Frequently Asked Questions
Which is preferable for sailing, a wet suit or a dry suit?
There are three options for cold weather sailing. The first and most expensive option is a drysuit. This, by design, completely covers the body including the feet and keeps the sailor dry at all times (unless there is a fault in the seals or zipper). Prices for these for junior sailors run from $300 and up. The best versions are gore-tex and are between $500 and $1500. The second option is a new item on the market that a few manufacturers are offering: wet/dry suits. These look like traditional wetsuits but have a "hydrophobic" outer layer that prevents the sailor from getting wet. The final option, and by far the most common in youth sailing, is a conventional wetsuit. These, of course, do not keep the sailor dry, but trap water in the neoprene layer and preserve body heat by preventing water and heat transfer. Wetsuits that are called "spring" suits are less than 3 mm thick and are rated for temperatures 60 degrees and above. It is suggested that you avoid a spring suit unless another layer is worn on top of the wet suit. It is very common for kids to wear a wetsuit underneath a waterproof layer. For dinghy sailing it is recommended that this consists of a salopette or bib (waterproof coveralls very like those marketed for skiing) or waterproof pants, and a dinghy smock. Dinghy smocks are worn by sailors and a nearly identical garment is worn by whitewater kayakers. The benefit of this is that when temperatures get warmer the sailor can ditch the wetsuit and just wear the smock and bib/waterproof pants. As per US Sailing guidelines, we require either a wetsuit or a drysuit in order to sail when the combined air and water temperature is below 120 degrees Fahrenheit.
Are there stores in the DC area that sell the suits?
In the DC area, there are a few kayaking outfitters that carry this gear. Potomac Paddle Sports, Hudson Trail Outfitters and REI all carry gear for kayaking that can be used for sailing as well. The only sailing specific store that carries some of this gear in the DC area is West Marine in Alexandria. However, a day trip to Annapolis would take you to Annapolis Performance Sailing (APS). They are a sailing shop in the area with staff that are all competitive sailors.
If you are comfortable shopping online, APS has a website, www.apsltd.com . Some other sites where very good deals can be found are Layline, www.layline.com, Intensity Sails, www.intensitysails.com, Mauri Pro Sailing, www.mauriprosailing.com, and Defender marine outfitters, www.defender.com. There are other sites, but the ones provided here have very good reputations.
Two English sites have become popular recently, Trident UK, http://www.tridentuk.com/, has very good products for good prices. You might have to pay customs on Trident's gear. One of our former team captains who sails for the University of Edinborough highly recommends the TR-60 suit. The other site, Crewsaver, http://www.crewsaver.co.uk/, has gotten a high review from one of our adult racers. He found a great deal on his drysuit there. These two sites seem to have the best prices for drysuits even after paying importing fees.
Is there a particular brand that you recommend?
As for specific brands, that's a little more complicated. For sailing specific wetsuits, Zhik, Ronstan and Rooster get very good reviews. For non-sailing specific brands, the surfing gear companies like O'Neill and Body Glove are common.
For sailing specific drysuits, smocks and bibs, the top of the line drysuits are made by Musto and Kokatat. Kokatat products are available at the kayaking outfitters listed above. However, they are both very expensive. Just below that level are Henri Lloyd, Helly Hansen and Gill, all of which are much less expensive and with very good quality gear. Gill puts out the most complete line of junior sailing gear and you will see a lot of gill drytops (smocks) at junior sailing events. All three of these can be found at the sailing stores listed above. There have been some really good deals on junior's smocks.
If you catch a sale, a smock will run around $75, a bib can be anywhere from $75 if you are very lucky, up to around $175 (much more for adults). A wetsuit will run around $100 and up for a 3 mm suit. Spring suits will fall in the $75 and up range unless you find a great deal.
What about shoes, boots, and gloves?
In addition to the above, you should invest in good winter sailing gloves. Atlas puts out a very inexpensive product that is becoming very popular among sailors. Their gloves start at around $15. In addition, a pair of dinghy boots are strongly recommended. If wearing a drysuit, you can wear skiing socks inside them to keep the feet warm. If wearing a wetsuit, some companies sell neoprene booties, but a pair of waterproof socks layered over wool socks and inside dinghy boots is the most common combination.