7 Tips for Choosing Foul Weather Gear

7 Tips for Choosing Foul Weather Gear

For northern sailors it’s nearly time to start
thinking about foul weather gear

1. daysailing, coastal or offshore?

Basically, foul weather gear comes in three different grades, day-sailing, coastal and offshore.
Forget about the day-sailing gear. While it may keep the rain off, it’s not going to keep you warm – or dry. It sweats, making you clammy, and ultimately cold.

I think coastal gear is the minimum you should consider on any boat – and then only for day sailing or bay and estuary sailing.

If you go coastal cruising, please get good offshore foul weather gear. You can be in a serious storm just 5 miles offshore, and being so close to shore with all its dangers, you need to be warm and dry. If you’re cold, wet and miserable, you could make a bad error of judgement just when it matters most.

2. material, colour and such

All of the major brands use a breathable waterproof fabric in their offshore gear. Gortex is one of the better known ones. Buy a yellow or red jacket with reflector tape on the hood, shoulders and arms.

You can’t see dark colours against the sea, especially at night.

3. foul weather pants

I’ve always used pants with a bib and suspenders. I find they’re easier to get on and off and keep the water out very well. The pants should have Velcro closures at the cuff so you can seal them around your sea boots.

There should be reinforced patches at your knees and bottom. If you’re blessed with short legs like me, check whether you can get the pants altered to fit by the manufacturer. Pockets should be cargo type with flaps and Velcro closures.

4. foul weather jackets

Your offshore jacket is the key to your comfort in a storm, so spend some time selecting it. The jacket should be roomy enough to accommodate several under layers and long enough to come well down below your bottom and extend well up under your chin to protect your neck.

The closure at the neck is critical. Ideally there will be an outer Velcro or zipper closure and an inner neoprene closure to keep out any water that gets past the outer closure. There should be some form of inner closure at the bottom such as a drawstring to let you seal out the wind.

Pockets should be cargo type with flaps and Velcro closures. The main zipper should be strong and easy to grasp with sailing gloves on and there should be a flap with a Velcro closure covering the zipper. There should be a mesh inner liner to the jacket to keep it off your inner layers and promote air flow.

The hood should stow in a zippered pocket behind your neck. It should be red, yellow or a fluorescent green with reflector patches.

5. sea boots

Buy a good pair of sea boots two sizes too big. You’ll be wearing a thick pair of woollen socks underneath and the boots should still be loose.

The reason? – if you go overboard, you’ll want to get rid of those boots really fast. Snug fitting sea boots will drown you.

And don’t wear your boots around on land. The soles are very soft and they’ll get cut about walking on hard surfaces.

6. under layers

You can buy a full series of under layers from the major manufacturers if you’re prepared to spend the money.

I’ve always used Damart thermal underwear as my first layer. They’re very reasonably priced and work very well. You don’t look too elegant when dressing to go on deck, but then after a couple of days at sea, no-one looks elegant.

On top of the thermals I usually wear a synthetic sweater, usually a cheap one, followed by a good polartech sweater. I’ve also had good results with synthetic track suit pants.

Avoid any cotton garments such as jeans as they absorb moisture and quickly become uncomfortable. Thick woollen or polartech socks are the answer for your feet.

7. things I’ve learnt

  • Don’t buy a jacket with an internal harness. You can’t inspect the harness for wear. Get loops sewn onto the outside of your jacket (by the manufacturer if possible) to attach your harness to.
  • Always take you foul weather gear off the boat and wash and dry it carefully. Check the pockets – I’ve found very old Mars bars in the pockets before now and I’ve had several good torches die in my jacket pockets.
  • Buy a couple of polartech “beanies”. You lose about 10% of your body heat through your head.
  • Wear a baseball cap over your beanie when wearing your hood up. If you don’t have a cap on, when you turn your head, the hood doesn’t turn, and you can’t see properly. A cap is especially useful if you’re steering with a tiller.
  • In heavy weather keep your harness permanently attached to your jacket so you can put both on at once in an emergency.
  • A good sailor takes staying warm and dry very seriously.