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April 2007 Vol. 33, No. 4   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Ill-Fitting Wetsuits

from the April, 2007 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Too-tight wetsuits are constricting and there have been cases over the years where they have contributed to diver deaths. But semi-dry and dry suits need to fit properly as well, as these two cases indicate.

Mark Miller, a 43-year-old firefighter and diver with technical certifications, was trying out new drysuits with fellow fire fighter JP Hobby in a New Hampshire lake mostly covered with ice. They did not plan to go under the ice so they did not use a buddy line. After spending some time at 20 to 30 feet, Miller signaled to Hobby to ascend. Hobby reached the surface but Miller did not. His body was recovered from under the ice a day later. Miller’s equipment was tested, and it was determined that the drysuit fit too tight around his neck and wrists. The coroner thought pressure on the carotid arteries from the drysuit could have played a factor in Miller’s drowning. (From Diver Alert Network’s 2006 fatality report.)

In January, an inquiry into the death of a British diver determined that she died because the semi-dry suit she was wearing was too large for her. Carina Beer, a 5’4”, 112-pound nurse, used a man’s suit as she found it more comfortable. Diving safety specialist Nicholas Bailey said that her 7mm-thick semidry suit was far too big and let in freezing water. He said: “Carina was a slim girl and the suit would have been a very loose fit on her, which means it would have very poor thermal retention. All suits are designed to be a snug fit and to allow just a little water in, but this suit would have allowed cold water to come rushing through, chilling the diver much more than it was meant to. This was not suitable for conditions where the temperatures had dropped below 48F.” The 23-year-old Beer lost consciousness when her suit filled with cold water, causing her temperature to plummet. She was found on the bottom with her regulator out of her mouth. Two divers tried to put an air regulator into her mouth but Beer did not respond.

To the contrary, a British Sub Aqua Club official said that he wasn’t convinced an ill-fitting suit led to her death. He claimed that she was wearing her own suit and it was the smallest size made.

By the way, isn’t a semi-dry suit better characterized as semi-wet or just plain wet? Those marketers just nailed us divers again.

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