Boating Clothing: Choosing The Best Boating Clothing, Shoes, Boots and Rain Gear.
Waterproof boating clothing is a very very very important part of every boater's locker (or dry bag for us open boat explorers).
Many people underestimate the importance of the outer layer of boating clothing that protects you from the rain and wind and splash.
It is good to know the advantages and disadvantages of each type of fabric before you buy.
PVC with no fabric backing
I cannot say much good about this type of raingear, except it is cheap. It rips easily, it is bulky and awkward and it will likely not last for one outing.
My advice is leave it on the shelf at the store. It does not make good boating clothing.
Light weight fabrics coated on the inside
I find lighter duty coated nylon rain gear works ok when it is new. The lighter duty coated fabrics are more comfortable than the heavier weight fabrics, and they are also cheaper. So, many people buy them for price and comfort.
Like all fabrics with a waterproof coating on the inside of the fabric, these garments partly rely on a durable water repellent coating applied to the outside of the fabric for their waterproofness. This coating wears out with extended use.
If you are shopping for rain gear based on the low price and good comfort you are probably not planning on being out in the rain for very long.
Like the PVC with no fabric backing, this does not make the best boating clothing for extended use.
Heavy weight fabrics coated on the inside
These fabrics are used to make more durable rain gear. The fabric and coatings are heavier weight, so the clothing is stiffer and heavier. Better quality brands will have all the seams sealed at the factory with seam tape.
This is the type of rain gear we have purchased for our boys. It is available at quality outdoor retailers and marine shops. It is not the heavy commercial fisherman style, with the coating on the outside of the fabric, but it is the best you can get for kids in Canada.
My own experience with this type of rain gear is the fabric starts to "wet out" as the clothing ages, and and the durable water repellent coating stops functioning. Even with a waterproof coating on the inside, the water starts to soak through once the exterior of the coat is saturated.
They are ok when new, but not as long lasting as fabrics with a waterproof coating on the outside.
I find with kids, as long as they are dressed in synthetics and wool, they stay warm, even if they are a little wet underneath.
For me this is the starting point for boating clothing that will perform reasonably well, and last at least a couple seasons.
Light weight fabrics coated on the outside
I bought a pair of lighter weight rain pants coated on the outside with polyurethane. They are very comfortable because they are slightly stretchy, a recent design by Helly Hansen.
I was sceptical even at the store if a stretchy fabric could keep out water. They work fine in mild splash and light rain, but when sitting in a wet boat for extended periods of time, I get a wet butt. Not the kind of boating apparel I was looking for.
Some companies offer light weight fabrics coated on the outside with PVC that are perfect for recreational use. This is my favorite kind of rain gear, it is just hard to find in Western Canada.
Heavy weight fabrics coated on the outside
This is the type of fabric used in heavy duty commercial fisherman raincoats, hats and pants. I have a coat made of this fabric and it keeps me dry no matter how hard it rains, or how much splash comes into the boat.
With a heavy PVC coating on the outside, it has repelled water for years, can be washed off easily, and dirt does not effect its waterproofness.
Heavy commercial fisherman rain gear is not comfortable, it is stiff and cumbersome.
It is not attractive boating apparel, it is baggy and usually only available in bright yellows, oranges and greens.
It is not suited for active wear because one would get soaked from sweat on the inside, but.....
...... it works in an open boat in the pouring rain or when getting hit by lots of wave splash!
Waterproof breathable fabrics
Waterproof breathables are great..... comfortable, stylish, and you don't get wet from trapped sweat....I have owned many. Sadly, they don't get my vote for long term waterproof rain gear.
Waterproof breathables rely on a durable water-repellent (DWR) coating that is sprayed on the fabric at the factory. The coating forces water to bead and run off the outer fabric. This coating wears off and performs poorly if dirty. Once the coating no longer works, the outer fabric gets wet and the ability of the inner membrane to breath is destroyed.
Once this happens the rain simply soaks through. Because of this, waterproof breathable clothing needs to be washed often and a DWR coating must be reapplied. Sadly, coatings that you apply never work as well as the factory applied coating.
Even though manufacturer's claim that breathable fabrics are waterproof, I don't expect it to keep me dry in the worst rain and splash if it is more than 1 year old.
I admit it, I like the comfort and styles of the high tech waterproof breathables. I just wish they would last longer.
Wax coated cotton - known as oilskin
For years I worked in the bush and I lived in an oilskin coat. For waterproofness and breathability they work incredibly well, but like everything, they too have disadvantages.
Their big disadvantage is they get stiff and heavy when wet, so they don't get my first pick when active where I prefer a lighter weight coat. Oilskins last a long time because one can re-apply the wax/oil which makes it as good as new!
Probably best suited for drier climates, I don't know how well they work in environments that stay wet for weeks or months at a time. They do originate from Australia, a dry country after all.
For 16 days in July of 2008 my family and I went camping, fishing and exploring off the coast of Vancouver island. It was the middle of summer, but we spent most of the trip dressed head to toe in rain gear and fleece.
It is cool on the west coast of Canada even in summer, and the rain gear was to protect us from the wind and the splash, more than the rain!
If I am on an adventure in a wet environment such as this I want clothing that is completely waterproof. I want the type of boating clothing the commercial fishermen wear!
Large marine suppliers like West Marine sell quality outer layers from commercial fisherman styles to pricey high-tech designs aimed at the sailing and yachting crowd.
Outdoor retailers like REI and MEC in North America sell light weight and heavy weight rain gear with a waterproof coating (usually polyurethane) on the inside of the fabric. These retailers can be a good source of quality boating clothing as well.
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