Get ready for sailing season! Part 3: What to wear sailing

Get ready for sailing season - What to wear sailing - 12° West

Get ready for sailing season! Part 3: What to wear sailing

Sailing season is finally here, and we can’t wait to get out on the water! To get ready, we’ve been assessing our sailing gear and prepping for on-the-water fun. We’ve already covered the top 5 items you need for safe sailing, and the things we keep in our sail bag all season. Now the logical question is: what to wear sailing? Luckily, that’s something we’ve spent a lot of time thinking about!

Your day sailing wardrobe will consist of some basic pieces for sunny day sailing, as well as specialty items for different weather conditions. Layering is key for comfort on a boat, so this list starts with the warmest weather options and works up to foul weather gear. Here are our recommendations for what to wear sailing.

⃞ Technical shirts

Let’s face it, you could sail in any old t-shirt. But a technical shirt will give you several advantages. First, wicking fabric helps regulate your temperature, especially on warmer days. It works by pulling moisture away from your body to the exterior of the shirt, where it can evaporate more easily. As a result, you stay drier and cooler.

The other big advantage of technical wear is sun protection. UPF is the rating system used for apparel. It’s similar to SPF (Sun Protection Factor), the rating system used for sunscreen products. SPF pertains only to a sunscreen’s effectiveness against UVB rays, considered the more damaging type of light. UPF, though, gauges a fabric’s effectiveness against both UVA and UVB. Today’s technical fabrics use a tighter weave and added finishes to increase the sun protection factor. A garment rated UPF 50 permits only 1/50th (roughly 2%) UV transmission. In comparison, a plain white t-shirt has a UPF of around 5, which means around 20% of UV radiation passes through it. Given that sailors are constantly exposed to sun, choosing clothing with a high UPF is a no-brainer.

We like: You’ll need a long sleeve option for cooler days (and more sun protection!) and a short sleeve shirt for hot summer sails. A long sleeve shirt can also serve as a baselayer under rain or foul weather gear. For long sleeves, try our Marblehead Pullover. Good short sleeve options are our Sandy Hook Shirt or Southampton Shirt. All three are rated UPF 50+, are wicking and breathable, and have zippered necklines that let you adjust coverage.

Pro tip: Remember that wind and water temperature can make it cooler on the water than you might expect. We always have a long sleeve layer in our bag just in case. For a really soft long sleeve shirt that makes a great baselayer, try our bamboo-cotton blend Saybrook Stripe Shirt. The fabric feels great against your skin, and bamboo is a natural temperature regulator. 

⃞ Technical shorts or pants

Again, you could wear regular shorts or jeans, but technical shorts or pants will make your sail a lot more comfortable. Like shirts, you should look for bottoms in fabrics that are wicking and breathable and offer UPF protection. Another factor to consider is how the fabric will stand up to rough boat surfaces; non-skid can be really hard on your gear. Finally, you need pockets. Real, deep pockets that you can put stuff in!

We like: For cooler spring days, the Newport Crop Pant is a great option. It’s wind and water-resistant, so you’ll stay warm and light spring rain will roll right off. For summer sailing, try our Chesapeake Shorts. They’re lightweight and stretchy, with a soft inner waistband. Both styles offer UPF 50+ sun protection, are quick drying, abrasion-resistant, and have deep zippered pockets to keep your important stuff from going overboard.

Pro tip: Quick dry fabric is really key for bottoms. Trust us, there’s nothing more miserable than sitting in wet cotton shorts all day!

⃞ Skort

When you think of what to wear sailing, a skirt is probably not the first thing that comes to mind. But we believe there’s no reason you can’t wear a skirt on a boat! A skort with built-in shorts underneath is one of the coolest and most comfortable things you can wear while sailing.

We like: Our Sag Harbor Skort is a customer favorite, so we expanded the size range. It now comes in sizes 2-18 in four colors: navy, red, black and flint gray.

Pro tip: A skort is the perfect piece to take you from the boat to the bar in style for apres-sailing drinks or dinner – no change of clothes needed.

⃞ Vest

A vest can be the outer layer for spring and fall sailing. It keeps your core warm while your arms are free for hoisting halyards or trimming sheets. A vest is a versatile layering piece that you’ll end up wearing more than you think.

We like: Our Vineyard Vest is wind-resistant and has a DWR (Durable Water Resistant) finish. It’s fitted and streamlined, with a light bonded fleece lining that adds warmth without being bulky. No one wants to look like the Michelin Man.

Pro tip: Look for a vest that is wind-resistant; most fleece vests don’t do a great job of blocking wind. You’re better off with a soft-shell type fabric.

⃞ Light jacket

On most days, all you’ll need when the wind gets up is either a vest or a light jacket. There are generally two types of jackets to consider – softshell and fleece. Softshell tends to be more water-resistant, wind-resistant and durable. Fleece tends to be softer and lighter weight, but prone to pilling that can reduce it’s effectiveness. It’s really a matter of personal preference.

We like: Fleece for dry days and softshell for damper weather. There are many options from sailing brands and outdoor gear manufacturers for fleece. For softshell, we like the Gill Women’s Team Softshell Jacket. It’s a good weight for layering. Another option is the Columbia Kruser Ridge II Softshell, which has great color options and is available in plus sizes as well.

Pro tip: Fleece for dry days, and softshell for damper days. Either way, you’ll want your jacket fitted enough that you can use it as a mid-layer under foul weather gear if needed (more on that later).

⃞ Rain gear

Unfortunately, not every sail happens under sunny blue skies, so lightweight rain gear is essential sailing kit. You’ll want something that packs down easily so you can throw it in your sail bag just in case. Look for waterproof (not water-resistant) gear that you can pull on over your clothes when rain starts to fall. This is different than foul weather gear (which we’ll get to in a minute) – rain gear is usually for warmer weather conditions.

We like: We’re big fans of the North Face Venture 2 Series. It’s lightweight, packs down to nothing, and has a lot of features at a reasonable price point. The North Face Venture 2 Jacket has a cinchable hood, zipper pockets, and comes in lots of colors and some fun prints. The North Face Venture 2 Half Zip Pants have an elastic waist that’s easy to pull on over shorts or pants.

Pro tip: Most waterproof gear is machine washable, but frequent washing will start to degrade the waterproof treatment. We recommend line drying, but every few washes you should toss your gear in the dryer for a few minutes (not a full cycle) to help restore the waterproofing.

⃞ Foulies

For colder days or rough weather, you’ll need foul weather gear – the waterproof gear that most sailors refer to as foulies. Buying foulies can be confusing because there are many different types, based on the type of sailing you do. It’s usually divided into ocean or offshore gear, coastal and inshore gear, and dinghy gear. For most day sailing, coastal and inshore gear is just fine – and considerably less expensive than offshore options.

You’ll need a jacket and either pants or bibs. Bibs – also called salopettes – are the traditional choice because they tend to keep you warmer and drier than pants. The drawback with bibs is that using the head usually means taking off all your gear. If that seems like a hassle, you may want to consider a drop-seat version.

Some things you should look for in your foul weather gear are waterproof taped seams, a high collar with a soft lining, cinchable hood, adjustable wrist and ankle cuffs, and a storm flap over the front zipper. Some nice to have features are a high visibility hood (in yellow or orange, for example), soft lined hand pockets, and reflective tape.

We like: There are a number of good brands, although the selection for women is always smaller than the men’s offerings. Gill probably has the widest selection of women’s foul weather gear, as well as the biggest size range. Other favorites among women sailors are Helly Hansen, Musto, and Henri-Lloyd.

Pro tip: Try on several different brands to find your best fit. Women’s fit and sizing varies considerably across brands, and many brands (especially the European ones) run really small so you may need to size up. Make sure you can comfortably wear a layer or two underneath your foulies as a mid-layer.

Now that you know what to wear sailing, it’s time to get out on the water. You don’t need everything on this list to start sailing. In fact, it might take a while to build your complete sailing wardrobe, but that’s OK. If you choose wisely and go for quality gear, you can use these pieces season after season. When you’re well prepared for any type of weather, you’ll find sailing more comfortable – and good gear can even extend your sailing season. Let’s go sailing!

Note: We receive no compensation for any 3rd party products included here. Linked products are ones we’ve used and liked; we make no guarantees as to their quality or performance – YMMV. Except for our own products, which we stand behind 100%!

Be sure to read the other posts in this series:

Get ready for sailing season! Part 1: Safety first

Get ready for sailing season! Part 2: Sailing bag essentials

And if you’re planning on racing this season:

Get ready for racing!