Yves Saint Laurent said, “Good clothing is a passport to happiness,” and, when you’re on the water in winter, happiness means warmth. The right winter clothing can be the difference between an invigorating jaunt and a miserable one. It could even save your life. Being able to move freely and maintain a clear head are essential to winter boating safety, and the proper clothing could mean the difference between staying on deck or falling into icy waters.
To stay dry and warm, you’ll want to invest in high-quality items that do double or even triple duty. As on land, you’ll want to dress in layers and protect your head, extremities (especially your hands and feet) and core.
This is the closest layer to your body and acts as a second skin. A snug-fitting base layer like thermal underwear helps to trap your body heat and increase your comfort. Some types of thermal underwear can absorb perspiration and allow your body to breathe under all those layers. It also allows you to move freely and flexibly so that you’re as nimble as you normally would be.
Skip the cotton and opt instead for Merino wool socks that act as a performance fabric to wick away moisture and thermoregulate your feet to keep them warm, dry, and comfortable.
Depending on the conditions, this layer could be a simple fleece pullover or something more protective like a drysuit or wetsuit. Lightweight, water-resistant, and an ideal thermal midlayer, fleece stays warm even when wet, dries quickly and won’t hinder your movements. A drysuit, made from neoprene, rubber or nylon, will keep you completely dry on the water. Loose-fitting, it allows you to wear clothes or other layers underneath. They work by keeping an insulating layer of air between your body and the water. Drysuits can be bulkier and harder to move in but provide more insulation in the water. Wetsuits are better for more active sports like surfing, stand-up paddleboarding, and jet skiing but are not as insulating as drysuits.
The outermost layer keeps water and cold air out. The weather conditions – rain, snow, wind, or spray – will determine the appropriate outer layer. Look for breathable gear that keeps weather out but also lets moisture and heat from your body pass through to keep you dry and comfortable. Look for easily adjustable gear like hoods, zippers, and cuffs that provide flexible protection depending on your needs and the conditions. For overnight excursions, look for offshore-rated gear as you’ll need the heaviest duty possible. For day trips, coastal or inshore coats may be just fine.
It may go without saying, but waterproof boots with rubber, grip/anti-slip soles will protect your feet against saltwater and extreme cold in addition to keeping you on deck. Some boots even feature drawstrings at the top to keep water out during especially rough seas.
While cold and wet hands may be inevitable – sometimes you’ll have to be bare handed to fasten or unfasten something – you’ll still want to look for high-performing gloves that are waterproof yet insulated and provide maximum movement. Some smartphone-friendly gloves, made from diving material, allow you to operate controls without function loss.
Winter boating requires the appropriate gear and attire for safety and comfort. You won’t regret investing in quality attire. Be dry, be warm, and always be safe.