Sailing in the UK is cold – we knew that. If you’re cold and wet, and potentially sea-sick, it is unpleasant and can be dangerous. But they say there is no such thing as the wrong weather, only the wrong clothing. So we set out on this voyage equipped with thermals, hats, gloves and good offshore wet weather gear. That was a good thing. In the event, a cold north wind blew for most of April, May and June as we sailed up the East coast. We didn’t take off our thermals (warm under-layers) until July.

Do you get cold when sailing? Here are a few brief things we’ve learned, and an invitation to share your experience. We haven’t cracked it yet.

Bob, our stowaway. Not all our crew had this much fur.

Cruising is different from many other sports – activity is sporadic, and in a boat like Nova you can be standing exposed to the elements for long periods, with little physical activity except balancing.

As they say, “sailing is like standing in a cold shower…..”

How to stay warm while sailing

Heat is lost in four ways: evaporation (if you’re wet), radiation, conduction (not an issue in the air, but a big issue when swimming) and convection (wind chill). Being at sea is a recipe for getting cold. What did we try, and what worked? Here are our recommendations.

Hot Tips

  1. Don’t rely on warm clothes – staying warm also involves regular food and exercise. We swapped roles to take turns winching, helming etc. We also both found ourselves performing press-ups and other exercises to stay warm. Anyone know a good exercise routine to do while sailing? We’d love to hear about it!
  2. Insulated mugs. We had two steel mugs we used for the two people on watch. They kept drinks warm for ages – we could put them down to take in a reef or furl the jib, and they’d still be hot when we returned. They’re great hand-warmers too.
  3. Wear a hat. Yes it may be a myth that most heat is lost from the head – it represents just 10% of the body’s surface area. All the same, don’t forget to wear a hat! The head has lots of blood vessels near the surface and it loses heat by radiation, convection and evaporation. One of our crew arrived (from warmer climes) with a thin sun hat. It was rapidly replaced by one of our fleecy caps!
  4. Salopettes are great. They cover the legs and torso, preventing wind-chill. Anne wore salopettes most of the time, with leggings beneath. I wore warm winter trousers for most of the trip (there are lots of makes – mine were Craghopper ‘Kiwi Trousers’ which are wind and shower proof). In warmer weather I wore Paramo trousers. Both have zip pockets – vital to avoid losing phones and wallets.
  5. Boots with warm socks have worked for us. I have rather poor circulation in hands and feet. While my hands often got cold, my feet were always warm. Incidentally I’m not yet convinced by trendy leather boots – I find mine take longer to dry out, and require more care than rubber boots.
  6. Gloves are essential, but not sufficient. Keeping the core warm is more important. Therefore to warm your hands, warm your body. Having said that, I’ve tried a large variety of gloves – see image below. On dry days my greatest success has been cycling gloves with finger tips that can operate touch-sensitive screens. On wet days, I use a warm under-glove with waterproof layer on top. I recently bought latex Site gloves as an over-layer (although these are a bit tight). In Wick I asked what the fishermen use, and bought those. Bright blue and not elegant, but practical. What do you use?
My array of gloves, all except the cycling ones. Still not conclusive, but I’m getting warmer.

A small wardrobe

Although we have multiple gloves, hats and layers, and several pairs of trousers, neither of us has worn many different clothes. In my case, my favourite item is a Kalenji long-sleeved running shirt from Decathlon*. I have two of them, which I rotated. Comfortable and warm, yet not too warm, I wore these almost every day.

*I’ve included a link here for your convenience. I don’t get a cut, and while my experience of their cost and quality has been good, I don’t have a lot of information on their ethics (they score 7.5/10 with Ethical Consumer).

Natural or man-made?

It is well known that cotton makes a poor under-layer. It can leave you damp and cold – much better to have a ‘wicking layer’. We’ve used both synthetic and silk for this. Recently we had a long discussion on Nova about natural vs man-made fibres. Thanks Camilla for educating us. Apparently many of our man-made fabrics (such as fleeces) give off plastic particles when they’re washed, contributing to pollution of the oceans. We’re only just learning about this topic, and how best to respond – we’ve relied on warm fleecy materials for years.

Drying out

One of our challenges was how to dry out damp wet-weather gear and other clothing. It was fine with two of us aboard, but on one occasion we had six living on Nova and it rained for two days. Drying our gear was a challenge. A full fitted cockpit tent would have helped a lot (we have a large awning, but it takes time to set up). We used the under-boom mainsheet as a washing line for heavy gear, and rigged up a little washing line hidden under the spray-hood, which was brilliant for gloves, socks and towels – we left it rigged and used it constantly.


When we acquired Nova, the first equipment we fitted was central heating, which uses a small amount of diesel and blows warm air through a network of ducts into the boat. A luxury maybe, but in chilly spring or autumn days it’s great to touch a button and warm the cabin. In summer we used it for drying shoes and other clothing. It’s a good idea to open windows too, or the boat ends up like a sauna.

A well-dressed sailor… Nigel was warm and happy in Orkney.

How do you stay warm when sailing in northern Europe? Any hints and tips from your experience? We’d welcome them here.