvantages:

  • Bulk; even the thinnest wetsuits are relatively bulky
  • Flexibility; not suitable for potable or environmental dive situations
  • Heat Stress; neoprene can be warm so not ideal for hard or long surface dives

Drysuit Advantages:

  • Lightweight; made of trilaminate so you can minimize layering
  • Transportation; because it is lightweight and nimble it can be packed easily
  • Mobility; fits much more loosely than neoprene so better range in motion
  • Forgiveness; while not as much as neoprene, it stretches to accommodate weight changes (these suits last a long time to account for diver weight fluctuates!)

Drysuit Disadvantages:

  • Price; due to the material and manufacturing they are higher priced compared to wetsuits
  • Maintenance; much more costly and time needed to repair
  • Exposure; because of more air between the diver and the suit there is a loss of body heat

Exactly like selecting a car or a house, there is no one perfect solution to every situation. We have addressed the majority of factors that you need to consider for finding the best solution. Just like your favorite mask, snorkel, or fins, selecting a wetsuit or drysuit is more than just a fashion statement in the water.

Is A Wetsuit Necessary?

At about this point you may be asking yourself: Do I really need to wear a wetsuit at all? They aren’t waterproof, so why should I wear one? 

That’s a fair question, but a wetsuit is as much a mandatory piece of equipment as your air tank. A wetsuit or drysuit is one of the most important safety devices you can have.

  • Warmth:  It cold down there deep, baby. Remember, as you go underwater you instantly begin losing body heat and even in warm climates at depths less than one atmosphere 

(30 feet) you can lose as much as 5 degrees body temperature in less than an hour.

  • Protection:  Whether ocean or freshwater lake, there are rocks, shells, ledges, and rough surfaces that can scratch your skin, resulting in a blood trail or inviting an infection.
  • Longevity:  Even in the tropics, wearing a wetsuit compared to just a bikini or swim trunks, the Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI) has found that you can extend your dives more than 10% longer due to comfort and loss of body heat.
  • Buoyancy: Due to the lightweight and floating properties of neoprene, especially in saltwater, divers do not have to wear more weight to keep them underwater than simply wearing traditional swimming attire.

Dive. Dive. Dive.

Some of my most memorable times in life were spent on a dive boat in a wetsuit with families and friends. Yes, you will be wet, and your hair was messed up, but the stories about what you saw underwater were warm, inviting, and addictive. 

If you are one of the 23 million people that are already diving or thinking about diving, explore more reasons to take the splash.


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Tim Conner, M.D.

Tim Conner, M.D. started boating in 1974. He has been involved in recreational boating continuously since then. Dr. Conner has been active in boating and watersports safety education for decades. He rode his first jet ski in 1997, and rejoined the personal watercraft arena in 2012 with a Sea-Doo GTX 155, followed by 2 supercharged SeaDoos. Scuba certification came in 1988, and he and the family have traveled the world snorkeling and scuba diving for decades. The family has recently taken up paddle boarding. Click the photo for a lot more.

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