The popularity of sailing in recent years can be attributed somewhat to the significant improvement in dinghy sailing gear that makes it feasible to remain warm and dry in most conditions. Yacht clothing improvements have been the development of the new 'breathable' fabrics allowing perspiration to evaporate and escape without allowing seawater in.
When sailing and the weather and water are warm, the choice of sailing gear depends upon your preferences and the current fashions but more practical clothing is needed for serious sailing in cold weather and rough seas. The main sailing equipment manufacturers, such as Musto, Henri-Lloyd, Splashdown, Helly-Hansen and Gill make outerwear in a series of grades to suit small-boat racing, coastal cruising and racing or serious offshore work.
The choice of dinghy sailing gear is between dry suits and wetsuits. A lightweight 'shortie' wetsuit for summer sailing, leaves the arms and lower legs uncovered is the most suitable, while colder conditions call for a full suit and in winter use, a suit with seals at the neck, ankle and wrist.
Improvements in materials have transformed the sailing dry suit that is easy and quick to put on and offering total protection.
Previously you could not wear a sailing dry suit for an extended period because undergarments became soaked with perspiration, but with the development of breathable fabrics it overcomes this problem.
A sailing [ dry suit ] has latex seals at the neck, wrist, and feet sealing water from the body and come in one-piece and two-piece suits. Controlling body temperature, when wearing a drysuit, involves choosing the clothing that is worn underneath. Shorts and a T-shirt are sufficient in warm weather but in colder conditions, wear thin thermal clothing .
The drysuit is full of air when zipped up so squatting down forces the air out of the legs and pulling the neck seal open deflates the drysuit round your body.
Lighter material is easier to wear, but is prone to tearing so there must be a compromise with durability. Popular materials feature PVC (vinyl)/polyurethane coated nylon fabrics in the 115g (4oz) weight range. The areas in most contact with the boat - the seat and knees - should be heavily reinforced with a trapeze harness or hiking pants providing extra protection.
- When trying on a sailing dry suit, bend and stretch in all directions ensuring the suit is the right size.
- Seal guards are like reinforced cuffs and offer protection against snagging the wrist or ankle seals.
- Internal braces keep the drysuit sitting correctly on the body and if you overheat with onshore activities such as rigging, remove the top.
- Diagonal front zip allows you to get in and out of the drysuit without help. The traditional style of drysuit zip is horizontal across the shoulders and preferred by trapeze crews as it does not clutter up the harness.
Any part of the sailing dry suit that is covered by a buoyancy aid and trapeze harness will not breathe correctly. In general terms, the more physically demanding your style of sailing is, the more desirable a breathable drysuit becomes.
Variations include the [ two-piece ] sailing dry suit, which joins at the waist with two pieces of latex rolled together creating a seal. There is no need for a zipper meaning the top can be worn on its own with a wetsuit or shorts. A further variation is the combi-suit, combining a loose drysuit-style top with a tight sailing wetsuit bottom giving a trimmer fit.
- Latex seals are one size and often need to be cut down to achieve a comfortable fit. Use very sharp scissors and cut slowly round one ring at a time then try each seal for comfort.
- The neck seal will stretch when on the water and a perfect seal should be tight enough to keep out water without choking you.
- Do not be rough when pushing the parts of your body through the seals.
- Dust the seals with talcum powder to prevent them being sticky and remember that a ring or watch easily snags and tears a latex seal.
- Anything like split pins, screw ends or frayed wire on the boat can snag and tear a drysuit so wrap them with tape.
- Clean and lubricate the zip by rubbing candle wax on both sides of a metal zip, then briefly melt the wax into the teeth with a hair dryer.
- Do not store the suit while wet.
- Wash in fresh water and allow it to dry. Lubricate the seals with a proprietary solution before storing and store out of full light on a plastic hanger.
- Drysuits are damaged by overexposure to direct sunlight or heat.
A sailing [ wetsuit ] is the means of staying warm where staying dry is not an option. Wetsuits are made from neoprene and are close fitting. When totally immersed, the wetsuit allows a thin layer of water to be trapped between the skin and the suit and this warms up by body heat, insulating the body against cold.
This works well if the sailing wetsuit is a perfect fit and prevents any more cold water flushing through the layer. A close-fitting wetsuit is vital for warmth and comfort and if buying off the rack make sure of a correct fit or buy a made-to-measure wetsuit. For summer and winter sailing, different weights of neoprene are used.
With a tight fitting sailing wetsuit, the neoprene must stretch to provide maximum freedom of movement. Modern neoprene is lighter and more supple than predecessors, and laminate materials allow thinner, lighter and suppler neoprene that maintains the same body heat. The standard thickness of wetsuits are a 5mm body and 5mm legs used in conjunction with flexible 3mm arms for the coldest sailing conditions, while a 3mm body should suffice for summer use.
The stitching that holds neoprene panels of a wetsuit together has an impact on the quantity of water that can flush through. The basic form of stitching is the mechanical overlock, that punctures the neoprene with many tiny holes allowing water through.
This is acceptable for a summer suit, but is not suitable for cold weather sailing. The [ flatlock ] and [ blindstitching ] method uses a stitch that pierces one side of the edge of the panel and then is bonded and taped with neoprene glue producing a watertight join.
Neoprene is sometimes lined with lycra on the inside making it easy to pull on and off the body and may also be lined on the outside increasing both abrasion and tear resistance. A good fit at the neck, wrists and ankles is essential in preventing cold water flushing through the suit, and the zipper running straight up the spine should have two overlapping neoprene flaps or a single C-Flap folding over as a water sealant. An alternative solution is no zip at all, which is possible with the most modern flexible neoprene.
It is easier to get in and out of a wetsuit with ankle zips, but they are expensive and allow water flush through. Knee pad reinforcement built into the suit, is essential for any style of sailing where the crew works on their knees.
The dinghy suit is sufficient protection in open boat sailing to stay warm and dry and where there is no need to end up in the water launching, retrieving or capsizing. Dinghy suits are manufactured in proofed nylon featuring a separate [ smock ] with a neoprene waistband and velcro-adjustable wrist and neck closure. This is worn over [ chest-high trousers ] with an adjustable ankle closure or a pair of dinghy shorts.
Look for reinforced knees and seat for longevity, a short zipper at the neck of the smock, full length zip on the trousers making them easy to put on and off, and pockets. The fit should be loose, light and comfortable allowing thermal layers to be built up underneath. Breathable outer materials are available at the top end of most ranges. One-piece dinghy suits are also available and are lighter and more comfortable to wear at the expense of being a single garment.
The dry top bridges the gap between the dinghy smock and drysuit, using latex seals at the neck and wrists plus a deep, neoprene waistband to create a fully waterproof top that can effectively be worn with dinghy trousers, a long john or a convertible-style wetsuit.
In cold weather, thermal underwear is always worn beneath drysuits and dinghy suits. Using [ stretch fleece materials ] that are light and quick drying when wet, such as Polartec, which enables layers of internal warmth to be built up with minimal bulk. When used with a breathable outer suit, they draw perspiration away from the body and dissipates it rather than being trapped on the surface of the skin becoming cold leaving the wearer feeling clammy and wet.
For general use, the most user-friendly base layer tends to be thermal trousers or salopettes worn with a matching, long-sleeved thermal zip-top polo or turtle-neck jersey. One-piece thermal suits may offer marginally better thermal protection.
Sailing a dinghy barefoot is not recommended because there are boat fittings that bruise or cut feet and bare skin does not grip as well as rubber.
Most [ dinghy boots ] combine a neoprene sock, providing warmth and comfort, with a durable rubber sole with PVC rubber reinforcement at the heel and over the top of the foot. For warm water sailing the slip-on rubber or neoprene shoe such as the Okespor Beachsurf are light, comfortable and have a strong grip. They are cheaper than boots but can fall off the foot at inconvenient moments such as a capsize.
Neoprene products tend to have an unpleasant odour after a period of time. This is overcome by proper care by washing them in fresh water and aired or clean them properly using soap or soak them in a solution of sterilizing tablets.
Modern sailing dinghies have an array of synthetic ropes and control lines, which have a tendency to chafe the hands when heaving on a downhaul or straining on the gennaker sheet and for this reason sailing gloves are worn in all seasons. [ Gloves ] for summer have a reinforced palm a synthetic leather material, which copes with being wet and resists hardening when dry (popular materials include Amara and NASH), combined with a mesh back and velcro wrist strap giving a precise fit, with optional cut off fingers enabling exposed fingers to grasp small objects.
[ Dinghy gloves ] suitable for winter sailing pose a problem in that glove that is warm and waterproof has a tendency to be bulky and lack feeling. The solution is a wet glove, combining Amara style palms for grip and feel with 3mm double-lined neoprene backing giving warmth.
The blue sea and white water combination offers a reflective surface for the sun, making sailing trying and tiring without the aid of sunglasses. Sunglasses should block out both UVA and UVB sunlight to at least 99% and fit comfortably and securely as well as stay in position.
The wrap-around, face-hugging style is more secure with the advantage of having no protrusions that catch on a flailing rope or line. A disadvantage of these types of sunglasses is they reduce the field of vision. Ensure the lenses and frames are virtually unbreakable and if wearing corrective lenses, investigate prescription sunglass lenses.
A major source of heat loss in cold weather is an unprotected head which can be protected by a beanie-style hat made from a quick drying thermal material. These hats are resilient, offering protection against knocks to the head by the boom, and remain in place during a capsize. More extreme cold weather conditions require a neoprene hood or balaclava, but they inhibit hearing and can be unpleasant to wear.
Hiking off the deck of a small dinghy can be harsh and uncomfortable. The [ hiking shorts ] role is to provide a soft layer between the posterior and the deck using a combination of mesh, neoprene, straps and padding.
Knee pads are necessary on high performance dinghies and catamarans where the crew work on their knees needing the knee protection of neoprene and kevlar reinforcement.
The primary feature when looking for in a [ trapeze harness ] is comfort and a precise fit is one that moulds to the body. Resist buying a harness unless it can be tested on dry land. Simulating the reality of trapezing on the water is hard to do on dry land but test or seek answers to these questions from the retailer:
- Can the harness be quickly fitted and released with reliable buckles being simple and fast to adjust?
- Can it be worn with your wetsuit/drysuit and buoyancy aid and still be comfortable and easy to use?
- Does it still feel comfortable when bending and stretching?
- When hanging off a line is it comfortable around the hips and groin area?
The popular style of harness is the Nappy, featuring a full back with padded straps; padded waist flaps either side with a padded crutch strap that passes between the legs. An alternative replaces the nappy component with twin thigh straps needing to be padded well as they pass either side of the groin.
Good back support maintains a straight-out stance in a harness, but skiff-style of sailing requires a sit-up stance along with upper
body mobility. Many skiff sailors on short course racing favour the windsurfer type of harness with no upper back support. Lower back support is provided by padded foam inserts and hip tensioning points.
The load across the hips is taken by an aluminium spreader bar which spreads the load and prevents crushing. Adjustable hook height is a useful when requiring extra lumbar support. Shoulder, hip and thigh straps should have a quick and easy adjustment system using velcro or buckles the ends of webbing straps tidied away and not interfering with the hook.
Trapezing involves a lot of sliding in and out on your posterior and a tough reinforcement material such as Cordura provides durability in the seat area. Custom made-to-measure harnesses that provide a perfect fit can be obtained from specialist manufacturers.
The right clothing is important when afloat, but especially when cruising. The dinghy sailor has the luxury of hot shower at the end of the day, but the cruising sailor is at sea, sometimes in unpleasant conditions for days or even weeks.
When afloat it is always cooler than ashore and when sailing in temperate areas staying warm is a necessity. Cold reduces the ability to think and act efficiently along with increasing the risk of seasickness. When sailing it is important to wear the right clothing in order to maintain a comfortable working temperature.
To stay warm, [ clothing ] should provide sufficient insulation with a barrier layer stopping the warm layer getting wet eliminating wind
chill. Silk and wool are the best natural insulators, but so are modern synthetic fibres. Being very light and able to dry quickly they wick moisture away from the skin, keeping the wearer dry and warm.
Marine clothing manufacturers, such as Musto, Henri-Lloyd, Splashdown, Helly-Hansen and Gill, make a specialist, multi-layered clothing arrangement. This consists of a thin, light, underwear layer, over which is worn a thicker, warm layer. Either layer can be worn separately to suit different temperatures with a top, waterproof layer keeping the wearer dry. The latest designs use waterproofs made of breathable material that keep water out while allowing perspiration trapped inside to pass through. These waterproof designs are expensive, but are worth buying as they are the lightest, most comfortable and warmest sailing clothes available.
A sailing jacket for coastal use is fairly basic waterproof design whereas an offshore jacket requires waterproof cuffs, a high collar and hood protecting the head and space for a built-in harness and buoyancy, and pockets for equipment as well as reflective patches that are visible at night. Lightweight, vapour-permeable materials such as Gore-Tex were a welcome invention being lighter and flexible than the previous standard of proofed nylon but they are expensive.
Waterproof trousers should be cut high, so there no gap during any body motion at waist level between the trousers and the jacket and be fitted with ankle tighteners. There should be reinforcement on the seat and knees and a lining to prevent condensation forming on the inside of the trousers.
The popular leather deck shoes are the footwear for temperate conditions, except racing dinghies where zip-up boots are used. Make sure the deck shoes are designed for use afloat rather than fashion items manufactured from tanned leather that survives repeated wetting and drying along with rot-proof stitching.Offshore sailing requires boots with thick, well-insulated soles.
Avoid the foam rubber insole, which when wet, takes a while to dry. Knee-high boots should be the choice as short ones tend to come apart from trousers when sitting down with the possibility of filling with water.