Ok, not the most exciting subject in the world but what type of seals you have on your drysuit can make a big difference on how it keeps you dry. Everyone will have their own opinion on which is best but here are my findings over the years.
I’ll wager almost every single diver who has ever been in a drysuit has used one with latex neck or cuff seals. Latex seals are the golden standard of watertight seals on drysuits; they stretch and adjust to your neck and wrists and are relatively robust but they do have a tendency to rip and tear if used incorrectly.
Years ago your only alternative was glideskin neoprene which spreads the seal over a wider area but can be quite fragile because you tend to treat it like lined neoprene and rip it. Neoprene neck seals usually need to be folded in on themselves to create a seal which can cause some problems with folds and creases tracking water inside.
Silicone seals have now quickly become very popular and come as standard on many drysuits. You cannot glue silicone seals directly to your drysuit so you do need a ring system which has it’s own benefits nowadays.
Now all seals rip or tear at some stage which sucks but it is an unfortunate trade off for having a soft flexible seal. There doesn’t exist a magic material, yet, that is soft and flexible enough to stretch over your head and seal around your neck without tearing if you pull it too hard.
Latex seals are cheap, simple and available almost everywhere. If you know your size it’s pretty easy to swap them over yourself with some two-part adhesive and tape.
Latex seals are soft and give a reliable seal, they come in a few thicknesses, the thicker they are the tougher they are but thinner ones give a softer seal so you don’t loose circulation in your hands.
I used latex neck and wrist seals on my drysuit when I used to teach in the UK and they are great but they do have a few flaws. The first flaw luckily never affected me but many people are allergic to latex, this would limit which suits you can use and you can only use neoprene seals on them.
If you were unfortunate enough to rip a seal, unless you had another suit, you couldn’t go diving again for another week or three depending on how good you were with contact adhesive. But however good you are with adhesives replacing a torn neck seal on a boat is not a recommended practice and the glues take hours to go off.
Latex stretches over time so your neck and cuffs feel really tight when you first fit them, to the point of cutting off circulation, so you have to stretch them over a cylinder for a few hours so they’re more comfortable. You can cut them down to make the seal larger but if you do it too early and they continue to stretch you’ll end up with a loose seal that leaks.
Now I don’t have a latex allergy that I know of but I also found that on a few dives, especially when it was cold or repetitive diving, I’d have sore patches around my neck where the seal had irritated the skin which I used to call love bites from my suit.
Silicone seals have all of the best features of latex with very few of the drawbacks, it’s thin and flexible so you can don and doff your suit more comfortably, it’s hypoallergenic so people who suffer from latex allergies are fine to use silicone seals and in my opinion is more flexible and stretchy than latex but some tester have found them to be more fragile than similar latex seals.
Because very little sticks to silicone once it’s set you need to use a ring system around your wrists and neck, while they first look uncomfortable the rings are now comfortable and practical thanks to newer more flexible and ergonomic designs.
Silicone seals are sandwiched between a hard internal ring and a softer external ring glued to your drysuit so you can change broken seals in minutes not days. Carrying spare seals in your bag is easy and can save a dive even when you’re off shore on a boat as you only need a simple tool to swap seals over.
I’ve now been diving with silicone seals on my drysuit for a few years now and I will find it very hard to go back. The ring system that I first thought would be cumbersome is unobtrusive in the water and allows the quick fitting of drygloves to keep your hands dry and warm during the dive and the benefit of swapping broken seals quickly without using any glues far outweighs any bulk.
More and more now I’m seeing a range of dryglove systems at dive sites that fit almost any drysuit which is an added benefit of rings. Silicone can also come in a range of shapes and colours instead of standard black. The design of some neck seals adds a bellow so you can move your head around without breaking the seal. Bright colours are a great way to personalise your suit and stand out of the crowd, especially for Instructors so your students aren’t just looking for a diver all in black.
The first drysuit I owned had neoprene neck and cuff seals and I knew little else. They were pretty robust and comfortable, neoprene is good at spreading the pressure over a wide area so you don’t end up with the latex love bites but I did find that getting the right size can be tricky.
Neoprene does stretch but nowhere near as much as latex or silicone so they can be harder to put on and the glideskin sticks to your skin so you need to lubricate to get them on. The glideskin is great at sealing against your skin but is quite fragile so you have to be careful pulling it on or it can tear.
Ripped neoprene cuffs can be easily fixed with AquaSure if the rip isn’t too catastrophic, I dived for months with a repaired seal after I put a nail through one of my cuffs.
The popularity of silicone seals has seen a rise in the number of dry glove and ring systems for quickly changing seals and fitting dry gloves.
Dry gloves work much the same way as your drysuit itself by trapping a layer of air around your hands to insulate them. They need watertight seals to keep the water out and a internal glove like an undersuit. I prefer dry gloves because you can wear a thinner glove and stay warm for better dexterity on longer or colder dives.
Dry gloves range from simple gloves with integrated seals like Santi’s or Scubapro’s to a vast array of ring systems like the Kubi, Ultima or Magic Ring systems. Gloves with integrated seals can be worn with any drysuit really as long as the seal can create a good seal around your wrist. Ring systems usually have two rings, one that attaches to your suit and one that attaches to your glove, bringing the two together integrates the dry glove onto your drysuit. Ring systems can usually only be fitted to thinner seals like latex and silicone even if you don’t have rings fitted to your suit.
Ok, so I’ve dived with all different types of seals and a few dry glove systems, all seals will do their job but over time my silicone seals have fared the best but latex are a strong contender still.
Storing latex seals for long periods and exposure to certain chemicals and even healthcare products can cause them to degrade, become tacky and eventually fall apart needing to be replaced. Un-bagging my old suit after the winter period I found the latex neck seal was stuck together and soft enough you could pull chunks out of it easily after a couple months in storage.
My neoprene seals worked pretty well, my neck seal had a tendency to leak a bit and I put a finger through a cuff once that was easily fixed with some Aquasure but they were pretty tough overall. Probably the hardest to put on and take off but they were comfortable once on.
Silicone seals in my opinion are the most comfortable and are the most practical. To this day I haven’t had any problems with silicone seals tearing or rings failing so maybe I’m just more careful than others online. I’ve never had a love bite from them and I haven’t had any problems with the seal being too tight in one area like latex.