Winter sailing – Clothing tips.

Well, those heady days of Summer are starting to fade and thoughts start to turn to the dreaded ‘Winter sailing’ and being cold.

First of all, don’t be scared of Winter sailing. Without the thermal-inducing effect of the sun, the winds are often far more stable, so giving you the chance to hike out more, make sense of what is going on with your boat – as well as just keeping you having fun throughout those colder months.

The thing is, you’ll only be comfortable if you wear the right (warm) kit for both yourself and the conditions and, as we now go into the Club’s “Wetsuit/Drysuit” period of October to March (“Wetsuits (long or short) / Drysuits must be worn during all on-water activities from October toMarch”), what should you be looking for?

You don’t have to spend a fortune to sail comfortably, and you do need to have an idea of priorities.  Don’t rush your spending decisions.

There’s a bewildering choice, and it all comes down to finding a combination that you feel is good VFM and suits your sailing style.  If you’re new to sailing, then you’ll notice what the instructors and other sailors are wearing, and no-one will mind you asking for their opinions on the suitability of their choices.

If in any doubt, please ask for advice. (Though you’ll probably get a whole range of ideas!)
Where to buy? is now probably the nearest chandlers to us, in Derby.  Hartley Boats have a fully stocked chandlery with dinghy clothing you can actually try on, and real, nice people to talk to.  Trying new kit on is really important – particularly if you’re going down the wetsuit route. – Based in Northampton, also sailmakers with a comprehensive internet/mail order side. – Rooster Sailing is noted for innovative materials and design in its dinghy clothing, and something of a cult brand, particularly for singlehanders. There’s lots of explanations about clothing technology and boat handling technique on this web site. In fact, there are some superb blog videos here explaining the technical features of Hydrophobic tops / Aquafleeces / PolyPro clothing….and why it’s important to ditch the Lycra rash tops during the colder months. – Previously had a shop in Walsall, but now only internet/mail order unless you want to drive to Datchet Water, near Slough, where their “sailing superstore” is now based. Register to get weekly “Purple Tuesday” discount offers.

Non-sailing outlets like Go Outdoors and Decathlon are good for base layer thermals and the like – Decathlon do some sailing-specific gear like spraytops.


If you’re going to go for a wetsuit, a good fit is all-important. The most expensive wetsuit that is baggy and/or lets water in is useless.

It’s a fallacy that wetsuits work by trapping a layer of water that gets warm next to the skin. Any water conducts heat away from your body.

The wetsuit works because of the insulation provided by millions of air bubbles in the neoprene. A good fit, effective seals at ankles, wrists and neck and either a dry (waterproof) zip or effective flaps to keep the water from sluicing through the zip are probably more important than the thickness of the panels.
You’ll be surprised at how thin neoprene can be and still keep you warm if it fits properly. A ‘proper’ fitting wetsuit will feel very (almost indecently) tight. Remember that neoprene expands a little when wet so it’s likely that you’ll need a size smaller than you think – another reason why it’s important to get a chance to try a whole range of different suits on.
The original price of a wetsuit will reflect the sophistication of the design, flexibility of the neoprene and the reputation of the brand, but wetsuits are now cheaper in cash terms than they ever were.

Although we no longer have a specialist dinghy chandlers in the West Midlands where you can go and try things on, there is a specialist discounting windsurfing/surfing/snowboarding emporium at Bridgtown, Cannock, called Boardwise/Wetsuit Warehouse. Their website is  and  they still operate a shop where you can try stuff on. Although mainly a windsurfing store, they’re great guys in here and will always help you out – and there’s a lot of crossover between the two sports these days.

Dinghies are an aggressive environment for neoprene wetsuits, so you should think of wearing a spray top over the wetsuit to both avoid snags, tears and rips, and reduce wind chill. If you’re not moving about much.

During Winter, I wear either a set of Magic Marine thermals or the Rooster PolyPro top/bottom/socks under my wetsuit.

This is wear the ‘throw out the Lycra’ comes in. Well, don’t throw it, just store it until Spring.

Lycra is designed to cool you down, it’s what it was designed for. In Winter it’s warming up we’re looking for….so Hydrophobic clothing/Aquafleeces and neoprene socks come to the fore.

Dry suits
Depending on how much you can afford, you might like to consider a dry suit.  Main brands are Crewsaver, Typhoon, and Gul.

Almost all drysuits are now breathable (although some are far more breathable than others), so you don’t get wet from condensing perspiration inside the suit.  The main advantage of the drysuit is that you can vary the layers you wear underneath according to how cold it is and how hard you’re going to work.  See “What keeps you warm and dry” below – and remember that your ‘breathable’ drysuit will only be as ‘breathable’ as the layers you wear beneath it….choose unwisely and you’ll be drenched in pools of sweat inside the suit – and it’s amazing how much can build up!

When comparing the prices, include the total cost of the alternatives – eg. wetsuit + spraytop + midlayers Versus drysuit + base/mid layers. You might be surprised at the similarities/differences in total cost, but don’t be tempted by a drysuit that’s not highly breathable – you’ll end up soaking wet from perspiration condensing on the inside.
Keep your head warm

Neoprene hoods or balaclavas are great in the most extreme conditions if you’re in the water a lot.  A hat like the Rooster Beanie will keep your head as hot as you’ll want, even when wet.

Advantage is that you’ll still be able to hear and won’t look so much like a seal.


What keeps you warm and dry

Different fabrics have very different thermal characteristics:

Cotton absorbs water = cold and wet ie. wear a cotton T-shirt to keep cool on a hot day – but not under your wetsuit or drysuit. Slow to dry.

Polyamide (nylon) = cool – typically used in rash vests – originally for wearing under wetsuits but now as a summer top layer.  Also good to keep the sun off your delicate skin.  Quick drying.

Polyester = warm – typically used in fleeces as base or mid layers. Quick drying.  Finest polyester fabric is usually labelled “microfleece”.

Polypropylene = hydrophobic so does not absorb any water and feels warm even when wet. Typically used in fleeces as base or mid layers (eg. Rooster). Extremely quick drying

You may find the following technical explanation of modern clothing technology interesting: Other manufacturers are available. They all provide similar explanations, but how their products deliver the benefits differ.



Not so much to keep your hands warm except in the coldest conditions, more to avoid rope burn and give you a better grip on the sheets.

“Long fingered” gloves sometimes have just the thumb and forefinger exposed for doing fiddly stuff with shackles and retying spinnakers afloat when you’ve rigged them wrong, etc., “short fingered” have all fingers exposed but depending on your sheeting style may not give enough protection.  Gill Pro have got a reputation for being the most durable gloves on the market – and there’s a full fingered neoprene version with the same grippy, durable palm and fingers called Gill Extreme if you need warmth as well.  Other manufactureres like Gul, Musto, Henri Lloyd, Magic Marine and Rooster also do gloves.  All are different designs – fit is the most important consideration. To be honest, I’ve bought a pair of Roosters thin ‘Winter liner’ gloves and use £2.50 builders grip gloves over the top. Check out Amazon or Screwfix and get 10 pairs of these for about £10-£15 There’s even a thermal variation….just make sure you get the right size.

Boots are another consideration. If you’re using a drysuit with incorporated feet/socks, you might well need to go for a size up from your normal shoe size to get them on. Tight boots will restrict blood flow and quickly turn your feet into painful ice blocks.

Again, thin thermal, hydrophobic socks work well – or thin neoprene.

There’s plenty of advice available both online and around the club. The thing is, you don’t have to spend an absolute fortune….just spend wisely. A good wetsuit and / or a good drysuit is probably the main priority – this is one area where you often really do get what you pay for. Hydrophobic layers are probably next to think about. Oh and if you go the Wetsuit route? Consider ones that allow you to fit hiking pads to the back of the thighs – a grab some Lycra shorts as a top layer to protect your suit from the rough deck of your boat (Aerobics/Gym kit works well here)

So, something of a long-piece, but hopefully worthwhile.

As ever, advice / tips / thoughts are sure to be freely given

Happy sailing 🙂