In the southernmost tip of the continental United States lies an archipelago of islands blessed with turquoise waters and a kaleidoscope of marine life – Key West, Florida.

As one of the world’s premier destinations for snorkeling, Key West enthralls underwater explorers with its vibrant coral reefs and diverse sea creatures.

A frequent question that first-time and even seasoned snorkelers ponder is, “Do you need a wetsuit to snorkel in Key West?

This comprehensive article, taking into account various elements like the tropical water temperatures, personal comfort levels, and protective factors, aims to provide a well-rounded response to this query.

Quick Answer

  • Requirement Of A Wetsuit: Generally optional, dictated by personal preferences, water temperature, and protective needs
  • Water Temperature Range: Typically falls between 69°F (21°C) in winter and 86°F (30°C) during summer
  • Additional Considerations: Sun protection, potential jellyfish encounters, and guarding against abrasion from underwater surfaces

Unpacking The Wetsuit Question

The decision to don a wetsuit while snorkeling in Key West is influenced by several factors, including the season, individual comfort levels, and other protective needs.

It’s not a one-size-fits-all answer but rather an exploration of several key components.

Seasonality & Personal Comfort

Key West is known for its tropical climate, resulting in warm sea temperatures throughout the year. Specifically, water temperatures generally fluctuate between a low of approximately 69°F (21°C) in the cooler months to a high of around 86°F (30°C) at the height of summer.

Although these temperatures may seem inviting, and typically above the comfort threshold for most, it’s crucial to remember that extended time spent in water, even if warm, can cause a decrease in body temperature.

While a wetsuit isn’t usually necessary for snorkeling in Key West, individuals who are more sensitive to cold or those planning longer snorkeling sessions might opt for one.

For instance, during the cooler winter months or for snorkeling outings that extend beyond an hour, a thin, shorty wetsuit may offer the extra warmth necessary for a more enjoyable experience.

Protection Beyond Warmth

Beyond merely providing insulation, wetsuits serve as a protective barrier that can enhance safety and comfort during snorkeling adventures.

Among the additional benefits are sun protection, safeguarding against potential jellyfish stings, and preventing abrasions from corals or other underwater surfaces.

Florida’s sunshine is famously intense, and prolonged exposure can result in sunburn. This risk is especially pronounced during activities like snorkeling, where the sun directly hits the parts of the body that remain above water, like the back of your neck, shoulders, and back.

A wetsuit provides an additional shield against harmful UV radiation, potentially reducing the risk of sunburn.

While jellyfish aren’t an everyday sighting in Key West, encounters can occur, especially during certain seasons or in specific areas. In such scenarios, the barrier provided by a wetsuit can help protect against stings.

Lastly, the underwater world, while beautiful, can be rugged and abrasive. Bumping into coral or brushing against rocks can cause scrapes or cuts. Here, a wetsuit can help minimize contact and reduce the risk of injuries.

Exploring The Types Of Wetsuits

If you have decided that a wetsuit is going to enhance your Key West snorkeling adventure, it’s essential to understand the types available and select one that suits your needs best.

Full Wetsuits

Full wetsuits, also known as “Steamers,” cover the entire body, including arms and legs. They come in varying thicknesses, usually between 2mm and 6mm, with thicker suits designed for colder conditions.

Given Key West’s warm waters, a full wetsuit would be overkill for most of the year. However, if you tend to get cold easily or plan to snorkel for extended periods, a thin full wetsuit (2mm) might be your preferred choice.


Shorties, as their name suggests, are shorter versions of the full wetsuit. They cover the torso, upper thighs, and upper arms.

These are a popular choice for warm water environments like Key West as they provide a good balance of warmth, protection, and freedom of movement.

Spring Suits

Spring suits are a variant of the shorty, typically with full-length arms but short legs. These suits are another viable option for Key West, providing more warmth and protection for the upper body, which can be beneficial if you’re sensitive to cooler temperatures or worried about sunburn on your arms.

The Role Of Neoprene

No discussion about wetsuits is complete without mentioning neoprene, the synthetic rubber that gives wetsuits their distinctive characteristics.

Neoprene has small, closed cells filled with air that provide insulation by reducing the rate at which heat is lost. Thicker neoprene offers more insulation, but at the cost of flexibility and weight.


In essence, while you don’t necessarily need a wetsuit to snorkel in Key West due to its warm, tropical waters, it can be a beneficial accessory depending on personal preferences, comfort needs, and safety considerations.

If you choose to don a wetsuit, ensure it fits well and aligns with the water conditions during your visit.

Whether you wear a wetsuit or not, remember that the most crucial aspects of snorkeling are safety and enjoyment.

Equip yourself appropriately, respect marine life, and savor the captivating world beneath Key West’s waves.


  1. “Water Temperature in Key West” (
  2. “Florida Keys Dive Center: Wetsuits” (
  3. “Wetsuit Thickness Guide & Temperature Chart” (
  4. “Sun Safety in Florida” (
  5. “Jellyfish Safety Tips” (
  6. “Types of Wetsuits” (
  7. “Guide to Neoprene” (