BACK IN THE 1980S, I joined a diving club in London. We went off for a weekend on mv Maureen, long before Mike Rowley owned it, to the Eddystone and Hand Deeps.
My first dive was uneventful. I was wearing a 7mm semi-dry with a 7mm jacket and hood over it. I was warm enough in the water, but once back on deck I got a few smug looks from those then wealthy enough to afford drysuits .
Well, they looked smug until I climbed out of my semi-dry and put on a fresh one for the next dive.
No one likes a smart Alec, but at least I didn’t get chilled or miss the following dive. That’s the thing about semi-dry suits; they can keep you warm in the water, but it’s the wind chill that gets you afterwards. Climbing into an unused and dry one avoids that.
Years later, the R&D department of Mares made me a fantastic heavyweight semi-dry suit. It was slightly difficult to get into because the Neoprene of that time was a little inflexible, but once donned, it was very comfortable indeed.
I once wore it for a Discovery Channel shoot in the Med, and didn’t climb out of it all day. It distinguished itself from other semi-dry suits at the time by employing a heavy-duty dry zip across the shoulders.
Since then, many other manufacturers have taken to using a dry zip in the same way for their warmest grade of semi-dry suits.
Of course, the term semi-dry is a misnomer. These are wetsuits but they avoid the flushing effect of cold water with a suit that might not be a snug fit by employing seals at wrists, ankles and neck. If you had a wetsuit of similar-weight material that fitted your contours exactly, you would enjoy the same effect.
On the great misinformation highway we call the Internet, people often state that you must allow water into a wetsuit or it will squeeze against you as you go deeper, rather like a drysuit with no direct feed.
This is wrong. If there is no air between you and the suit, there is nothing to get compressed other than the material of the suit itself.
Modern super-flexible Neoprene materials allow most of us to get a figure-hugging fit, so this squeeze doesn’t happen – nor do you get very much water through the seals.
Perhaps we should simply call these modern semi-drys “damp suits”.

Nova Scotia
This year, I found myself in the Azores, at the same latitude in the Atlantic as New York.
I knew that the water would be cold, and took the precaution of travelling with a drysuit, but I noticed that most of my fellow-divers from places as far apart as Portugal and Finland had opted for these modern heavyweight semi-dry suits.
Most were using the Scubapro Nova Scotia, which is apt because the islands of the Azores have a close connection with that part of the world through their recent history of whaling.
I decided to get hold of one of these suits and try it out.
There are no zips at cuff or ankle – you simply force your way past the slippery seals.
The Nova Scotia proved to be an exceptionally snug fit, which augured well for keeping me warm, but reminded me that most of the long hair I once had was dragged out in the struggle to get my head through Neoprene neck seals. Those with shaved heads have a definite advantage.
I remembered too why I wore my suit all day for that Discovery Channel production – I didn’t want to keep struggling in and out of it. I had spectacular bladder control in those days.
The plush lining of the Nova Scotia has a deep nap to it yet feels quite slippery, so it’s comfortable against bare skin.
Panels of super-flexible Neoprene are let in under the arms and behind the knees, and at the crotch. These are the areas that you would prefer not to be restricted.
The Neoprene neck-seal can be inverted just as you would do on a drysuit. It integrates nicely with the close-fitting 6.5mm Neoprene hood supplied with the suit.
This hood has a smoothskin Neoprene seal that runs around the face area and keeps the water sufficiently at bay, but without making it difficult to clear ears during a descent.
Its interior is exceptionally slippery, and makes it one of the most comfortable close-fitting hoods I’ve ever worn.
The self-repairing zip takes quite an effort to close, so choose your buddy wisely. He or she will need to be as tall as you, with plenty of strength in the arms.
The “self-repairing” can be claimed because it’s one of those plastic zips with covered plastic teeth, so if you manage to split it open you can simply start the runner back at the beginning.
It comes with a tube of lubricant and a set of Ikea-style instructions. If you’ve put up your shelves upside-down, you’ll know what I mean.
The effect of this dryzip is to make it feel as if you left a coat-hanger inside the suit when you put it on, which is not good, but this feeling goes away as soon as you get into the water. Perhaps the feeling of a tank on your back is enough to make you forget about it.
The suit appears to be carefully stitched, and every junction of the stitching is patched with a reinforcement glued over it. It certainly doesn’t look likely to fall apart easily.

In The Water
Once submerged, it all comes right. The coat-hanger effect entirely disappears. I encountered little or no flushing and therefore stayed warm.
The non-slip sections at the shoulders helped to keep the BC harness where it was meant to be, and the same could be said of the non-slip sections of the forearms and my diving computers.
There are kneepads designed in too. These look to be rather perfunctory but as I am not inclined to kneel down while diving I never found out if they were ineffective.
I guess a busy diving instructor who kneels during teaching and using one of these suits might see things differently.
This is an expensive suit, but it’s a lot cheaper than any drysuit, and, provided you can get out of it easily between dives and get it dried, it should do the trick in all but the coldest water.

BodyGlove EX7, £300
Fourth Element Proteus 7, £354
Waterproof W2 7mm, £244

PRICE £339
STYLE Semi-dry
MATERIAL 6.5mm neoprene with Everflex stretch panels
SIZES Men’s S, M, L, XL, XXL Women’s XS, S, M, L
HOOD 6.5mm (included)
DIVER GUIDE width=100% width=100% width=100% width=100% width=100% width=100% width=100% width=100% width=100% width=100%