I have three kids in a youth sailing program and spent the first year profoundly confused as I stumbled my way through the gear issue. Now that we’ve got our sea legs I wanted to share what gear my kids need, use, and/or have found helpful to save you the steep learning curve I navigated with the help of my favorite child Bay (who definitely did not type that).
I’ve included some examples and prices of specific items because that is what I would have found helpful in the beginning but it’s important to note that you do not need to buy all of these and certainly not now or new. Your program likely has used gear swaps and discounted group orders throughout the year so it’s okay to take your time and only acquire things as they’re needed. My kids spent the first year in pieces they already had around the house and they were just fine.
Keep in mind that while it might seem like a lot, so too are the benefits I’ve witnessed my kids enjoy from participating in sailing!
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PFD: Life vest that they will wear all day every day in the boats and on the dock. Coaches have suggested choosing bright colors so you can spot your child from a distance and so a rescuer could spot them in the water. The two parts I use to identify my kids from the shore are their life vest and sleeve colors.
Swimsuit: On a warm day, a swimsuit and rash guard is the only clothing needed under the PFD. The swimsuit itself is worn underneath all the following layers as the weather cools.
Thermal Skiff Suit: This thermal layer looks like wetsuit overalls and will be worn on cold days. We live in a cold climate up here in the pacific northwest where the warmer versions are recommended.
Thermal Top: This layer is worn under the skiff suit to keep their upper half warm. The skiff suit and thermal top together constitute a wetsuit. It’s worth noting that my kids sailed in the cheapest wetsuit I could find on Amazon for their first year and survived nary a frostbitten limb.
Salopette/Bib/Trouser: These waterproof overalls, worn over the skiff suit, are reinforced on the back and knees and keep them dry. A lot of the kids like the Helly Hanson brand too. My kids sailed in their REI rain pants at first but hiking on the boat’s edge tears the pants and water gets in at the waistband.
Junior: Gill discontinued their youth “coastal trouser” so I’m presently hunting for a kid’s salopette.
Adult: Zhik $200
Spray Top: This waterproof jacket seals around the wrists, waist, and neck and keeps their upper half dry.
Boots: These non-slip neoprene boots keep their feet warm and protected. Some kids wear a pair of wool socks with them. My kids wore their Keens at first and they worked fine until they got more aggressive with their hiking.
Gloves: My kid’s coach actually recommended youth gardening gloves for my youngest and we have yet to try out that hot tip but having some warmth and protection for the hands is important (my big kid’s hands were covered in blisters until we got him quality gloves).
Hat: A cap or visor is helpful to keep the sun and hair out of their faces in warm weather and a beanie is needed to keep warm on the cold days.
Sunglasses: Sunglasses are nice to have with the bright sun reflecting off the water. Just be sure to pair them with a floating strap.
Watch: A waterproof watch with a countdown timer is necessary for timing their starts—a cheap one is fine.
Dry Bag: They need a small waterproof bag that clips to the boat for regattas that contains their lunch and any other personal essentials for a full day out on the water.
Water Bottle: A water bottle seems obvious but I want to include everything my kids use while sailing and it gives me the chance to add that the bottle needs to be tied into one of the lines in the boat or clipped on with a carabiner. One of my kids keeps a small length of rope tied to his bottle that he can tie in on the boat and another prefers to clip it in with a carabiner he keeps attached to the bottle. Whatever floats their boat is fine (did you see what I did there) but think through how they want to attach it or it will float away when they capsize.
Sunscreen: Another obvious one but seriously, the sun on the water is brutal, so my kids always have a quality sunscreen in their sail bags on sunny days.
Accessories: My kid keeps a whistle for emergencies, sunscreen for reapplying on long days, electrical tape (e-tape) and a pocket knife/multi-tool for boat issues in his PFD pocket. None of that is required but he finds it all helpful.
Bailer: If your kid is sailing an Opti, FJ, or 420, they will need a bailer tied into the boat to scoop out water. You can simply cut the bottom off of an Arizona Iced Tea jug or laundry detergent bottle.
Gear Bag: It’s helpful to have a big waterproof bag to contain all this cold, smelly, wet stuff and I’ve found an inexpensive Ikea bag works well and we just keep it in the car/locker room on sailing days. Once my kid was doing high school sailing and his bag was sitting in the rain for hours, we upgraded to a fully enclosed waterproof bag.
Cleaning: Upon returning home my kids hose off their gear and hang it to dry in a covered space outside. We periodically hand wash using a neoprene wash and a boot dryer (great for all the boots and gloves throughout the rainy season).
Packing: When packing up to leave the house, they use the checklist below that I have taped up on the wall.
Bravery, responsibility, independence, teamwork, grit, focus . . . my kids have gained so much in character strength right alongside all the science knowledge and physical skill that they have developed in this sport that gets them outdoors, into nature, moving their bodies, with friends. It is a financial investment to get them properly outfitted for the physical stress and elements, but it’s an expense that is well aligned with our values.