Should you wear gloves when scuba diving? I believe the answer is a clear “yes,” unless you don’t care about protecting your most valuable assets – and you don’t have to be a pianist or a surgeon to care.

Despite the fact that I spend most of my time scuba diving in Florida, in eighty degree water, you’ll still find me pulling on a wetsuit, even if it’s only 1mm thick. Anything less, feels tantamount to nakedness. The only time you’ll see me in a spring suit or “shortie” is in the training pool.

Story by Marc Burke, PhD., Rescue Diver

As cautious divers, many of us wear full exposure suits any time we are in the water, because we understand the risks involved. Wetsuits protect us not only from cold water but from exposure to the “everything” that is found in our increasingly fouled oceans: from fishing line and hooks, to jagged coral, to jellyfish, to dive boat ladders that bounce around trapping tired fingers as they struggle find safe harbor at the end of a dive.


Even in warm water, many of us wear full exposure suits any time we are in the water.

The truth is that our bodies are not well suited to the rigors of ocean life. We have no crustacean-like, protective exoskeleton, only a simple and rather frail pink membrane, covering soft tissue that is easily shredded by something as simple as a barnacle encrusted mooring rope.

On a recent trip to Cozumel, our dive party was reminded that the wearing of diving gloves was prohibited by Marine Sanctuary policy. Fines were being enforced for violators. I wasn’t a fan of the policy, but there was no point in arguing. When in Rome, and all that.

Ten minutes later, I was half way through a gigantic swim through, when I was stung on the hand by a jellyfish that I never even saw. As the burning sensation washed over my hand and I spat into my regulator, it was hard to accept that the pain was an essential part of the Marine Sanctuary experience. Months later, I still have those red blemishes on my hand.

The rationale for the “no gloves on the reef” rule seems obvious enough: The protection of our reef systems is paramount. But telling divers that they can’t wear gloves because it encourages touching, is like telling a child on a bicycle that they can’t wear a helmet because it will only encourage them to ride faster.

We spend a lot of time in the dive industry talking about safety. The time may have come to acknowledge that the “no gloves” rule is undeniably at odds with diver safety.

Gloves provide a critical impediment to both serious physical injury as well as hypothermia.

Gloves provide a critical impediment to both serious physical injury as well as hypothermia.

As certified divers, we deserve the right to consider what exposure gear is best suited to our environment. Gloves provide a critical impediment to both serious physical injury as well as hypothermia, and as such, are a vital part of that consideration.

Stings from jellyfish or Stonefish, and bites from eels and other marine critters, are more than mere inconveniences, they can be lethal, and each year, DAN fields literally hundreds of enquiries concerning such incidents. I know, because my call was one of them. Many of these calls, along with the pain, the hospital visits and the expense, could have been avoided, simply by donning dive gloves.

Fines may be an important instrument in the policing of our reefs, but they should be levied against those who touch, not those who would protect themselves against being touched.

It’s time for the marine sanctuary regulators to acknowledge that while divers must always maintain proper buoyancy control and remain aware of their hands and feet at all times, the real damage to our reefs is caused by pollution, hurricanes, commercial fishing and global warming — not by recreational scuba divers wearing gloves. Paying lip service to reef protection does nothing for our environment, while injuring its greatest ambassadors, our dive community.

Story by Marc Burke, PhD., Rescue Diver.

Marc Burke is the curator of, a website dedicated to helping Florida divers find and book the dives that are right for them. Comment on your favorite dive spots, plus find up to the minute weather, tide swell data.

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