What to wear to stay warm on the water
9th June 2021 Jack O'Rourke
Heading out is always fraught with an element of risk, but the thrill of boating always attracts a lot of keen boaties even during the winter time. Preparation is vital to ensure that you and your passengers have a safe and enjoyable time, and everyone gets home safely.
There are no guarantees on the water, but dressing for changing weather conditions should be a top priority. Keeping yourself warm and controlling your body temperature can go a long way to protecting yourself from the elements if something goes wrong on the water.
Layering can be the difference between a nice day out, or succumbing to the shakes in the middle of the ocean. Hypothermia is a very real threat, whether offshore or cruising your local waterways.
If you are doing some high-intensity activity like fishing or sailing, even sweating can lead to hypothermia, when your body temperature dips below 35 Celcius. If you are wearing the wrong clothing sweat can’t escape through your clothes and you get cold. If you are unable to stay dry out on the water, the body uses a surprising amount of energy to keep you warm. Fine and gross motor skills will start to suffer, along with your ability to make quick decisions.
Staying comfortable means staying safe on board, so consider investing in wet weather gear. A combination of wicking and insulating layers will maximise your comfort and endurance.
A comfortable base layer of clothing should be worn against the skin to wick any moisture away. It should be lightweight and stretchy for a range of movement and have hydrophilic properties (which basically means it attracts moisture and keeps you dry). The sign of a good base layer is you shouldn’t feel it at all. Avoid cotton as it retains moisture and is harder to dry out, instead opt for merino wool.
For a middle layer, look for clothing that retains heat around the body. Having a comfortable base layer allows you to add or remove other items of clothing easily should the conditions change. Having a variety of thicknesses to choose from is a good idea in order to regulate your body temperature. A fleece jacket is an ideal option, especially ones made of polyester with anti-pilling treatment that will keep you warm in winter, but also light enough during the summer in cooler climates. Think light jackets, salopettes or long-sleeved shirts.
If it starts getting really cold and windy, some heavy-duty gear may be required. A water-repelling jacket should be included in your kit bag whenever heading offshore for long periods of time. Sailing jackets with laminated outer layers, fleece linings and fully taped seams to create a waterproof seal are the go-to's for protection against the elements. The top of the range jackets includes hydrophobic/hydrophilic technology to transport moisture away from the skin.
You can combine these layers with extra insulation. A balaclava that can be attached to a smock or drysuit will keep heat from escaping through the top of your head and offers protection from wind and spray. Depending on the climate, gloves aren’t such a bad idea either. Gloves with an inner fleece layer and a polyurethane outer keep your hands warm and dry, especially if there is a sealable strap. Waterproof boots keep your feet dry and help to retain heat in those external limbs, which is critical to preventing hypothermia.
While it may not seem to some as an essential consideration on an offshore trip, it's amazing the difference keeping warm with the right gear can make to your day on the water.