Why What You Wear When You Sail Matters

How can you tell someone is really into any sport? They look the part, right? They have the right shoes, the right shorts, the watch, the hat, even the right undies sometimes!


Well, it is the same in sailing. Performance clothing makes your sailing experience more enjoyable because it is a matter of comfort. No one I know actually likes sailing cold. Being wet and cold not only is not fun, it can be a dangerous combination, leading to hypothermia. By the same token, getting too much sun and overheating can be an equally difficult problem. How do we address these issues? It’s simple – what you wear matters.

Cold Weather

The key to cold weather sailing is layering. Every brand of clothing out there has their layering system. It usually breaks down into 3 layers:

  1. Base Layer – designed to keep you warm and dry, wicking moisture away from your body.
  2. Mid Layer – this one is usually fuzzy and is worn over a base layer and almost always under a waterproof layer. The goal is to trap more warm air in that space to retain more heat.
  3. Waterproof Layer – An outer layer that is designed to keep the wind and the water out.

With that in mind, typically each brand also has their A, B, and C level products, especially in that last waterproof layer category. Typical differences in the levels of waterproof gear include things like taped seams, elastic or cuffs at the wrist, waist, and ankle, quality of fabric, quality of zippers, etc…It is worth the time to evaluate the benefit of the differences between these product levels based on your frequency and style of sailing.

Warm Weather

Just like being cold and wet is no fun, neither is being hot and sunburned. SPF Protection is key as is a layer that cools quickly. Spandex works well for this application and you see it in a lot of rash guards. Spandex takes water and spreads it out across the surface, allowing it to work as an evaporator to keep you cool.

Additionally, light colors and long sleeves also are very popular. Most manufacturers advertise and SPF ratings on any warm weather sailing gear. If you are cruising, you may see light colored loose fitting shirts, designed to block the sun but not hold in the heat.


While we often neglect our footwear as part of our kit, reasoning that flip-flops or bare feet are what we prefer, smashed toes and slick decks almost always prefer a good shoe.

When dinghy racing in colder weather, you may find neoprene booties or dry boots. It’s a bit of a preference issue there in my mind and possibly one of the temperature range as well. The colder you sail, the less wet neoprene really can keep you warm.

On bigger boats, cruisers or racers, the sole of a good deck shoe is usually specifically designed to be sticky on deck and not to mark up the deck. Additionally, a closed toed shoe protects your foot from deck hardware that you might otherwise smack your toes on or from the occasionally dropped winch handle.


This one you could write a Ph.D. thesis on. Cut finger, long finger, neoprene, dry glove, polypro, Amara, leather…the choices are endless. The most important thing about the glove is that they protect your hands (from working line and the cold) while still offering you the required dexterity to do your job. There is usually a trade-off in dexterity for warmth, but that is one that you’ll have to decide on in the moment. Most people I know have several pairs for different conditions.

The point of all this gear is to make sailing more comfortable. Runner’s buy good shoes…why? Because it enhances their performance and makes them able to do what they enjoy more often, with less injury. It is the same with sailing clothing. If you have gear that makes sailing comfortable, whether you are Racing or Cruising,  you’ll want to SAIL MORE!

Get our full Definitive Guide to Sailing Clothing today!

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