Boating Safety 101: Dressing For Colder Weather


Everyone has stood in front of the closet at one time or another and exclaimed, “I don’t know what I should wear today!” Usually, the worst outcome is a good scolding from the fashion police. But when preparing for a day of boating, not making the correct choice could be a life-threatening mistake.

Any outdoor activity in cool or colder weather conditions presents a risk of hypothermia. That risk is greater while boating because water robs the body’s heat 25 times faster than air of the same temperature. It’s not just the water that presents additional problems — if you get wet (from sweat, rain, waves, or being immersed) the wind will make you colder as the water evaporates from your exposed skin. This helps cool us down in the summer heat, but in the fall, winter or spring it presents more risk.

When preparing to go boating, clothing choices go a long way towards keeping the experience safe and pleasant. Each person acclimates at a different rate, so you need to recognize your body’s thermal capabilities or inadequacies: consider the current air, water and wind chill temperatures and dress accordingly. This serves the dual purposes of comfort and safety. Being comfortable adds to any experience.

Fabrics that protect against exposure to cold air and water can be broken into two categories: insulating materials and protective materials.

“Insulating materials” are fabrics that trap the body’s heat. Layering several garments is not only more effective at retaining the heat but also more comfortable, as items can be added or removed as needed.

Types of Insulating Fabrics

A variety of man-made and natural fabrics act as good insulators. Avoid 100 percent cotton garments, as they are most effective at drawing heat away from the body. Start with thin layers of polypropylene close to the skin. Add fabrics that retain heat even when wet such as wool or synthetic fleece.

When boating in any water less than 70 degrees, a neoprene wetsuit should be part of the layer system.

Types of Protective Layers

A good protection layer prevents the elements from cooling the insulating layers. There are a variety of products available that provide excellent wind and water protection. Parkas, rain suits and jackets made of nylon, Gore-tex and some of the new microfibers are ideal. Cold water and weather may also require a dry suit, which keeps the body dry with the exception of the head, hands and feet.