There are many ways to go sailing, from relaxing day sails and low-stakes racing to long-term cruising and adventurous offshore passages, but some things never change. The wind and seas are just as they were thousands of years ago and still present the same opportunities and challenges. The only difference is that these days we have much better sailing gear to help us along! Just as sailboat technology has advanced by leaps and bounds, so have the personal items that improve the sailing experience.
Here is some essential sailing gear every mariner can use, no matter what their ambition. Like the Boy Scouts say, “Be prepared!” If you have these items in your personal collection, you’ll be in good shape, whether you own a boat or not.
1. Foul Weather Gear
This is a must, and it’s worth investing in the good stuff. Depending on where you sail, foul weather may be a rare occurrence or something you deal with every time on the water. Either way, when you need it, you’ll sure be glad you have it. It can make the difference between having a great time (quality foulies will keep you warm and dry even in torrential rain) or being miserable.
2. Sailing Gloves
These specialized gloves are made to improve your grip and make hauling lines easier. They come in especially handy on smaller boats with thin lines, or on older boats without advanced winches for handling sail. With padded palms and cut-off fingers, they give you a good balance of comfort and flexibility, so you don’t feel like you’re wearing snow mittens.
Time was, the only question you had to answer in order to crew on a ship was: “Can you tie a bowline, and where’s your knife?” That still holds true in many cases today, as knives are required personal safety equipment for many racers and dinghy sailors. Certainly, no sailor should be without at least one quality knife that is designed to cut through the synthetic materials used on boats. There’s a huge variety to choose from, from the basic design to the more advanced models with built-in LED lights.
4. Personal Flotation Device (Lifejacket)
Just as you wouldn’t get into a car without seatbelts, no boat can be without PFDs. You hope you never need them, but if you do, they can save your life. Many of us still have an image of a life jacket as a huge, bulky orange thing that feels like a stockade around your neck. But modern PFDs have come a long way, and are actually quite comfortable and unobtrusive. Often you don’t have to bring your own PFD with you; the boat owner or the charter company will provide them. But if you’re going to be sailing a lot, or buying a boat, it’s not a bad idea to invest in a good one for yourself. This way you’ll have one that you like and trust. Check out the Bluestorm X-Treme, for an example of the latest innovations. It inflates automatically (but is smart enough not to go off just from rain or deck spray), and has comfortable mesh padding, all while being considerably smaller than those orange monstrosities of yesteryear. However, anything that floats will do in a pinch. Never go to sea without your PFD!