July 14, 2015

Deciding What to Wear

As long as conditions are safe, rough weather should not keep us from enjoying the water.  In fact, rough weather days can often be the most memorable and great for stories at the bar afterwards.  However, poor quality clothing and out of date fabrics can ruin the day for all on the water activities, especially for people who are new to boating.

Wearing lighter weight, less restrictive, highly breathable garments will keep you warm (but not too warm!) and dry all day in the worst of conditions.

It is important to know yourself and your tolerance to the cold as every person is different, but proper layering and the right outer garments will keep you from being wet, cold and miserable.


Most people see a base layer as a piece of clothing to keep you warm. But a base layer's true function is to keep surface of the skin dry by moving water away from the skin, a process called "wicking".  A good wicking base layer will help to keep you warm in cold conditions but will also help you to stay cool on hot days, especially when wearing waterproof breathable outer garments.

With only moderate exertion, our bodies give off about a quart of moisture vapour in one hour. This is the body's natural cooling system.  To prevent discomfort this moisture should not be absorbed by fabrics next to the skin, but should be able to evaporate or wick to the next layer so the skin is dry.

Polyester or Merino Wool fabrics are the best choices for a good base layer. Cotton is bad on the water!  Cotton clothing absorbs moisture up to 400% of its own weight.  Damp fabric and the moist surrounding air will transfer heat AWAY from the boat twenty times faster than dry fabric and surrounding air.  If you are wearing cotton clothing next to the skin, it will absorb the moisture and suck the heat out of your body leaving you feeling cold and clammy which will eventually lead to early tiredness and fatigue.

If you find that your old base layer is no longer wicking well, it is time to replace it.  And you should never use fabric softeners on these fabrics.

Helly Hansen HH Dry Fly Pants
Helly Hansen HH Dry Fly Pants
Helly Hansen Dry Stripe Crew

Zhik HydroBase Pants
Zhik Hydrobase Top


A midlayer is generally worn over the base layer.  It's purpose is to help trap the dry warmed air close to the body.  The trapped air works like double glazing in a house.  A good midlayer garment should be highly breathable to allow the moisture that has been wicked from your skin to pass through (Moisture Vapour Transfer).

Generally, a good midlayer is a fleece or lofted garment similar to a sleeping bag and the materials used should be non-absorbing.  For the same reason as above, cotton is not a good choice.

Midlayers can also function as a great outer layer in mild weather on the boat and even look great on shore.

Helly Hansen Regulate Jacket
Helly Hansen Daybreaker Fleece

Henri Lloyd Aura Half Zip Fleece
Henri Lloyd Traverse Fleece


The outer layer is where the real protection against the elements takes place.  Look for something that is highly breathable and completely waterproof and windproof.

The principle purpose of the outer layer is to stop wind water getting in and also to contain the warm air within the midlayer from escaping, but allowing the moist air to escape (Moisture Vapour Transfer).  The latest fabrics on the market are lighter and more flexible than ever before, but also still extremely durable.  This allows greater freedom of movement and less tiring when worn for extended periods.

Outer layers come in a wide range of styles with many different features and you need to take into account the kind of boating you will be doing in order to choose the right system.  The needs out on the water in San Francisco Bay are very different to those in Biscayne Bay, Miami.  Maybe you never leave protected waters or you prefer to undertake long offshore passages.  Are you a racer, a cruiser, a fisherman, or a power boater?  There is a product out there that will suit your need and we are here to help you choose the perfect outerwear for you.

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