A common dive saying states that there are two types of divers: those who pee in their wetsuits and those who lie about peeing in their wetsuits. But you can add two more types of diver to that list: those who pee in their drysuit — hygienically via a p-valve — and those who hold it at all costs. What is a drysuit p-valve and how does it work? Here’s a broad rundown of p-valves how to use them.
What is a p-valve?
Numerous companies supply p-valves. The idea behind them is actually fairly simple: a one-way valve attaches to the drysuit’s upper leg. Connected to the valve on the inside of the suit is a tube that attaches to your genitals — for men via a condom catheter; for women via a cup-like device or via an internal catheter. When you have to go during a dive — in theory, at least — your urine should travel neatly down the tube and out of your suit via the valve. For men the process is pretty straightforward, but sadly for women the end result is a little harder to achieve. For both sexes, execution requires careful preparation.
Application for men
The condom catheter is similar to a standard condom but a little thicker, and with a small open tube at the end. They can be made of silicone or latex. Silicone is generally more comfortable, but everyone has his own preference. The catheter rolls onto the penis and attaches via a medical adhesive at the base to keep it in place and prevent any “seepage.” There are a few things men should keep in mind when using condom catheters.
Keep the area clean
Make sure to clean the area where you’ll glue the catheter — in other words, remove any hair that could get trapped. A little bit of grooming can go a long way, as the last thing you want is for the glue to become unstuck during the dive. Roll the catheter on just as you would a normal condom, and when you do so, try not to get any air bubbles and wrinkles where the glue is. Also try not to have too much space at the end where the open tube is. This can create a bottleneck for the urine, which can add pressure in the system. This increases the likelihood of the glue failing and the catheter coming off.
Use the right size
Make sure to use the correct catheter size. Suppliers provide size charts as PDFs that you can download, print out and compare to your anatomy. This is not the right time to be asserting your manliness to the world. Be honest about the size that you need. It’s a good idea to get a few catheters of different sizes and try them on, remembering that things tend to shrink in cold weather.
Attach the p-valve securely
Once the catheter is on and comfortable, attach the p-valve tube securely as far as it will go. Take time to route it so that it has no kinks or sharp bends that could cause kinks or become uncomfortable if you get a drysuit squeeze. Your underwear choice can come into play too. Choose something with an opening for the tube that will also allow less-restricted movement of urine. The same goes for your undersuit. Some have a hole already, but you may need to fashion one where you route the tube.
Know how to remove it
Keep in mind that you have glued something to yourself. When you take it off, it can make your eyes water a little — this may be an understatement. You can buy adhesive removers, and some manufacturers suggest using warm, soapy water to help loosen the glue. But the most basic method is to treat it like a Band-Aid and rip it off quickly. Try doing it slowly and you will quickly see why quicker is better.
Products for women
Manufacturers have not been as successful in creating p-valves for women that are as easy to put on and use as for men. There are two options — internal catheterization or an external device. The mechanics of internal catheters require much more detail than there is space in this article. External p-valves are more difficult to fit and use for women because it’s challenging to get a good anatomical seal. There are a few brands of p-valve available, but the She-P seems to be widely regarded as the easiest to use and most reliable. The latest model is made of soft silicone with a reservoir that is designed to fit and create a better seal than previous iterations.
Balanced and unbalanced
A balanced drysuit p-valve means that the pressure inside the tube equalizes during the descent and throughout the dive. An unbalanced valve means that as you descend, the air in the tube will compressed as with other air spaces. If you don’t equalize you will feel a squeeze in the place that attaches to the tube, which can be unpleasant — there’s that understatement again. You’ll need to get things started by filling the tube before you descend: consider yourself warned. For women things are even worse with unbalanced valves. The same effect occurs with external p-valves, but with internal catheters salt water can directly enter the bladder. Women will want to choose a balanced p-valve.
Make no mistake — the first time you use the p-valve, you’ll think that it’s failed and that you are filling the inside of your drysuit. This feeling is normal. At worst, you actually are, and you’ll need to revisit all of the above for your next dive after washing everything. At best, everything worked well and you’ll be pleasantly surprised when you get out of the drysuit.
Do not cut corners with personal hygiene if you intend to use a p-valve. You must thoroughly clean the p-valve after every dive as well or you risk contracting some very unpleasant urinary tract infections. There are many disinfectants available, which you can apply using a small plastic syringe or funnel.
When to buy
This depends on many factors. What kind of diving are you doing? If you’re mainly shore diving, you may be able to last without needing to go. If you will be diving on a boat, there may be a toilet on board. But if you will be kitting up, getting on a RIB or zodiac, and then sitting there in your drysuit for however long it takes you to get to the dive site, you might want to get a p-valve. Similarly, technical divers find that longer dives mean they can’t just hold it in. If you have any inclination toward rebreather diving, consider whether you can wait up to four hours before visiting the bathroom.
Also consider decompression stress. Many drysuit divers don’t hydrate properly before diving because they are worried about needing to go once in the suit. Dehydration increases your risk of decompression sickness, so avoiding hydration is not a sensible approach.
If you’re considering buying a new drysuit, get a p-valve added. The extra cost is small in relation to how much you’re paying for the suit. It’s far better to let the professionals fit one rather that doing it yourself and messing it up. Even if you already own a drysuit it’s easy for a professional to retrofit one to it. It’s always better to have a p-valve and not need it rather than the other way around.
Using any type of drysuit p-valve — male or female — will require lots of care, as well as some trial and error. Follow the manufacturer’s recommendations and search the internet for additional advice on how to fit one correctly. It can be intimidating to learn how to effectively use a p-valve, but manufacturers and suppliers can help make things clearer for you. Talking to someone who already owns one could also save you a lot of stress and potential embarrassment. Like most things, you’ll get better with practice and the advantages are clear to anyone who’s been caught out by the need to go when they can’t get out of their drysuit.