I’m Sailing in the Rain: Choosing Foul Weather Gear I

Every sailor should be prepared to sail under difficult weather conditions such as storms, rain or heavy wind. Manufacturers of sailing accessories produce tons of foul weather gear, which makes it hard to keep an overview. This article will provide you with the general guidelines that you should follow when choosing foul weather gear that matches your needs.

Sailing is all about snoozing in a deck chair whilst the sun is slowly grilling you to something between medium and done and a cocktail is always in reach. Right? Well, maybe for some of you strange people out there, but certainly not for me nor for my readers here on Sailingahead.com. Even if you see sailing as something purely recreational, you should always be prepared to sail under sup-optimal conditions weather-wise.

This means simply that you will get wet at times. This can be due to water from above (rain), below (heavy waves, spray), all over (storms) or even inside (never mind, happens even to the most experienced sailor under stressful circumstances). The most straightforward mean to protect you from getting soaked is protective clothing and accessories collectively called “foul weather gear”. This terms is widely used and abused by the gear-producing mafia of the sailing World to sell all sorts of fancy High-Tech fuzz for a fortune. Fierce competition and a variety of modern materials made it hard to keep an overview on this ever-growing market.

It is time to step back and think of the basics. What do you need to consider when you are choosing foul weather gear in accordance with your personal needs? Generally speaking, protective clothing can be categorized according to the degree of protection it offers.

1.) Rain Gear: This is the lightest form of protective clothing and keeps what the name promises; it protects you from rain, is comfortable and generally cheap. This is most commonly rain jackets, trousers and hats or hoods. There is a lot of rain gear available that is custom made for sailors, but I honestly don’t really see why.

Any rain gear should do, modern materials have the wonderful feature that jackets made of them normally come in layers that allow you to shed off parts once the sun is back. On the rain gear frontier, I use and old Goretex rain jacket with hood and plenty of convenient bags (I keep discovering new ones!) that has a fleece coating. I remove the fleece for warm summer rains or use it separately in the evenings. In addition, I have rain trousers that I hardly ever use. However, they are light, cheap and no big deal to carry. I also have an old baseball hat, which helps the hood in protecting my face from these nasty raindrops.

2.) Coastal Gear: One degree more protective, this targets sort of the medium foulness of weather. This is essentially everything that is too heavy to go as normal rain gear and too light to be proper heavy rain suit. This can include thin wet suits of the kind that surfers commonly use. They come with or without sleeves and can be supplemented with gloves, shoes and even a hood to transform you into something like a mascot of a condom company. At least you won’t get wet.

I own only an old neoprene wet suit that I bought years ago in Austria and that I hardly ever use anymore. But then again, I’m becoming an old man now and prefer to skipper around in calm waters for which my rain gear is normally sufficient. For the rare occasions on which I desperately try to revive my youth, however, I use the heavy stuff one could describe as…

3.) Offshore Gear: This is the hardcore protection stuff you only need – guess where? – offshore. Meaning, the clothing that makes you properly seaworthy, as in cruises or longer races under very bad weather conditions. It offers the highest degree of protection. Offshore gear is generally heavy and often uncomfortable (and looks stupid, such as overalls in ugly colors), but it aims to keep you warm under any circumstances, which might be lifesaving in certain situations.

It is fairly difficult to say where the border between Coastal and Offshore Gear runs – a practical definition might be that “offshore” starts where you should stop buying stuff that was not specifically designed and manufactured for sailors. Gear for offshore applications needs to be of top-quality and you should not compromise on that one. Don’t be shocked by the high price you’ll be charged for them; unfortunately, you won’t get around that.

Continue with "Foul Weather Gear Part II"


Further Reading

Back to "gear"

Information on the Weather

Directory Entries on the Weather

Yahoo Directory on Foul Weather Gear

Wikipedia on Oilskin protective clothing