Clothing And Kit

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This page gives some information on clothing, boat bits, accessories and sources of all these vital items.

All sports need the correct equipment, and sailing is no exception.

Wetsuits, Drysuits and Spraysuits

Buoyancy Aids

Footwear

Gloves, Hats and Trivia

Trapeze Harnesses and Hiking Shorts

Sun Protection

Equipment Care

Sources for Sailing Clothing

 

Wetsuits, Drysuits and Spraysuits

Dinghy sailing can be started with a swimsuit and a pair of trainers, but once you get hooked you'll want more suitable equipment. Your first purchase is a wetsuit to go over the swimsuit, with the appropriate leg and arm length to suit the conditions and your preference. You'll need to do a lot of trying on to get the right suit. Make sure the body of the suit is long enough to allow you to crouch over; windsurfing suits are generally cut too short and too tight for dinghy sailing, but conversely a loose wetsuit is also no good as it lets far too much water slosh through. You need something over the suit as dinghy decks can be quite rough; a pair of big tough surf shorts will do for a start, you can invest in a spraysuit later. I get the impression that 'ladies' wetsuits are more expensive, less hard wearing and cut for someone far too thin to go sailing. Go for a man's suit and live without the pretty colours.

For the summer, shortie wetsuits (short legs, short or no arms) keep your torso warm without overheating you, and are very cheap. If you want to wear a wetsuit in the winter, you need thicker neoprene and good blind stitching - a warm wetsuit must let in very little water. Some sailing wetsuits have thinner panels at knees and underarms to allow easier movement.

A drysuit is a good alternative; this is effectively a giant plastic bag that you wear and works by keeping the water out totally. There are tight seals at neck and wrists, and either ankle seals or socks. IMPORTANT; A drysuit must always be fully zipped up before you go on the water; and once fastened, pull out the neck seal and crouch to expel excess air. Otherwise the air goes to your feet and they will float if you fall in. This is the wrong way up...

Wetsuits don't provide much protection against windchill, and some drysuits need an extra layer over the top. This is a spraysuit, a water-resistant nylon-type one piece overall, which goes over your wetsuit or drysuit to provide extra wind resistance and protection against chafing on the boat. Some of them have internal braces which is good, and it should also have reinforced seat and knees, and cuffs to keep UV light off your drysuit seals. You can also get spraytops if it is too warm to wear the full suit.

Wetsuit versus Drysuit

Wetsuit
 

 
Drysuit
Easy to take on and off, works even when ripped     Needs care in donning, needs help if rear zip, useless if ripped
Needs to fit tight to work, can be restrictive     Can be loose and lightweight, but still needs tight seals
Can be rolled down or unzipped     Must always be worn zipped up
Need to get wet     Stay dry - no nasty cold water shock!
Provides some padding     Needs clothing underneath for padding

 

  

Buoyancy Aids

A buoyancy aid is mandatory at most sailing clubs (including IBRSC) and a good idea for everyone. Note that a life jacket is not practical in a dinghy as it is too restrictive; a buoyancy aid is just what it says, something to help you float. It will not turn you the right way up if you are unconscious.

Buoyancy aids cost from about £35 to £50, and come in a wide range of styles. Get one suited for dinghy sailing, not a canoeing or water skiing aid which will have loads of straps and buckles which will catch on things. Features to look out for are:

- Bright colours for easy visibility

- A good strong zip or buckles, with big tags to be operated while wearing gloves

- Low-cut armholes for freedom of movement

- High-cut waist so that it can be worn with a trapeze harness

- A mesh pocket on the front for keys, money etc. Make sure it has a secure closure.

- Buoyancy aids should be rinsed after use in salt water, and should never be used as cushions.
 

 

Footwear

Sailing barefoot is a quick way to stubbed toes and cut feet, so you need shoes. Trainers will do for a start, but you'll soon find that wetsuit boots are worth it as they keep your feet warm. You can get boots in various thicknesses, as pull-on, lace-up or zip-up, and also shoes for the summer. Deck shoes are useless for dinghy sailing.

Soles should be 'razor-cut' for grip, particularly for trapeze crews. Ankle boots with side-lacing are supposed to provide more support for hiking crews or helms; your ankle joint was designed for standing on, not being pulled apart. Boots should be no higher than the ankle as more is too restrictive.
 
 

Gloves, Hats and Trivia

Gloves are essential in modern dinghies where the ropes will tear your hands. Gloves come in short or long finger style and in various thicknesses according to season; be aware that short finger gloves can result in blisters. Synthetic materials are better than leather as synthetics don't dry hard. Wash your gloves occasionally with some fabric conditioner.

A hat will prevent loss of lots of heat, and a cap will be very useful in the summer . All hats need to be secured with a cord or string to prevent loss. For hoods, fleece material is good as it dries quickly, is warm even when wet and doesn't obstruct hearing.

Sometimes you want to keep your money handy when you are sailing. There is a selection of wet wallets on the market of varying efficiency, but I like the 'dinghy safe' which is a little box which closes with a rubber seal and a clip. It is big enough to hold a credit card, a small set of keys and some cash, really does keep them dry and doesn't weigh too much. You can get it from those stands of 'travel accessories' which you see at airports, or for rather more at chandlers. The only downside is that it is hard plastic and painful to fall on, so tuck it inside your buoyancy aid to cushion the impact.

Spectacle wearers need a cord or band round their head to prevent loss of glasses in a capsize. The solution used by the Solos at Island Barn (all over 55 and hence all long-sighted) is to sail without specs, and keep a pair of reading glasses for sharing in the clubhouse so that they can find their race cards.

Talking of Solos, some boats have very low and hard booms. Gentlemen of advancing years and thinning hair find being hit on the head very unpleasant, so one or two of our sailors wear cycle helmets on windy days. Mock not, they didn't get to that age and still be sailing without knowing a thing or two!
 

 

Trapeze Harnesses and Hiking Shorts

Trapeze Harnesses provide you with a hook which connects to a ring hung from the mast of the boat. The harness needs to allow you to use the trapeze correctly, move freely round the boat and not drag you under if you go in. Harnesses come in a variety of styles - the simplest has no adjustment and is made to measure. This gives no hooks or straps to catch on things, but presents a problem if you change size or wear different clothing underneath.

Modern harnesses have back supports, adjustable straps, pockets and all sorts of gizmos. Be aware that if you wear your buoyancy aid over your trapeze harness, it may be difficult to get out of the harness in a hurry. All trapeze boat sailors should carry a sailing knife with a serrated edge.

Your harness should be fastened so that you can't stand up straight, as this provides the best support when you are out on the wire. It should be easy to loosen for the end of the race or if you need to swim. Check the stitching occasionally and make sure you've done it up properly!

Hiking Shorts have stiff battens underneath the thighs to provide support when you sit out of the boat. Useful for long periods of hiking.
 

 

 

Sun Protection

Even in murky Britain, sun reflected on water will singe tender skins rapidly. You can get sunburnt at IBRSC even in winter. Wear factor 30 suncream whenever you sail. End of.
 
Sunglasses are also a good idea, secured with a cord.

 

Equipment Care

Wetsuits should be rinsed after use and hung to dry, and washed every few uses. Out of season, wetsuits are best stored flat, not rolled, folded or hung up. To remove a wetsuit, peel it off so it goes inside out - don't try and take it off any other way.

Drysuits are very long-lasting, but need a bit of TLC at times.

  1. Don't force head and hands through the seals - stretch them gently.
  2. Lubricate the zip every so often with beeswax.
  3. If your suit has a rear horizontal zip, hold your arms out while being zipped up to minimise strain on the zip. Some front zip suits will be less strained if you get someone else to do them up.
  4. If your suit is wet inside when you take it off, don't be too quick to assume a leak. James Bond can take off a drysuit and reveal an immaculate dinner jacket beneath, but the rest of us get sweaty when sealed in a plastic bag. Wear a fleece garment and/or thermals underneath for warmth and to absorb sweat, and wash them often. (The fleece is heavy - don't spin it unless you want to wreck your washing machine!) Dry the suit inside and out by hanging it in a warm place, away from direct heat. When you take it off, turn it inside out first and empty the water from the feet. (yuk!)
  5. Don't wear cotton clothing under a drysuit, as this doesn't absorb sweat and you'll get cold.
  6. Wash the suit after every few uses as perspiration rots the seals.
  7. Keep it out of UV light as this also rots seals - store the suit in a dark cupboard and wear an over-garment with collars and cuffs to keep light off the seals.Keep the seals away from grease or oil, including things like suncream and aftershave. 
  8. Check your boat for any unnecessary rough or sharp items which could damage the suit - e.g . sharp ends to circular clips.
  9. Treat the seals occasionally with 'seal saver'.
  10. Don't walk about in it if you have latex boots without putting on your outer boots - one stone or rough place on the changing room floor could go through the seal. Ways to make outer boots go on easier - wet the seals, cover them with unscented talcum powder, or put plastic bags over them first.

Note that the seals can be replaced without replacing the drysuit - you should get two or three seasons out of the seals and replacement is cheap. The suit itself should last much longer.

Other clothing just needs to be dried after use and washed occasionally.

Boots don't need much care, but those worn over bare feet will rapidly get very smelly. Suggested solutions include bleach, disinfectant regular washing in strong washing liquid, and ensuring that they are dried completely inside after use, but there's really no cure and you will eventually be forced to get rid of them.
 

 

Sources for Sailing Clothing

The best bet for cheap clothing is to get yourself to one of the boat shows. These are the Alexandra Palace 'Sailboat' in March, and the Southampton Show in September. The Earl's Court Boat Show tends to be more oriented towards larger boats.

Walton Marine - wetsuits, boots, gloves, hats, clothing, buoyancy aids

The Dinghy Store, Datchet Reservoir - wetsuits, gloves, boots, clothing, buoyancy aids etc

Nauticalia, Shepperton - in among the ships in bottles and entertaining tea towels is an excellent range of wetsuits, drysuits, boots and gloves

Whitewater Sports, Shepperton Marina - really a canoeing store but you can sometimes find kit that is good for dinghy sailing

There are also mail order suppliers: Northampton Sailboats, The Dinghy Shop, Mailspeed etc. Try a web search