How To Dress
The MFA requires the ambient temperatures above 28°F and wind below 20kts to race. Thus, frostbiting is not as cold as other winter sports, such as skiing. However, there is the potential to get wet while sailing, especially on windy days. These tips will help you stay dry and warm while frostbiting.
Most experienced frostbite sailors start with a layer or two of thermal underwear. Polypropylene undergarments are particularly good as the layer closest to your skin, because they “wick” sweat away and help keep you dry. Traditional “long john” underwear is good as a second layer, because it gives you head to toe coverage.
Over this layer of underwear, sailors can add a layer of fleece or a sweater—when the temperature is below 40 or so. A surprising number of winter days end up above 50 degrees, during our afternoon sailing window. Look at the forecast and bring along an extra layer to add, if you need it.
A layer on top to keep you dry is a must. Some sailors opt for a dry suit with gaskets at the neck and wrists with booties for the feet to stay dry. Others opt for traditional foul weather gear. Either way, bringing a spare set of clothes is useful in case you do get wet.
Dry suit vs. foul weather gear
Dry suits trap air and are very warm—you can subtract a layer or two from the list above, if you wear them. If you happen to capsize when you are wearing one, you should be able to get back on the water and sail again the same day, if you wish to.
However, dry suits are expensive and they tend to wear out. Unless you are a standard size, it may be hard to get one that has the right length in the sleeves and the legs—and you may feel you can’t move around as well in them.
To repair a drysuit, turn it inside out, zip it up, clothes-pin the neck and one wrist, blow up through other wrist with [cool] hair dryer or some other method. Paint with soapy water to find the hole (like an inner tube). Patch the hole with Gear Aid Seam Grip WP to repair.
Foul weather gear is an alternative to a dry suit that works well especially on warmer, lighter days. Bib pants under a winter-weight jacket is the recommended combination. The high rise of the bib prevents water from seeping in underneath the bottom edge of the jacket and the suspenders keep your pants from drooping as you twist around in the boat.
A fleece neck warmer is also convenient. It won't get in the way and can easily be unrolled to cover as much of your face as you like.
Life jackets are required for all racers.
Foam (non-inflatable) PFDs are required, as it's not uncommon to get splashed even on light days.
Make sure that your life jacket fits well and has no straps or edges that can catch on the boom, your tiller extender, etc.
Hat - a brimless, warm hat is recommended
Sun glasses - not a necessity but are handy for blocking the low winter sun
Sun block - cover your nose, cheeks, and ears
Water bottle - good for staying hydrated
Wrench or screwdriver - for adjusting the centerboard
Sharpie marker - for marking adjustments on lines
Your hands and feet will most certainly get wet while sailing! Proper attire can mitigate any discomfort.
Gloves should keep your hands warm and give you a good grip on your main sheet. Some options used amongst MFA members:
Lobsterman gloves (sold at Ontario Glove, Anderson’s, and Magid)
Gill all-weather racing gloves
Dishwashing gloves over polypropylene gloves
Footwear for sailing that provide traction and maneuverability is preferred. Toes can get cold, so it's not uncommon to wear two pairs of socks (wool socks on top of skiing socks is a crowd favorite!)
This content is an updated version of Tips on dressing for Dyer frostbiting. See also SailWorld's Frostbiting Gear Guide.