Winter Sailing - Keeping Warm on the Water

In Ireland water temperature does not drop significantly in Winter, perhaps three to four degrees from Summer. What is different is that air temperature will be lower. If you fall in the water it won't be much different to Summer. It's when you get back out that you need to keep warm, especially on windy days when the wind-chill factor can be significant. Wearing extra layers is the key to keeping warm, especially some windproof outer layer.

When cold the human body preserves core temperature and instead allows the extremities to cool which for sailing means, you need to keep you feet and hands warm. Gloves, socks and a hat are what you need. If you do go racing and feel cold talk to your crew and if necessary retire from the race. Having said that I have taken part in the frostbites for the last three years and my only discomfort has been being too hot while pulling boats up and down the slip. Remember if you have to much gear you can always take some off. If you have too little...

Base layers

Rash vest A lycra rash-vest(~e20) will give you an extra 1mm of warmth as well as a little comfort. (long sleeve if possible) Lycra swimming togs will do the same. Do not wear a cotton t-shirt under a wetsuit as this will make you colder, a lycra type sports shirt would be much better if you don't have a rashie. You can also get neoprene rashies (~e50)


WetsuitLong JohnJacket

Wetsuits keep you warm by trapping a layer of water against your skin which your body then warms. When in the water, a wetsuit will not work effectively if it is too loose or has too many holes in it. (Your warm water layer will be constantly rinsed out) Thickness can vary e.g. 3mm, 5mm, 3/5 (3mm arms & legs 5mm torso). Another option is to wear a sleeveless 3mm "long john" and a separate bolero jacket that you can leave off when the weather is warmer or also use for bullfighting. Essentially the longer you plan to spend in the water the better quality wetsuit you need. For diving or surfing you should pay as much as you can afford, but for sailing you usually don't plan on being in the water that long so a top of the range wetsuit is not necessary.



Drysuits (e300-e500) are completely waterproof with latex socks and neck and arm seals. You can wear dry clothes underneath. If the zip or seals are damaged the suit will be useless. A drysuit is a considerable expense but is worth considering if you do plan to sail a lot.

Windproof/Splashproof Layer


Hopefully you will spend a lot more time out of the water than in it. If it is windy you will get cold quickly due to wind-chill unless you wear a windproof layer over your wetsuit. Also in heavier seas this will save you from being rinsed constantly with cold water when beating upwind with water splashing over the decks. You can use anything from some cheap leggings and jacket(~e10) to breathable saloppettes(~e75) and cagoule(~e75) or a spray suit depending on your wallet and fashion sense. An outer layer will also protect your wetsuit/drysuit from wear and tear.


BeanieNeoprene BalaclavaBuff

You head is a major source of heat loss. A thinsulate beanie (~e5) is a good investment. For style you could wear your favourite ski hat but remember these things have a habit of falling overboard. You can get a neoprene balaclava(~30) which is overkill for dinghy sailing as it's unusual to find yourself with your head underwater. Also most sailors prefer to not have their ears covered, as you really need to be able to listen to the wind and sails and sometimes even to the crew. A fleece type buff(~e10) is also good to have.


Neoprene SocksNeoprene Gloves

Neoprene socks (~e15) are a must have for winter, especially if your bootees are in anyway loose. Full fingered neoprene gloves(~25) are also an option as there is little warmth in normal gloves.

Don't leave home without one...

Sailing Knife

Sailing Knife: vital for repairs and adjustments on your boat and can be a useful accessory when capsized and trapped in ropes under the water. Make sure to get a knife with a shackle opener. The bottle opener and corkscrew are not so vital. Victorinox Swiss Army knives are highly recommended.


Watch: Race starts can creep up on you and it's always good to know what time the pub closes at. You can buy specialist racing watches but how hard is it to count from five down to zero? Make sure it's waterproof.


Whistle to attract attention to yourself if making an unscheduled passage to Wales


Aquapac: Do not leave any money or valuables in container or yacht club changing rooms. Bring your phone to call for rescue if worst comes to worst, or just to mail your friends with pictures of the race.


Piece of String: the must-have multi-functional boat accessory for emergency repairs

Sea temperature

Mean sea temperature varies from around 15 degrees in August to 10 degrees in February. The rise and fall of water temperature lags behind the climate by about two months. The sea acts as a heat reservoir, slow to heat up and slow to cool down. In short water is relatively warm in November and coldest in February and March. Below is temperature chart for Malin head (which will be a couple of degrees colder than Dun Laoghaire all year round) from Met Eireann

Sea Temperature Graph