Scuba Diving in Cold Water vs Tropical Water 

Let's start off by saying that both dive environments are awesome, with lots of fun, adventure and discovery provided by both. 

Gearing up for a cold water dive

There are a few key differences between scuba diving in cold water versus tropical waters. 

The most obvious difference is the water temperature, with cold water being, well, much colder than tropical water. This can require divers to wear more layers of clothing, as well as use different types of dive gear designed for cold water conditions.

Another key difference is the visibility. In general, tropical waters have much higher visibility than colder waters, This can make it easier to see marine life and other underwater objects. However during the winter months on Vancouver Island underwater visibility can be up to 33 meters (100ft) or more.

Finally, the types of marine life that are found in each environment can differ significantly. For example, sharks are more common in tropical waters while seals and whales are more common in colder waters

What Scuba Gear is Used in Cold water?

Cold water scuba gear includes all the same gear as in tropical waters with a few variations which typically include a thicker wet suit, minimum of 5m (7m is better) or a dry suit, a hood, and gloves, mask, fins, snorkel, regulator, buoyancy control device (BCD), dive computer and additional weights from that of tropical waters.

Is Cold Water Diving Worth it? 

Cold water diving off of Vancouver Island

Yes, diving in cold water can be worth it because there is a variety underwater marine life to see and enjoy around Vancouver Island. 

Some examples of sea life that might be found in temperate waters include: Dog Fish, Lingcod and Rock Cod, Red Rock Crab, Octopus, not to mention a variety of Sea Anemone, Nudibranch, and more. 

"The sea life in cold waters can be both beautiful and exciting to watch, to see more vibrant colors take an underwater light."

Is Learning to Dive in Cold Water Difficult?

Learning to dive in cold water can be more challenging.

With cold water temperatures and reduced visibility, the study of diving in cold water regions like Vancouver Island is a little bit more challenging. The first step to diving in this region is learning how to safely dive with the proper gear. 

Once you have completed the knowledge development portion of a scuba course, dive training starts in a pool where you learn all the skills and how to use the equipment needed to dive safely in a controlled environment. 

After that you graduate to open water diving, which on Vancouver Island is typically the ocean. Here with the continued guidance of your scuba instructor is the practical application of the skills you learned. You apply all the skills you learned in the pool during 4 ocean dives starting in shallow water then progressing to deeper water. 

8 Tips for Scuba Diving In Cold Water

If you want to go scuba diving in water with a temperature below 20°C (68°F), you need to prepare your equipment and your body accordingly to make sure that everything goes well. 

1. Dress In Layers

Wearing layers is key when diving in cold water. You want to start with a layer of thermal undergarment, a lycra suit followed by a wetsuit, If you are using a dry suit, make sure to wear a fleece liner undergarment underneath for added warmth.

2. Wear A Hood

A neoprene hood will help keep your head and face warm while diving. If you are using a wet suit, make sure to get one with a built-in hood. If you are using a dry suit, you can purchase an external hood that goes over your helmet.

3. Use Gloves And Booties

Neoprene gloves and booties help keep your hands and feet warm while diving. If you are using a wet suit, make sure to get gloves and booties that fit snugly so they don’t fill up with water. If you are using a dry suit, you can purchase gloves and booties that are specifically designed for dry suits. 

4. Use A Hot Water Bottle Or Hand Warmers 

It is important to stay warm between dives for those of us that make two or more dives in a day. Using an external warming device will help increase your core temperature after a dive and will replace the warmth that has diminished, preparing you for the next dive. 

5. Use a Heated Vest or Battery-Powered Undergarment

A heated vest or battery-powered undergarment will help keep your body warm while diving. This equipment and technology is now becoming very popular with cold water divers. 

6. Learn to dive in a dry suit

Learn to dive in a drysuit

Diving with a dry suit allows a diver to stay warmer because the dry suit prevents water from coming in contact with the skin. With dry suit you wear a fleece thermal layer under your dry suit to stay warm. It is a good idea to take the PADI Dry suit Diving Specialty to learn how to dive with a dry suit. 

7. Get good with your buoyancy control

With the added thermal protection from either a wetsuit or a dry suit you will have to compensate for the added buoyancy with added weights. It's a good idea to the PADI Peak Performance Buoyancy program to gain the added skills and experience. 

8. Go on a Dive Master guided dive

Diving in cold water is really awesome, however if you are a first timer, or not that experienced go on a Dive master guided dive. Dive master are well qualified dive professionals and can help you assimilate to cold water with valuable tips and insights as well as dive support. 

Pacific Water Sports offer a Dive Master guided dives on Saturdays, just meet at the shop in the morning.

Larry Wedgewood
Larry Wedgewood

I am a PADI Course Director and an avid scuba diver with thousands of dives logged. I started my Scuba Diving Career over 35 years ago on Vancouver Island, and since then diving has taken me to some extraordinary diving destinations around the world. While I still train divers I am also a Digital Business Development Consultant and the owner of My Webpros Digital.