Windsurfing, Kitesurfing & Sailing

Sailing Gear For Beginners: What Should I Wear To Go Sailing For The First Time?

Learning to sail? Here's how to choose the right clothing for a day on the water

Choosing what to wear when learning to sail depends on the weather. Photo: iStock

So you are heading out sailing for the day. It’s your first time. What should you wear? The key with wearing the appropriate clothing is checking out the weather on the day and where/how long you are heading out for.

If you are planning on going sailing in a dinghy, you’ll wear very different clothing than say learning to sail a yacht. Mainly because you are far more likely to get wet on a dinghy than a 30-footer.

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On a hot sunny day on a calm lake, you’ll be fine wearing ordinary shorts and t-shirt to sail (plus a buoyancy aid and neoprene shoes – see below). If it’s windy, even in the height of summer, you’ll need more than a tee to keep you warm and dry.

It’s important to always bring enough layers to stay warm. It might seem balmy on land, but when those breezes pick up on the sea, you’ll get cold fast.

Here’s a short guide on what to wear when you are learning to sail a dinghy….


Wearing a wetsuit will keep your warm when wet on the water. Photo: Helly Hansen

If you are learning to sail in a dinghy and it’s pretty windy, wear a wetsuit. You’re likely to capsize and a wetsuit will keep you warm once you are wet. If you just wear ordinary clothes, as soon as you’re soaked, you’ll feel the cold.

Wetsuits work by trapping a thin layer of water between your skin and the neoprene. Your skin heats the water creating warmth even when wet.

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We particularly like Helly Hansen’s new Black Line full wetsuit – it’s specifically made for sailors.

Summer sailors might be able to get away with a shortie wetsuit in the UK. Skiff suits – with no arms and long legs – are also great in the summer because they allow a lot more movement in your arms.


Wearing a waterproof cagoule is a must on windy days. Photo: Musto

Staying warm is key. As soon as you get cold, your mood and sailing ability drops rapidly.

A waterproof and windproof sailing cagoule or spray top is perfect for wearing on top of your wetsuit on cold, wet, windy days or just on top of your regular t-shirt or rash vest to keep the wind off.

Spray tops like this one from Musto are perfect.


Photo: Gill

Whether it’s cold or not, it’s often useful to wear sailing gloves, especially if you are thinking of starting racing. When your hands are cold and wet, it becomes even more painful to tug on sheets and keep a strong grip.

Gloves are great for preventing friction burn on your hands as well as keeping them warm and protected. These gloves from Gill are great for grip and dexterity.


Neoprene boots keep you warm and give you good grip when you’re at sea. Photo: Triton

Choosing sailing boots depends on where you heading out and what time of year it is. If it a warm week in summer and you are a learning to sail on a calm inland lake, cheap neoprene shoes will do the trick. They are made with grippy soles to stop you slipping on the deck or pontoon.

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If it’s winter or you are chartering a yacht, sailing boots are preferable. These are usually at least ankle high and are made of thicker neoprene and rubber to keep you warmer. They are also more durable than thin neoprene booties.


You must always wear a buoyancy aid on the water. Photo: Henri Lloyd

A buoyancy aid is essential for any sailor – beginner or Olympic standard, like Ben Ainslie. If you are knocked overboard, it will keep you afloat.

It’s not worth buying a brand new buoyancy aid when you first learn to sail because anywhere you are hiring a boat or taking a course will provide buoyancy aids for you.

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However, if you know you want to sail regularly, then it might be a good idea to buy your own. New buoyancy aids range from £25 to £70 in price. We like this one from Henri Lloyd. Make sure you attach a whistle to flag up attention in an emergency.


It’s always a good idea to bring extra layers as it is always windier at sea than it feels on land. Photo: Helly Hansen

In hot weather, it’s always a good idea to wear a hat, sunglasses and suncream. The sun will reflect off the water, so it’s easier to get sunburnt on the water than on land.

In the cold weather, bring a woolly hat. Some sailors prefer to wear a drysuit in winter. This is an entirely waterproof suit with tight rubber seals around your neck, ankles and wrist. So you can wear ordinary warm fleecy clothes underneath, even if you fall in the water, you’ll stay bone dry.

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They are great pieces of kit, but pretty expensive at around £200-300 new, so we wouldn’t recommend buying one unless you know you are definitely going to be sailing regularly in the winter.

Oh, and always bring a spare change of clothes. The number of times we’ve gone out wearing our only set of clothes and had a wet car journey home afterwards….

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