Patch a Wetsuit




About: Tim Anderson is the author of the "Heirloom Technology" column in Make Magazine. He is co-founder of, manufacturers of "3D Printer" output devices. His detailed drawings of traditional Pacific...

Here's how to patch a wetsuit.

A friend gave me this nice orange survival suit.
A coastguard station near her house threw it out because a mouse gnawed a hole in it.
They wrote "Condemned" on it which makes it extra stylish.

Here's the hole in the ankle of the suit.

I guess I'm supposed to buy eggs.

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Step 1: Clean the Wound

Pick which side the patch will go on.

Cut that top surface away with the cloth layer (if any) away so it tapers down to the hole.

Here I'm using the scissors on the "instructables" leatherman ewilhelm laser-etched for me.

Wetsuits are made of neoprene rubber foam. The little bubbles in the rubber foam make it a good insulator. The bubbles are not connected to each other so it doesn't soak up water.
Old-style wetsuit material like this has thin knitted nylon cloth laminated on both sides.
It's a lot more durable than the newer suits with cloth on one or neither side.
It's also heavier, less elastic, and less warm because the outside cloth stays wet when you
get out of the water, and then your body heat has to evaporate this water.
Modern suits are a compromise between durability, elasticity, and warmth.

Most of the world's wetsuit material comes from a single factory in Thailand.

Step 2: Wound Is Properly Cleaned Up

You'll have plenty of surface area to make the patch stick.
The tapering means you won't get stress concentrations for rips to start.

Isn't it great being a nerd?

Step 3: Prepare the Skin Graft

Find a donor wetsuit with a compatible type of tissue.
Cut a patch big enough to cover the whole wound.
Cut all the fabric off one side of the patch and taper the thickness of the patch down to the edges.
If you want to get fancy leave an area of fabric in the middle the same size as the hole.
I'm not getting fancy today.

I happened to have a scrap of neoprene from the same survival suit factory I'd gotten a long time ago.
I'm from Stearns County Minnesota, which is where survival suits come from.

This particular suit used to be secret.
The code name was "George" because it looked like a guy named George who worked there.
He must have had thick ankles.
I went to the Stearns factory and asked "can I have some neoprene scraps from George?"
They said "How do you know about George?"

Step 4: Daub Glue on the Patch

I use DAP Weldwood brand Original Contact Cement.
Follow the directions.
Don't breathe the harmful fumes.
Put it on thick enough to be glossy. Let it dry long enough. Longer is better than shorter.

I made an instant foam paintbrush by ripping a chunk of foam rubber and gripping it with the pliers of my leatherman.

If you ever want to glue neoprene cloth to cloth, you need to apply several thick coats.

Step 5: Brush Glue on the Wound

Same as the patch.
Smear it on a larger area than you think is necessary.
Be extra generous with the fabric areas.
Let it dry well before sticking the patch to it.
The directions give a range of times. Use the long time.
Don't worry, If it doesn't stick well you can try again.

Step 6: Affix the Patch

Press it down hard.
Make sure all the glue molecules on both surfaces get really intimate with each other.

You're done.
Enjoy your non-perforated wetsuit.

If the patch is in a really hardworking area like the wrist, ankle, or crotch, you can sew the fabric edge of the patch to the fabric edge of the hole. Don't poke all the way through the wetsuit.
Just sew the surface cloth together.
Any kind of stitch is fine: baseball, frankenstein, whipstitch are all good methods.

Step 7: Testing

Coached by Kenny Jensen, Caglar Girit tries out the new suit while riding a human-powered ornithopter hydrofoil in the Oakland Channel. To see more details check out the Aquaskipper Instructable

The suit works great, and is good thing to have around.
Now no-one can say "but the water's too cold" or "I don't have a wetsuit"

I don't suppose I'll rely on it for my abandon-ship bag.
It would be too embarrassing to be found dead in a suit with "condemned" written on it.

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    16 Discussions


    6 years ago on Step 7

    Good show gentlemen! This is will save me money if I find a used one in Seattle.


    6 years ago on Introduction

    I've done repairs like this on neoprene waders as well, using duck canvas coated in weldwood contact cement though because it's what I had. Haven't had any leaks yet!


    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    Yeah it should work as long as you allow the glue to set thoroughly and perhaps under a bit of pressure to get the air bubbles out. how many mm is it? I patched up my old 5mm neoprene suit like this but if its a membrane suit you may have to ask a diving shop or something.


    12 years ago

    For many repairs, you can avoid stitching by gluing a piece of nylon knit over the entire patch. For small stuff, no patch is required; just glue the neoprene together. Nice job (though the suit model looks a bit dorky.)


    12 years ago

    I have made many repairs to my neoprene waders, but nothing involving making a patch, just using wader repair goop. If I ever tear my waders a new one, this will come in handy. Underwater barbed wire is my favorite way to create a rip to practice repairing. I would also recommend scuffing up the neoprene rubber and cleaning it before applying the glue. My repairs have been consistently better after I have done this.


    12 years ago

    That suit is an 'immersion suit', or what was once called a 'survival suit'. Judging by the foot, it was made by Imperial. It's Coast Guard approved as a personal flotation device. The reason it was thrown away is because a repair is considered a modification, and the suit loses it's CG approval once repaired or modified. What is usually done in this case, is that the suit is destroyed, as in cut up so no one will try to repair it, and use it as a lifesaving device. I spent 20 years in the CG, and 15 of that was as a helicopter rescue swimmer. I pulled more than one lifeless body from the water that was clothed in one of these suits that was damaged, modified, the wrong size, or worn incorrectly. The best thing to use that suit for is the scrap neoprene that can be had from cutting off the legs, removing the flat foot part and cutting it open to form one large sheet. You don't want to trust your life or anyone else's to a repaired/modified suit. oldswimr


    12 years ago

    Gee, Tim. That's all well and good, but I doubt many of us have survival suits laying about that need patching. Perhaps you could do something that we can all benefit from, like say, how to make a Knex gun?! /tongue-in-cheekiness Actually, I've been wanting to tell you that people like you are the reason I'm still reading Instructables and I appreciate your constructive input; even if I don't have a wetsuit or survival suit.

    2 replies

    Reply 12 years ago

    I agree with Bigdawg, this is the type of instructable I come back here for. Seeing a whole lot of K'NEX guns is obnoxious, even though they are each different, due to the various colors you can make them....(more tongue-in-cheekiness) Great instructable! Keep it up!


    Reply 12 years ago

    I'm going to go ahead and third the motion. TimAnderson, you've taught us how to sharpen knives (which was especially necessary after I made that turtle-related instructable), fix battery packs, make a quick hammock, and so much more. And now, you've given us a way to stay warm when we're in hostile environments sharpening our blades to fell trees to clear a place for a hammock!? Anyway. Keep up the Instructables. They are wonderful!