Whether it’s Alaska, Iceland, Eastern Europe, the Atlantic, or Scandinavia, cold water diving presents a series of unique and rewarding challenges. It’s an experience that very few will ever have, and even less will actively seek out, but to don a dry suit and plunge into freezing cold water is a unique joy that every scuba diver should attempt at least once.
First of all, scuba diving in cold water is the difference between skiing on a gentle slope, and trying to navigate a black diamond trail. By it’s nature, cold water dives tend to be more physically taxing (which means much faster air consumption, as well as fatigue), have stronger currents and surge while in the water, and almost always require a dry suit unless you’re a special type of crazy. Perhaps the most difficult aspect here is the dry suit.
As anyone who took their Basic Open Water course in an exceptionally cold climate will tell you, getting your certification in cold water will almost certainly include a speciality in dry suit diving. And dry suit diving can be extremely frustrating. Because the insulation in a dry suit comes from keeping air trapped inside the actual suit, which in turn is heated by your body temperature, it can play havoc with even an experienced divers buoyancy, let alone a student.
This air trapped in the dry suit is wonderful when you’re stepping off a boat in Alaska into the North Pacific, but imagine having to scuba dive with a balloon tied to you and depending on how you move, that balloon can quickly get out of hand and drag you to surface. It is not uncommon to see beginner students in the pool or shallow water dragged up the surface feet first, kicking and thrashing, because all the air in their dry suit suddenly rushed to their feet. It is entirely comical, but also very dangerous when at depth.
If that makes cold water diving sound unejoyable it’s not! You learn the tricks and tools to help manage things such as a sudden change in buoyancy; for example, when you’re being pulled to the surface upside, you simply do a front roll, and it balances the air in your dry suit. It’s challenging, but cold water diving opens up a whole new world of scuba that most don’t ever experience.
Likewise, cold water diving is always less crowded, which makes a much more unique experience–you get the chance to dive knowing that you are seeing things that few people have the chance to see. And believe me, there are things to see. Even when the water is murky, diving in cold water gives you the opportunity to see aquatic vegetation found nowhere else in the world, as well as sea life that is unique to cold climates. Whether it’s unbelievably massive kelp forests, schools of salmon, or even the occasional killer whale, cold water diving offers a glimpse into a world both strange and bizarre, and is an experience that every diver should try.
Just be sure to stay warm!