What’s the Deal with Divers and the Red Watch Cap

Maybe this doesn’t stand out much in warm dive destinations as much but if you’re a diver in cooler climates you may have noticed a preference for red toques (or woolie caps) on the surface interval.

If not, maybe you’ve seen Wes Anderson’s The Life Aquatic and remember Zissou’s bright crimson hat.

Most of us probably associate the hat with the man that’s inspired several generations now to slip beneath the surface of the sea and go see what is there for themselves, to paraphrase Cousteau himself. For most, the red cap is emblematic of Cousteau, his adventures and his discoveries. If this isn’t familiar to you from the TV show The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau or his other appearances then try a Google Image Search for the man and you’ll surely notice the signature headwear.

But even Cousteau was not the originator of this look and its association with underwater world. Caisson workers were known to wear red watch caps as part of their uniform. Caisson workers have long been associated with diving as they gave us some of the first data regarding decompression sickness (once known as ‘Caisson’s disease’).

Additionally, hard hat divers (you know those big brass diving helmets) once wore caps to keep their heads warm. Unsurprisingly, the big metal bonnets did little in terms of insulation in cold water.