Just as you wouldn’t go skiing in a tank top and shorts, it is just as important to wear the correct clothing when you’re on a boat. The right clothing can save your life, especially if the weather unexpectedly turns harsh in an open sea. In nautical terminology, the set of clothing and gear for boating is called foul weather clothing, or what sailors call “foulies.” Foulies include windproof and waterproof pants, boots and jackets. This set of clothes and gears keep the crew safe and efficient especially during emergencies. I know living in Southern California and having glorious weather all year round (see picture above) makes this seem kinda moot but trust me when I say that you only miss it when you need it!
When choosing your foul weather gear, you should consider three things: the climate in the area where you plan on sailing (um is “LA beautiful” a climbate?), the weather forecast of the day (“sunny” gotcha), and the needs of your passenger (alcohol warms us right?). Ideal foulies should keep you dry, use comfortable, breathable, and durable garment, and fit perfectly. However, an important thing to remember is that most foulies are intended to keep the wearer dry, but not necessarily warm. This is why sailors and boaters wear layered undergarments. The quality of the garment is essential for warmth or coolness. For example, if the undergarments are not breathable, you will end up feeling sticky during hot weather. You would want fabric breathable enough to allow your body to cool down on a hot day.
If you’re planning to go boating in Los Angeles, Southern California, or anywhere else for that matter we have the perfect do’s and don’t on foulies.
Your jacket is the first line of defense against the wind and cold. The ideal jacket should comfortably fit without compromising the space for under layers. Pick a jacket that is waterproof, roomy, and flexible enough to withstand possible tear (from harpoon fights). There are four basic materials to choose from, each with its own strengths in waterproofing, breathability and durability:
- Polyvinyl-chloride (PVC): This durable coating is abrasion-resistant, lightweight and very waterproof. Because it is the most inexpensive material, it may collect condensation and perspiration between the skin and fabric, making the wearer feel slightly uncomfortable.
- Polyurethane: Polyurethane is a rubber polymer coating that is slightly lighter, more flexible and more breathable than PVC. However, it is does not repel water as well and is less durable.
- Polytetrafluorethylene (PFTE): Also known as Gore-Tex, PFTE is used to make waterproof and breathable fabric membrane. Its cost ranges from moderate to expensive.
- Neoprene: Neoprene is extremely flexible and durable but also the heaviest and most expensive. It is most popular in northern climates where sailing is both cold and wet.
Other features you should consider before buying a jacket are the following:
- Wrist Closures: Should snuggly fit to keep water from entering the jacket but also give some ventilation on sunny days
- Pocket: Should be large enough to carry little things (Cargo-type with Velcro closures and drain holes are best)
- Jacket Length: Extends from the seat to under your chin
- Neck: Find a fleece-lined closure that won’t touch your skin and have an outer Velcro or zipped closure
- Inner lining: Should be a meshed interior because it offers better airflow
- Front Zipper: Easy-grip, heavy-duty, rust and corrosion resistant
- Color: Highlighter colors (red or yellow) with reflective tapes on the hood make it easier to find your crew at night
- Other features: underarm ventilation, hand warmer pockets (fleece-lined), hoods that can be zippered in a collar pocket, crotch straps, personal floatation (inflatable), and buoyancy chambers for added safety measure.
Once you found the perfect jacket, you can’t forget about your legs. Pants are another important part of your foul weather attire. “Bibs” (i.e. pants with suspenders) are the best choice to keep you dry. When buying your pants, pick the ones with crossed shoulder straps. It efficiently keeps the pants up and straps in place. The knee and seat guards should have patches to protect from abrasions. Pockets should also be cargo-type (preferably with flaps) and have Velcro closures.
Lastly, here’s an important sailor tip: keep your pant legs outside the boot to prevent water from entering your boots. You can even find pant legs with Velcro closures which can seal your sea boots and protect them from water.
Shorties and Sea Boots
Boat decks are slippery. The last thing we want is to slip and fall. Your sea boots and short boots (shorties) will save you from unnecessary injuries and keep your feet warm. Sea boots usually have soft soles and heels to prevent you from damaging the decks. If you’re a coastal and offshore boater, choose full-length insulated boots plus a pair of wicking socks and toe warmers (for added warmth). If you are a power boater or day sailor, short boots are more preferable. These rubber boots allow for easy movement.
A prudent sailor will take time to layer their clothing for the voyage. Weather conditions at sea are extremely unpredictable. Wear these different types of layers to stay warm. The base layer is worn next to the skin and absorbs moisture, allowing the body to maintain its temperature and stay comfortable. The insulating layers are worn over the base layer and serve as a buffer between the cold air and your warm skin.
Technical garment is a recently-added, new term in boating. This is the cloth that you wear beneath your outer gear. The fabric is waterproof and moist absorbent and the breathability of its fabric is better than cotton. We recommend technical garments made of micro-porous laminates or hydrophilic coatings. These fabrics can maintain your body temperature and keep you comfortable.
Gloves and Foot Warmer
Gloves and foot warmer are great addition to keep your body warm and comfortable regardless of the weather. Especially for cold weather sailors, insulated gloves, foot warmers, and insulated stocking cap can prevent their body from freezing.
Care and Maintenance for Your Foulies
Your foul weather gears aren’t cheap. A decent set can cost at least $700. Thus you want to protect your investment. Here are some tips to maintain your foulies:
- Invest in a waterproof sea bag. This makes it easy to carry your gear and protect it from damage.
- Clean it regularly. Ideally, you should be cleaning foulies after every outing.
- Read manufacturer labels and follow those instructions when cleaning your gear.
Lastly, if you want to know even more about care and maintenance for your foul weather gears and technical garments, drop by a marine retailer. These experts offer insightful and inexpensive tips. Most Los Angeles coastal shops offer foul weather gear, so don’t be afraid to ask around.
Remember, google is your friend. There are plenty of resources on the internet passionate about educating their customers on maritime gear. If you’re serious about boating and sailing as your hobby, investing and maintaining your gears will guarantee you safety, comfort, efficiency, and a better experience.