What to Wear on the Water
It has been noted by the Committee that some members have been underdressed for the conditions when going dinghy sailing, especially at the start of the year when the water is still cold. Knowing what to wear for given conditions is definitely something you work out eventually, but we thought a FAQ of suggested bits of kit would be useful advice and would help keep our members safe.
I’ll try to give options for all budgets here as I realise you don’t want to spend a lot if you are just trying the sport. We don’t want to be prescriptive and price anyone out of the sport but I would never recommend sailing without a wetsuit / drysuit. In winter/spring hypothermia can set in very quickly, cloud your judgement and generate a dangerous situation on the water. Even in summer and autumn, you can become cold in the water surprisingly quickly and many sailors wear a wetsuit or drysuit all year round.
You should always wear a buoyancy aid when sailing a dinghy, we have spares at the club in all sizes, their use is non negotiable in all weather and if racing without wearing one, will result in disqualification. Dinghy sailors generally wear either a wetsuit or drysuit as described below.
Wetsuit and associated garments
How a wetsuit works:
Wetsuits are designed to trap a small amount of water between the neoprene of the wetsuit and your skin. Your body temperature warms this layer of water up and it has an insulating effect. If the wetsuit is too loose, cold water will seep in and keep replacing the nicely warmed up insulating layer, so when choosing your wetsuit you need to make sure it is fairly tight - but not so tight it is uncomfortable!
These days you can buy last years designs pretty cheaply, a 4/5mm “steamer” is a great choice in the cold, it will be too cosy in the summer though. A 3mm wetsuit will not really cut it in winter unless you purchase all the optional gear below and even then you’ll have cold days. Not to be partisan but Lomo, based near the squinty bridge in Glasgow, are a good, low cost, no frills wetsuit manufacturer. 3mm suit for £35, 5mm for £65 (www.ewetsuits.com)
Windproof outer layer
Called a dinghy cag, it stops the wind blowing the heat out of your wetsuit which is not windproof. Any cheap windproof jacket would work. Lomo spraytop £17
I wear a cheap sleeveless fleece between my wetsuit and windproof layer to keep my core warm in the winter.
Underlayer - optional
Rash vests worn under a wetsuit are another option to make the wetsuit more comfortable, you can get fleece lined options for a bit of extra heat.
You can get waterproof, fleece lined hats, Carol reports a craze for wooly hats topped with swimming caps sweeping the RS200 fleet.
Gloves will keep your hands warm in winter, but many sailors wear them all year round to protect their hands from abrasion and for extra grip. You can get neoprene gloves (wetsuit material) but that is excessive and they tend to tear on fittings, normal sailing gloves are fine as long as the rest of you is warm. Some folk wear cheap builders gloves with rubber grips. But gloves with the tips cut off allow you to manipulate shackles, untie knots and that is the route I would go. Lomo have them from £7.
Neoprene dinghy boots are best, snug fitting, no socks! Failing that old trainers will work as long as the rest of you is warm. Socks will simply get wet and keep you cold. Lomo has boots from £20
How a dry suit works:
A correctly fitting dry suit will seal in air and prevent water entering the suit. A layer of air is trapped between your body the waterproof outer creating an insulating effect. You can wear under-layers beneath your drysuit to add to this insulating effect
A drysuit is a more expensive option (starting at £200) than a wetsuit, but is very cosy - you’ll still need boots or trainers and insulating layers underneath, depending on the temperature. A hat and gloves can be useful. Prepare to sweat a bit in the summer, unless you’re wearing thin insulation layers!
Winter / early spring
Wetsuit 4mm/5mm thickness
Spring / summer
Often you are worried about being too warm and sweaty under your windproof in summer, but I’d definitely still wear it! Your winter wetsuit or drysuit may be too heavy now, but the rest of the gear can still be pressed into service.
wetsuit 3 mm or a shorty 3mm wetsuit (stops at the knees and elbows Lomo £31)
with a dinghy cag / windproof layer
gloves and hat (optional)
You can easily add in the fleece layer and hat on less pleasant days.
My personal preference is the hiking short, its a 3mm wetsuit that only covers the belly button to the knees with shoulder straps to keep it up. It lets your torso breathe, on warm days I would only wear a rash vest under my windproof layer. On colder days I use the fleece lined rash vest with the short sleeved fleece midlayer. You see a lot of racers wearing this set up because it is very comfortable, gives good movement and flexibility, it may not be great if you end up swimming often. Lomo sell the hiking short for £39. My dinghy cag has a neoprene waist band which is snug and discourages too much water heading to the unprotected chest, this combo may not work as well with just an anorak.
The water is still “warm” in autumn so a capsize is not a total shock, but the cold winds will still cut through your gear quickly.
Some combination of the above gear will suit.
Lifejackets are preferred to buoyancy aids (BA) as they are less bulky, only inflate when you hit the water and should right you onto your back even if unconscious. Having said that a BA is perfectly acceptable.
The trick to being comfortable on a yacht is layering, it is always much colder out on the water than on land. You’ll notice that sailing into the wind when your motion adds to the wind strength you are freezing, once you turn around and are heading downwind, the apparent wind speed is reduced and you are too warm hence the need for layers!
The obvious place to start are the salopettes, sailing jacket combos you see everyone wearing, they are good, but they are expensive so what could we wear instead?
Windproof! The wind is your main concern, windproof (and waterproof) jacket and trousers are a must. Under this you want layers, t shirt, fleece or soft shell jacket, perhaps both on a cold day. Tracksuit bottoms under your waterproof trousers or shorts in the warm. All become useless with the wind blowing the trapped warm air away.
Sailing boots are again expensive, trainers are fine, make sure they have good grip. You can also get waterproof socks that keep the wind out too. Garden wellies are not the way to go, they aren’t designed to grip a wet deck.
Basically you may have the gear already for walking or doing the garden just bring lots of options and your sunscreen. Your ski stuff would do the trick in the colder months, bring your hat and gloves!
One can get surprisingly cold in a safety boat, because one is moving much less than in a dinghy. Normally there should be two people in a safety boat and at least one of these should be equipped to enter the water, e.g. to deal with an entrapment incident - this means they should be dressed as for dinghy sailing and wearing a buoyancy aid rather than a life jacket. The other person at least needs to be dressed as for yacht sailing.
See you on the water!