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!
Disclosure: When I recommend a product that I believe will add value for you, it may contain an affiliate link, and when you click the link to make a purchase, I may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you.
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.
Helmet: The varsity sailors on our team do not wear helmets and I did not feel a need for my opti sailor to wear one until he was going to a week-long high-wind clinic and regatta (high wind plus very tired kid felt like it warranted a helmet). With all the new research coming out about concussions and traumatic brain injuries, the cultural tide is definitely shifting toward helmets in this sport.
Zhik H1 $96
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.
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.
Socks: These waterproof socks are not a necessity but they make the boots much easier to get on and off and protect the kids’ feet from blisters. In the winter most kids wear wool socks (the kind I’m sure you already own) with their boots.
Adult: Gill $58
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 large-faced waterproof watch with a countdown timer is necessary for timing their starts.
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. I find 8 liters to be the perfect size to fit their water bottle too.
View Dry Sack $26
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, clipped on with a carabiner, or enclosed inside their secured dry bag. 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. Hot tip: Label everything with your last name (a lot of the gear is identical)!
Spectating at regattas can be lovely. Lounging on a dock reading a book, chatting with other parents, and cheering on our kids is a nice way to spend a day in my book. We even kayak or SUP around during the summer races. But the weather can be formidable (it’s one of the ways this sport fosters grit in my kids). So just as our kids need some gear to make it through a long day on the water, we need some gear to make it through a long day on the water’s edge.
Folding Chairs: We started off hauling around the heavy camp chairs we’d had for years but after a few seasons of that my husband rage quit those and invested in these incredibly light and comfortable Nemo Stargazer chairs that make me disappointed that I have to put them away at the end of the day’s regatta. They are ridiculously expensive ($250) but fold so compactly, assemble so easily, carry so lightly, and are just. so. comfortable. Costco now has a knock off version that is bigger, heavier, and not as comfortable but are a fraction of the price ($55). Your sailor will want one too during the high school sailing seasons when they’re spending half the time on the dock.
Binoculars: There are some locations where my children are nothing but white specks on the horizon of a tumultuous sea (ahem, Bellingham), so a pair of binoculars is nice if you actually want to follow anything that’s happening. Even when the race location is fairly close to the shore, it’s nice to be able to zoom in and actually see your kid. Several of the coaches recommended Nocs ($95) and we are loving them, particularly their durability.
Sunscreen: Each of my kids has sunscreen in their sail bag but I’m not always in the same location as their gear, so bringing sunscreen for myself is essential. Even on cloudy days the sun can peek through and reflect off the water with brutal intensity. Don’t forget to reapply halfway through the day! And on those sunny days, a full water bottle is a must, sun glasses are essential, and a hat can be nice.
Cold/Rain Gear: Up here in the PNW, especially in the fall and spring, we are often sitting out in cold, windy, rainy weather. I have a post here that outlines what I’m wearing on these days (thermals, fleeces, rain shells, beanie, gloves, wool socks, waterproof boots) and even a blanket is nice.
Pop-Up Tent: Every family does not need their own pop up tent but two for the team to gather under (one for the kids and one for the parents) creates a nice home base for the team.
Snacks: There are often great little farmer’s markets and local restaurants within walking distance but bringing a few snacks for those long days is a good idea.
Book: I’m often chillin’ in my hammock chair with a good book but I’ll even bring my laptop and get work done if there’s a nice yacht club at the location (like Willamette Sailing Club) or my embroidery if there’s warm, dry weather. You’re going have a big chunk of time on the shore so you might as well do something you enjoy—nurture yourself while supporting your kids.
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.