As a Florida man, I am not a fan of being cold either.
But a cold water dive is something that every diver should experience once in their life.
It offers challenges, test your skills, and even offers health benefits.
The water temperature affects the behavior of marine life, so cold water diving offers unique underwater experiences that cannot be found in warmer waters.
You could even dive with seals and penguins, who wouldn’t want to do that?
So in this guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about scuba diving in cold water, such as:
- What is considered cold water scuba diving
- How to prepare for cold water dives
- What equipment you’ll need
- Incredible cold water diving destinations
- And much more
What is Cold Water Diving?
Cold water diving is considered diving in any water temperature of 50°F (10°C) or lower.
This type of diving requires specialized equipment and techniques to ensure the diver’s safety and comfort in colder conditions.
The equipment used when diving in frigid temperatures is different from that used in warm water or has different specifications because it needs to keep the diver warm and also functions in colder temperatures.
Is it Dangerous to Dive in Cold Water?
Scuba diving is not inherently dangerous but cold water diving can be if proper precautions are not taken.
Diving in cold waters can cause hypothermia, frostbite, and other cold-related injuries if the diver is not equipped and prepared for the conditions. Cold water can affect the performance of equipment and increase the risk of equipment failure.
Hypothermia occurs when the body loses heat faster than it can produce it, leading to a drop in body temperature.
Symptoms of hypothermia include shivering, confusion, and loss of consciousness, which can be life-threatening. To prevent hypothermia, divers need to wear appropriate thermal protection and limit their exposure to cold air and water.
Frostbite occurs when body tissues freeze, usually in the extremities such as fingers, toes, and ears.
Symptoms include numbness, tingling, and skin discoloration. Frostbite can be prevented by wearing proper thermal protection, including insulated gloves and boots.
Equipment failure can also be a concern in cold water diving. Low temperatures can cause the gear to malfunction, leading to dangerous situations. It is essential to ensure that all equipment is designed for cold water use and has been properly maintained and tested before diving.
In addition to physical risks, cold water diving can also present psychological challenges. The cold water can be disorienting and can reduce visibility, leading to anxiety and panic in some divers. It is essential to have proper training and experience before attempting cold water diving to mitigate these risks.
To ensure safe cold-water diving, it is important to have proper training and equipment. Divers should receive specialized training and certifications for cold water diving and ensure that all equipment is designed for use in colder temperatures.
With proper preparation and training, cold water diving can be a safe and rewarding activity.
Reasons Why Everyone Should Try Cold Water Scuba Diving
Going for a cold dive can be a thrilling and rewarding experience for scuba divers. While it may seem intimidating at first, there are many reasons why everyone should try cold water diving at least once in their scuba diving career.
Unique underwater experiences – One of the main reasons to try cold water diving is the unique underwater experiences that it offers. Ice diving allows divers to explore frozen lakes and rivers, where they can see incredible ice formations and encounter species that are only found in cold water environments. Cold water is home to species like wolf eels, giant Pacific octopuses, and sea stars that aren’t found in tropical waters.
Visibility – Cold water often provides excellent visibility, making it easier to spot aquatic life and explore underwater environments. Colder water typically contains fewer particles and algae, it can be much clearer than warmer waters. This means divers can see further and more clearly, making it easier to appreciate the beauty of the underwater world.
Personal challenge – While cold water diving requires the use of specialized equipment and techniques, it also demands a level of mental and physical endurance that is not typically required in warmer water environments. Overcoming the challenges of cold water diving can be incredibly rewarding, and can help divers develop new skills and confidence in their abilities.
Different marine life – As mentioned earlier, cold water diving allows divers to encounter different marine life, including some species that are not found in warmer waters. The waters of the Pacific Northwest are home to a variety of unique species, such as the six-gill shark, and other elusive creatures.
Adventure – Exploring frozen lakes and rivers, diving with giant octopuses, and navigating through kelp forests are just a few of the adventures that cold water diving offers. For adventurous divers, cold water diving can be an exciting and unforgettable experience.
Escape the crowds – Warm water dive sites are often crowded with other divers, making it difficult to fully appreciate the underwater environment whereas colder waters tend to be less crowded, allowing divers to explore in peace and solitude. With fewer divers around, it’s easier to focus on the environment and appreciates the unique experiences that cold water diving has to offer.
Improve your skills – You need to use specialized equipment and techniques, making it an excellent opportunity to improve your diving skills. Divers will need to learn how to properly use a drysuit or thicker wetsuit, manage their buoyancy in cold water, and navigate in icy conditions. By mastering these skills, divers can become more confident and competent divers overall.
Dive year-round – In some areas, cold water diving is the only option for year-round diving. By embracing cold water diving, divers can continue to explore the underwater world even when warm water diving isn’t an option.
Environmental Awareness – Help raise awareness about the importance of protecting marine ecosystems and the impacts of climate change on these fragile ecosystems by diving in colder water. You can see firsthand the effects of temperature changes and pollution on marine life, which can help to inspire them to take action to protect the oceans.
Unique Photo and Video Opportunities – The unique conditions and marine life found in colder waters can provide scuba divers with some of the most stunning underwater photography and videography opportunities. From ice formations and schools of fish to sunken shipwrecks.
Sense of Accomplishment – Pushing oneself to overcome the discomfort and challenges of cold water diving can build confidence and help divers develop new skills that they can apply to their future dives.
What Equipment Do Divers Need for Cold Water?
Cold water diving can be a unique and exciting experience, but it requires specialized equipment to ensure the diver’s safety and comfort.
The cold water can cause hypothermia, frostbite, and other cold-related injuries, so it’s crucial to wear appropriate gear that keeps the body warm.
Here is the essential scuba diving equipment that a diver needs for cold water diving:
A drysuit or thick wetsuit (at least 7mm) is essential. Drysuits offer better insulation than wetsuits and are a better option for extremely cold water diving. They keep the diver dry, making them ideal for ice diving.
Wetsuits are made of neoprene, a material that insulates the body and traps a thin layer of water between the suit and the skin. This layer of water is then warmed by the body’s heat, creating a barrier that protects the body from the cold water.
Thick wetsuits are more flexible and offer better mobility, making them a better choice for diving in relatively warmer waters.
It’s essential to choose the right suit for the water temperature and diving conditions. Suits come in different thicknesses, and the thicker the suit, the more insulation it provides.
These accessories are made of materials such as thick neoprene or synthetic fabrics that provide insulation while still allowing the diver to move freely.
Upon surfacing from a cold water dive, having warm clothing handy is a wise decision.
Regulators and SPGs
Cold water can affect the performance of scuba diving equipment, so it’s important to choose gear that is designed for colder temperatures.
Cold water regulators have specialized components and features that prevent them from freezing in low temperatures.
Heated Undergarments or Vests
For extremely cold water diving, some divers use heated undergarments or vests to provide stay warm. These accessories have heating elements that provide additional insulation and are powered by batteries that can last for several hours.
Do I Need to Take a Course to Dive in Cold Water?
Technically no, you don’t need a scuba diving certification to participate in cold water diving. However, some agencies require additional training and certifications to ensure the safety of the diver in colder conditions.
It is essential to receive proper training and certifications before attempting any cold water diving. For example, PADI has an ice diving course and a drysuit course that you should take if you want to dive in these conditions. You can also check out SSI and NAUI among others to take courses.