What is Dinghy Sailing Gear?
Dinghy gear is designed to keep you from getting cold, maximizing comfort and ease of movement in gear that is either wet or dry. It is expected to perform for hours up to a whole day on the water. The range of gear is wide and varied to allow you the flexibility of combining different pieces for various types of dinghy sailing types and weather conditions. For hot days Uninsulated Wet Wear is made for hot weather sailing. Its light weight, stretches, easy to move in on board or in the water, and offers good UV protection. Most popular of all categories is dinghy spray gear (foul weather gear) for warm to cool conditions. Insulated Wet Gear for cool weather sailing has just enough insulation to keep the chill away without periods of overheating when exerting yourself. Wet suits of varied thicknesses for cool to cold conditions are form fitting and effective. For cold sailing conditions the versatility of dry suits make them the most comfortable for all-around winter sailing.
Uninsulated Wet Wear
The intention of this gear is to contribute to keeping you cool in hot weather, provide UV protection and the added benefit of abrasion protection. These pieces of gear will be a mix of light weight tops and bottoms that stretch – short and long cut in the legs and arms (long is generally best). They are comfortable to wear in and out of the water, and easy to move in – a ‘second skin’ fit. Think stretchy rash guards, but more. These are made with ‘quick drying’ materials like Spandex and Lycra. Occasionally jumping in the water and wetting them when the heat is extreme can kind-of cool you for a period, because as the water evaporates from the materiel, the evaporation process will pull heat from you body, thus keeping you cooler (assuming there is a breeze). Remember that lighter colors are always cooler in the sun.
Spray and Foul Weather Gear
Dinghy foul weather gear uses waterproof and breathable material to keep rain and spray out. Adjustable seals at the neck, wrists, waist and ankles create a custom fit to keep rain and spray out. This waterproof gear has an form-fit with room for layering underneath, and fits comfortably under a life jacket. Many smocks and bibs in this category are also suitable for wearing on small racing keelboats.
Smocks and Spray Tops
Dinghy smocks are generally the first and primary piece of gear for most small boat sailors. They keep you dry, shed water (outer surface does not retain water or ‘wet out’), and breath to allow moisture (sweat) to escape. They are versatile in that they can be worn over a moisture wicking tech shirt on warmer days, on cooler days with warmer base and mid layers or over a wetsuit on colder days. When wearing neoprene hiking pants, a smock is a natural addition. Some smocks have nonadjustable drysuit style neoprene or latex seals that keep all water out, but most find them too hot at times as you cannot open the seals and vent excess heat when needed.
There is a hybrid material used dinghy spray tops meant for cooler weather sailing. It is referred to by different proprietary names, but is it basically a waterproof laminated micro fleece like a waterproof softshell. These materials are waterproof, but minimally breathable. This type of material adds a layer of insulation for warmth. Wrists and waistbands have adjustable points like a normal dinghy smock however the necks will typically have an elastic cord to cinch them closed around your neck. This style of smock works well as a secondary top on those colder, blustery days on the water.
Trousers and Bibs
Dinghy Trousers offer your lower half the same waterproof and breathable protection as the smock top, and pair well with quick drying shorts, thin wicking base layer leggings on cool days or warmer wicking mid layers on colder days. Generally, they would not be worn over wetsuit bottoms. Designed in a ‘bib’ style, dinghy trousers have a high overall cut. This design helps keep water from entering anywhere around your waist. Closures at the ankle ensure a streamlined fit and keep water from going up the pant.
The combination of a dinghy smock and trousers offer good protection and comfort for most sailors from mid spring, through summer, until mid-fall for rain and spray protection, but not for immersion.
Lightly Insulated Wet Wear
For cool weather sailing when you intend to be wet in or out of the water, these lightly insulated pieces will keep the chill off. They incorporate either micro fleece faced stretch materials or 0.5mm – 1.5mm neoprene panels for insulation – just enough for cool days on the water. You will find them easy and comfortable to move in on the boat or in the water. They are a stretchy ‘second-skin’ fit and offer good UV and abrasion protection. They consist of separate tops and bottom that are generally long are and leg lengths. Adding a smock top to a set of this gear gives you an even broader comfort range.
Wetsuits are made with closed cell neoprene foam to insulate the wearer from cool to cold weather. The thicker the neoprene, the more insulation and warmth the gear will provide. Generally sailing wetsuits are made with neoprene that is 3mm to 5mm thick. Wetsuits made of 3mm are most common and versatile, while 5mm suits are dedicated to cold weather use. Some light weight tops and bottoms are made with 1 or 2mm thick neoprene for chilly, but not cold days on the water. Styles vary from steamers with full length legs and arms to ‘shorty’ style that are sleeveless and hit above the knee. One potential down side with neoprene gear is that it does not breathe and holds in moisture. Wetsuits are referred to as wet gear as they insulate in and out of the water – wet or dry. If you may be in and out of the water, wetsuits are advantages over spray gear.
For cooler days (not cold) combining a spray top and base top layer with a sleeveless (sometime called a ‘farmer John’ cut) wetsuit can provide the best spray protection for your upper body, with the insulation of a wetsuit for your core and legs.
Also the soft neoprene means wetsuits provide a bit of padding and protection from bumps and hiking. They can also at times add a bit of additional fatigue as each movement you make throughout the day requires stretching the neoprene. Lastly, wet suits are made of non breathable neoprene and do not breath, so as you perspire, the moisture will not leave the suit – they are in wet wear category.
A note about wetsuits…
While a 5mm wetsuit will keep you warm enough and out of the water it has two disadvantages: 1) The neoprene will always provide the same amount of insulation, which could be too much or little. 2) If you do go in the water, there is the shock of cold water seeping in initially (this will eventually stabilize and warm from your body heat). The advantage to a cold weather wetsuit is that they don’t have the baggy bulk of a dry suit which may be advantages for highly athletic and agile sailing.
For cold weather sailing comfort and safety, dry suits are the standard in North America. These suits have waterproof entry zippers and waterproof wrist, neck and feet. If you go into the water they are completely waterproof and the material breaths allowing internal moisture (sweat) to escape.
A dry suit is a waterproof and breathable shell. Warmth is determined by how you layer underneath. Never wear cotton which absorbs moisture and can become sodden with sweat and lead to getting cold. Choose insulating and wicking base and mid layers appropriate for the temperature conditions. These wicking layers will move moisture from your skin to the dry suit where it can be transported out.