Cozumel Divers’ Guide to Wetsuits and Thermal Protection

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Diving in Cozumel throughout the year, my need for neoprene varies greatly but I always wear a wetsuit, and some key thermal accessories I’ve come to rely on over the years. 

No matter the water temperatures when scuba diving, and level of thermal dive garments I need, I also always wear long sleeves, long pants, and a hood of some kind. 

Many divers in Cozumel’s warm water diving conditions are comfortable in super light garments, while others tend to get a little cold after only about 40-45 minutes at depth, even during the warm season. 

Most scuba divers in Cozumel wear wetsuits and tend to opt for full-length 3mm-5mm wetsuits, light hoods, and booties in the cooler diving season months of December through May, and shift down to 2-3mm wetsuits and fewer thermal layers or accessories during the warmer months of June through November. 

Caribbean diving offers relatively warm temperatures all year long, though, so your own body tolerances and the number of consecutive dives planned should determine the appropriate thermal protection you’ll need.  

Depending on the month you’re planning your dive trip to Cozumel, I’ll recommend a few different wetsuits and thermal scuba gear and accessories to add to your packing list. 

*Some of the links to my favorite dive gear below are affiliate links, where I may receive a small % commission for referrals, at no extra cost to you. These are items I use and recommend, with honest pros and cons listed where appropriate.

Some Cozumel Divers Just Don’t Get That Cold

First off, I know there will be a chorus of experienced Cozumel regulars who are happy as a clam diving here– at any time – with a shorty wetsuit or even just swim shorts and a rash guard top. 

I so wish I could do that comfortably, still. I really do. 

And for many, of course, it makes perfect sense.  

Diving in Cozumel is nice and warm.  The absolute coldest water temperatures we experience are from January through March when the water can fluctuate from about 80F/26C only down to about 77-78F/25C.  

And that’s pretty darn warm, for sure. (another of the may reasons in this full overview of why Cozumel is such a great place to dive!) 

Plus, many folks are coming here in the winter from the frigid regions of Canada, the U.S., Mexico City, the U.K., and from all over!  Getting away from the cold and snow, you’ll feel plenty warm in the sunny heat of Mexico and the Caribbean’s nice warm diving temperatures.

Unfortunately, many other divers simply have slightly lower core temperatures and/or lower tolerances for being cold while diving. 

We may have compromised body heat – be it from lots of consecutive dives, older age, a gradual loss of bone density, different body type or composition, a slightly lower natural temperature, or just a dislike for being even the slightest bit chilly.  Who knows?

The real point is, it’s not a contest.  We should all just wear what we need to wear to truly stay warm and comfortable. 

Don’t forget, being chilled on a dive is not only uncomfortable, but according to DAN it can also be dangerous.

Feeling chilled when scuba diving adds unnecessary stress as a baseline condition, which in turn could make you a little less able to handle other potential issues that may arise during your dive.  

We all know from our training that adding any unnecessary stressors is never a good idea. 

So recommendation #1 – don’t be a hero.  

If you are comfy cozy in a bathing suit and rashie, go for it. 

I’m never way too warm on any dive, and if I were, I could always flush a little cool water into my warm-water wetsuit. You’ll pretty much always find me covering my arms and legs and head, preventing any jelly stings, and staying as warm as possible. Done.

Other Reasons to Wear a Wetsuit While Diving in the Caribbean 

Wearing a wetsuit is pretty standard in diving, and mostly we do it for thermal protection. Scuba divers need to make sure our core body temperature doesn’t dip too low as a result of being submerged in water that is colder than our internal body temperatures. 

There are other reasons to wear a wetsuit while diving, too. 

The main one is to protect your bare skin from minor irritants that could be floating in the water column – namely, translucent and perhaps even microscopic organisms, like jellyfish, etc., that could cause a sting or other irritation on your skin.  

In Cozumel, the diving visibility is incredibly clear most of the time, but you still can’t always see the clear or tiny little critters being carried by the current.  

Every now and then I feel a weird point of stinging on my face or hand, and am grateful that I’m pretty well covered up, otherwise.  

(I also keep a small tube of this reef-friendly sting gel in my dive kit, just in case.) 

It’s a good idea to wear long pants and long sleeves to protect you from brushing up against any fire coral, or certain marine life that might sting – but that also might be camouflaged so you don’t see it until it’s too late.  

Now, of course, we should never be close enough to the coral reef or the sandy bottom to touch anything, especially in Cozumel’s protected national marine park.  

However, it’s also true that accidents happen, especially with new divers. 

Plus, sometimes the ocean current here can be quite swift and it can change direction suddenly, even on rare occasions creating a forceful ‘down’ current.  So even among the best of us, there are times when you may very inadvertently come in contact with fire coral or other prickly surfaces.  

The very first order of business? Be sure you have DAN diving accident and travel insurance. Just do it.

As I’ve always been taught – and repeatedly reminded over the years of seeing an array of dive-related injuries here and there – your DAN membership card is your most valuable piece of dive equipment. And frankly, it’s a steal! If you don’t yet have DAN dive insurance coverage, please use this affiliate link and sign up now.

“Better safe than sorry” pretty much always gets my vote. But this one is an absolute no-brainer.

Best Wetsuits for Cozumel’s “Winter” Season

The high tourism season in Cozumel is traditionally from December through March. That is also when we start getting some of the coolest water temperatures of the year, bottoming out at around 77-78F/25C. 

After a few consecutive dives at 77 degrees, your core temperature will likely have a tougher time bouncing back.  

Also, if you want to add in a night dive or two, or an extra tank here and there, chances are you’re going to want to step up to a warmer wetsuit.

You could also just have a hooded vest or warmer socks waiting in the wings, as the days (or weeks) move along, so you could add thermal layers to your dive kit, as needed.

Nurse shark crusing in front of a SCUBA diver in Cozumel.
Atlantic nurse shark and diver in Cozumel

By December I’m already in a full 5mm wetsuit and have broken out my heavier hood, socks, and am starting to rotate in my Frogskin hooded vest (similar to Lavacore, but better IMO) or a 2mm neoprene vest to layer underneath.  

By late January, I gear up with socks, a cozy hood, and my 5mm Henderson thermoprene-pro (which is, btw, the MOST comfortable wetsuit I’ve ever worn in my life – read on for more specific product picks), and sometimes even my battery-powered Thermalution heated tank top!

Yes, I get some light ribbing from folks who’ve just arrived from the snowy lands of the Northern US or Canada. 

As stated above, that’s totally understandable!

But also… so be it!  Who cares? There’s no shame in wearing the proper thermal protection for YOU.

When in doubt, I highly recommend packing a good 3mm-5mm wetsuit for a trip during the high “winter” season, and thermal protection for your head and feet, at least. 

And don’t forget to have the right layers to keep warm on your breezy Cozumel surface interval, as well. 

When you’re dripping wet and have just been immersed in the ocean for over an hour, the awesome Cozumel breezes can start to feel a little chilly. 

After much trial and error, here is my ideal thermal wardrobe for diving here during the winter months or anywhere the water temps are consistently below 80F/26C. 

Some combination of the following thermal dive gear items are always in my favorite dive bag

Neosport 2mm vest

This simple neoprene vest is a staple layer in my diving gear arsenal. I use it as an alternative to the Frogskin.  I also always pack it on dive trips in case I want to add a layer for a night dive, or toward the end of the week. 

Henderson Aqualock 5mm hood 

I found this awesome Henderson Aqualock hood on Amazon last year, and I’m in love.  It comes in sizes, so it fits my larger noggin perfectly without interfering with my mask, squeezing my face, or compressing my neck down.

It has super warm and cozy felted fleece on the inside and also dries pretty quickly.

All around it’s a great and well-constructed product.

And the best part is that Henderson stands by all their dive garments and offers a 10-year warranty – check and register at the time of your purchase. 

Henderson full 5mm Thermoprene Pro

I’ve always liked Henderson, but when I upgraded to this 5mm Thermoprene Pro, it was well worth it. 

The whole suit is very stretchy and comfy, and their size chart was quite accurate.  I’m larger on top and have average-narrower hips, and the fit is great (there is a little room in the hip and butt area, but not enough to make me colder). 

The interior material is a little vulnerable to abrasion from the suit’s own strong velcro closure tab, but I’m relieved to report that it’s still holding up really great after about a year (and counting) of heavy use.

It also dries really quickly for a 5mm. 

Women: I’ve also read hundreds of happy reviews of the Bare Evoke suits, and it sounds like they’re a little better for those of you with narrower shoulders and smaller waists, perhaps. I’ve never tried one, so I can’t personally vouch for it, but it is an extremely popular choice among many social media groups for female divers. Worth a look!

Me in my 5mm full suit with hoods and socks on.

Henderson full Greenprene wetsuit

Even though I love the Thermoprene Pro line a lot, I was still kind of chilly this past Feb and March whenever I was in the water a few days in a row. So I really took notice when a trusted friend had the new Henderson eco-friendly Greenprene suit – and raved about it.

I intend to try one this year, so I’ll update this when I’ve had a chance.

I feel a LOT better about the non-petroleum-based materials, too. So, an extra shout-out for innovation behind the Henderson Greenprene wetsuits.

Take a look at the Henderson YouTube video (here) explaining the completely petroleum-free manufacturing process.

Sounds like they’re even careful regarding the packaging, as they mention shipping it out with more environmentally conscious packaging, using little to no plastic, soy inks, recycled paper.  I’m loving it. 

That video review in the link above also happens to feature one of my UW photography heroes, Stephen Frink, so…I’m impressed. And happy to support the cause.

I can’t wait until Henderson adds more thermal diving garments to this petroleum-free product range. 

Great Light Thermal Gear for Diving in Cozumel’s Warmer Season

Ahhhhh, the warmer months in Cozumel are HOT on land, but the diving is terrific. 

You can definitely ease off on the thermal! No more bulky layers, and a much lighter dive bag

No matter how warm the water is, I’m still never really hot by the end of a nice looooong drift dive in Cozumel, so I stick with the long pants and long sleeves.

During the hot days from June through October, I usually reach for a long-sleeved shorty wetsuit with simple leggings or running tights underneath. 

Me in my longsleeved ‘shorty’ wetsuit and beanie hood.

I also thoroughly dry and store that more substantial hood for next winter and swap in my favorite light beanie hood

This is my own tried and true summer Cozumel diving wardrobe, so hopefully it’ll help give you an idea of what you might want to bring along.

Any old socks, or my Lavacore socks for a little padding and warmth

If I’m doing a shore dive, I will bring light booties or some aqua-socks I have with little grippies on the soles.  Otherwise, an old pair of Lavacore or other dive socks, or even just a pair of cotton ankle socks will do. 

Ideally, I like to just go barefoot in my Cressi Reaction Pro full-foot fins when it warms up, but sometimes I need a little extra protection or padding. 

NeoSport (also from Henderson) long-sleeved shorty wetsuit in 3mm or 5mm

I copied one of my old mentors on this long-sleeved-shorty wetsuit vibe, and I’ve done so ever since. 

Donning this suit could not be easier, especially thanks to the front-zip.  

I can wear anything under it, too – like the thin neoprene vest in the transition months, and whatever diving pants or leggings I have around. It’s all way easier and lighter to stash in my gear bag and wash out and dry at the end of the day.  

Any old leggings or running tights

Just look for ones you like that are more on the “quick-dry” side, as they’re just lighter and easier. I’d look for running gear on sale at TJ Maxx or something – or at Chedraui if I’m in Cozumel. 

A good tip you probably know: the lack of “diving brand” logos usually means a little less $$. 

In the photo, above, I am wearing this pair from Amazon (just in a slightly different pattern).

Aqualung Hot-Head beanie hood (with velcro chin strap)

I’ve gone through 2 or 3 of these beanie hoods over the last…12 years?  I wear the thing every day for about 8-9 months out of the year. 

All I can say is I hope they never stop making it, though there are other great ones on the market. (It’s also THE best and easiest thing I found to finally keep my hair tamed and out of the way under water, no matter what haircut I have at the time). 

When the Cozumel water temps are extra-warm, this modified kit of lighter thermal dive gear is so much easier and less bulky, I love it. 

Remember: Please try to hit up your local dive shop to try wetsuits on for size and to support your LDS.

The Scuba Surface Interval Stay-Warm Kit Advice

Most scuba diving in Cozumel consists of two-tank boat dives, where you go out in the morning for your first dive, and then stay on the boat or a nearby beach during the surface interval, and then immediately suit back up for dive #2. 

On a clear sunny day, the surface interval may be a perfect time to take off your wetsuit and let the sun warm you up for a little while, though without exposing yourself to too many tropical UV rays.  

But in Jan-March, especially, it may also be the time to throw on your diver’s boat coat and a warm fleece or knit hat – especially if it’s a little cloudy and/or windy that day.  

Most of the time, Cozumel’s weather is spectacular, but packing for diving is all about anticipating potential problems and heading them off at the pass, right?  

Often it’s the surface interval that really gets divers chilly, here, especially when they haven’t packed a light rain jacket (see below) or a handy swimmers’ towel or anything dry for in-between dives. 

In that spirit, I also recommend you throw a few of these goodies in your gear bag

A good, light rain jacket

I have tried many, but these two are my current favorites:

This extremely nice one from Marmot is pricey, but after years of cheap-os, splurging on this was like finally getting that new car that won’t break down or those really good shoes.

It’s now my go-to for a really rainy-looking day. I got it after getting tired of the many other lesser models’ zippers failing and coatings wearing off, and then having to replace it which is definitely NOT the eco-friendly choice.

For a few extra bucks, I’ve had this jacket in my gear bag for two years and counting, and I’m just committed to taking better care of it. I rinse the zippers in fresh water every few days and make sure they stay clean and clear of any salt spray. (try gliding an old chapstick over all your zippers, as well, to help prevent salty build-up, and keep them working smoothly.)

This other cool waterproof jacket is my more utilitarian version, though, and I love it.

Look for a truly waterproof jacket with lots of good vents and pockets and cinchers. I use this on days that I do not expect any serious weather (though it’ll work just fine if that happens…I just trust the other one a teeny bit more for serious rain.) 

A light fleece shell or flannel shirt 

These days, I really like to use a button-up fleece shirt or a chamois shirt.

Why?  No zippers!

Zippers and Cozumel really don’t mix well over time, so I now often look for garments with buttons, instead.

Fleece shirts, or better yet one of those light-mid flannel shirts hanging in your closet already, are warm and just cozy enough, even if they get a little wet. They’re also as light as a feather for the dive bag.

A good sun-protective camp shirt

Camp shirts or fishing shirts are high SPF layers that are awesome all year round, and a key thing to pack on any trip.

Unlike T-shirts or rashguards, they protect your neck and chest from the strong sun. Plus, they’re light and they dry super fast. 

Having a couple of these in my bag is a MUST when I travel for diving now, too – or really anywhere I might get caught out in too much sun.  

They’re also a great layer for throwing in the other direction – as in, if you get caught in strong air-conditioning – like on the plane, or in a restaurant or museum.  

This Columbia convertible long-sleeve style is one of my favorites. I must have about 5! It comes in a huge array of cool colors via Amazon, and is a great travel piece no matter where you’re headed.   

Good hat for sun and water

Preferably find a waterproof or quick-dry hat, and extra points if it has a neck flap for effective and reef-friendly sun protection (usually removable/retractable). Otherwise, just rely on your favorite baseball cap.  

I have this exact hat for diving and dive travel, and love it because it is small, light, dries super fast, and the neck sun shield can be fully removed when you don’t need it, and easily reattached when you do.

In the winter, I’ll also bring a knit or fleece beanie hat with me on the boat to really warm up and preserve core temp during the surface interval. 

Do We Need Wetsuits in Cozumel? 

As a general rule, yes, most of us do. 

Cozumel is a really nice warm place to vacation, and a nice warm place to scuba dive.  

But many divers still get chilly after several days of repetitive diving, and it’s always better to err on the side of too warm than too cold, especially when it comes to diver safety

Most Cozumel regulars (including local divemasters) dive in a 2-3mm wetsuit in the Summer months, and upgrade to a 3mm-5mm long suit in the Winter months.  

Cozumel Scuba Diving Water Temperature Ranges:

Generally speaking, we have great diving conditions all year

  • The water temperatures in Cozumel range from about 83F/28C during our Summer months – so, from about July through September. 
  • Then diving water temperatures go down just a touch to about 78F/25C in the coldest few months – usually February-March.  
  • Aside from those two ends of the spectrum, the water temperatures hover around 80F/26C throughout the rest of the year. 

There are not many hazardous animals in the Cozumel reef system, but you also never know when you might accidentally brush up against fire coral, a bristle worm, or a few small jellyfish-type critters near the surface. 

Full coverage with your wetsuit or a long-sleeved dive skin and rash guard can go a long way, not only to prevent any stings but to keep you protected from the strong Caribbean sun without introducing sunscreen chemicals to the coral reefs.

For high-quality reef-safe sunscreen, mask de-fog, and hair products, try Stream 2 Sea brand (and please use our partner code “COZINFO” at checkout for 10% off!). Strem2Sea is an awesome woman-founded company, and it has the chops and the research to back up their good name – just check out their website. 

I’ve also added a general list of recommendations (see below) for some other water-worthy items I always pack on a dive trip – just in case.

If you’ve never been here before, check out this post all about Diving in Cozumel (hint: it is always a great diving destination). 

For some new information specifically about shore diving in Cozumel, this post is for you.

And to help plan a trip here and check out all the other things the island has to offer, including all about where to find the best eats on the island, and some more of the fun stuff to do in downtown Cozumel.  

The pool is open! Have fun.

Cozumel Packing Advice: Rainy Any-Day Gear

These are top water-friendly things to pack for your trip to Cozumel (or anywhere!): 

Light, high-quality rain jacket with a hood.  (this is an Amazon link to my favorite one, but any good waterproof jacket will do).

These jackets don’t take up much room in your bag, but provide great protection from sudden showers, sun (especially on a dive boat), and can even serve as a warm layer on the airplane.  

Truly waterproof dry bag(s) for your phones, wallets, and important papers. 

All-terrain sandals or tennis shoes that pack easily, and can take you from walking around town to snorkeling in the water, and then back to lunch at a cool cafe. 

Water-tight dry box for your phone, keys, and wallet, especially if you’re diving and might find yourself on a small fast boat, without tons of protected space on board.  Look for a crush-proof box that will withstand immersion – that’s of course the worst-case scenario, but then you’ll know it’ll be absolutely fine with some rain. 

(I think of it as a pretty cheap insurance policy for my iPhone…and all the information that’s on my iPhone!)

Friendly Reminder: Don’t Forget the Reef-Friendly Sunscreen!

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