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Winter Sailing Kit

Here is the information that we published in the October 2019 Starboard Tack newsletter. Please contact any member of the committee, or speak to the regular sailors if you need more information.

We've had lots of questions about winter sailing kit. In the hope of prompting much debate at lunchtime on Sunday about what not to wear, here is some information. If you have any questions, please ask as lots of members have views on what works for them and some experimentation will be needed to find the right kit combination for you.

Club By-Law 22 states; Full wetsuits, dry-suits or sailing clothing of an appropriate thermally insulating nature must be worn whilst sailing or on safety boat duty between 1st November and 31st March.

What this means is that you need to be wearing kit suitable for winter temperatures. Shortie wetsuits, sailing sandals and short sleeves are not considered suitable kit for winter sailing.

Staying as dry as possible in the winter is important, once you are wet the thermal insulating properties of most clothing is reduced. Don't get wet & you will stay warmer - so launch your boat carefully & use the jetties.

Here's a suggested kit list. Buying sailing kit can be expensive but it doesn't need to be, improvise, borrow kit from other outdoor sports you do, check out the second hand boards and don't forget Santa is always looking for present suggestions.

Feet: Sailing boots - either wetsuit or the aigle "wellie" style.

  • Leave the sailing sandals and beach shoes at home as ankle coverings give additional warmth.
  • Insulation is needed inside wetsuit boots in the winter, the boots themselves aren't enough to keep your feet warm.
  • Lots of people swear by Rooster Hot Feet (or equivalents) which have a layer of aluminium to reflect heat back into the body.
  • Alternatively, warm socks and a waterproof layer - either a proprietary waterproof sock or a plastic bag!
  • Don't pack your feet so tight your toes can't waggle!
  • Keep your feet dry when launching.
  • You might need a bigger size boot to accommodate your extra socks!

Body: Keeping your torso warm means the rest of you will stay warm.

  • Thermals and insulating layers topped off with a waterproof/windproof layer.
  • Check out the under wetsuit options that provide insulation but still let the wetsuit work.
  • Thin fleeces so you can layer up & down easily are also useful.
  • A waterproof and windproof top is necessary to stop the wind chill. You can also consider waterproof trousers too, either hi-top salopette style or walking style waterproof trousers.

Wetsuit or Drysuit: Think about what sort of sailing you plan to do. If you plan to sail short races and return to shore between races then a drysuit is a brilliant option. If you plan to be out on the water for a prolonged period (eg big water sailing or squad training) think about the more practical aspects of a wetsuit (I'm not going to spell it out but it rhymes with see...).

Drysuit: A drysuit is a fully waterproof suit which keeps you dry.

  • A drysuit needs insulation underneath it otherwise it's about as much use as a plastic bag.
  • Most are now sold with a woolly-bear undersuit (onesie) but you still need to think about thermal layers underneath this and possibly an extra thin fleece too.
  • Feet will still need insulation too - socks or hot feet (or both)
  • If you don't have a woolly bear, tracksuit bottoms, leggings and fleece layers work just as well. You know that onesie you got last Christmas...
  • Drysuit feet rubber means it can be a nightmare push your feet into sailing boots, a thin supermarket fruit bag or a liberal application of talcuum powder works like magic!
  • Consider if you want the zip across the front or shoulders.
  • Save time & hassle on sailing days - dress children straight from their pyjamas into their insulating layers at home and just pop them into their drysuit when they get to the club, upon their return home they can get straight in the bath from their insulating layers (some adults are known to do this too!).

Wetsuit: A wetsuit ideally needs to be winter weight (so at least 5mm thick). A wetsuit works best once it is wet as it traps a layer of water between the fabric & your skin and this warms up. A dry wetsuit acts as insulation but is not as warm as other materials next to your skin.

  • Remember a wetsuit works best once it is wet so if you don't plan to get wet you need to decide if you are going to be warm enough and add layers if you need to.
  • Summer weight wetsuits (3mm) can be worn but you need to layer up over them - think tracksuit bottoms and waterproofs.
  • Thermal layers are now available that allow a wetsuit to continue to work, check out Rooster skins and alternative suppliers.
  • A full piece wetsuit (with arms) isn't necessary to comply with club rules but a long-john style does give you another layer around your torso.
  • Shorties are probably best left at home until the spring.
  • Consider waterproof trousers over the top to provide another layer of wind-breaking material between you and the elements.

Head: You lose up 30% of your body heat through your head. A hat makes a massive difference.

  • Ditch the bobble - it will get caught on the boom.
  • Consider a waterproof hat - there are now some slim fitting waterproof, fleece lined hats available that are popular.
  • Balaclavas are still popular for good reason - trapping a layer of warm air round your neck is just lovely!
  • A buff is a great kit bag item, you can wear it round your neck, across your chin or on your head pending the weather and it goes underneath a hat for an extra layer if needed.

Hands: Keeping hands warm is difficult, sailing needs you to have hands that work.

  • There are lots of winter weight sailing gloves on the market. Ask to try other member's gloves on before you buy as fit & feel is important.
  • A low cost option is a thin pair of normal gloves, marigold washing up gloves or latex/nitrile gloves then your sailing gloves over the top. This works fine at RSC where you are only out for 45-60 minues at a time, it isn't as good for longer winter races.
  • Hot Hands are also very popular as they have the same aluminium layer to reflect heat back in to the body but are thin enough to go under other gloves, you do need to keep them dry though.
  • A big find in our house last winter was the rooster thermafleece gloves with the mitten cover-layer, put the mitten layer over when waiting for the race to start and tuck it away when the 3 minute gun goes.

There are lots of sailing suppliers out there and there is a large pile of second hand kit for sale in the bosun's locker too - just ask a committee member for the key. Here's a list of local and internet based suppliers, there are lots more.

Mike Saul is a club member. He mainly does boat repairs but carries a range of chandlery & kit.

Robin Hood Watersports (a shop in Heckmondwike):

Ian Turnbull Rope4Boats:

Rooster Sailing (Fareham):

Pinnell & Bax (Northampton):

Trident UK:

Wetsuit Outlet:

Winter Sailing & Young Sailors: Keeping very young children warm when afloat in winter is a challenge as they typically don't move around as much. Pick your days to take them out (rain, high winds and ice on the water aren't the days) but winter sailing is quite fun for children as it's usually quieter and winds can be lighter.

  • Go for the "barrel" look with really young children, it's really quite cute!
  • Layers and yet more layers and a bright cheerful hat.
  • Mitten gloves work well as the chances are they won't be doing much "sailing" and mitts do keep small hands warmer than gloves as they are easier to insulate well.
  • Wellies are fine for winter sailing but they have no insulation so borrow a bigger pair and add 2 layers of socks.
  • The golden rule is don't let them get wet so lift them into the boat, don't let them paddle and stop them trailing their fingers in the water.
  • Don't forget to put the sweets in your pocket as they won't be able to get them out themselves without taking their gloves off.

Last updated 18:03 on 6 September 2023

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