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What Should I Wear?

Go To: Sailing - Learn To Sail

Posted on 08 October 2007 00:00

What are the best clothes for wearing to go sailing?

Take a look in any marine chandlery (shop) or catalogue, and you'll find dozens of lines of clothes, from Gul to Gill, Henri-Lloyd to Musto, wetsuits to "technical" gear. It can all be a bit confusing, so what should you wear for going sailing?

It all comes down to the type of sailing you're doing. If you're about to do a sailing course at a local club, they'll give you some good advice, but generally for just learning to sail, some old trousers (not jeans, they hold too much water when wet), a warm top (not a fleece or woolen jumper, again they hold too much water) and old shoes will do, although a cheap pair of wet boots will save ruining a pair of shoes.

If you are looking to sail on a regular basis, it all depends on the weather. In the summer, on UK inland areas you can often get away with a t-shirt and shorts when it's warm enough. Usually though, a wetsuit is a must in the UK; while you may not be cold when sailing, when you take a swim off the side of the boat, a wetsuit will keep you warm. Wetsuits work by trapping a thin layer of water between the material and your body, which your skin quickly warms, and uses to insulate you against the cold of the water. If you're sailing on the sea, a wetsuit is a must at all times. Sea breezes can take the warmth out of the air very quickly. Wetsuits come in different types; you can get short leg and arms (shorties) or full body (steamers). They also have different ratings depending on thickness of material used.

At the more expensive end of the scale, you can get special wetsuits, with reinforcing battens (harder material) inside them, specially designed for giving your body support when hiking (leaning) out on a boat to maintain it's balance and trim. Some even come with fittings for trapeze harnesses partly built in.

If a wetsuit still isn't warm enough, drysuits are quite pricey (usually upwards of £200), but should keep you dry in the event of a capsize, since the feet are usually molded into the suit, and the wrists and necks are sealed to stop water getting in. They can be quite bulky though, and restrict your movement.

Other than a wetsuit, what's next? Splash tops or spray tops are great when the temperature drops, or for coastal areas; made out of waterproof material, they keep the water off you. They're not particularly warm though, so it's best wearing other layers underneath. When sailing, it's best wearing lots of thin layers rather than fewer thicker layers; they all trap insulating air between them.

Wet boots or dinghy shoes are best for sailing in; sandals will do sometimes, but you probably won't get enough grip. Sailing boots tend to have a herringbone type pattern on the underneath which helps with grip in a boat.

You lose a surprising amount of body heat through your head; in winter, you should wear some kind of fleecy or woolen hat, it's surprising the amount of difference it makes.

As for your hands, there are plenty of types of gloves available; some of the cheapest are specially coated with a grippy rubber coating, to help you grip ropes and boat parts, there are named brands available but cheap equivalents can be picked up from garden centres for as little as £3, or you can get fingerless premium racing gloves for around £25! Many of the gloves won't keep your hands dry, since none of them are waterproof, but when your hands are wet they will go some way to keeping the wind chill off your hands.

The final piece of essential kit is a bouyancy aid. Sailors don't tend to call them lifejackets, because that's a slightly different thing; lifejackets are usually inflated with air, whereas bouyancy aids have special padding within them that has positive bouyancy, and helps keep you above the surface of the water. You can get special air powered ones that trigger when in contact with water, but they are expensive. There are many decent, cheap bouyancy aids available, ranging from £15 for the cheap end (which are perfectly safe, from retailers such as Decathlon) all the way up to premium Gill or Gul ones for £45. Some are designed for just general use, whereas the premium ones tend to be designed more for racing, with the occasional pocket, but few things to get snagged or tangled on.

If you're still in doubt (and it can be pretty confusing) then check out our Club Finder. Find your local sailing club, then go down and ask them their opinion, and take a look around at what everyone else is wearing for the time of year and weather conditions; if they're wearing it, there's probably a good reason for it, although you do get the occasional shorts-wearer in the middle of December!

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