Choosing Foul Weather Gear
Revised by BoatUS editors in April 2012
There's nothing worse than bouncing around on deck in wet, nasty weather, and dripping on the inside of your foul weather gear. What you want is to stay dry and comfortable. You can count on our foul weather gear to protect on wet days.
Today you can choose from four basic materials, each with different weights, waterproofing ability, breathability, durability, and cost. How do you know which of the many types of foul weather gear on the market is the right one for your boating needs?
Three of the materials are coatings, applied over or under the basic fabric layer, which is usually nylon. The fourth group includes "breathable" fabrics.
PVC, or polyvinyl-chloride, is a coating that's durable, resists abrasion well, and sheds certain chemicals like diesel fuel. It's lightweight and relatively inexpensive. The way PVC seams weld together makes them the most waterproof of the three types. PVC tends to collect condensation and perspiration between your skin and the inside of the garment, and in cold weather, it may become brittle.
The quality of PVC gear varies widely. Generally, the longest-lasting suits are made more abrasion resistant with multiple layers of PVC coatings.
Polyurethane is a rubber polymer coating. It's lighter and more flexible than PVC, but it's also less durable, and is usually applied inside the nylon shell. It's more breathable than PVC, but making it more breathable on the inside means reducing its ability to repel water from the outside. Better quality polyurethane gear is carefully bonded in many thin layers to prevent water absorption that can result in eventual delamination.
Neoprene is the most flexible and durable of the coatings. It's also the thickest, heaviest, and-you guessed it-the most expensive. It's very popular in England and other areas where boating is not just wet, but cold, and boaters are willing to suffer the weight and the cost for guaranteed waterproof gear that lasts.
Breathable fabrics allow perspiration and condensation inside the foul weather suit to pass outward. "Microporous" breathables have tiny holes that let water vapor escape without letting water in.
Body heat and the higher pressure of humidity drive out the weather vapor. Some breathable gear is designed to wick water away from the skin.
What to Look For
If you are considering nonbreathable foul weather gear, look for an inner lining coated with urethane or some other material that allows condensation to collect on the outer shell without drenching you inside, and look for an open bottom or netting that allows the water to drain. Basic fabric weights range from two to seven ounces per square yard. Four ounces is fairly standard for offshore boating. For tropical climates, go lighter.
To prevent water penetration, every stitch in the seams should be sealed. The least penetrable have seam tape melted into the fabric. Workmanship is important, particularly where two seams meet. Make sure there are no bubbles under the seams. Also check for reinforcement with Cordura or other nylon fabric on the areas most subject to abrasion: the knees and seat.
You want your gear to fit properly, be flexible, and be comfortable. If possible, try different types until you find the one that is best for you. Operate the closures at the wrists, ankles, and neck to make sure they are snug. Look for double inner and outer wrist closures that keep water out, and still allow you to adjust for ventilation. Comfort around your face is especially important. Front closures with gutters or Velcro storm flaps to funnel water away from zippers are a plus. So are heavy-duty YKK zippers that won't rust or corrode.
Other features to consider are underarm grommets for ventilation, cargo pockets, fleece-lined handwarmer pockets, elastic shoulder straps, chest pockets on trousers, and roll-up hoods. Reflective tape is an added safety feature.
For more serious offshore use, look for the reflective tape, plus crotch straps on the jacket, tabs for attaching harnesses and inflatable life jackets, and high-cut pants for protection from the elements. Some foul weather gear comes equipped with inflatable buoyancy chambers; others have or can accommodate built-in safety harnesses.
Care for Your Foul Weather Gear
Remember to check the warranty, and follow the manufacturer's care instructions. Most water-repellent fabrics can't take the excessive heat of washing machines, dryers, or exposure to the sun.
Storing Your Foul Weather Gear
While all the suits we offer are of superior quality, we do advise you to use common sense when storing these suits. No matter what type of boating you do, it's inevitable that you'll get wet! It's imperative that when storing your foul weather gear, you've taken precautions to ensure that you will receive the best protection from your suit possible in future outings. Never store any suit wet. Saltwater will quickly cause deterioration of materials. Thoroughly rinse off saltwater and hang to dry on a wooden hanger.
To make your selection easier, we've included an explanation of when to wear inshore, offshore, and rainwear gear.
Inshore Coastal (Medium Protection)
Worn inside the coast and in calmer weather. Generally lighter than offshore suits.
Offshore (Highest Protection)
Worn when sailing offshore and in rougher weather conditions requiring a heavier suit.
Rain Gear (Light Protection)
As the name implies, to be worn when raining. These are lightweight and comfortable.