Inside Foul Weather Gear

How to selecting

Foul Weather Gear

How to select

Purchasing the right foul weather gear for your activity level and type of boating is relatively easy. Yet many boaters over- or underbuy, spending more money than necessary in some cases, or not spending enough when rigorous extended cruising is involved.

Whether you own a powerboat or sailboat, at some point you’ll need protection from the weather. Prior to purchasing new foul weather gear you should evaluate your needs by answering the following questions:

Where do you boat - tropical, temperate or colder climates?
How often do you encounter inclement weather requiring you to don your foulies?
What is the level of your exposure - also light rain or full ocean storm?
few minutes or several days at a time?
How much freedom of movement do you need-do you sit at the helm only or do you race sailboats?

There are four basic types of gear: dinghy or sportboat gear, inshore/near shore, coastal, and offshore gear and survival suits. The availability of specific features varies widely by manufacturer, as does the name given to the gear.

Gill TM Race Waterproof Smock (

Boat racing or sportboat foul weather gear should be lightweight and flexible.

For high-level activity, purchase gear that is waterproof and breathable with good abrasion resistance. This type of gear is great for day racer/sailors and other boaters who are very active, especially if they are out for the day in temperate climates that may produce a quick rain shower or windy conditions.

Phase2 Drysuit by Crewsaver (

Recreational inshore/near shore foulies should be lightweight, providing protection for boaters exposed only to mild weather conditions, wind or spray, and only for a brief amount of time in temperate climate. This gear is usually coated for effective waterproofing but if you also need breathability, choose gear with a two-ply laminate or breathable coating.

The Mens Coastal - "Endeavor" (DWR) finish Jacket (

Coastal gear is medium weight, intended for several days of continuous use and should have good abrasion resistance. This gear is primarily offered as a laminated waterproof and breathable membrane fabric, but can also be found in breathable coated fabrics. Many sets of foul weather gear in this category have insulation and safety features or options such as reflective tape and tabs for attaching a harness or inflatable PFD (life jacket).

Offshore foul weather gear is for boaters exposed to rough conditions on a continuous day-to-day basis for extended periods. Buy only a three-layer laminated waterproof, breathable membrane fabric with high abrasion resistance and reinforced wear areas.

The gear should be insulated, include reflective tape and built-in safety features such as tabs for harnesses and inflatable jackets. You can also find this gear with a built-in harness and/or inflatable jacket. Some feature inflatable buoyancy chambers.


The features listed below are not found on all stypes and types of foul weather gear. Determine what’s important to you for your type of boating and look for gear with the particular features you require.

Articulated elbows and knees allow easier movement. These are often created by adding an additional panel of fabric at these joint areas. Look for additional panels on the underarms for arm lifting flexibility, too.

Cuffs and pant leg hems should be watertight, minimizing air and water leakage into the garment openings. This is accomplished by either adjustable hook and loop (Velcro® ) or elasticized gussets. A great deal of body heat can be lost if the cuffs and hems aren’t securely fitted. The advantage to Velcro® closures is the ability to adjust the cuffs and hems to either retain body heat or for ventilation by loosening the openings up to allow body heat to escape when necessary.

Drawcords, in addition to the hood, can also be located at the waist, collar and hem of a jacket. A drawcord on the collar allows you to secure the neck opening when the hood is down. Waist drawcords keep cold air from blowing up inside the jacket and if the jacket is long, hem drawcords will keep the bottom of the jacket from flapping about in windy conditions.

Elastic shoulder straps or suspenders on bib-style pants offer more movement flexibility and additional comfort than nonelastic straps.

Front openings should be watertight with two overlapping flaps; the outer flap being secured with either Velcro® or snaps.

Hoods provide protection for your face and head. They should be close-fitting and move with your head so as to not restrict visibility. A visor should be somewhat stiff and flexible, and not soft enough to flap in your face. The hood should also have a drawcord at the front to pull the hood close to the face and there should be some means of securing the bitter end of the drawcord so it doesn’t flog you.

Linings wick moisture away. They should be soft and slide easily over your clothing. Mesh linings should be found only in the body of the garment, not in the hood and sleeves where they may get hung up.

Pockets are either dual or single opening.

Dual openings provide one opening at the top with a flap cover (“cargo pockets”) and a side opening (handwarmer) pockets. Cargo pocket flaps should seal with either snaps or Velcro®. Remember though, the additional layers of dual pockets will reduce the breathability of the gear.

Reflective strips increase the wearer’s visibility and are of particular importance if the person falls overboard at night or in poor visibility. Reflective strips should be securely attached to the garment and located on the shoulders, chest, cuffs and hood of the jacket. Onn bibbed pants, they should be located high on the chest of bib pants.

Reinforced wear patches are found at the knees, seat of the pants, elbows and tails of a long jacket; the areas most subjected to abrasion. The reinforcements are actually separate pieces of a durable fabric (usually Cordura® or other nylon fabric) inserted and stitched.

Taped seams seal the stitching holes and render them leakproof. Quality gear will have tape heat-sealed onto all seams. PVC fabrics don’t need tape-sealed seams if the seams have been overlapped and heat-sealed rather than stitched.

The Zippers are not watertight and need a covering flap to keep water from seeping in. The tabs need to be large enough to pull with either gloved or cold hands. If the tabs are small, you'll want a lanyard to use as a pull.

Tabs for attaching harnesses and inflatable life jackets are available in gear intended for offshore and ocean use.

Underarm grommets offer ventilation for PVC- and neoprene-coated fabrics but may mitigate the performance of the waterproof, breathable laminated and coated fabrics.

for buyers

Don’t over- or underbuy foul weather gear—select the gear that closely matches both your boating style and physical activity for the largest percentage of the time you’re on the boat.

Choose gear that fits well, is comfortable and flexible. Operate all the closures checking for snug fit and adjustability.
Coastal and offshore jackets should be longer than waist length. Short jackets ride up during reaching motions, providing an escape for valuable body warmth and obviating the benefit of the jacket’s waterproofness.

The inside of nonbreathable gear (usually PVC-coated) should have a polyurethane-coated lining. Since polyurethane is the most breathable of the coatings, condensation will collect on the outer shell while you stay dry on the inside.
Check that all seams are sealed. If the gear is lined, you should be able to feel the sealed seam thru the lining.

Choose a color that's visible. Red, Orange and Yellow colour should be favored over blue and green because they're easier to see in rain, spray or fog, or if the wearer is in the water. There should be no air bubbles in the heat-sealed, taped seams.

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The primary purpose of foul weather gear is to build a waterproof and windproof environment for the wearer. To accomplish this, the fabric must prevent water penetration to the inside of the garment. This is achieved by several methods: Coatings.

Coatings for foul weather gear fabrics are generally a synthetic compound like polyurethane, neoprene or polyvinyl chloride (PVC). They're applied to the underside, or both sides, of a base fabric by spreading the solution onto the base fabric with an industrial-sized blade. This solution fills the pores of the fibers and weave of the cloth, creating both a chemical and physical bond with the fibers and changing the physical characteristics of the base fabric. As the new fabric dries in large ovens, the solvents evaporate and the fabric cures. Coatings can make a fabric waterproof, breathable, water-, wind- or stain-resistant.

The most commonly used coating for waterproofing is polyurethane. Neoprene and polyvinyl chloride (PVC) are older technologies still in use.

Polyurethane is a rubber polymer coating that is lighter, more flexible and breathable than PVC but not as durable. Its breathability is reduced by its ability to repel water, the more waterproof, the less breathable. Because this coating is less abrasion-resistant than PVC, it is usually applied to the underside of the core fabric. Microporous polyurethane is the basis for microporous coatings.

Neoprene is a synthetic rubber made by the polymerization of chloroprene. It is characterized by superior resistance to oils, and used for special-purpose clothing such as gloves and wet suits. Neoprene is extremely durable, flexible and waterproof, but it is a heavier material than polyurethane and is used primarily in colder climates.

PVC (polyvinyl chloride) coatings are durable, resistant to abrasion, lightweight and will shed some oil-based chemicals such as diesel fuel. PVC is the most waterproof of the coatings used in foul weather gear, but has no breathability.

Nonbreathable coated fabrics are usually a nylon core fabric with a polymer (PVC) coating. These fabrics are excellent for waterproofness, are lightweight and cost less than laminates. Nonbreathable coated fabrics do not ventilate body heat and perspiration, so they're great for standing at the helm in a drenching rain in a cold climate.

Breathable coated fabrics are frequently a nylon base with a polymer (polyurethane) coating. These are fairly waterproof and ventilate well but will soak through after extended exposure to rain. They require some care and periodic treatment of the outer fabric with a durable water repellent such as Scotchguard®.


A major advance in foul weather gear construction created fabrics that pull moisture away from the body but retain body heat. This accomplishment brought us waterproof, breathable fabrics. These have a microporous or hydrophilic coating or a laminate that prevents water and wind from passing through, but the fabric breathes allowing water vapor (perspiration) to escape. These fabrics are fairly waterproof, soaking in only after hours of exposure, and are very breathable, transferring water vapor out from inside while keeping rain from penetrating. These fabrics are heavier and more expensive than either the breathable or nonbreathable coated fabrics.

A laminate unites layers of material by adhesive or other means. Foul weather gear laminates are composed of either two or three layers bonded to form one fabric. A two-layer laminate consists of a very thin membrane (either microporous or monolithic) bonded to the underside of a shell. A three-layer laminate has a lining in addition to the membrane and outer shell.

Many manufacturers of weatherproof, breathable foul weather gear use the Gore-Tex® membrane, but there are others on the market that are becoming increasingly popular with foul weather gear manufacturers. Gore-Tex® is an extremely thin microporous Teflon® membrane which can be applied as a coating or used as one layer of a laminate that is bonded to the base fabric.

Many manufacturers of foul weather gear will apply a Durable Water Repellent (DWR) as a surface coating, a silicon or fluorocarbon treatment applied to the outer surface of the fabric which binds to the fibers and prevents water absorption and saturation. Water beads and rolls away but through time and use, the treatment wears away and must be replenished with commercially available products.

Other fabric treatments

You will find other fabric treatments available but not necessarily used on foul weather gear intended for anything more than a day outing.

Water repellent/resistant fabrics shed water and resist wetting providing a surface resistance only. Water repellent garments provide shell layer protection in mist and light rain, although water will eventually penetrate the fabric. Water repellant fabrics are coated to varying degrees but the pores are not closed as they are in waterproof fabrics.

Windproof fabrics have a barrier coating or laminate to prevent wind from passing through, but may still allow breathability depending on the coating or laminate used.
A basic understanding of the fabrics and treatments used in the construction of foul weather gear, as well as some basic terminology, will help make the selection process a little easier.