Boaters and anglers need good foul weather gear, period. Even if you’re a “fair-weather sailor”, the day will inevitably come when you get caught out in a rainstorm. And getting wet in a boat, even in tropic conditions, often means getting cold
Consider the advantages of good foul weather gear:
- Staying dry aboard means you can boat and fish in weather when others stay home.
- You can get on the water earlier in spring and later in fall. In the southern states and tropic nations you can enjoy boating or fishing all winter.
- Even with sunshine and warmer temperatures, when boating or angling takes you into rough water it can get wet and wet can equal cold—unless you’ve got foul weather gear.
- You’ll stay comfortable on that first run at dawn or when boating late into the night, both of which can be chilly even in summer.
- You’re ready for unexpected weather changes.
- The bottom line is that foul weather gear is designed to keep boaters and anglers dry no matter what the weather or sea condition. Quality gear will make your cruising or fishing more comfortable and more fun, as well as safer.
But there are different levels of gear suited to varying conditions. The raingear that’s best for you will depend on how, when and where you boat.
What is “Water Resistant” Rain Gear?
Quality rain gear is, oddly, not 100 percent waterproof like a sheet of rubber or a plastic trash bag. It’s technically “water resistant”, but that doesn’t mean a good suit won’t keep you dry. (There are also “dry suits”, which are totally waterproof and suited for the most extreme conditions—see details below.)
The reason is that the good stuff “breathes”, just a bit. It lets sweat out, but doesn’t let rain and spray in. How can this be?
Construction of these suits requires layered construction.
The outer shell, as you’d expect, is the one that keeps the rain and spray out. But it’s very slightly permeable, so that the water vapor created by your body, coming from inside the garment, can escape.
Inside that outer shell, there’s at least one other layer. This layer is a waterproof breathable membrane. The outer side of this membrane is hydrophobic. That means it repels water if any gets in.
The inner side is hydrophilic which means it attracts water.
In a quality rain suit, the fabrics work together to keep weather out while at the same time allowing enough of the sweat and vapor produced by your body to escape so that you don’t feel “clammy” or just slightly damp all day long.
Rain Gear Ratings
Rain gear typically gets two rating numbers, like so: 10K/7K.
The first number refers to water resistance, the second to breathability.
Water resistance in this context means the height of water, in millimeters, you could stack on a 1-inch by 1-inch section of the fabric before it started to seep through. A higher number means the material is more waterproof—but if you boat or fish where rain and spray are usually a moderate issue, you may not want to max this number out because it can make a suit feel “clammy” as well as less flexible and comfortable.
A rating of up to 10K is enough to handle light to average rain for a short amount of time. Ratings between 10K and 15K can handle a moderate amount of rain for much longer, and jackets rated 15K and up are designed to keep out intense rain over a prolonged period.
Wearing a jacket that’s not quite rated to handle the weather you are in would be a reason your jacket doesn’t seem as waterproof as you’d like. It’s usually best to buy for the toughest conditions, even though that may be something that you only deal with now and then.
The second number of the water-resistance rating indicates how breathable a jacket is. Expressed in grams, it represents how much water vapor can move through one square meter of fabric, from inside to out, in a 24-hour period.
A 10K breathability rating means that 10,000 grams of water vapor will escape in 24 hours.
Breathability of 10K and down is for casual use where you’re not breaking a sweat—maybe an auxiliary suit you keep in the cabin for rainy days.
Breathability ratings of 10 to 15 K are better for moderate activity—including most cruising or fishing trips on powerboats.
And breathability ratings above 15k are more suited for trips where you’ll be using a lot of energy, such as paddling or peddling a kayak, or repeatedly hauling up hundreds of feet of anchor line on an offshore reef fishing trip.
Gear with breathability that’s too low for your activity level, again, can make you feel clammy, but in this case the moisture is coming from the inside and can’t get out fast enough.
While the fabric of your foul weather gear may be perfectly functional for your level of boating activity, it won’t help much if the zippers and other closures are faulty.
The gold standard in zippers is the YKK AquaGuard, which include a heavy polyurethane exterior coating that functions almost like the top of a zipping food bag to lock spray and rain out. They’re also made of a composite that won’t corrode in saltwater like metal zippers do.
If you boat or fish on saltwater, it’s a good idea to rinse your foul weather gear down with fresh water at the end of every day and hang it up afterwards. This not only gets rid of the crusting salt that makes the gear uncomfortable and corrodes zippers but also will allow it to dry so that you’re not putting on clammy raingear in the morning.
And occasionally your gear will need a real wash to get rid of fish slime and other stains.
Here’s a raingear guide from AFTCO, a leading provider of foul weather gear, on doing it right:
The primary indicator that your outerwear needs to be cared for will be seen visually on the exterior of the shell. If you notice that your outerwear is no longer "beading up" and has begun soaking up water this is known as "wetting out". This is the primary indicator that your outerwear is not performing to its full potential and requires care. The simple solution is to treat your outerwear with Nikwax or other environmentally friendly cleaner and follow the instructions below:
Step 1 Prep: Shake well before use. Use undiluted fabric wash and a sponge or soft nylon brush to treat stubborn stains before washing. Follow garment care label instructions.
Step 2 Machine Wash: Place a maximum of six garments in washing machine. Using cold water only, after the machine has filled, add: 5 fl oz. / 150 ml for 1-3 garments, low water level. 8.5 fl oz. / 250 ml for 4-6 garments; medium water level of Nikwax Tech Wash.
Step 3 Waterproofing: No need to dry garments before waterproofing. Air dry or tumble dry on a low setting.
Wait for 2 minutes, then remove any surplus product with a damp cloth. Check carefully to ensure no areas have been missed. Air dry for several minutes and the job is done.
• Bleach - Colors will fade and can damage the DWR waterproof coating.
• Use Fabric Softener - Will clog the pores of technical fabrics and can damage the waterproof coating, minimizing the garments waterproofing and breathability.
• Iron - The heat may damage the performance of your technical fabric and potentially melt your garment.
• Dry Cleaning - Products used to dry clean could damage the technical features of your garment.
That’s it—given a bit of care, your quality foul-weather gear should give you years of service.
Sizing for Rain Gear
Sizing varies wildly on foul weather gear, with one company’s “Large” more like the next one’s “Small”. Some companies like AFTCO give an estimate of fit by telling you the height and weight of the model wearing the products in their catalog but otherwise you’re on your own.
In general, you won’t go wrong by ordering a size larger than you normally select for outerwear. This is because raingear is frequently worn over a sweater or jacket for insulation, or in more northern climates over several layers of coats.
Of course, if you only boat in Florida or the tropics, a closer fit might make sense. But never settle for raingear that binds when you bend, squat or make any of the other movements often necessary in boating and fishing—the pressure will soon rip out the seams.
Don’t despair if you’re a really big guy, either. Most companies offer sizes to 4X, designed to fit mariners up to 350 pounds.
We’ll look at some of the best known makers in Part 2.