In many watch buyers’ minds, “waterproof” and “water-resistant” are used interchangeably, but that is a common misconception. Not to get all, “Actually, the giant lumbering collection of corpse parts is Frankenstein’s MONSTER, not Frankenstein.” on you, but when it comes to watches, it’s crucial to know the difference between these two terms.

“Waterproof” is a bit of a misnomer because of its absolute nature. Very few watches can accurately be called waterproof because only those timepieces that remain sealed against the pressures and conditions of the deepest oceanic explorations can claim to be waterproof. The rest of the watches have to be called water-resistant, but there are levels of water resistance as well.

This post will cover how to tell if a watch is water-resistant, the water ratings for watches, and the activities each rating is suited for. Hope you brought your towel because it’s time to dive deep into the world of watch water resistance.

A surfer paddles out into the ocean wearing a Nixon waterproof watch

How to tell if a watch is waterproof

As mentioned above, only a minimal number of watches are actually waterproof, so unless you’re making a trip to the bottom of the Mariana Trench, you’ll be looking for your watch’s water-resistance rating.

Most watches have the rating displayed somewhere on them, be it the face or caseback (meters or ATMs will be the labels you’re looking for). ATM is short for "atmospheres," and each ATM is equal to 10 meters of water resistance (i.e. 10 ATM = 100M).

While it may be tempting to think that 30 meters of water resistance is safe to take snorkeling, the water resistance rating doesn’t represent the precise depth where the watch begins to flood. So, let’s look closer at each level of water resistance and assess the difference between them.

Water ratings for watches

  • 1 ATM - Virtually no water resistance, don’t even sneeze on it.
  • 3 ATM - Safe for splashes, not submersion or extreme temperature changes.
  • 5 ATM - Covers showering and quick submersion.
  • 10 ATM - Good for surfing, swimming, and repeated submersion.
  • 10 ATM + Lock Crown - For all intents and purposes, counts as waterproof.
  • 20 ATM - Waterproof to limits of scuba diving.
  • 30 ATM - Waterproof to the depths where things get weird.
  • 100 ATM - Is your last name, “Cousteau?” If not, don’t worry about it.

Watches undergo various tests to determine these ratings. Nixon puts all of our 10ATM water-resistant watches through two primary tests:

Air Leakage Test: Watches are put in a pressurized chamber to detect any microscopic holes in the gaskets through changes in pressure.

10ATM Real Water Pressure Test: Watches are submerged and pressurized to 10ATM, then removed and heated to check for signs of moisture inside the watch case.

Something to note, while watches are tested before leaving the factory, the components that make them water-resistant can degrade over time. That’s why it’s essential to service your watch regularly, to prevent accidental flooding due to a leaky gasket or crown.

If you’re wondering what activities your Nixon’s water-resistance rating is good for, here’s a handy list:

5 ATM

  • Washing Hands
  • Showering
  • Water balloon fights

10 ATM

  • Same as 5 ATM, PLUS:
  • Swimming
  • Surfing
  • Boating

30 ATM

  • Same as 10 ATM, PLUS:
  • Snorkeling
  • Scuba diving

What sets Nixon’s water-resistant watches apart?

Nixon is a brand rooted in surfing. It’s always been a priority for us to make our watches highly water-resistant, but we also go one step further to make them ocean-friendly. All of our surf-ready watches and some of our other water-resistant watches use #tide ocean material made from recycled ocean plastics. This material is not only super durable, but it also keeps waste out of the very water we call our playground. The ability to create products that stand up to the wear and tear we put them through daily while living the Nixon values of sustainability and creativity comes from our ethos, “Team designed, custom-built.” As our product designers said, “We work with our athletes on everything from design concepts and feedback from existing products to hand-picking materials and functions. We all constantly strive to improve our water-resistant watches through R & D and real-world product testing – lots of surfing.”

For watch recommendations, check out the best Surf watches from Nixon as voted by real surfers!

Water Resistant vs Waterproof Watches in Conclusion

Thanks for taking the time to read up on water resistance ratings for watches. The next time you take a dip or dive, you know what to look for in the timepiece you bring along. Oh, and P.S. even though you see cows standing out in the rain, it’s never a good idea to get your leather watch band wet. See you in the water!