Dinghy sailing

Sailing Basics- 10 Keys To Sailing Preparation

What do I Wear for Sailing?

foul weather sailing

Always Be Prepared

There is no doubt that at some point, you will end up soaking wet on a sailboat! Or at least to some degree. Eventually, you will face a wave that will open your eyes wide and wet all your attire completely. So it is important to stay comfortable and stay prepared for these inevitable moments. If you are exposed to a Gulf Stream climate,  for example, then a drench may be welcome since the water will be around the 80-95 F, and you’ll like a little cooling off!  However, if you are sailing along the northeast US, that side of the Atlantic won’t be as generous!

This always means to wear something that shields you from these elements. So waterproof, foul weather gear is an absolute must, at least to bring on board with you in case the elements start to get out of hand. Staying safe means to always feel comfortable and clear minded. Many new sailors lose sight of this when they are completely drenched and they are distracted. Keep in mind too, that over 78 % of deaths out on a sailboat could have been avoided with the use of a life vest/jacket since these deaths are the result of drowning. Here is the list of essentials to have on board with you:

  1. Life Jackets for each crew member– Traditionally these jackets were bulky and made of uncomfortable fabrics. Nowadays, you can find these life jackets to be slimmer/comfortable, contorting to most body types in slim fitting style. We recommend you stick to USCG approved life jackets. When the elements get ugly, a life jacket can really give you added warmth. These jackets do not feel like you are wearing a straight jacket! No more restraint. Keep in mind that if you are sailing on a 16ft or less boat, USCG requires one life jacket on board ( You do not have to be wearing it at all times, it just needs to be on board). If the boat is longer than 16ft then USCG regs say that additionally, you will need some sort of flotation device/raft on board plus the life jackets must be accessible, (not stored away somewhere difficult to reach). The jackets must also be USCG approved and in good condition. For additional regulations or to just get up to speed on the main ones, visit the USCG site at uscgboating.org. They also have a toll free number to call at 202.372.1062.


Will I Need A Set Of Life Jackets If I Am Renting a Boat?

Spares on Board a Rental

Typically boat owners will keep life jackets/ vests on board for you to use. Also, sailing schools and charters will usually also have some vests on board.  Always make sure before setting sail on someone else’s craft.

However, we advise getting your own that is preferable fit/comfort wise to your liking. That way you never have to worry rely on others to supply one that suits you.

How Do I Pick A Life Jacket That Suits Me?

Not every life jacket is created equal. Especially when the user’s comfort is the most important part of picking the right jacket.

All life jackets are sized by their overall weight and size of chest in relation to the user. The sizes are usually labeled on the lifejacket. All jackets are classified by unique use and ultimate performance.

Life Jacket Types

Life Vest: Types

Life Vest: Types

Here we will describe the uses and performances of each type of vest. They are:

Type 1.

Bulky and not so comfortable but definitely very useful for those that are unconscious in the water. Helps to keep the face out of the water.

Type 2.

These are usually the more affordable more common life vests but they do not leave much room for comfort.

Type 3.

These are the most comfortable of all the vests and the number 1 choice for dinghy and keelboat sailing. We recommend you look into this type of vest if you are going to purchase one. You will find yourself using this type of vest over and over again. They are usually the lightest of the vests

Type 4.

These are your inflatable floatation devices. These inflate in the water (in the 15-17ft range). They are kept on board for unfortunate events that may arise.

Type 5.

These are your life jackets that inflate (triggered by a release valve) and air that is compressed into a canister. Typically your offshoring crew wears this type because these types of vests have hardly any bulk to them. They almost feel like you aren’t wearing anything at all when you have these on. You forget you are wearing type 5’s, so the less exposed to rough currents and capsizing (bigger boats) the more these are favored over others.

How to Use/Put On Life Jackets Correctly?

When getting ready for a day trip on the sailboat, you must assure yourself that your jacket conforms to your chest correctly and exactly the way you want it to fit. Fitting the life jackets is very similar to fitting the life vests. The snugger the fit the better, so make sure to fix/adjust the straps as needed. They usually have a zip-up function to go along with the strap adjustments. Make sure to always do the following:

  1. Make sure that any children, anybody on board who can’t swim, and those with disabilities/limitations are wearing a life jacket (no exceptions) at all times while sailing, especially on a dinghy sailboat.
  2. The same applies for keelboat sailing, especially when the elements turn. If you anticipate that the elements may turn for the worst during the trip, put your jackets on pre-emptive to this occurring. Reason being is that the conditions sometimes change at the drop of a hat.
  3. Avoid putting on jackets that do not fit the person, an emphasis made here for children!  For kids, the jackets are typically sized by the weight of the child.
  4. If any of the jackets get waterlogged or damaged in any other way, it’s to get rid of that jacket and get another in place of it. This is very critical
  5. It is very important to always be aware of where all the life preserver (including any life jackets, vests rafts, inflatables, flares) are at all times. Make sure everyone on board has this information tucked away in the back of their minds in case any of these devices will need to be utilized. The last thing you want is a catastrophe to strike and you are flushed trying to locate where you put them. Everyone on board will be thankful you reminded them where they were.

Safe Sailing Wishes

Most sailors who bring children on board have 2 key wishes with every trip sailed. They are:

  1. Keep everyone on board safe
  2. Have as much fun as possible

To do this, stay attentive at all times to who is on board, what everyone on board is doing and how are they doing them. This is really something that cannot be overlooked. Having fun, regardless of which type of sailing you are doing, has much to do with how warm and dry you stay on board. Figure out which kind of sailing you like to do, then go buy the right gear for that type of sailing so that you don’t spend uber amounts of money on gear you won’t really need. However, being overdressed is better than not be prepared at all. Think of it as preparing for a trip up the mountains, will it be a camping trip or a cabin trip? Will there be hiking involved? You will need different gear for all of these relatable trips.

Do You Already Own Sailing Gear?

Lots of people may already own wet whisking sailing gear without even realizing. Check your closets to see what kind of dry-friendly + warm clothes you may already have to bring with you on the trip. It may save you lots of money in the long run, especially before you have a better understanding of what kind of sailing you will pursue long term.

If you end up being a speed sailor, a wetsuit may be the only thing you really will need to purchase from a marine store, besides a backup life jacket/vests. Wetsuits do help with keeping you afloat since they separate body from the water, but using a life jacket will help significantly more.  If you own any winter ski jackets, they usually work really well.

If you are looking to be a dinghy sailor then you will really just need a something to keep you warm/type 3 vest.

If you are looking to get into offshore sailing in a keelboat then foul weather gear + a type 5 vest would be more suited to your needs.


So..Things To Remember With Sailing Gear…

Use an Outer Layer Fleece When Possible

The clothes you wear depends on a few different things:

  1. Type of sailing
  2. Type of boat (size of the boat)
  3. Climate and water temperatures

Sailing on Lake Eerie during early fall or early spring will not be as warm as sailing in the BVI’s in the summertime. So be prepared and well clothed for cooler conditions. If you are dinghy/catamaran sailing with a centerboard setup, then you are naturally very close to the water line/waves. Add to that, windy conditions and possibly inclement weather, then you potentially be getting soaked so really make sure you are prepared for that. Conversely, on boats that are larger, they tend to be significantly higher than water level so you will less likely to get wet unless the waves get out of hand or it rains. Much bigger sailboats will not overturn, so you will not wear the same kind of clothes that you would if you rode on a dinghy or catamaran.

Depending on how daring/ hot-headed you are, you may not need much clothing to start no matter where you are sailing! Eventually, though, the macho mentality will fade and you will want to CYA! Yes you will come back to shore and you will take a nice warm shower with dry clothes waiting for you, so go out there and be adventurous at first!


Water temps change drastically the farther out you leave the shoreline. You can be in your swim trunks, shirt off sipping on a cool-off drink one second and the next you can be multi-layered, holding onto dear life and shivering the next. Make sure to bring extra layers of clothing with you just in case some drastic changes in weather occur. You will thank us later! Always try and layer or bring layers when you can since it will keep you feeling warm during turbulent times by the air getting caught/pinched from one layer to the next.

The most ideal approach to keep warm on the water is to remain dry. This guidance may sound really obvious, however remaining dry while on the water requires a little planning — particularly for the most exposed layer. We suggest that your outside layer be something that whisks away water pretty easily and doesn’t allow for much penetration. Get in the habit of packing away a windbreaker with potentially a lining if the weather demands it. Unless I am hitting high turbulence and water is splashing every which way then we suggest always going with a fleece jacket for the outside layer. If you don’t have one of these then we suggest looking for anything with a nylon protector casing. Nylon jackets are comfortable and are sufficient when sailing. Here is a fun video about how the best in the business stay dry! Enjoy the video!


Checklist for a Wet Sailing Dinghy Trip!

Being on the water is a lot more fun when you are not too worried about the inevitable of getting a little wet/splashed on. Here we lay out a checklist of dos and dont’s for your dinghy sailing trip:

  1. Make sure to always wear boots/shoes made for sailing: although you will be most likely sitting down on a dinghy boat, a little tread definitely helps from any freaky accidents. booties (wetsuit) may give you the comfort/stability that you need but so will some Zhik’s or Helly Hansons. We use Zhik’s for most our sailing endeavors whether it be dinghy daily sailing, or even when we are riding on a different vessel for some daily keel-boating or offshoring.
  2. Don’t forget to bring towels and extra clothes (per person): you can leave them on the dock or on shore for when you get back. It’s no fun having to drive back soaked!
  3. Avoid bringing your gear on board the dinghy with you: Anything you bring on board with you should be assumed to get wet in the process. Sunscreen, drinking water and vest/jacket and maybe waterproofed iPhone with some earbuds should be the only things you bring on board with you. The less the better and only bring things that cannot be damaged by water. We implore you not to bring your phone on board with you unless it is in an appropriate waterproof/resistant casing.
  4. Leave valuables including wallet, keys and exposed cell phone docked away in your car or on shore: You will not be driving your car on water and you will not be purchasing anything while in the middle of the ocean, so do yourself a favor and leave them behind, obviously somewhere safe and secure.
  5. Always wear your swimsuit as your last layer- There is huge potential you are going to be de-layering down to your swimmies so make sure you have this layer ready to go. Don’t be stuck with having to leave clothes on. Comfort is king.
  6. If you have wool, wear it! I know this doesn’t sound at all comfortable, but wool does a masterful job of retaining heat, even when wet. Wool or fleece, really can’t go wrong here. Poly fleece as an underlayer is a phenomenal idea because of the way it wicks away water. Cotton is ok but fleece and wool are better!
  7. Always remember to constantly use sunscreen. re-using sunscreen is always always a good idea when dinghy sailing, since the sun’s rays off the reflection of the water give you double-bonus sunburn!
  8. Never ever forget to bring a life jacket with you and wear it frequently!

How Do I Choose Foul Weather Gear?

if your main objective is to avoid getting soaked, you want to be certain you have the right foul weather gear to boot. But what are some of the factors that make up the right kind of FWG. Here is a small list:

Materials: When manufacturers make this foul weather gear for sailboat racers, they use a lighter material, especially when the conditions are typically moderate where sail races take place. On the flipside, heavy duty bullet proofing gear is usually designed with offshore or intercontinental sailing in mind. If money is no object to you and you want the best gear out there, then get a breathable high-tech fabric that aids in shooing away water vapor from the inner side, so that you avoid that dank feeling you get when you typically wear waterproof gear.

Safety: check if the gear actually works with a float test. Test in a pool if you have to with all the layers you will be wearing to see how it goes

Color: Color actually matters here because you want to stand out if you are overboard . Avoid blue or white gear because these two colors are challeging to spot in water. Red, Yellow, Hot Pink work fine.

Room to maneuver: Be certain that you have a complete range of movement while wearing the gear while wearing all the layers

Construct: to avoid any kind of leaks, make sure the inner tape does the job in sealing the seams.

Style: wearing overalls (chest high) and foul weather jacket would be the most effective approach as well as the coziest combo. Add to that, they look really cool to wear! Paddling tops that feature neck seals prevent water from slipping down your neck (which can be quite uncomfortable) . They also work complementary to wetsuits. More often than not , dingy sailors will choose dry suits with covered neck and wrist lines (using an elastomer )



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