We will show you how to choose a sailing wetsuit or combination of wetsuit tops and bottoms for sailing in warm, cool, cold, and frigid conditions.
- Make sure the suit is specifically designed for sailing
- Proper ‘second skin’ fit is the key to staying warm
- Water and air temperature will determine the thickness of the wetsuit
- Warmth on a budget is achievable.
To pick out a proper wetsuit, it is important to understand what and how they work. It is a bigger subject than you might imagine. We strongly urge you to read ‘What is a Sailing Wetsuit and How do they Work’ before reading on below.
Be sure the wetsuit is specifically designed for sailing
Sailing wetsuits are specially designed to accommodate the posture and movements of sailing. Diving, surfing, waterskiing, windsurfing, and general watersports wetsuit are built for different postures and activities which will hinder your onboard movements. Sailing wetsuits will also be reinforced in the knees, and especially in the seat to properly protect the suit from abrasion from the boat’s nonskid deck. If you intend on using a wetsuit for sailing, be sure it is a sailing specific suit.
Proper fit is the key to staying warm.
Try the suit on and be sure it is hugging you all over. It should be exerting light to medium pressure on all parts of your body (second skin fit). There should be no loose pockets of material where excessive amounts of cold water could collect. Make sure the wrists, ankle, and neck openings are snug. This is critical to prevent cold water ‘flushing’ repeatedly into the suit, and robbing body heat. If it does not fit try another size, style or brand until you get the right fit. No matter how high tech or expensive the wetsuit, it will not keep you warm unless it fits correctly.
What water and air temperatures will you be sailing in?
Wearing a wetsuit can keep you comfortable in cold weather, but the most important safety requirement is to protect you from hypothermia. Immersion in cold water can quickly numb the extremities to the point of uselessness. Cold hands cannot fasten the straps of a lifejacket, grasp a line, or hold onto and right a capsized boat. Let the temperature of the water you are sailing on be your first guide, as water pulls heat out of your body 25 times faster than air. The following chart shows how debilitating and dangerous cold water is.
The following demonstrates the effects cold water on an unprotected person submerged in water over time.
|Water Temperature||Exhaustion or Unconsciousness in||Expected Survival Time|
|70-80° F (21-27° C)||3-12 hours||3 hours – Indefinitely|
|60-70° F (10-16°C)||2-7 hours||2-40 hours|
|50-60° F (10-16° C)||1-2 hours||1-6 hours|
|40-50° F (4-10° C)||30-60 minutes||1-3 hours|
|32.5-40° F (0-4° C)||15-30 minutes||30-90 minutes|
|<32° F (<0° C)||Under 15 minutes||Under 15-45 minutes|
Wetsuit Water Temperature Guidelines
Use our guide to choose a wetsuit material and thickness that is appropriate for the temperature of the water you are sailing on.
|Water Temperature Range (°F)||Conditions||Neoprene Thickness||Neoprene w/thermal lining||One Piece||Two Piece|
|80° +||Warm||Rash guard
|72° +||Warm||0.5 – 1mm||Thermal or neoprene top|
|65° +||Cool||2mm||1 mm||Neoprene top & Shorts|
|60° +||Cool||3mm||1 – 2mm||Shortie or spring suit||Neoprene top & pants|
|52° +||Cold||4mm||2mm||Spring suit or full suit||Neoprene top & either pants or long john|
|48° +||Cold||4 – 5mm||2 – 3mm||Full suit||Neoprene top & long john|
|Full suit||Neoprene top & long john|
Wind Chill Factor
The effect of wind chill is to increase the rate of heat loss and to reduce any warmer objects (you in a wetsuit) to the ambient air temperature (the actual outside air temperature as shown by a thermometer) more quickly. The faster air move across a surface, the faster it will pull heat away from the surface.
If you are sailing on a day where the thermometer reads 50°, and the wind is blowing a steady 15 MPH, the wind chill will make it feel like it is 36° (heat will be lost as though you are standing outside on a calm 36° day). There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to choosing which wetsuit to wear when it comes to wind chill. Just remember, the higher the sustained wind speeds are on the water, the thicker and warmer your wetsuit needs to be that day.
In addition to water and air temperatures consider the following:
- Your sensitivity to getting cold
- How active you will be
Note: For colder than water air temperatures, higher wind, less active sailing, or if you get cold easily, consider a thicker wetsuit. These are general temperature guidelines.
What is your budget?
Buying a well-fitting, less expensive model doesn’t mean the suit won’t insulate you in the water, but it will likely not be as stretchy, lightweight, nor as good at keeping cold water ‘flushing’ into the suit. If you are only occasionally using a wetsuit, you are not using it in cold or frigid temperatures, and you are budget conscious; a properly fitting base model will keep you warm enough and meet your needs. If you want to be the most comfortable in a suit that minimizes fatigue, use a wetsuit more than a few times a year, or are sailing in cold or frigid conditions, consider a higher performance suit to maximize your enjoyment of sailing.
Types of Wetsuit Use – Which is your scenario?
- Sailing occasionally in cool temperatures wearing a simple one-piece suit. These are standalone suits that offer good protection, but have a limited temperature range.
- Shortie for cool temperatures
- Spring suit for cool temperatures, if you get cold more easily
- Sailing in conditions ranging from warm, cool and cold conditions and wear wetsuits often. This is where combining multiple different types and thicknesses of tops and bottoms to best suit the temperature, keeps you warm while retaining good stretch and mobility. You can mix and match tops and bottoms to achieve the best balance between mobility and warmth for the greatest comfort. Here is where sailing wetsuits have really advanced. There are now many choices of tops and bottoms to choose from, and even if you have just one bottom and two different tops to choose from you will gain a lot of flexibility in dressing appropriately for different temperatures. The more pieces you have, the more flexibility you gain to dress for comfort. Sailing through this range of temperatures is not for shorties and spring suits as they do not lend themselves well to such a variety of conditions. It is the ability to choose tops and bottoms separately that is the key.
- Sailing in frigid conditions where a steamer one piece or combination of a top and long john bottom made of thick neoprene or medium super stretch (with a thermal liner) neoprene perform well. These pieces are designed specifically for frigid conations and generally do not lend themselves to cold, cool or warm conditions, as you would overheat.
- Traditional double faced 5mm neoprene one piece steamer.
- Super stretch neoprene 3mm+ with a full internal thermal liner throughout in either a one piece steamer, or two piece that overlap in the chest for even thicker insulation.
Dinghy Sailing in Hiking Pants
Warm: neoprene hiking shorts matched with a rash guard or hydrophobic fleece top.
Cool: ¾ length neoprene hiking pants with suspenders with a hydrophobic fleece top and a dinghy smock top; or a thin to medium thickness neoprene top with no dinghy smock.
Cold: Full-length neoprene hiking pants with suspenders with a medium thickness neoprene top and optional hydrophobic fleece top underneath.
Frigid: Super stretch full-length hiking pants with an internal thermal liner with suspenders and a top made of the same material.
Dinghy sailing without hiking pants
Warm: neoprene shorts matched with a rash guard or hydrophobic fleece top.
Cool: neoprene pants with a hydrophobic fleece top and a dinghy smock top; or a thin to medium thickness neoprene top with no dinghy smock.
Cold: Farmer John with medium thickness neoprene with a medium thickness neoprene top and optional hydrophobic fleece top underneath.
Frigid: 3mm super stretch full length long john with internal thermal liner and a top made of the same material, or a one-piece steamer of the same material. Alternatively a one-piece steamer of 3/4/5mm traditional unlined neoprene.