Sailing wetsuits VS drysuits

Sailing is a sport that can be done anytime of year (providing the water isn’t frozen!). Despite many people associating sailing with summer, winds tend to be stronger in autumn and winter making it the ideal time for sailing.

When sailing in autumn or winter, the drop in temperature means that it is important to wear the right sailing attire to keep you safe and warm. So, when should you wear a sailing wetsuit and when should you wear a dry suit?

Why wear a wetsuit or drysuit

Generally you should wear a wetsuit in water temperature under 18 degrees celsius, RNLI define cold water as anything below 15 degrees celsius. But why is cold water so dangerous?

In water below 15 degrees celsius, there is risk of cold water shock which can seriously affect your breathing and movement. Cold water shock causes your heart rate to rise whilst simultaneously closing the blood vessels in your skin restricting the flow of blood which magnifies your risk of a heart attack. Cold water shock also rapidly increases involuntary gasping, this uncontrolled breathing rate means you are at risk of inhaling water and drowning.

Wearing a wetsuit or drysuit will significantly reduce your risk of cold water shock.

Sailing wetsuits

Wetsuits are a close fitting garment typically covering the entire body including torso, back, arms and legs. Sailing wetsuits are made with neoprene layers, they work by trapping a narrow layer of water next to your body. This combined with the neoprene becomes an insulator warming the layer of trapped water, to keep warm, the flow of cold water from the outside needs to be minimised. In order for this to work properly the neoprene needs to rest close to your skin, therefore loose fitting or baggy sailing wetsuits should be avoided.

Depending on the water temperature you will be sailing in, it is important to think about the thickness of the wetsuit that you will need. As you would expect, the colder the water temperature, the thicker the wetsuit needs to be.


  • Wetsuits on the thinner side are not restrictive when it comes to movement so should not impact your sailing ability
  • Wetsuits are more affordable than dry suits so are good for when you first start sailing
  • Even though wetsuits are designed to keep you warm they can also be worn comfortably on more mild days
  • Wetsuits are pretty durable however if they are damaged with a cut or hole this won’t affect the warming properties of a correctly fitted wetsuit


Unlike sailing wetsuits, drysuits are completely waterproof and are therefore best used in very cold temperatures. Drysuits are essentially a waterproof top layer to be worn with insulated clothing underneath. Drysuits have rubber seals around openings to the suit e.g. wrists, neck and ankles to prevent water from getting in, they work by trapping and insulating the air between your skin and the suit to keep you warm.


  • The protection offered by a drysuit can be increased or decreased by the layers worn underneath making it suitable for a range of water temperatures
  • Due to not being skin tight drysuit are very easy to put on and take off
  • Movement in the dry suit will not feel too restricted

Both sailing wetsuits and drysuits can be great at keeping you warm whilst sailing, researching thoroughly into the different types of each will help you decide which is best for you.

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