When you sail, you know you need to sail in layers; especially if you’re going far away from shore where your situation might change in an instant without anyone nearby to help.

However, like any layered system, the base layer is the most important. It’s the foundation of everything laid on top of it, and when all else fails, it’s your last layer of defense from the elements.

So, what should you look for in sailing base layers?

1: Waterproofing

If you fall overboard, all of your clothing that isn’t waterproof is getting soaked. That can lead to hypothermia, one of the biggest threats to sailors. If your base layer is waterproof, you can strip off the rest of your gear and stay dry and warm. Quick-dry layers are also acceptable. As long as you can get dry quickly, you can prevent risking your life. Also, if you get quick-dry clothes for the rest of your layers with a waterproof base layer, you won’t have to get by in your base layer for long.

2: Insulation

You can very easily end up in just your base layer; as we highlighted above. If that happens, you want it to be a base layer that will keep you protected against the cold without overheating you in the heat. Good insulation is key to ensuring this is the case. You might get a little sweaty with all those layers on, but you’ll be grateful if you end up making the rest of your trip in just a base layer.

3: Sealed, Waterproof Pockets

Nowadays, you simply can’t afford to keep all of your key electronics off your person and in a waterproof safe box on the deck. You need to have a way to carry those with you, but with all the water around, a basic pocket system won’t work. The first time a big wave comes onboard, your smartphone or GPS is toast.

Waterproof pockets with sealed zippers are key to preventing that. They allow you to quickly access the tech you need for navigation and emergency contacts, but you don’t have to worry about a wave ruining the items in an instant.

4: Range of Motion

Movement is key while sailing. When you’re on board, you need to be able to safely navigate your boat. If you can’t maintain a full range of motion, you can fall, not be able to handle basic tasks, or otherwise put yourself at risk. If you happen to topple overboard, the same issue can cause you to drown.

Always make sure that your sailing base layer is fitted properly and allows you to move freely.

5: Lightweight

You do not want to have to take your base layer off in an emergency just because it’s weighing you down. If you end up going overboard with a good base layer, you can quickly remove your other gear while staying warm and mostly dry. If your base layer is so heavy it keeps you from swimming, it has to come off, and that leaves you exposed to hypothermia.

Make sure your base layer is light enough that you can swim freely with it on.

Zoe Kickhefer