Is a Wetsuit Needed for Snorkeling in the Winter?

Expert: Cameron – I have been active in all water-based adventures since 2014. While working overseas I obtained my advanced PADI diving certificate and when needing to fly within the day I go snorkeling instead. Snorkeling in particular has been a hobby of mine since I was a child. I have snorkeled in sub-freezing waters and know what it takes to jump into these frigid temperatures.


Wondering if it is even a possibility to grab your snorkel gear and head to the water during the wintertime when waters can typically get much cooler than you are used to or even comfortable with?

Snorkeling at anytime as long as the visibility is good can land you with some unforgettable sights and experiences with wildlife.

But you may be asking, do we need a wetsuit to snorkel the colder waters in the winter?

Depending on how low the water temperature gets you will likely need a wetsuit for getting into the water for a snorkeling session. When the temperature of the water drops to below 75 degrees Fahrenheit (24 degrees Celsius) is the typical mark to wear a swimsuit when you are heading out to be in the water for extended periods of time.

Beyond this, there are different types of wetsuits that are suited for specific temperatures and signs to watch for to fend off possible hypothermia.

In this article, we will delve into the topic of winter snorkeling and discuss the importance of wearing a wetsuit to ensure a comfortable and enjoyable experience.

Wetsuits for Snorkeling in Colder Weather

I can assure you that wearing a wetsuit when in colder water converts your entire snorkeling experience when it comes to being in the water for extended periods of time.

Learn: How to Snorkel in Cold Weather

Importance of Wetsuits in Winter Snorkeling

Snorkeling in a Wetsuit
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Wetsuits are designed to provide insulation and warmth in colder waters, as well as protection against sharp or abrasive surfaces in the water like coral.

The neoprene material used in wetsuits traps a thin layer of water between the suit and your skin, which then gets warmed by your body heat.

There are other suits that do the same thing with a layer of air instead, these are called drysuits.

This insulating layer helps to maintain a comfortable body temperature, preventing rapid heat loss and reducing the risk of hypothermia.

Hypothermia

Sweating
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According to Mayo Clinic, hypothermia is a medical emergency that occurs when your body loses heat faster than it can produce heat, causing a dangerously low body temperature to a point where your heart, nervous system and other organs can’t work normally.

A post from WebMD explains that “Normal body temperature averages 98.6 F. With hypothermia, body temperature drops below 95 F. In severe hypothermia, core body temperature can drop to 82 F or lower.”

In addition to insulation, wetsuits also offer protection against hypothermia.

Wearing a wetsuit acts as a barrier against the cold water, helping to regulate your body temperature and prevent hypothermia from setting in.

Below are symptoms of hypothermia to constantly watch for:

ShiveringSlurred speech or mumbling
Slow, shallow breathingWeak pulse
Clumsiness or lack of coordinationDrowsiness or very low energy
Confusion or memory lossLoss of consciousness

Understanding Water Temperature in Winter

Several factors affect water temperature, including location, currents, and depth.

Popular snorkeling destinations such as the Caribbean or the Great Barrier Reef experience milder winter temperatures compared to colder regions like Iceland.

On average, winter water temperatures in popular snorkeling destinations range from 75°F (24°C) to 85°F (29°C).

However, it’s important to note that even in these relatively warmer waters, the temperature can still feel chilly, especially if you spend a significant amount of time in the water.

Speaking of Iceland, to put this into perspective, the warmest water temperature is in July with an average around 52.5°F / 11.4°C and the coldest at 41°F / 5.0°C in March according to this Sea Temperature tracker.

Types of Wetsuits for Winter Snorkeling

Full Body Wetsuit on the Beach
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When it comes to choosing a wetsuit for winter snorkeling, there are a few options to consider.

Depending on where you go or what site you visit there can be anywhere from 9 types of wetsuits to over 15.

This encompasses everything from simple rash guards to full wetsuits, but here we will generalize two main types you will likely be looking for.

Full and Shorty Wetsuits

The two main types are full wetsuits and shorty wetsuits.

Full wetsuits cover your entire body, including your arms and legs, providing maximum coverage and insulation.

Shorty wetsuits, on the other hand, have shorter legs and sleeves, offering less coverage but more freedom of movement.

The choice between the two depends on personal preference and the water temperature of the snorkeling destination.

Thickness and Material

Another factor to consider when selecting a wetsuit is the thickness and material.

Thickness

Wetsuits come in different thicknesses, typically ranging from 2mm to 7mm.

Thicker wetsuits provide more insulation but may restrict movement, which is typically not a major issue when you are snorkeling.

It’s important to choose a thickness that suits the water temperature and your comfort level.

Material

Additionally, the material of the wetsuit plays a role in its durability and flexibility.

Neoprene is the most common material used in wetsuits due to its excellent insulation properties and flexibility.

However, there are variations in neoprene quality, with some wetsuits offering better stretch and durability than others.

A newer material using FAR Infrared technology has also began circulating the market.

A review from Pub Med Central says “far infrared (FIR) radiation (λ = 3–100 μm) is a subdivision of the electromagnetic spectrum that has been investigated for biological effects.”

Fibers impregnated with FIR woven into fabrics, are being used as garments and wraps to generate FIR radiation, and attain health benefits from its effects.

This includes what we are aiming for, maintaining a normal body temperature while snorkeling in colder waters.

It’s worth investing in a high-quality wetsuit that will keep you warm and comfortable during your winter snorkeling adventures.

Benefits of Snorkeling in Winter

Swimming with a Full Body Wetsuit
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While many people prefer to snorkel during the warmer months, winter snorkeling has its own set of benefits.

First and foremost, winter snorkeling allows you to explore areas that are less crowded.

With fewer tourists around, you can have a more intimate and peaceful experience with nature.

Additionally, winter brings about unique marine life sightings, the water may be colder for you but for other species it is warmer.

Many species migrate or display different behaviors during this time, giving you an opportunity to witness their fascinating activities.

The stillness of the water combined with the crisp winter air creates a sense of serenity that is unmatched, unless a storm comes along.

Additional Tips for Winter Snorkeling

In addition to a wetsuit, you can wear other snorkeling gear to enhance your winter snorkeling experience:

  1. Layering: Consider wearing a rash guard or thermal base layer under your wetsuit for added warmth and insulation.
  2. Hood and Gloves: If you’ll be snorkeling in extremely cold waters, consider wearing a wetsuit hood and gloves to protect your head, ears, and hands from the cold.
  3. Booties: Invest in a pair of neoprene booties to keep your feet warm and protected from rocks or coral.
  4. Check Weather Conditions: Before heading out for a winter snorkeling session, check the weather conditions and water temperature. Avoid snorkeling during storms or when water conditions are unsafe.
  5. Snorkel Buddy: Always snorkel with a buddy, especially in colder waters. In case of any emergencies, it’s important to have someone watching out for you.

I cannot emphasize enough that if the water is cold enough to wear a wetsuit then you absolutely want a pair of gloves and booties.

My snorkel booties have saved my feet in more ways that just the cold as well.

Summary

While winter snorkeling may require a bit more preparation and gear, it can be an incredibly rewarding experience.

Wearing a wetsuit is essential to ensure your comfort, protection, and enjoyment during your winter snorkeling adventures.

Remember to choose the right wetsuit for the water temperature and consider additional layers and accessories to enhance your warmth.

So, don’t let the colder weather deter you from exploring the underwater wonders during the winter months.

Grab your wetsuit, dive in, and discover a whole new world beneath the winter waves!


[Sources and References]

“Hypothermia.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 5 Mar. 2022, www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/hypothermia/symptoms-causes/syc-20352682#:~:text=Overview,95%20F%20(35%20C).
“Hypothermia: Signs, Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment.” WebMD, WebMD, www.webmd.com/a-to-z-guides/what-is-hypothermia. Accessed 23 Jan. 2024.
Copyright Global Sea Temperatures – A-Connect Ltd. “Reykjavík Water Temperature: Iceland: Sea Temperatures.” World Sea Temperatures, www.seatemperature.org/europe/iceland/reykjavk.htm#:~:text=The%20warmest%20water%20temperature%20is,%C2%B0F%20%2F%205.0%C2%B0C. Accessed 23 Jan. 2024.

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