Choosing Foul Weather Gear for Coastal Sailing

, Choosing Foul Weather Gear for Coastal Sailing

Sailing, being one of the oldest forms of transportation, has its own language. Those cylinders that keep the boat from damaging the dock are fenders;  never, ever called “bumpers,” and no self-respecting sailor would refer to their foul weather gear as a “rain jacket.” 

Because, you see, foul weather gear is SO much more than a simple rain jacket. I divided my main considerations into three categories.

Fit, Form, and Function

, Choosing Foul Weather Gear for Coastal Sailing

Fit

With so many manufacturers, it’s important to actually try on the gear. Sizes vary wildly brand–to–brand. Foul weather gear is an expensive investment, and something you are going to use a lot more often than you realize. Any slight shortcoming will become more and more noticeable, and more and more aggravating over time.

Determine in what weather you are going to be sailing the most, because this also will determine fit. If most of your sailing is going to be in warmer climates, your gear needs only to fit over shorts and a t-shirt. If you are sailing further North, your gear may need to fit over thermals, pants, and multiple layers of shirts and sweaters. 

Try on the prospective gear over whatever you are most likely to be wearing when the wet weather or spray hits. 

Ensure that sleeve length is sufficient to cover your wrists and that there is a wrist adjustment to accommodate various needs – from when you are wearing a shirt with no long sleeve up to wearing a thick sweater.

Some foul weather gear jackets have an elasticated cuff. Make sure it’s not uncomfortably tight, or after a few months, you’ll find yourself using your rigger’s knife to open up the seam and release the constriction. The fewer modifications necessary, the better. I’ve had to cut the elastic before.

As with any jacket, make sure that you can zip it closed over your clothes. If it’s too tight, you won’t be able to move around the boat and sail, and if you have to leave it open, you’ll be soaked, so that would be worthless. 

For sailing in Maine, my mother purchased a flannel-lined foul weather gear set. Perfect for up there, but in Florida, she hasn’t been able to wear it once because it’s too hot.

Most Important: Length

And then there is one of the most important and hardest-to-find features; the length of the front and the back. Often, foul weather jackets will have a longer rear section – that’s to keep your bum dry. For myself, I have to factor what are the longest shorts I am likely to wear on the boat, and hopefully find a jacket that will be slightly longer.

With my current jacket, I have to roll my shorts legs up a few times to keep them dry. I’d like to find a jacket that precludes that and has a longer rear.

So far, the best option for length was one I found at Bass Pro World, It was very sturdily-made, however, I resisted, as it was dreadfully black all over, and had an enormous bass on the front, as well as their logo, and I knew I just couldn’t bring myself to wear it on board the sailboat no matter how functional it was.

Without the huge freshwater fish, it would have looked more like a Gloucester fisherman’s jacket, and I probably could have accepted that. On a bass fishing boat, it would have been absolutely perfect.

Pants

Foul weather pants need the same fitting technique, and it is completely predictable that you will find you need different size pants than the jacket.

In Florida, I wear the foul weather gear pants only seldom in Summer. In Winter, they are more likely to come out for rainy cold days.

The design of these will usually be a bib-type overall so water does not soak your midsection. Plenty of people wear only the pants; sometimes for salt spray even more than for rain.

Ensure that the shoulder straps ride comfortably and are wide enough to not twist into rolls. Ensure that the seat is generous enough for you to be able to sit at the helm, and that the legs are long enough to cover your ankles even while sitting but not trip you on deck.

Any zipper or snap closures should work smoothly, and fit over whatever clothes you plan to wear on board.

, Choosing Foul Weather Gear for Coastal Sailing

Form and Shape

Many foul weather gear jackets will feature an inner drawstring, or some elasticated areas around the waist, or adjustable tabs, or be nipped-in at the waist then flared out at the hips. This is not a fashion feature, but rather, a means of preventing the jacket from flying over your shoulders and obscuring your view. It also keeps rain and wind from blowing under the gear.

Picture yourself at the bow, dealing with a dragging anchor in driving rain – anchors ALWAYS drag in driving rain – and from the wrong angle, your jacket could catch the wind and you will be soaked. This feature prevents unintended fly-ups and soakings.

Foul weather jackets have zippers that unzip from above or below so you can access your foul weather pants and sit down comfortably.

, Choosing Foul Weather Gear for Coastal Sailing

Another aspect of foul weather gear is the color. You want to be seen.

My very first set of foul weather gear was from Marine Oil Supply – where the shrimpers went to buy their white rubber boots. It was a durable, tough, bright yellow set that did not breathe or give. But it kept me dry. And it was fairly visible. I wore it ten years in the Bahamas, then five years in Maine, then another two years in the Bahamas and the BVI, then another five years teaching sailing in North Florida.

It was so durable, I really hoped it would fail so I could get something more attractive and tech-looking, but it didn’t. It never shed, peeled, delaminated, no stitching failed – it is bulletproof. I still have it; to loan to sailing school students who arrive unprepared.

Foul weather gear is not a fashion statement, but then again… you are going to wear it often, so you want it to be somewhat attractive and very functional. With no huge fish logos on it. There’s a possibility this is the most expensive jacket you will ever purchase, and it isn’t even for fair weather when people have their cameras out and are taking fun photos! Funny, isn’t it? Just be sure you don’t choose yours on appearance alone.

, Choosing Foul Weather Gear for Coastal Sailing
Safety yellow accents help with visibility.

Color

Back to color. You don’t want foul weather gear that is the color of waves and foam and scud. If you were to fall overboard, you want to be visible, not the color of a wavelet. 

My second set of foul weather gear was from West Marine, North Atlantic brand, and I chose a gorgeous white, navy blue, and teal jacket. Everything about it was perfect, except that if I fell overboard, I would have blended right in with the water.

This jacket was fine for very calm conditions, inland and some offshore sailing on big wide sailboats with roller furling everything. The color would not be idea for rigorous offshore sailing. The best thing about this jacket is the length – long enough I don’t even have to roll up the legs of some of my shorts!

My current “newest” foul weather gear jacket is blood red, which I believe would be more visible than blue and white, but not as visible as yellow or fluorescent yellow/green. It has reflective bits here and there – and those would be visible at night if someone was looking for me with a Q-Beam.

Reflective tape – great feature – on wrists, top of the hood, shoulders, it’s a great feature. 

, Choosing Foul Weather Gear for Coastal Sailing
The floppiest hood.

Function – the Hood

Over the years, I have learned a few tricks to modifying and adapting foul weather gear. 

The hood – love it / hate it. Gotta have it to keep your head dry. If you find a jacket that meets all your criteria, and has a bit of stiff material in the “visor” of the hood, you have struck gold. Most foul weather gear hoods flop over your eyes without a bit of stiffening.

I’ve perfected how to deal with this – no; not by tightening the drawstring – that only further limits your range of visibility. Simply wear either a ball cap, or a visor. I prefer a visor for a whole bunch of reasons, but mainly, you want something stiff over your forehead so you can see and keep rain off your face.

A visor with a plastic brim under the fabric is perfect since it won’t droop. Once you have that on your head, you actually can tighten the drawstring and the brim keeps it from closing into a nose hole.

, Choosing Foul Weather Gear for Coastal Sailing
Inside pocket that is secure-able.

Pockets

Inside pockets and outside pockets are great. If the outside pockets are simply flat square panels accessed from the top, you are not very likely to use them for your hands. Ergonomically they just aren’t functional, but they are fine for stashing things that can get a bit wet, but you need to keep close by. For example, you could put in that pocket a rigging knife that you plan to dry, clean, and oil later.

If there are pockets under those, and they are accessed from the side, these are much more likely to be a good spot to get your hands out of the wind, and they potentially have more room for your hands and gloves or mittens.

Inside pockets are a fantastic addition. If your nearly perfect jacket does not have any, then either sew a few in yourself, or have a seamstress or sail maker add some. Be sure to not stitch through the exterior and compromise any waterproofing.

Extras

Gloves in Pockets

In every jacket I own, I keep a pair of comparable-weight gloves. No need to look for them – they’re always right there, in every single jacket I own. Most of my “land” jackets have knitted gloves that can text in the pockets – that’s what I mean by comparable weight. Whatever temperature you are likely to wear that jacket, have gloves suitable for that same temperature range in the inner pocket.

, Choosing Foul Weather Gear for Coastal Sailing
Hard case for protecting glasses from being crushed by sitting or leaning on them.

Protect Your Glasses

If you wear prescription glasses, or pricey sunglasses, be sure to stash a hard case in one of the inside pockets. You will need it. And it will be right there. When the weather goes bad, you might not have time to go down below for items like this, and you risk crushing your glasses.

On that note – if you do depend on those glasses for reading charts or instruments, make sure you have at least two pair on board. If you lose one pair overboard – can you still operate the boat? Read the chart plotter?

, Choosing Foul Weather Gear for Coastal Sailing
Really secure inner and outer wrist adjustments.

Cost Per Wear

Cost per wear initially will seem rather high on your new foul weather jacket. Pretty soon, though, you will realize you are reaching for it as often on land as at sea. They are just so useful and practical, you will wear it over and over.

Also, if you compare the cost of using the coin-operated clothes dryer at the marina for the four items on your body that got wet due to not having a decent foul weather gear jacket; soon you will have paid for your gear.

I am always surprised how many people comment on and compliment me on my “fancy rain jacket.” I suppose on land it’s a bit of overkill, however, unless you live in London, you might not actually own a substantial rain jacket, and this one will do just fine.

, Choosing Foul Weather Gear for Coastal Sailing
All wave-colored – not the best choice if you go overboard. Reflective tape on the top and back of the hoods helps with visibility. These are drying in the sun after re-waterproofing.

Caring for Your Foul Weather Gear

Care of this very expensive investment is easy, but important since good foul weather gear is rather pricey.

After getting the jacket wet, if possible, allow the exterior to dry thoroughly over 24 hours, then turn it inside-out, and let the inside dry a well. If hanging it in the sun later does not completely dry it, then hang it inside in a climate-controlled space where there’s less moisture.

I can tell you, as someone with sensitive skin, the jacket needs to be bone-dry before repacking it in your sailaway bag. I’ve taught sailing school classes back-to-back and not properly dried my jacket.

They will get moldy and icky very fast, and cause your skin to break out. And the smell is very unpleasant. If you see those black spots on the inside of your jacket, it will need to be thoroughly cleaned and dried and possibly re-waterproofed.

You may think after wearing the gear that the inside kept you completely dry, however, the cuffs, neck, bottom could have gotten a bit of rain blown on them, and the entire inside could have gotten sweaty. I air out the inside another 24 hours when possible. Perspiration can produce quite a bit of moisture inside.

, Choosing Foul Weather Gear for Coastal Sailing

Resuscitating Older Gear

Waterproofing your jacket is another way to prolong its life. My primary jacket was failing at repelling water, so I invested in a new jacket.

Then I discovered some fairly expensive rain proofing from Rust-Oleum called NeverWet Fabric Water Repelling Treatment. As expensive as it was, around $15, it was a 20th the cost of a new jacket on sale, and with nothing to lose, I bought a bottle and picked a dry day to see if I could renew my old friend.

It worked. It worked so well that at the next opportunity, I re-waterproofed two more heavy duty foul weather jackets, as well as a couple lightweight windbreaker-type versions.

Keep Your Old Gear

Backups – It sure is nice to have your older jacket as a backup in case your number one foul weather jacket gets soaking wet and you need a second on day two.

Like out of date flares, keep your older jacket as a backup. If something happens and you soak one jacket, having a spare is rather nice. Or, you can loan it to someone who arrived unprepared.

, Choosing Foul Weather Gear for Coastal Sailing

Lighter Versions

It’s also good to have a few really lightweight water repellent jackets. Some days you are dealing with a bit of drizzle, or heavy mist or fog, and don’t need full-on heavy duty foul weather gear, and in warmer climates, it’s really nice to have the option of a lighter, cooler version.

I simply took a couple of my lighter windbreakers and gave them a quick treatment with the Rust-Oleum called NeverWet Fabric Water Repelling Treatment. Now I have doubled and tripled my options for foggy weather wear!

, Choosing Foul Weather Gear for Coastal Sailing

My Foulie

Here’s a link to the current edition of my red Third Reef Jacket from West Marine. I have found that West Marine products are generally very well-made, with plenty of attention to detail. I’ve had some correspondence and submitted my one recommendation for making this jacket perfect – a longer rear to keep the seat of my shorts dry.

Here’s the current version, the West Marine Women’s Third Reef 3L Jacket.

It’s got a black reinforced patch on the rear, probably so you don’t get the part where you sit looking so dirty. Also, there is black on the shoulders. It has the same double-sealed wrist cuffs, front flap pockets, and side-entry pockets. They say this is the world’s best-selling foul weather gear! It has three layers, thus the 3L; the outer windproof water repellent layer, a breathable laminated a layer that keeps water out and moves perspiration out, and an inner layer for breathe-ability.

They claim this hood is articulated and moves with you – and it’s the same good high-visibility yellow. The product information at West Marine Women’s Third Reef 3L Jacket has a list of over 25 features.S

Please comment below on what’s the most important feature you look for in foul weather gear.

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