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Here's a summary of the club's collected wisdom
on spring/fall sailing clothes. Detailed responses
(including places to buy clothing, and
wetsuit-specific tips) follow.
Polypropylene: YES YES YES
Other synthetics: YES
Wool: YES YES YES
Rain/spray gear: YES
QUESTION: For fall and spring sailing, I'd like
to have the right clothing, to be as comfortable as
possible. So should I consider buying:
(a) a standard wetsuit, or
(b) a "bare skin" wetsuit, or
(c) a dry suit, or
(d) foul weather gear, or
(e) something else, or
(f) none of the above?
Responses, separated by solid lines
I just bought a wet suit, so I have a little bit
of input. I talked to a lot of people and read some
literature before buying it (there are some web
pages with info as well) and came to the conclusion
that the best wetsuit for a sailor is 3mm thick.
Some people argue that the farmer john type is best
because it gives you freedom of arms. I have a full
body wetsuit because I do a lot of windsurfing and
am in the water a lot. I got an O'Neill brand, and
it cost $220. It fits me perfectly, which is
crucial, because if it is too loose it will not
insulate well. I tried it out last weekend and it
works great. It was fairly cool weather out but I
was perfectly warm windsurfing in my wetsuit. By
the way, I know several other people who paid about
$100 for theirs.
I guess it depends on what type of activity you
will be doing most. Foul weather gear or just
wearing synthetic fibers may be cheaper than a
wetsuit, but a wetsuit is more versatile. Now I can
use mine for sailing, windsurfing, and diving. If
you get a wetsuit though, you will probably want to
buy wetsuit boots to go with it.
If you are just doing sailing you can probably
get by with wool and polyester and a lot of layers.
If you fall in the water the crash boat will rescue
you and you can get warm in the club house. Also
there is not a lot of time in the Fall season and
it's only open on weekends, so it might be good to
learn and see what your needs are and then buy
fancy equipment later.
I have been successful sailing w/ out a wet
suit, but that is because I am very good at staying
dry during my many capsizes. In other words, yes
you can capsize very, very easily in the
fall/spring. I don't know what a (b) a "bare skin"
wetsuit is, but I think you will want to look into
buying a wet suit(others have probably all ready
written what ply or weight to purchase). In
addition, I can comment on foul weather gear.
I do not have foul weather gear (expensive), but
I do have a set of waterproof pants and jacket. I
then wear polypropylene (synthetic) long underware,
and fleece or wool. I also wear nylon pants over
the waterproof pants to protect them from ripping
or tearing (foul weather pants are strong enough,
$$) As long as it is NOT Cotton.
Don't forget to check the resale shops for cheap
wool sweaters, I found a great one.
So don't get the wrong idea, I recommend the wet
oh, sailing gloves!! don't forget those, and
again, there are many to choose from.
Sailboarders use wet suits. I am pretty cold
tolerant. On a cold or windy day, I wear thin
polypropylene ski underwear, shorts, shirt and foul
weather gear, shoe and gloves.. This means a rain
pant and rain jacket. I find it more comfortable.
It protects against the spray, but is still
layerable if the sun comes out. If you tip over, it
will keep you somewhat warm even in cold water.
Other people use a wet suit, especially folks who
get cold easily. I find them too hot.
You can buy a good sturdy set of gear at
Dunham's near Kmart cheap.. I like to use one that
has a cloth backing to make it strong. Be sure that
it isn't too floppy or it will get hung up in the
ok, cool, I know what "bare skin" is, white
water rafters wear that a lot. The stuff I own is
versatile. I got the rain pants for kayaking, that
is why I ware nylon pants over them for sailing
(because they are not durable enough.)
Good boots, I forgot I own a big pair of rubber
sailing boots, yea that is one of the most
important, and yes gloves help.
Clothes: This is dependent on the individual. I
haven't bought anything. I use a wool sweater, wind
breaker, jeans and old sneakers. But, I'm sure I
look grubby. If I get cold I go into the boat house
to warm up. And, I wear these when I race which is
quite often. However, the dry suits seem to be
preferred over wet suits as you stay dry.
I prefer wool sweaters and foulie combinations.
Wetsuits are too hot and don't breathe. Though some
people like them.
My wife gets cold easily, and she was not
comfortable in a bare skin..they do make some with
linings that do insulate you better than just a
regular dive "skin" It depends on if you get cold
easily...personally they have 3 mil wet suits that
may be better for you, I recommend a surfer style
wet suit rather than a diver style.....this will
give you the warmth plus a little better
I don't think I am going use a wet suit......I
know that poly propylene will keep me warm, plus
layering my clothing to wick the sweat away, and
wearing loose fitting clothing is the best
approach...if you get wet, maybe a change of
clothes...I went to a mountain warfare school when
I was in the Marines...and poly pro works wonders
and dries quickly....Maybe you should check out
Gander Mountain (expensive though)....or Cabellas
(also expensive)...maybe Dunham's or a discount
sporting goods store would be a good first try
too...I know that wet suits are expensive
especially when you have them made custom....might
be worth the time and money to see how you fare
with warm weather gear before you make such a big
There are four types of sailing clothing..
1)cotton - jeans, normal t-shirts, pants etc...
Once they get wet, they stay wet and take hours in
the sun to dry. They also do not keep you warm when
you are wet...
2)synthetic clothing - nylon(cordura,
suplex...), capaline (long underwear)
polypropylene, burgaline, polar fleece etc... Very
warm, even when wet. Thicker the better, but is
usually very expensive. Nylon, especially suplex
dries extremely quickly and blocks wind well. I
like to wear spray equipment or rain coat/pants
over capaline. Even if you fall in it will keep you
3)neoprene - wet suits - keep you warm in medium
conditions - 50-60 degrees. If you wear a rain coat
and/or pants over them, they keep you even warmer.
A newer product called 'fuzzy rubber' has come out
and it is very nice - polar fleece on the inside,
neoprene on the outside. Once you get wet, you stay
wet, but you stay warm.
4)drysuits - keep you dry but are extremely
expensive (around $300 for a rubber/$5-600 for
goretex). They are nice when it gets really cold,
but are not really worth it unless you are going to
sail a lot in the winter.
QUESTION: What would silk long underwear be like
in the water? How's cotton when it's wet? When you
wear layers of wool, foulies, et cetera, is your
buoyancy adversely affected?
Under our conditions they would all work as we
have a warm boat house which is just a few minutes
away. I have worn different underwear and being
close to the boat house there is not much
difference after you capsize. You're wet and cold
and want to get to a warm place and get your wet
clothes off, and the snuggling with a warm body or
two or three would be great, but we're not that
advanced yet in our hypothermia recovery
cotton is evil- it soaks the heat out of you.
Wool, poly blends, spray protection with foulies
are all good.
re: buoyancy- that will depend on how strong of
a swimmer you are. If the water is cold and wind
strong I usually wear a PFD
Cotton's gross in water. I highly recommend
duofold capilene or polypropylene-backed wool long
underwear. The backing keeps the wool from itching
and helps with keeping water away from your skin.
The wool keeps you warm even when it's wet. I was
windsurfing a while ago wearing a duofold
long-sleeve shirt and found that it was pretty warm
even though it was soaking wet. They're making
duofold now with "wicking" materials (like
capilene) instead of cotton, mostly because when
you sweat cotton gets wet and you get cold, even on
As for buoyancy: wearing lots of clothes
definitely makes it difficult (or impossible) to
swim without a life-jacket. If you're wearing
foul-weather pants or boots, you should definitely
be wearing a life jacket. Also note that if you're
wearing all those clothes, the water is probably
pretty cold, and so swimming will be your last
concern if you fall in (after breathing and getting
back out again as quickly as possible). On the
other hand, if you do wear a life-jacket you should
be fine. I've fallen in wearing foul weather jacket
and pants and a full set of clothes a few times AND
a life-jacket and it hasn't been a problem.
My wife uses silk, but I think that the
polypropylene wicks and dries better. Cotton is a
definite no. It gets wet, but won't dry. The
natural fiber to use in wet cold conditions is
wool. It retains its warming properties with hollow
fibers even when wet. Unfortunately it is rough
against the skin. Polypropylene fabric was invented
to keep warm when wet like wool, be soft like
cotton, and wick away moisture like Gortex.
If you're in a heavy wind, you will have on a
life jacket. Whatever gear you wear will not much
affect buoyancy, especially because of trapped air,
but it will be more cumbersome and restricting to
swim in, and you will be heavier getting out of the
water into the boat. That is one of the reasons
that sailboarders use wet suits; they're trimmer.
Of course, it's also because of the constant
splashing, which you won't get it the drier ride of
Hmm....Silk doesn't breathe so I don't really
think you should wear that. However, I think I need
your phone # cause you're turning me on with your
silk long-undies and your "how's cotton when wet"
e-mail. :) (Just kidding of course.)
Silk long underwear is fine when it gets wet.
Mine has always kept me warm. Cotton is bad when it
is wet. It will not keep you warm and in fact will
just make you colder. I don't think multiple layers
would adversely affect your buoyancy, although it
could make it a bit harder to climb into the boat.
A wet suit will improve your buoyancy.
Silk is warm and will keep you warm if it is
wet. Cotton will not keep you warm when it is wet
(do not wear cotton sailing ever). But silk stinks
if you get it wet or sweat in it. So unless you
have silk all ready, I do not recommend you get it.
I use my silk for skiing, where I can wash them
So use poly propylene, and/ or fleece and wool.
As for wool, it will stretch out when wet, so it
can be a real hang up for your buoyancy. I have
never swam in wool, but I saw a college racer
walking to the boathouse after a capsize and his
sweater sleeve was so stretched out it was dragging
on the ground. Ha, Ha (the reason I laugh is that
EVERY one else had on Gore-Tex waterproof suits,
they are different than what divers wear, they are
comfortable). He was shivering, it was April. The
biggest problem I have swimming in my layers is the
windbreaker, or rain coat I have on. What happens
is that the sleeves get water in them and I can not
lift my arms.
Well, I hope I did not deter you, I know that if
you get a "dry" jacket, like these Gore-Tex suits I
mentioned up above the sleeves will not fill w/
water. You can find the dry coats at REI in the
kayaking section. Or look online and have companies
send you catalogs. But REI is the best.
You typed, foulies, what is this?? Like foul
Places to buy sailing clothing in
Annapolis Performance Sailing,
Online store. Huge selection.
Boat US Store, Online
Divers Inc, on Washtenaw (across
from Arborland) in the Ponderosa stripmall.
971-7770. Aimed at scuba divers. Pricy, but good
Dunham's Sports, on Maple
(Maple Village shopping center). 663-0770. General
sporting goods (cheap).
Huron Scuba, on Jackson (in
Jackson Square stripmall) between Wagner and Zeeb.
994-DIVE. Reasonable selection.
LL Bean, mail order outdoor
clothing. Recommended: long sleeve synthentic
shirts w/ SPF rating.
Midwest Sailing, on
Dexter-Pinckney (aross from Portage Yacht Club in
Pinckney). 426-4155. Small selection of
REI, stores in Northville and
Sun & Snow Sports, on
Jackson (next to Saturn dealership) between Wagner
and Zeeb. 663-9515. Small selection.
TWC Surf and Sport, in Novi
and Keego Harbor. (800) 636-7038. Windsurfing
West Marine, in Taylor and Troy.
Gigantic catalogs, usually one out at the club.
Wilderness Outfitters, on Main.
More information on wetsuits, from
As for purchasing a wetsuit, I would hesitate
before buying one from a dive shop. Divers have
different wetsuit needs than sailors. A diving
wetsuit is designed to be used under 10 to 100 feet
of water, while a sailing/windsurfing suit is made
to be used at the surface, both in and out of the
water. Its a different set of design criteria and
you may wind up paying for features that you don't
need or are actually counter productive. Diving
wetsuits are usually thicker, more restrictive and
do not insulate as well when out of the water.
There's an exhaustive treatment of diving
wetsuits at Diverlink, If you read it,
you'll see why you don't want a diving wetsuit.
That's not to say that a dive shop won't have a
wetsuit suitable for sailing, but you need to make
sure that you tell the salesperson what you intend
to do with the suit and get one that is designed
for your intended application.
3mm thickness seems about right for sailing and
windsurfing the shoulder season (April, May, Sept.
Oct) Thicker suits restrict mobility. Thinner suits
are less warm.
The john/jane style with exposed arms and full
length legs gives you pretty good freedom of
movement while covering the parts of the body that
spend the most time under water.
Look for padded/ reinforced knees and rear.
Pay close attention to the seams, and try to get
double-taped seams if you can.
It needs to be fairly tight to work properly. It
will seem tight at first. Wear it for at least a
half hour before buying it to see if you can stand
Don't even bother with the zipperless ones. Even
if you manage to actually get into one, you will
have to call the fire dept. to get you out.
For women, definitely try to find a women's
model. If the store doesn't have women's models,
look elsewhere. If they say that their suits are
'unisex', that means that they fit men, and women
who don't have hips.
We bought ours from Midwest Sailing (across from
the portage lake yacht club) They have a limited
selection and most of their gear is pricey, but we
found good quality suits on sale at competitive
prices (about $110 each). Other places I looked
that had some reasonable products were Sun and Snow
(on Jackson Road ~2 miles west of Maple).