You’re heading out for a sail and need to know what to take and wear so you’re not left wet, whiney and wondering what on earth you came sailing for.
First thing’s first. The main difference between inshore and offshore sailing is the location, with inshore being within two miles of the shore, and offshore being out at sea. The location also dictates how isolated you are from any navigational reference points or assistance. Another big difference is in the navigational and safety devices you take with you; inshore you need less, offshore you need more.
The difference when it comes to clothing is really between dressing for moderate or foul weather (the official term being foul weather gear). Knowing where you’re likely be sailing and the conditions common in that area will dictate the best type of clothing to invest in - regardless of whether you’re inshore or offshore.
People often assume that inshore waters are calmer than offshore, so less heavy duty clothing is needed. Although the open sea can create bigger swells, when it’s windy, inshore waters have the likelihood for strong wind and choppy waves, just as much as you can be becalmed in the middle of the ocean.
Key message - check the forecast beforehand so you know what kind of conditions you’re in for, and always prepare for the worst!
Advancements in product design and technology are always hunting for the comparatives adverbs: what’s lighter, lasts longer, more durable, breathes better, is more streamlined. It’s relentless and competitive but by being so, gives us a vast selection of high-tech gear to choose from, built for weathering the brunt of rain, wind and water.
At the very least your sailing kit should keep you dry! But there can be a huge variation between products, and many things to consider when making the investment in foul weather gear.
We take you through some of the differences between products, and how best to dress, whatever the weather.
Similar to skiing, wearing 3 layers works well as you can change according to the weather,
Layer 1 - A close fitting base layer. This is designed to trap body heat whilst allowing moisture escape. Designed with sailing in mind, you can purchase base layers with anti bacterial components to help with odour control. If you’re lucky enough to be in sunny climes, UV tops and trousers layers are a wise choice.
Layer 2 - Is designed to keep you warm so a fleece or a softshell are a good addition. It’s an added benefit if it’s windproof and water repellent as you can wear this without your waterproof jacket.
Layer 3 - Inshore or offshore waterproofs, designed to be waterproof and windproof to keep you protected from the elements.
Other gear designed to keep you and your belongings dry in both tame and foul conditions include:
- Waterproof dry bags
- Sailing gloves
- Fast-dry caps
- Deck shoes (with non slip and non marking soles)
- Sailing boots and thicker socks
- Polarized sunglasses (sailing models are usually designed to float)
- Windproof hats and neck warmers
Inshore jackets: Why do the prices vary so much?
First off, the waterproof level. Jackets at the lower end of the spectrum will often only have a waterproof coating on the fabric as opposed to a membrane. Jackets with membranes offer a higher level of waterproofing and are more durable. These membranes are designed to keep water droplets out, but allow perspiration to escape, so will be more breathable and waterproof than a coated fabric..
Jackets designed for mild weather often have an exposed zip which is not waterproof. As you go up through the price range, you find ‘storm flaps’ (a flap that covers the zip) or even waterproof zips.
Jackets designed for more inclement weather will incorporate comfort features such as fleece lined hand warmer pockets (location varies between models) and high, fleece lined collars, and ‘drop seat’ salopettes for women. The jacket may have an insulated lining for additional warmth, and will have the addition of reflective patches for visibility.
Inshore models designed for longer sailing durations will have more adjustment. The cuff will often be a double cuff to ensure better waterproofing and can be adjusted to fit. The hood can be adjusted and rolled away. You will find internal waterproof pockets.
Fair weather jackets will be shorter, and made of lighter fabrics, and are more style conscious - from the deck to the bar - as opposed to those which are longer and feature abrasion resistance on the rear to extend the life of your garment.
To sum up, take note of the waterproofing level and the comfort features offered.
So what’s the difference between a top end inshore jacket and offshore jacket? (apart from the price!)
The offshore jacket will feature the highest level of waterproofing, so will use multiple membranes. In fact, it will actually offer less breathability because the water proofing level is so high. You will find the garment is heavier than your inshore jacket, unless you go for the very top end price range which utilises very technical fabrics.
It will have a very high fleece lined collar for maximum protection against the elements, enabling the peaked hood and the collar to meet, leaving just your eyes exposed. The item will be longer and will certainly feature waterproof zips and storm flaps, and lots of reflective patches.
It’s key function is keeping you dry in the worst of conditions.
So you’re kitted out, what about the boat?
General safety gear requirements of this include life jackets, a VHF radio, compass, two hand-held flares, water and a chart and tide tables of the area you’re in.
Where navigational devices are concerned however, you need to up your gadget game when sailing in the open sea. By nature of offshore being off the shore, this means being more isolated and in more direct contact with the forces of nature at its potential worst: amplified rain, sea state and wind. Being more isolated also means being more independent, so kit for navigation and rescue transmittance is crucial.
Extra things to think about
- A signal transmitting Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB)
- A personal locator beacon (PLB)
- A long range radio (SSB)
- Parachute flare
- Spare fuel and tools
- Ropes, sailing knife and torches (solar and battery powered)
- Provisions: food, water
- A good book and a sense of humour!
In addition to your preliminary research on the weather and intended route, remember to speak to the locals about the conditions of the harbour you’re going from and the route you’re planning to take. The more thorough scope you have of the conditions, the more control you have over keeping yourself and everyone on-board safe.
So when you’re equipped with the right clothing for the right conditions, and the right gear for your inshore/offshore location, all that’s left to do is pack, set sail and enjoy…