Wetsuits water-temperature-guide-for-wetsuits

Published on February 5th, 2013 | by K

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Water Temperature Chart And Required Wetsuit Thickness


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NOTE: If you are looking for wetsuit thickness/water temperature chart for scuba diving check this article.

What wetsuit, what thickness of neoprene to choose for certain water temperature? It depends on a couple of factors and water temperature is just one of them. When choosing the right wetsuit for a certain water temperature and conditions, the main factors to consider are water temperature, air temperature, wind, cold sensitivity and activity. Lets take a look at what each of them means (if you just want the thickness/temperature chart skip this and go down):

Water temperature

This one is the main factor and the most obvious one – in colder water you need a thicker wetsuit. Obviously. An interesting fact here is that water pulls heat out of your body about 25 times faster than air! Or to be more precise – it’s conductivity is 25 x conductivity of air (conductivity of a substance is defined as ‘the ability or power to conduct or transmit heat). Basically this means that you wouldn’t last very long in cold water without a wetsuit and would die of hypothermia.

How Long Can a Person Survive in Cold Water (Without a Wetsuits)?

The coldest water you can find will usually be around 39-41-degree F/  4-5 degree C (remember the water density before it turns to ice lesson from high school?). Generally, a person can survive in water at that temperatures for 10 to 20 minutes. This is how long it would take for the body temperature to drop down to between 70 and 80 degrees F/ 21 – 27 degrees C. This is when cardiac arrest usually occurs. Even before that moment muscles get weak, you lose coordination and strength… But ice cold water is not the only one that is dangerous. Because of the before mentioned conductivity even water temperatures as high as 75 – 80 degrees F / 24 – 27 degrees C can be dangerous. Here is the expected survival time in correlation with water temperature:

Water Temperature And Expected Time of Survival Chart

Water Temperature Expected Time Before Exhaustion or Unconsciousness Expected Time of Survival
(°F) (°C)
32.5° 0.3° < 15 minutes 45 minutes
32.5–40° 0.3–4.4° 15 – 30 minutes 30 – 90 minutes
40–50° 3.3–10° 30 – 60 minutes 1 – 3 hours
50–60° 10–15.6° 1 – 2 hours 1 – 6 hours
60–70° 15.6–21.1° 2 – 7 hours 2 – 40 hours
70–80° 21.1–26.7° 3 – 12 hours 3 hours – indefinite
> 80° > 26.7° Indefinite Indefinite

Air temperature

Air temperature is a lot of times connected with water temperature. Warmer air & water in summer, colder in winter time. But there are places where ocean currents influence water temperature so much, that it can be way off from what you would expect. So there are times when air and water temperature are “out of sync”. This is usually a problem if you expect warm water in hot weather. If its vice versa and you are surprised by warm water in cold winter you can just do a fist pump :). Anyway – a really hot and sunny day can decrease the feeling of cold despite the cold water.

Wind

Wind cools the surface of your body and increases the feeling of cold. So if you use your wetsuit in wind you need a thicker one. Wind is a serious factor and has quite a big influence on the feeling of cold. Check out this chart to get the feeling what kind of wind chill certain wind strengths bring:

How wind strengths affect the feeling of cold.

Cold sensitivity

Just how quickly do you get cold? Everyone has a bit different personal aversion to cold. Usually also men are more “immune” to cold than women.

Activity

What are you doing in the water and how active are you? For instance, you can surf so hard smoke comes from your ears or you can sit on your surfboard thinking, meditating and contemplating whatever. You can paddle your raft with all your power or you can calmly float underwater while diving. An active body produces more heat.

The Chart

The wetsuit thickness chart below is not carved in stone. It is for your orientation and is a bit on the safe side, so you can stay in the water longer. Or lets put it this way – it takes into the account that there is some wind present. A few more thoughts:

  • Every person knows for himself how sustainable to cold he is and how quickly he gets cold.
  • Thicker wetsuit also means you get tired sooner because your movements are more restricted.
  • New and snug wetsuit will be warmer that an old, stretched out one of the same thickness.
  • Quality of the wetsuit definitely counts (this is why good winter suits for low temperatures aren’t cheap).

Before we get to the temperature chart I can see some hardcore surfers complaining that they can surf in a shorty wetsuit in 59F (15 C) degree water. But why would you want to? I’ve had moments when blood slowly starts coming back to your fingers that are so numb you can’t get out of your wetsuit for half an hour and every heartbeat feels like someone is smashing your fingers with a hammer. When I thought my feet belong to some rubber dummy while I was cobblestone dancing out of the water. It is a part of why I love what I do and a great after dinner story. But I will take a little water behind my neck to cool down instead of this shit every time:).

You probably also found wetsuit/water temperature charts done by major wetsuit companies. Lots of them are in my opinion not very realistic. I guess they also partly use them for marketing purposes. Like: “You only need a 3/2 XY wettie in 54F (12C) water…because this the most technically advanced wetsuit on the planet is so advanced you can sleep in a freezer.” If they are not talking about the battery heated wetsuit, then they are probably full of shit.  

WATER TEMPERATURE WETSUIT CHART

WATER TEMPERATURE

WETSUIT THICKNESS

WHAT TO WEAR

> 77 F
> 25 C
You don’t need a wetsuit, unless you usually wear a wetsuit to jacuzzi, sauna, to the beach… Warm water temperature - boardshorts
72F–77F
22C-25C
Shorty when it gets colder outside, like in the morning, evening and if it is windy. If the weather is warm, you still don’t need a wetsuit. You can also get away with a good wetsuit top/vest. Warm water temperature lycraWarm water temperature shorty
68F–72F 20C–22C This is the comfortable bottom limit for surfing in shorty. Spring suit or 3/2 full suit is better for days without sun or if it gets windy. Warm water temperature shortyCool water temperature 3/2 wetsuit
64F–68F
18C–20C
Spring suit or full suit 3/2. If you only have one wetsuit and it is 4/3 – no worries, you can also use it. Cool water temperature 3/2 wetsuit
59F–64F
15C–18C
A good 3/2 full suit is OK, but in the lower part of this range 4/3 wetsuit works better and in any weather. Cool water temperature 4/3 wetsuit
54F–59F
12C–15C
Somewhere in the middle of this range booties become necessary, at least if you like to feel you feet. A 4/3 wetsuit will work. If you will do a lot of surfing in water at the bottom of this temperature range, you should get a 5/3. Cood water temperature 4/3 wetsuit and booties
48F-54F
9C-12C
5/3 or 5/4/3 wetsuit with booties. If it’s cold and windy also wear a hood and gloves. I hate wearing gloves so they are the last piece I put on. Cood water temperature 5/3 wetsuit, booties and gloves
< 48 F
< 9 C
5/3 can work, 6/5/4 is better, depends on how extreme do you want to get. Often it is not the thickness of the wetsuit, but bad booties, gloves etc that are the source of cold. So not only the wetsuit, also the booties, gloves and hood must be thick (at least 5mm). Freezing water temperature 5/4/3 wetsuit, booties, gloves and hood

With good equipment, there is no limit for cold water surfing. With all the possible combinations people often ask which wetsuit thickness should they buy? In my experience: “If you only get one wetsuit – get a 4/3!” It is the most versatile and useful in widest range of temperatures.

Two Cold and Wet Wetsuit ‘Tricks’

Since we finished the chart with some really cold water, here are also two useful tips for putting on a cold wet wetsuit.

  1. Wet wetsuit is harder to put on than dry, not just because of the great and enjoyable wet and cold feeling but also because it sticks to your skin and it won’t go on. So to do it faster, put a PVC bag on you leg or arm before you push it through your wetsuit. Your arms/legs will slide through the sleeves like a hot knife through butter.
  2. The other trick is to have a dry rash guard in store. Put it on before you get into a wet wetsuit and you won’t feel the cold neoprene on your body.

The final trick would be to just suck it up and get over it as quickly as possible and then get into the water and catch a few while your buddies are still whining in the parking lot :).

PS: The is one more chart in this article as well.

PPS: If you find this article and char useful please share it on FB/Twitter etc… Many tnx!

Help, please share this if you found it useful…Tnx!

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47 Responses to Water Temperature Chart And Required Wetsuit Thickness

  1. Jeff says:

    I recently started surfing, mostly east coast of canada. As you can imagine lots of cold water. Turns out I am allergic to neoprene, as all the good suits are made of neoprene I have no idea what to do. Tried fleece layering no good. I found the surfing drysuit possible solution, but I still need hood, boots and gloves as the best times are when really cold. If you have any help at all that would be great.

    Thanks

    • Ryan says:

      hey man you should try the new rip curl flash bomb wet suit.. its made of a completely different kind of material. might save ya. far as booties and gloves no idea. unless ya look for something with a different backing on it. or go hardcore and dont wear any..

    • K says:

      Jeff, try also the new geoprene neoprene. its made out of limestone, maybe it will work.

    • robbie p says:

      move south my blue friend but if not drysuit and wear a wool beanie under your squid lid

    • connor says:

      Is a 4/3 wetsuit too thick for spring / fall north florida surf? It gets as low 55, but would a 4/3 be to warm for when it gets around 67 degrees?

      • K says:

        If it gets down to 55 you definitely need a 4/3. For 67 degrees water it will be a bit hot especially if you are active and catch a few waves in a row. If there are only a few days when you surf in water below ~59 then get a 3/2 otherwise a 4/3.

  2. Mike D says:

    Dude this was totally helpful. I always wondered why a froze my ass off in Cali even in the summer. ;D I had some bullshit Play it Again Sports oldie suit that fit like dogbladder.

  3. shell says:

    Cheers for this, the guide is fab and just what I need as I am soon to be training for my first open water 1 mile swim, needed some wetsuit info and now I have it! marvellous, thanks dudes
    ;D

  4. trace carlos says:

    yes the stormtrooper 6/5/4 bodyglove is awesome i trace carlos live in alaska and its my year round wet suit i kite surf and if you no what a slerpy is that what its like in the winter time in the ocean very cold but im farm in my wet suit good boots and warm gloves are key and hood ,,,

  5. Al says:

    good guide i reckon, worth investing in a thermal rash vest too. with that i am warm down to 6 degrees with gloves boots and 2mm hood.(kitesurfing) Also means you can get your summer suit on sooner and have more freedom to move

  6. TC says:

    If you need to wear a 3/2 fullsuit in 72 degree water, please go see a doctor immediately for a full physical.

  7. YeahRight says:

    I guess this guide is basically a good starting point for someone who has never stepped foot into water. You guys are playing it on the overly safe side a bit don’t you think?

  8. MooMoo says:

    I agree with what YeahRight stated. I’ve been in waters 68~ish° with boardshorts on. Round 66° was when the shorty came out. I guess take it with a grain of salt

  9. yeah-ok says:

    i think you guys went a little overboard i pull out a shorty in about 65, 3/2 wet suit u can use when its 58 or higher

  10. Michele says:

    I grew up in Manhattan Beach, Ca and water temps in the summer are between 65-68 and EVERYONE swims and boards in bikinis and shorts. Every once in a while you’d see people in half suits… but they’re wussies!!! :)

  11. Bryan Bugyi says:

    I have been surfing for a few years now. i would say this is deffinitly a great guide for a beginner. just a few flaws:

    if the water is above 70 you don’t need anything. maybe a 1 or 2mm jacket but not a spring.

    spring=65-70
    3/2=58-65
    4/3=50-62(most versitile)
    5/4=40-50

    any colder then 40f then wtf are you doing out there?!?! but if you must get a 6/5

    p.s. the bootie and glove suggestions are on the point, but the rest of the guide is playing it very safe. YOU WILL NOT BE COLD IN 70F WATER!!!!

  12. Andre says:

    Snorkeling regularly from spring time through fall, in depths usually no more than 20 feet, for the past five or so years off the cool coastal waters off Cape Cod shores, my friends and I typically use 3/2 full suits with rash suits, booties, gloves and hats of varying types to offset the numbing chill of the water quite well. We start the year as the water temp approaches 53 degrees F and go as long as Mid to late October to take in a full season of getting catching lobsters by hand. It’s a real hoot to outwit and capture these delectable creatures then have over for dinner the next couple of nights.

    Do you know how many you are allowed to catch per day?

  13. Clay says:

    is it just me or is 68-72 beyond a trunking it situation?

  14. xenki says:

    Don’t know but it is looking strange to me

  15. sux2bme says:

    ;D just went out in 40 f water and almost died…….p.s. i was bareback…cant feel my head

  16. Michael says:

    I’m a wakeboarder and I’ve ridden in 42 degree weather with a full body wetsuit and it’s not bad. I don’t wear a wetsuit when it’s 60+ It’s not that bad!

  17. jeff says:

    the temps posted are for sull submersion under the water– not surface boarding or snorkling! for the wussy coment you trying staying at 64 degree water 60 ft under for an hour and see if you don’t get cold

  18. Jim says:

    yeah..it seems like the temps are a bit on the safe side, but remember that is YOUR comfort in the water that matters. To all the chillers out there, my 5/4/3 keeps me warm in 34 degree water. :)

  19. Rob says:

    Looking back on 25 years surfing I think the guide is pretty good. It gives you a range for water temps in the context of topside conditions, which are critical to choosing the right suit on the day. Your personal cold resistance is going to depend on how much fat you carry, how active you are in the water and how well rested and fed you are on the day. If you want the most out of your time in the water, go for the slightly warmer option without unduely restricting your freedom of movement. I always take two with me and choose after I’ve scoped out the conditions. Keep ripping…

  20. Paul says:

    Honestly, the warmer you are the better you surf. If you follow this guide, you’ll never be cold and you’ll never be constricted by too much neoprene. If you wanna show off by showing people how cold of water you can stand then go for it, but it’s better to let your surfing do the talking.

  21. Carmen Tyler says:

    I was a bit cold surfing in morocco, I was in rashie and shorts, I dont need a full suit and hate surfing in them so I was going to get a long sleeved thermal rashie or a neoprene one, which is warmer does anyone know?

  22. Duncan says:

    The chart is on the safe side, but it is a lot better to be safe than sorry. Nothing worse than your feet going numb after an hour and the waves are going off.

    And I dont care how cold you can handle it. I am not trying to prove anything when I go out in 50 degree water. I am going out because the surf is good, and if the surf is good I want to be warm (not anywhere close to cold).

  23. Frank says:

    If the air temperature is 55 degrees and it’s windy and cloudy then 72 degree water will make you feel cold, and you’ll likely want a 3/2 suit (especially if you’re in the water awhile). This can be typical in the northeast U.S. particularly early morning in the summer.

  24. Kate says:

    Air temp in NY was in the low 80s yesterday, but with overcast skies, my teeth were chattering after an hour. Woulda gladly been called a wussy, but warm. :)

  25. bobby says:

    awesome awesome awesome!!! Where would farmer johns fit in??

  26. Ed says:

    Bobby, long john is about the same as springsuit

  27. Chris says:

    I work as a beach life guard in England east coast current water temp is 4 degrees c. During peak summer season it peeks at 9 to 12. We always wear a 3/2 shorty during this period, there is no need for a hood, gloves, boots and full thickness wetsuit you get exhausted after 5 mins of being in. I’ve always found rip curl wetsuits to be the best as well as I have used many different ones during my time working the beach and surfing.

  28. joel says:

    I had just bought a 2/3 full suit and was anxious to see just how well it worked so I filled the bathtub up and got the water down to about 45 degrees, I lasted about 6 min. Just incase anyone was retarded enough to try it. Thats the results your going to get lol.

    I do have a realistic question and it might be a stupid one to some, but I just bought a very nice 12’6 paddle board and really wanting to take it out, problem is I live in Denver and the water temp is 50 degrees? Outside Temp is 50 degrees as well. So heres my question, would it be warmer to just put the 2/3 wet suit on with gloves and booties and get right on the board without getting anything wet, or soak for a couple minutes to get the suit wet then climb on the board? didnt know if getting the water in the suit would keep me warmer with my body then just letting the suit stay dry??? dont laugh to hard

    thx

    im assuming keep it dry

    • K says:

      Joel, stay dry for sure!!! :) Neoprene insulation properties are not connected to the material being dry or wet, it’s just that wetsuits are never 100% waterproof (you have drysuits for that) and you always get some water inside the wetsuit. This water then gets heated by the body and you stay warm…but this is more of a consequence…not a conditions. Water pulls heat out of the body about 25 times faster than air so you are always warmer being dry than wet.

  29. Sebastian D says:

    Here’s a trick you probably didn’t know about but works incredibly well.
    I live in the south west of France and when the water gets really cold in jan/feb (11°C – 51°F) before putting on my 4/3 e-bomb I rub on some Bengay/Icy Hot on my arms, chest and legs. (+booties and gloves)
    You can surf for over 2 hours and you won’t be cold. And it doesn’t leave a bad smell on your wetsuit. Just be careful not to touch your balls or your eyes when you put the cream on cos it’ll burn..

  30. Steve B says:

    Great chart. Had to do some F/C conversion but not bad otherwise.
    Question: if I have a 3/2 full, and its 11c air, 18c water with 15knot wind, will it be enough? I’ve got a 15 min walk to/from the beach and don’t want to get sick on the way back

  31. Dan Coyne says:

    Me and the boys in Ireland be out for a few hours in 15 degrees in boardies. If your on a budget don’t bother with more than a good set of boardies unless the water temp is below 15°

  32. Gabriel says:

    Could you do a chart for spearfishing/freediving wetsuits? It is different from (above-)watersports wetsuits since you spend more time in the water, both at the surface and below and also different from scuba diving since you spend more time in the water and there is less of a pressure problem.

    Thanks in advance

  33. Manu says:

    I wonder how much warmth is kept by a (woman’s) one piece neoprene swimsuit, 1 or 2 mm thick depending on brands, with either shorty legs or medium height leg cut ? Down to which temperature may it be comfortable for swimming or surfing ? Is there so much body heat loss around shoulders and hips and thighs that there is a price to pay on freedom of motion ?

    • K says:

      Manu, a good 2mm swimsuit could IMHO be used in the same water conditions as a shorty wetsuits, somewhere down to 72F (22C). But I guess it depends on the design and cut of the swimsuit. If it’s more like a fashion type of suit with lots of holes then flushing could make it almost useless. But if it’s cut for minimal water leakage, reaching all the way up to the neck with smaller holes for arms and tight fitting, meant to keep swimmers warm, then it makes a difference.

      Also – if you are using it for active swimming, you can shave off a few degrees.

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