Best Cold Weather Sailing Gear

Best Cold Weather Sailing Gear | Life of Sailing

Last Updated by

Daniel Wade

January 8, 2024

If you want to sail in cold weather, having the best cold weather sailing gear makes sense. Not all gear is necessary, with some more important than others.

This can be confusing if you are new to sailing or have never experienced cold weather while on the water. So what would be ideal cold weather sailing gear?

Having a drysuit or wetsuit, base layers, and thermal tops is a good start. Checking out cold weather gloves, comfortable hats, and thermal socks could improve the situation. Most importantly, a life jacket and sailing boots could make all the difference.

Having the correct cold weather gear is only one part of the equation for sailing in the cold. The other part you must consider is learning how to react in cold weather, because it will be a shock to most people that have never experienced this environment.

Experienced sailors have often recommended that you start slow and do not jump into harsh conditions. Safety is going to be a priority no matter how much experience or desire to sail in any condition.


Table of contents

Nine Essential Cold Weather Gear for Sailing

Sailing during wintery conditions is an interesting experience that can be quite rewarding. Many sailors enjoy competing in what they call “frostbite” races, which is a great idea to get a feel for the atmosphere if you want to sail long-term in the cold.

Drysuit or Wetsuit

There are two gear options for cold weather sailing that you can give a try which is a drysuit or a wetsuit. Depending on the situation you are going to be in, both have their unique uses.

If you are experiencing some of the coldest conditions, a drysuit is going to be your best bet. These offer 100 percent waterproof protection due to the fabric they use to make them.

They are also fully submersible and seal around the wrists and neck. This way, you can stay dry on the inside, with layers to help keep you warm.

As for a wetsuit, these are generally cheaper than trying to buy a drysuit. After all, a wetsuit is designed for getting wet, but you can utilize some brands to keep yourself warm.

The thicker the wetsuit, the better off you are at staying warm. Some sailors might not like the bulk of these, so it will all depend on your comfort level and convenience.

Base Layers

When using a drysuit or heavy-duty top, you are going to want to use base layers to supplement. These will help keep your core body temperature stable.

Depending on the temperature and what you have in the closet, you can possibly just grab a long sleeve shirt and call it good. However, the best option is something that is geared towards wicking moisture away from your skin.

A thin base layer that is made up of a natural or synthetic material to wick moisture away is ideal. If you want something a little thicker for colder temperatures, then the same rules apply for material but you likely want it to be fleece or wool.

This is why pulling something out of your closet might not be ideal, since it could be cotton. Cotton will lose its efficiency of keeping warm if it gets wet, which is likely to happen once you sweat.

Thermal Top

Thermal tops, which are similar to wetsuits, provide all of the same benefits but just having the top. This allows you to keep your top half of your body warm along with your core. Some sailors do not like being confined to a suit, so this is a great piece to have on its own.

These suits help trap a minimal amount of moisture to the skin to keep an insulating effect. On cold days, you could look into having a base layer underneath one of these. In addition, it could help you save money instead of buying a full wetsuit.

Heavy Duty Gloves

Most sailors like to use gloves or something to protect their hands from wear and tear. Something like short finger gloves that give you the dexterity you need but a little cushion.

As for the winter months, you are likely going to want some heavy duty winter gloves. Ideally, you do not want something that is going to be bulky. If you decide that you want a bulky pair, you could always wear a thin pair underneath when you are not trying to handle anything.

Each sailor is going to have their own tolerance to the cold. Having a pair of gloves that are breathable and waterproof are a good place to begin.

Thermal Hat

Having a hat on a warm day to help keep the sun and water off of you is reasonable enough. The same rules apply to cold weather sailing, but warmth is the key here.

A thermal sailing hat is essential because you need to retain your body heat. These have a few layers to help retain your body heat and the outer layer will have waterproof protection.

You could even try wearing a plain sock cap if you think your adventure will not be as wet. This way you can still be warm in a pinch.

A lot of sailing apparel companies have some good options available. This gives you the opportunity to pick and choose how much you want to pay.

Thermal Socks

As temperatures start to become unbearable, it might be time to change into your thermal socks. These are usually heavy duty and a few millimeters thick.

You could think of these like having a wetsuit on your feet. They will keep you dry, be waterproof, and help retain your body heat.

In addition, you could always bring on board a few pairs of wool socks or something that will breathe while you move around. This way your feet remain warm while having a backup.

Sailing Boots

Regardless of what time of the year it is, having a good pair of quality sailing boots is a good idea. These are usually light, are comfortable to walk in, and have great traction even in wet conditions.

Most have some sort of strap that you can gently tie around your leg or ankle to help keep water or the cold out. Depending on your preference, you could choose one that is right at the ankle or a higher boot cut above the ankle.

If you do not have a sailing boot, you could always look for ones that are in comparison to hiking. As long as they are not bulky and are waterproof, this is a decent option if you have difficulty finding a good sailing boot that you like.

Life Jacket

Assuming you do not already have one, you are going to need a life jacket. Picking one that is comfortable and fits you well so that you can wear it long term is going to be key.

These life jackets are catered to sailing, especially racing, to give sailors the ability to move freely without being bound up. With extra layers of cold gear, these life jackets will still give you the freedom to move without compromising comfort.

Safety Goggles

While this one is fairly self explanatory for most, it does not hurt to take a look at trying to protect your eyes on the water. You want something that will partially block the sun's rays and keep water out of your eyes.

Tips for Cold Weather Sailing

Your body is going to use energy to stay warm, which over time, is going to affect your performance and focus on the water. These are critical for cold weather sailing and keeping you safe while in cold conditions.

Having Reliable Cold Weather Gear

Staying dry means staying warm, so getting wet is not an option for cold weather sailing. Thankfully, you can find everything under the sun when it comes to cold weather gear to keep your body dry and warm.

There is gear specifically for men and women, so sizes and ranges will cater to that. Another beautiful thing, too is that a lot of sailing apparel companies want your business, so a lot of these will be competing prices.

Do Not Skip on Baselayers

Staying dry is only one aspect of cold weather gear, as you need to remain warm in the process. This is where base layers come in handy.

These act like tinfoil wrapped around ribs in a smoker, keeping everything nice and warm where it should be without overheating. The cold air on top of the water will make you feel a lot colder than what is in the air, which could cut right through a heavy-duty suit.

These do not have to be a special material either; they can be something you already own. For example, a wool sweater is able to retain heat and is moisture-wicking. Cotton base layers need to be avoided, as this material does not wick away moisture.

Disposable Warmers and Alternatives

In a pinch, having disposable hand and toe warmers could give you the boost you need to stay in the cold. You can find these at any hardware or sporting goods store.

The toe warmers are a bit more ideal since they have an adhesive on the back to stick to things. Just make sure you do not put them directly on your skin. You can place these anywhere, ideally on your neck gaiter or shirt.

If you happen to have a heated vest that has a battery pack, this could be a safe alternative once you head back inside. You could also use latex gloves or something similar underneath your other gloves to keep your hands dry and retain some heat.

Face Guard

No matter what the elements bring, protecting your face and neck has been a priority for exploring the outdoors. You actually kill two birds with one stone here, as you are staying warm and keeping the sun off of your neck or face.

On top of that, you are helping with any spray that might come off of the water. In lighter conditions, you could even use a scarf. If it is cold enough outside, a combination of the spray and chill could easily lead to frostbite, so having something that can combat that would be nice.

Sleeping in Your Gear

Being comfortable while you sleep is another aspect tk cold weather sailing. If your sailboat has adequate ways to heat, then you might not have to sleep in your gear.

Sleeping in some of your gear will help get rid of any moisture and will definitely keep you warm. Your body temperature is around 98 degrees, which will help dry out anything left in your clothes.

Another good tip would be to wear some warm socks while you sleep. Just keep in mind what works best for you, as some people get hot too easily.

Eating Frequently

Staying in cold weather long-term has different effects on the body. For example, you want to eat smaller meals more frequently since larger meals take longer to digest.

Eating larger meals will take heat away from your body, as it expends more energy to digest. Ideally, eating more protein is good since it digests moderately. Test it out and see what works best for your situation.

Using the Bathroom

If you need to use the bathroom, do not hold it in. Your body spends energy keeping liquids warm inside of you, so holding in your pee is actually wearing you down slightly. Go when you feel like you need to, and you will stay warmer.

Consuming Warm Beverages

You do not have to like coffee to enjoy a warm beverage. Coffee will dehydrate you, making the situation worse if you are trying to remain warm.

Instead, you should look into cups of broth or warm water to stay hydrated throughout the day. Drinking cold water will make your body work harder in trying to change the temperature, so keep bottles at room temp if possible.

You could also sleep with a warm water bottle at night to provide a little extra heat. Just make sure you keep an eye on the lid and see that it is sealed tight.

Staying Active

Most duties on a sailboat, whether racing or cruising, require some amount of physical energy to keep the boat moving. If you are able to keep your body moving, then you are burning energy to remain warm.

You do not have to exert a ton of energy if there is nothing to do at that moment. Simply walking around or finding something that needs to be worked on can help keep your blood circulating.

Know Your Limits

The most dangerous thing you can do is to stay out longer than you are comfortable with. Oftentimes crew members might stay out because others are doing the same, but they have not properly suited up or dealt with an issue at hand.

Knowing your limits is important for the cold, especially if you plan on being out in the elements for a period of time. Staying safe is priority number one, so make sure you have everything in order before testing out cold weather sailing.

Best Cold Weather Sailing Gear
Daniel Wade

Daniel Wade

I've personally had thousands of questions about sailing and sailboats over the years. As I learn and experience sailing, and the community, I share the answers that work and make sense to me, here on Life of Sailing.

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