Congratulations, you’ve talked your way onto a vessel and you’re going boating. What should you wear?
Many of us have an image of yachting shaped by movies in which we should all wear blue blazers and Topsider deck shoes. You will see this garb in the marina, but primarily at ceremonial occasions like opening days.
“Some boaters need to be decked out in the latest on the water fashion,” sailor Kristi Tyminski told me.
Bob McDonald is just the opposite. He’s a long distance cruiser who has sailed all over the world. “I’m a real sailor, not one of those blue blazer types,” he told me.
There is nothing wrong with looking sharp on the water, but the primary reasons to choose clothing for your boating adventure are comfort and safety.
The first thing you want to do is layer your clothing. Temperatures can change quickly on the water whether you are heading upwind or downwind, moving quickly or hove to. I usually wear a T-shirt or polo shirt, with a light cotton long sleeve shirt on top, and carry a sweatshirt and a windbreaker. Heavy woolen sweaters are not a good idea. If you fall in they can get waterlogged.
To test a windbreaker for effectiveness, try to blow through it while you're in the store. If you feel your breath on the other side, pick up another. I have nylon windbreakers, because they are water resistant.
I also layer my pants, starting with shorts, then sweat pants.
Shoes are important. Wear tennis or boating shoes that have a surface that will grip gel coat when wet. Some running shoes leave marks. If you track a black trail on a boat’s deck, you won’t be invited back.
Never wear street shoes on a boat. They’ll give you no grip. An example I saw of this was when a crew run aground south of the Venice Pier. One of those incompetent boaters was actually in cowboy boots, the worse thing to wear on a boat. If you go over, they will fill with water, dragging you down.
If you sail frequently, I suggest buying a pair of sailing gloves to protect your hands. I never needed them until I started to race. They are a big help in hauling sheets or lines. I also like to carry a sailing knife that has not only a blade, but a spike for undoing stuck knots and a wrench for shackles. I tie it with strong string to a belt loop.
Get a hat that can adjust tightly and secure it with a lanyard. Sunglasses should also be held around your neck the same way. If possible, get polarized glasses tinted orange. These blue blockers will help eliminate much of the water’s glare.
Always bring plenty of sunblock and apply it often, even on cloudy days.
If you ever anticipate cruising in rough weather, such as on a Catalina crossing, it’s good to invest in genuine foul weather gear—a slicker, pants and boots that have a lace around the top to prevent water from getting in. Ideally you want material that breathes so it won’t hold in your perspiration, turning you into a walking sauna.
Finally there’s the matter of a life vest. Under law, skippers have to have a wearable personal flotation device for everybody on a boat.
“Not enough people wear life vests,” sailing instructor David Lumian told me.
When I brought crew onto my boat, I not only pointed out where the PFDs were, I insisted that anybody who couldn’t swim 10 minutes dressed as they were then, had to wear a life vest.
Even though I am a former lifeguard, I put one on myself in rough weather. One skipper I sailed with, Rick Lioio, always wore an inflatable PFD that was out of the way, yet was his safety net in case he fell in.
The final thing you should don in heavy seas is a harness and tether to snap into the lifeline. It’s particularly useful if you ever have to go forward to change a sail or anchor.