Can You Drown in a Wetsuit?

Wetsuits are a popular choice for water activities like surfing, scuba diving, and kayaking, as they provide insulation and help maintain body temperature in cold water. While wearing a wetsuit, you might feel more buoyant and wonder if it’s even possible to drown.

Can You Drown in a Wetsuit

Yes, you can still drown. A wetsuit isn’t a life-saving device, nor can it replace one. They do offer some buoyancy, but it’s not enough to keep you afloat in all situations, especially if you are rendered unconscious. Wearing a wetsuit doesn’t guarantee your safety in the water, as several factors can still put you at risk. 

In the following sections, we’ll discuss these risks, how a wetsuit works, and tips for staying safe in the water.

Safety and Risks in Using Wetsuits

Common Misconceptions

Many people believe that wearing a wetsuit can prevent drowning as they provide some buoyancy. While it’s true that wetsuits do offer slight buoyancy, they are not designed to be flotation devices. A wetsuit is not a life-saving device, so understand that you can still drown while wearing one.

What is a life-saving device? The definition of a life-saving device is a personal flotation device that can keep one’s head and mouth above the water without treading water and even while unconscious.

So in the event that you are completely exhausted, suffering from a medical condition, or unconscious for whatever reason, a life-saving device will provide the highest chances of keeping you alive until you get rescued. A wetsuit would not be able to do that, hence drowning is still a potential risk even while wearing one.

Risks of Drowning in a Wetsuit

Even though wetsuits are not life-saving devices, the buoyancy they provide is very useful, and combine that with some strong swimming skills, the chances of drowning are very low. However, let that fact lull you into a false sense of security. There are still many ways you can drown even when wearing a wetsuit.

In the ocean, you’ll likely encounter strong underwater currents, which can disorient even the most experienced swimmers. Additionally, panic can set in, especially when you’re not used to open water swimming, leading to hyperventilation, cramps, and possible drowning.

You may also suffer from an undiagnosed medical condition, or be knocked unconscious from a collision, and so on. There are still many risks that you simply cannot account for that wearing a wetsuit does not protect you from, so do not think that a wetsuit is an appropriate substitute for a life-saving device.

Can Wetsuits Increase Drowning Risk?

In some cases, wetsuits can contribute to increased drowning risks. When a wetsuit is ill-fitting, it can impair your mobility and make swimming more challenging.

Also, while wetsuits are designed to provide warmth, protection from physical injuries, and resistance against scrapes and scratches from underwater surfaces, they cannot ensure that you stay afloat in any threatening situation, such as getting stuck underwater or tangled in underwater structures.

To maximize your safety, always be mindful of the ocean conditions, the fit of your wetsuit, and ensure you never swim alone.

Preventive Measures and Safety Guidelines

Choosing the Right Wetsuit

When selecting a wetsuit, make sure it’s made from high-quality neoprene to ensure it offers adequate insulation in cold water. The fit should be snug but comfortable, allowing you to move and swim with ease.

Consider the water temperature and activities you’ll be engaging in, such as surfing or triathlons, and choose a wetsuit thickness accordingly. Thinner wetsuits, like vests, are suitable for warmer waters, while thicker options are designed for colder temperatures.

The thicker a wetsuit is, the more buoyancy it provides, which can help you keep your head above water.

Essential Safety Practices

Regardless of your skill level, always prioritize safety when wearing a wetsuit. First, make sure to take formal swimming lessons, especially so you can learn the survival strokes, as they can significantly reduce the risk of drowning.

Remember that even skilled swimmers need close and constant supervision in or around water. Wetsuits do provide slight buoyancy, but they are not flotation devices, so don’t rely on them to keep you afloat.

Always wear a life jacket when participating in water sports or venturing far from the shore. Moreover, it’s crucial to never swim alone and stay within your comfort zone – don’t push yourself to swim in rough waves or unfamiliar waters.

Dealing with Emergency Situations

In the event of an emergency, it’s important to stay calm and conserve your energy. The worst thing you can do is panic and overexert yourself.

If you find yourself caught in a rip current, for example, avoid fighting it and instead try swimming parallel to the shore until you’re free from its pull. Make sure you’re familiar with emergency signals and procedures so you can communicate your distress to others nearby if necessary.

When wearing a wetsuit, be particularly cautious about potential hazards like getting your leash tangled on a reef or being held underwater by a wave. If you find yourself in such situations, try to free yourself quickly and calmly, and signal for help if needed.

Frequently Asked Questions

Will a wetsuit keep you afloat?

A wetsuit can provide some buoyancy due to the neoprene material it’s made of, but it’s not designed specifically to keep you afloat. If you need additional buoyancy, consider wearing a life vest.

How long can you survive in the water with a wetsuit?

The length of time you can survive in the water with a wetsuit depends on various factors, including the water temperature, your body constitution, and the wetsuit’s thickness. A wetsuit can help you stay warm in cold water and prevent hypothermia, but it’s not a guarantee of survival in extreme conditions. You would also need to float on your back to conserve energy, and a wetsuit can help you survive longer by helping you float more easily.

What happens if your wetsuit fills with water?

Wetsuits are designed to allow a small amount of water inside. This water gets trapped between your body and the suit, and it warms up, providing insulation. If your wetsuit is ill-fitting and fills with too much cold water, it can cause the suit to lose its insulating properties, making you cold. To prevent this, ensure your wetsuit has a snug fit around your wrists, ankles, and neck. The issue is not that water will fill your wetsuit, but rather the pace at which it replaces the warm water inside the wetsuit.

Why is it hard to breathe in a wetsuit?

Breathing in a wetsuit can be more difficult if the suit is too tight or if it’s not properly adjusted. A tight wetsuit can put pressure on your chest, making it harder to expand your lungs and take deep breaths. If you’re struggling to breathe while wearing a wetsuit, make sure you have the correct size and that it’s adjusted comfortably around your chest area.

Can wetsuits prevent drowning?

Wetsuits are not designed to prevent drowning. While they provide some buoyancy, they’re not a substitute for a life-saving flotation device. If you’re not a strong swimmer or are venturing into unknown waters, always wear a life vest and be cautious of your surroundings. Never rely solely on your wetsuit to keep you afloat.

Are there specific wetsuits for better buoyancy?

Though most wetsuits inherently provide some buoyancy, there are specific wetsuits designed for better buoyancy. These suits, called buoyancy wetsuits, usually feature thicker neoprene material and strategically placed buoyant panels to help the user stay afloat. Keep in mind that even with a buoyancy wetsuit, it’s not a guarantee against drowning, and using additional flotation devices is still recommended.