It might sound obvious, but diving in cold water is very different from diving in the tropics, and not just in terms of the noises you might make as you hit the water. There are all sorts of things to take into consideration if you’re going to be submerging yourself in chilly places.

It goes without saying that it’s vital to have the right training and equipment – an ice diving certification (if relevant), adequate thermal protection and an environmentally sealed regulator. But we’ve also put together some tips to make taking the frigid plunge a little bit more comfortable.

Start off warm

Fill your heat bank! Prime your body by wearing the right clothes topside, drinking warming liquids and staying as warm as you can for as long as possible before the dive.


Have all your gear ready before you get your suit on. Don’t let your body heat seep away while you’re setting up.

Layer it up

Whether you’re in a semi or a dry suit, you’ll be glad of every extra layer. Some divers even wear latex gloves under their neoprene to stop water coming into contact with the skin.

More gear more buoyancy

Remember you will likely need extra weights.

Prime your gear

If you’re diving in a wetsuit, soak your gloves, hood, and boots in warm water before you put them on. Some people also recommend filling your suit with water as you put it on and just before you jump in so that your body won’t have to expend valuable heat warming the water layer trapped between your skin and the neoprene.

Dive gloves on last!

You’ll be surprised at all the little things you need your fingers for before you jump in.

Two weddell seals underwater. © Wikimedia Commons

Two weddell seals underwater. © Wikimedia Commons

Be prepared

If it’s your first dive in cold water, be prepared for the shock of the temperature. You might find it hard to breathe, and clearing your mask in water that’s near freezing is much harder than it sounds. Don’t worry, with a little practice, it gets easier.

Minimise movement

Counter-intuitively, moving around a lot in cold water doesn’t help you to stay warm, and can actually increase the risk of hypothermia.

Be streamlined

If possible, keep your arms tucked at your sides to increase your body mass and reduce the surface area where heat is lost.

Watch your air!

Burning calories to keep warm requires more oxygen and so your breathing rate will naturally increase. Make sure you are properly equipped for the temperature and keep a close eye on your gauge.

Call the dive

Don’t wait until you’re too cold to end the dive. It’s not a contest. Once you start feeling cold in the water, hypothermia can set in very quickly.

Change wisely

Back on the surface, get warm and dry in stages. Start with your hood, dry your hair, put your warm hat back on. Peel off the top of your wetsuit, dry off and put on warm clothing. Then get out of your boots and take off the rest of your suit.

Warm water

Bring plenty with you – it’s useful for so many things – warming hands, defrosting zips, stopping frozen regulators.

SDOP 06 issue 1 spineThis article featured in SD OCEAN PLANET “Cold & Fresh”