First Time Sailing? Here’s What To Wear (and Why)

Woohoo! It’s your first time sailing and you couldn’t be more excited. You’ve combed through this blog and learned quite a lot about what it takes to be a good sailor, and you think you’re ready. Well, except you don’t have any gear. What should you wear when you venture out on your sailboat?

First-time sailors should wear the following:

  • Sunblock (to prevent painful sunburns)
  • Life jacket (in case you fall into the water)
  • Sailing boots (for grip on wet floors)
  • Rain gear (for rainy weather)
  • Sailing gloves (for maintaining grip)
  • Spray top (for protection from wind and rain)
  • Technical shirt and pants (for moisture wicking, staying cool, and protection from the sun)
  • Wetsuit (again, just in case you fall in)

Not familiar with sailing gloves? Want to know more about a technical shirt and pants? Then you’ve come to the right place. In this article, we’ll elaborate on all the above gear so you can stock up on what you need for a successful first-time sailing trip.

The Gear Beginner Sailors Need for Safety and Comfort 


What Is It?

Okay, so you don’t wear sunblock like you do clothes, but it’s absolutely something you want to have on hand during your first sailing expedition and every other one after that. 

All sunblock has a sun protection factor or SPF number. The average is about 30. There’s a misconception that the higher the SPF number, the longer you can spend in the sun. That’s not at all true. You don’t want to ignore lower SPF sunscreens entirely, either. Even SPF 15 sunscreen blocks out 93 percent of the sun’s rays. 

With an SPF 25 sunscreen, you get protection at a rate of 96 percent. It’s 97 percent with SPF 30 and 98 percent with SPF 50. If you go all the way to SPF 100, this prevents 99 percent of sun radiation from damaging your skin. 

Any sunscreen is better than none at all, but you can stick with SPF 30 or SPF 50 and be in good shape. Sunscreen is only as good as the person using it, though. Make sure you put it on before going out on your sailboat. Then, reapply every hour or two and more often if you’ve gotten wet. 

Why Use It?

The sun contains damaging radiation in the form of UVA rays. The former can get deeper into the skin, reducing elasticity and firmness. You’re also far likelier to get premature wrinkles from too much UVA. More importantly, you increase your chances of developing skin cancer. 

With sunblock, you’re protected from UVA and often even UVB rays as well. You can keep your skin looking younger and hopefully cancer-free. 

It’s important to wear sunblock anytime you’re outside for a prolonged period, such as sailing on your boat. Even in cloudy weather, UVA rays can still penetrate through, so don’t skip the sunblock. 

Life Jacket

What Is It?

A life jacket is a type of personal flotation device. You can purchase one at any marine store as well as online. All life jackets worn on marine expeditions like riding your sailboat should have approval from the U.S. Coast Guard (or the Coast Guard in your country of residence). 

Life jackets come in several categories or types. For casual riding on your sailboat, you need a Type II jacket. This is, as the Coast Guard says, “inherently buoyant.” A Type II life jacket is intended for sailing, fishing, and inland day cruising. 

You will not be aided much by a Type II life jacket in an emergency survival situation, as you’d need another type of life jacket for that. You should also avoid choppier waters, as a Type II isn’t made for those conditions, either.

You must have a life jacket for each passenger on your sailboat besides yourself. While you don’t have to wear it the entire time you’re onboard (unless you want to, of course), you should always know where your life jackets are. They should also be easily accessible. 

Why Use It?

With a life jacket, it’s not necessarily a question of whether you should. Many states have rules mandating life jacket usage, so if you don’t have one, you could face fines and other penalties. Children under 13 years of age must always wear a life jacket when doing certain activities on the boat, such as spending time in an enclosed cabin or underneath the deck.

Besides the legalities of it, should your sailboat ever capsize or get hit by another vessel and you happen to fall out, a life jacket could save your life. The lives of your passengers can also be spared. That’s enough of a convincing reason to buy some life jackets, right? 

Sailing Boots

What Are They?

Sailing boats, rain gear, and sailing gloves all count as foul weather gear or foulies. Boots aren’t the only type of sailing shoe you’re limited to. You can also don sailing shoes in the spring and summer. These will keep you from sweating uncomfortably and shuffling around in boots when everyone else is wearing shorts and flip-flops.

Sailing shoes and boots have neoprene bases with rubber, both waterproof materials. Boots will generally hold up better than sailing shoes because they’re made so well. They’re also typically more expensive. In cooler weather sailing, like in the autumn or early spring, these boots will be your best friend. They cover at least the ankle. 

Why Use Them?

There are several reasons to invest in both a pair of sailing shoes and sailing boots. As we said before, both are waterproof. If you’ve ever walked outside in the rain and stepped in a puddle, you know how uncomfortable it is when your shoes and socks get soaked. You don’t want to have to deal with that on your boat, when you can’t get home and change your footwear quite as easily.

Besides being uncomfortable, wet shoes and socks make you cold, too. Sailing shoes are designed to provide warmth. That’s doubly true of sailing boots, which can cover most of your lower leg.

Perhaps most importantly, sailing shoes have soles with a non-slip grip. Even if you’re striding across a slippery deck, you won’t fall. 

Rain Gear

What Is It?

The next type of foulies on our list are those you won’t rely on all the time, but they’re still good to have. Rain gear consists of a jacket and zip-up pants. After all, you need to keep both the upper and bottom half of your body dry, right? 

As we’re sure you can imagine, rain gear must be waterproof or it wouldn’t be very useful. You can put on this gear in light rain and even heavier downpours. You’re supposed to wear your rain pants over the pants or shorts you already have on. Shop for a pair with an elasticized waist that fits over your current clothes then. 

Regarding your rain jacket, you don’t just want to pick any ol’ thing, either. Instead, shop for a jacket with zipper pockets for keeping your essentials dry. The hood should also cinch or have a drawstring so you can pull it tight when those windier rains come in. 

Why Use It?

The main point of rain gear is to keep your clothes dry in a downpour. Like with your footwear, when your clothes get wet, you get colder faster. That makes your day of sailing quite a miserable one. 

You probably don’t intentionally go out sailing on a cloudy or overcast day, but sunny skies can often shift. Sometimes, storms crop up that weren’t on the forecast. You may never use your rain gear, but like the saying goes, it’s better to have than have not. 

Sailing Gloves 

What Are They?

The last form of foulies we’ll talk about are sailing gloves. These gloves include a combination of materials, among them sticky coating on the palms, polyester, Proton or Amara synthetic leathers, and more. 

When browsing for sailing gloves, you can choose from those that cover the entire hand or gloves that leave openings for your fingertips. The former come in handy during the cooler season and the latter in the spring and summer. 

It’s better to buy your sailing gloves at a store rather than online so you can try them on and get a feel for their fit and comfort. If you can’t move your fingers freely in a pair of sailing gloves, then they’re not the right ones for you. You still have to use your hands onboard your sailboat, and if you can’t, it’s dangerous to set sail. 

Why Use Them?

The most obvious reason to wear sailing gloves is to keep your hands dry in wet conditions. Parts of your boat get wet the instant you leave dry land, and touching these in cold weather can chill you to the bone. 

Besides keeping your hands dry, sailing gloves can also lessen hand fatigue and help you maintain your grip. As you can imagine, trying to hold onto cold, wet metal rails or ropes with your wet hands will not end well. You could lose your grip, slip, and fall, possibly into the water. 

Spray Top 

What Is It?

It might not seem like a very windy day on the shore, but then you get out on the water and wow! That’s a lot of wind. Improper boat clothing can blow all over the place, with jacket flaps and other clothing slapping against you painfully. It’s ideal to layer up when boating, and a spray top can be one such layer.

A spray top is like a lightweight jacket with a turtleneck. It zips up in the front, and some even have Velcro or clasps around the throat so you can tighten up or loosen the turtleneck as needed. 

While a spray top calls to mind protection from the water, most are windproof as well. You can toss this shirt on over your wetsuit (we’ll talk about these in more detail shortly) and then put a jacket over top that if you feel like you need one. The more layers, the better, especially in cooler weather. 

In the summer, it’s still not a bad idea to layer up, but maybe skip the jacket and just wear a spray top over your wetsuit. Remember, no matter the weather, you can always take layers off if you’re warm, but you can’t add layers if you don’t have them and you’re cold. 

Why Use It?

Staying warm is a prime reason sailors wear spray tops, but they also safeguard you from the impacts of rain and wind, as mentioned. If you’re doing any kind of fast sailing, such as a race, you’ll experience far windier conditions than usual. With a spray top, you won’t feel the wind quite as much. 

Some spray tops have reflective features, which can be useful if you’re sailing early in the morning or later in the day when visibility decreases. Your reflective shirt will bounce light and lets other boaters know of your presence, possibly preventing an accident. 

Technical Shirt

What Is It?

A technical shirt should act as your base layer instead of whatever t-shirt, tank top, or long-sleeved shirt you were thinking of wearing when sailing. Technical shirts have moisture wicking capabilities, something your basic t-shirt does not.

In the summer, you might wear just a technical shirt and some bottoms, or you could layer with a lightweight seaworthy jacket atop it. You can select from technical shirts with shorter or longer sleeves so no matter the season, you’re ready to hit the high seas.  

Why Use It?

There are many reasons to have a technical shirt ready to wear for your first day of sailing. The first has to do with staying relatively warm on the water. You have to remember that no matter what temperature the forecast is calling for, it’s going to be several degrees colder on the sea. wind up shivering. 

Having a base layer will keep you warm, even in colder weather. As we said before, it’s always good to build up layers, as you can take them off if you get too toasty. 

Should you begin sweating a lot (which will happen naturally if you’re busy on your boat), the moisture-wicking qualities of a technical shirt will prevent you from feeling clammy and sticky. The sweat evaporates right away, keeping you dry. 

Besides that, technical shirts have built-in UPF features, which safeguard your skin from the sun. UPF is like SPF, but it applies to clothing. This rating is all about how well a garment can protect you from sun damage. The finishes and weaving used for technical shirts will ward off UVA, leaving your skin safe and healthy.

Technical Pants

What Are They? 

While we talked about zip-up pants for the rain earlier in this article, you don’t want to wear those with nothing underneath (well, except for your undergarments). Like you shouldn’t go sailing without a technical shirt, it’s a good idea to invest in technical pants for a base layer as well. 

As you can get technical shirts in long-sleeved or short-sleeved styles, you can buy your technical pants as long pants or shorts. The latter are a great choice for late spring and summertime sailing.  

Why Use Them? 

Seeing as how they’re made from the same durable, windproof, waterproof materials as technical shirts, technical pants offer a lot of the same benefits. You can layer them to stay cool, wick away moisture if you begin to sweat, and if you get wet, these won’t soak through to the skin. 

You also get the sun protection you need. That said, if you wear only technical shorts, make sure you apply sunblock on the exposed parts of your legs. 

The breathability of technical pants makes them a great option for sailors. You’ll also spare your jeans from abrasion and damage that can come from moving about on your sailboat. Technical pants can handle this wear and tear with aplomb.

Oh, and did we talk about the pockets? Not only do you get plenty, but they’re super deep, too. Whatever you put in the pockets of your technical pants will stay safe and sound. 


What Is It?

For the first few times you sail, you might want to wear a wetsuit. This can be your base layer instead of a technical shirt and pants until you feel more comfortable on the water. After all, wetsuits are designed to get saturated in water. 

Most wetsuits are made of neoprene, a lightweight material that fits to your skin and moves with your body. Wetsuits may have long sleeves and full pant legs. You can also get them with short sleeves or no sleeves as well as shorts. We only recommend wearing the latter in the heat of summertime. 

Why Use It?

You’re brand new to sailing, so you have to expect a margin of error when you first go out. You could capsize or just fall over, and with a wetsuit, getting soaked won’t be such a big deal. Don’t worry about coming out of the water freezing cold, either, as that won’t happen. 

The neoprene in wetsuits takes the water in the suit and makes a layer out of it. This layer separates the water from your skin, keeping you drier and warmer even if you just took a full dunk. 


If you’re preparing to go sailing for the first time, there’s a lot of clothing and gear you should invest in. You need sunscreen no matter what, covering all your exposed skin with this. Technical shirts and pants can act as your base layer, or you could always use a wetsuit if you anticipate falling in the water.

From there, layer up with a spray top, rain gear, sailing shoes or boots, sailing gloves, and a jacket if you need it. You’ll keep your skin protected and dry while maintaining your warmth with all this great gear. All the best in your sailing adventures! 


I am the owner of sailoradvice. I live in Birmingham, UK and love to sail with my wife and three boys throughout the year.

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