Wetsuit repairs

Every spearfisher wears a wetsuit, they are critical to keeping you warm, free from the harsh sun and performing at your peak whilst diving. Typically spearfishing wetsuits are of two piece construction with a hooded jacket and farmer john style bottoms. Wetsuits restrict water flow around the body where the body warms up the surrounding water and it stays close to your skin thus keeping you toasty warm. This is why spearfishers prefer open cell style wetsuits as you are most comfortable and flexible but they also conform to the body’s shape much better. When water intrudes and breaks this mass of warm water around your skin your body will become cold trying to keep your skin warm and you will feel cold. Any diver who has been cold in the water knows that it makes diving much harder as you struggle to hold your breathe. I notice I dive better in summer when the water is much warmer. The main cause of cold water entering a diver’s suit is holes or tears. Many divers overlook the little rips and tears in their suit however you will notice a great difference in your diving when wearing a hole free warm toasty wetsuit..

Repairing holes and rips in wetsuits is quite simple and easy to do for the average diver. However there have been some pretty dodgy attempts such as drowning the hole in wetsuit glue and hoping for the best! With a little care and time you will be able to fix your wetsuit to a standard that will last and extend the life of your suit. The things you need to gather to make a successful repair are as follows. Damaged wetsuit, neoprene glue, aquaseal urethane sealant, nylon thread with a needle and a bit of plastic wrap. See image 1.

You should be able to get wetsuit glue (neoprene glue/cement) and aquaseal at most good diving shops. The nylon thread I use is the stuff used to bind ‘eyes’ on fishing rods. I bought a spool for $7 at a bait and tackle store, you might have to ask for it but it is pretty common. If you use regular cotton thread it will eventually rot with the seawater – no good. The bit of plastic can be anything, just to stop you wetsuit sticking together which I will explain a bit later. Now this is quite a decent rip in this wetsuit. This will require not only gluing but stitching to make it a strong join. See image 2.

The first step to any repair is to put the plastic wrap on the inside of the suit. This is very important because if and when you get a drip of the glue falling off the join it will bond to the other side of the suit, consequently you may have a very tight fitting suit at the end of the ordeal. See image 3.

Now we are ready to start applying some glue to the neoprene. To ensure the strongest bond you need to apply two layers of glue. The first coast is to slightly melt the neoprene and get it ready for the bond and give the second layer a better grip. Smear a bead of glue on the neoprene part of the wetsuit as shown. You can then use a paddle pop stick or small brush to spread it over the area evenly. See image 4 & 5.

After you have spread the glue evenly over the area to be joined you must keep the two sides of the join apart for approximately half an hour and let the glue dry. After the glue is touch dry and not tacky in any way you can then go and apply another layer of glue to the sides of the join, also keep the two sides apart for 5 minutes so the glue only just starts to dry. See image 6.

After the 5 minutes we can now push the two sides together. Starting at one end ‘pinch’ the suit together whilst keeping it flat as not to get a raised up mountain look alike join. This is where the plastic you placed inside the side comes into its own, as you squeeze the joint together and keep it flat you will be guaranteed to glue your suit together in the wrong place if you didn’t have the plastic there. See image 7.

Keep pushing the join together from one end to the other remembering to keep it flat as possible. You can push any parts of the join that are raised up back down with a little pressure from your thumb. See image 8 & 9.

Once you have introduced the two sides to each other you should have a wetsuit that looks pretty spiffy and rip free.See image 10. 
Because this is such a large rip in the suit and along a seam which is a high stress area of the suit it needs to be stitched to prevent the join splitting open. For smaller cuts or nicks under an inch you can get away with using the steps so far, stitching is probably not required. I would suggest leaving the suit to fully dry for a few hours before stitching it. Using your needle & nylon thread you can blind stitch the join. Blind stitching is where the needle enters the surface of the wetsuit but does not come out through the other side; this keeps the stitching on the outside and much more comfortable to wear. I like to double over the nylon thread just to make it a little bit stronger. Simply thread you needle and cut a length of the thread and tie an overhand knot in the end. See image 11.

As far as the stitching goes there are probably a few methods out there but I just go for the simple in one side out the other and back over method. Ask the missus and she might even stitch it up for you! When stitching it is important you thread the needle through some of the outside nylon of the suit or the nylon thread will just pull through the neoprene and have no effect. I like to go about 1mm from the edge of the glue like so. If you go much further out the join will start to rise up like a mountain range as you stitch it. *WETSUIT12 IMAGE* After a few stitches you should have something that is looking like this, a nice flat join with even space stitching. Yes I pride myself on my masculine sewing ability. *WETSUIT13 IMAGE* All done. Now you can snip the thread off close to the surface of the wetsuit. See image 14.

The final part to the repair job is quite simply, smear some of that aquaseal goop over the stitching and join. See image 15.

Have another swig of your favoured beverage and then put a good lump of spit on the end of your finger and smooth out the aquaseal over the join to make it smooth. Make sure you spit on your finger so it doesn’t stick, you’ll have a hard time getting it off otherwise. See image 16. 
Now let the aquaseal fully dry overnight before you go diving in your new hole free suit. The inside should be even and flush, on this particular repair trying to hold a camera and squeeze glue at the same time led to a few drips as you can see. Glad that plastic was there to stop the suit sticking together! 
See image 17.

There are a few things that can keep your wetsuit being tear and hole free. The first is using appropriate lube for your wetsuit. All open cell wetsuits need to be lubed up to get into. To extend the life of other suits that are metalite, goldslick or titanium lined they should be lubed up too. The easiest lube is simply a few squirts of cheap hair conditioner into a sports bottle and some water. Personal lubricants such as ansell are said to make good wetsuit lubes when mixed with water however I have never tried it. Another great product is Green Goblin, ask around the Sydney clubs and you will be able to track it down. Keeping finger and toe nails trimmed will also reduce the amount of cuts you put on the inside of your suit too. Lastly when possible get someone to help remove your wetsuit jacket (keep the hood on too!) instead of trying to do a ‘get of a straight jacket’ impersonation yourself