Wetsuit Water Temperature Guide | Staying Warm

If there’s one thing that keeps surfers, swimmers, and water lovers alike stay in the waters for too long, it is the right wetsuit.

But, with the many different types of wetsuits our surf industry has, it can be confusing to pick the right one. More often than not, wetsuits become a compromise between staying warm and comfortable and feeling flexible.

This wetsuit water temperature guide will help you decipher the wetsuit thickness code and find the right water apparel according to your local water temperatures.

How Do Wetsuits Work?

wetsuit water temperature guide - how to stay warm in cold water

Wetsuits work by entrapping a thin layer of water between your body and the suit. This layer of water gets warmed by your body. Thus, keeping you from losing too much heat while in the water.

What traps the heat –neoprene insulation particularly made for warmth and protection in watersports.

Neoprene is made of small closed cells packed and sealed with air that provide insulation against cold water by trapping heat in. Generally, the thicker the wetsuit’s neoprene is, the warmer the suit as it has more heat-trapping insulation.

Wetsuit Water Temperature Guide

In sports like surfing, you spend most of your time in the water. You wait for potential waves, paddle to it, and surf. Consequently, it makes you less exposed to the wind and outside water temperature, unlike kitesurfing, wakeboarding, or windsurfing.

Most wetsuits indeed come with the manufacturer’s temperature ratings. However, it isn’t always the most accurate. So, the best way to deal with it is to consider the manufacturer’s marks and these few factors.

Water Temperature

Water temperature is merely just the start. Aside from it, you will have to consider air temperature. Some climates may have the air temperature relatively warm with cold water. Usually, if the air is warmer, you can go for a thinner wetsuit than what’s typically recommended.

Wind should also be factored in since it significantly changes the water and airy feel. Lastly, consider the activity you will perform and your cold sensitivity.

Colder Water Calls for Thicker Wetsuit

Neoprene provides a good layer of insulation from different weather elements. So, the thicker the wetsuit, the more protected you get. Hooded wetsuits can also be a great option in very cold water, along with neoprene surf booties. Coldwater can be very threatening to your health if you are not prepared for the elements.

Quality of the Wetsuit

A big part of picking the right wetsuit for any water temperature is the suit’s quality. High-quality wetsuits are usually double-stitched, taped, sealed, or liquid-sealed. This construction makes it harder for the low temperature to penetrate.

Water Temperature Wetsuit Thickness Wetsuit Type Destination Extras
< 42 °F / 5.5 °C 6/5 mm – 6/5/4 mm Hooded Full Wetsuit Greenland Rashguard, booties, wetsuit hood, wetsuit gloves
43-52 °F / 6.1-11.1 °C 5/4 mm – 5/4/3 mm Hooded Full Wetsuit England, Netherlands (in winter) Rashguard, booties, wetsuit hood, wetsuit gloves
52-58 °F / 11.1-14.4 °C 4/3 mm – 5/4/3 mm Hooded Full Wetsuit San Francisco, Cape Town (in winter) Warm Rashguard, booties, wetsuit gloves
58-63 °F / 14.4-17.2 °C 3/2 mm – 4/3 mm Full Wetsuit Tarifa, Spain Neoprene Top
62-68 °F / 16.6-20°C 2 mm – 3/2 mm Spring Wetsuit / Full Wetsuit Mediterranean (in Mid Season), California, Gulf of Mexico, Cape Town (in summer) Neoprene Top
65-75 °F / 18.3-23.8°C 0.5 mm – 2/1 mm Short Arm Steamer / Wetsuit Jacket Mediterranean Sea (in summer), Florida (except summer) n/a
> 72 °F / 22.2°C n/a Rashguard Bali, Sri Lanka, Hawaii, Philippines, Brazil, North Carolina (in summer) Rashguard, waterproof sunscreen

How Should a Wetsuit Fit?

Your wetsuit should act as your second skin. It should be snug with no sagging in the back or excessive bunching in certain spots like the arms or legs. Wetsuits are supposed to fit tight to keep only a thin layer of water between your body and your suit.

If your suit is loose, water will flood and flush through, making the suit less effective at keeping you warm. Moreover, your wetsuit should also fit snugly around your neck. This fitting around your neck may cause a rash, so be sure to protect yourself with a rash guard underneath.

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

The coldest water you can find is usually within 39 to 41 degrees F. This is before it turns into ice. Typically, a person can endure in such water temperature for about 10 to 20 minutes. This is how long it takes for the body temperature to drop to 70 to 80 degrees F.

When the body reaches this dangerously low temperature, cardiac arrest may most likely happen. Even before the heart stops, the muscles get weak, and it loses coordination and strength.

One of the most common misconceptions is that vigorous swimming helps keep the body warm in cold water. This is not true. Swimming in cold water will not keep you warm. Sure, you will feel your blood rushing to the skin. In reality, it makes you lose more heat by swimming.

Water Temperature and Expected Time of Survival Chart
Water Temperature Expected Time Before Unconsciousness Expected Time of Survival
32.5°F / 0.3°C < 15 minutes 45 minutes
32.5–40° F / 0.3–4.4° C 15 to 30 minutes 30 to 90 minutes
40–50° F / 3.3–10° C 30 to 60 minutes 1 to 3 hours
50–60°F / 10–15.6°C 1 to 2 hours 1 to 6 hours
60–70°F / 15.6–21.1°C 2 to 7 hours 2 to 40 hours
70–80°F / 21.1–26.7°C 3 – 12 hours 3 hours to indefinitely
> 80°F / > 26.7°C Indefinitely Indefinitely


Picking the correct wetsuit can be a matter of life and death in certain circumstances. In almost any condition, it will be a difference between being comfortable and being cold and miserable. You can always refer to this guide to help you make the best decision with your wetsuit.

FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

Q: Do you need to wear anything under a wetsuit?

A: You can wear your wetsuit without anything (other than your underwear), and that is perfectly fine. But, it is still a matter of personal preference. You may also consider chafing and rashes that wetsuits may cause. If that’s the case, you may give wearing something underneath a try.

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