Essential Gear For Sailing: What You Need To Know

Have you ever sailed a particular distance and then realized that you were missing essential gear? I know I have. As you pack your bags for your upcoming boating journey, know what you need and you can enjoy a stress-free journey. So, what are some primary items for sailing?

As a general rule, pack the following items: clothes, deck shoes, sailing gloves, life jacket, sunglasses, medical aid, waterproof headlamp, emergency water maker, fire extinguisher, safety harnesses, VHF marine radio, main compass, and a sailing knife. 

These are the essentials but there is a bunch of other gear recommended for sailors, but they aren’t as important as primary equipment.

Here’s a handy guide explaining the importance of each item and the most reliable product to buy. 

Essential Gear For Sailing

1. Clothing

Whether you’re a boater or a passenger, carrying a pair of clothes according to the weather and duration of your journey will help you. 

If you’re a boater, keep your passengers informed about the allowable number of clothes and the type of clothes. For instance, a wetsuit works great for a small boat that may turn over multiple times during a race. However, it can turn awkward and inconvenient if it’s a long-distance journey. Likewise, it’s essential to review the weather forecast and advise other sailors about the ideal type of suit or clothing to bring.

In general, passengers and sailors bring several trolleys of clothes to ensure that they have ample clothes throughout the journey, but this can occupy too much space and also turn the space messy. Limiting the number of clothes you bring and choosing the right type can save you a bunch of space.

I always look at the weather before deciding what I wear sailing, just like I do before going to work. It’s the same process. Just make sure to bring extra clothes sailing in case you get wet and need some dry gear.

My personal recommendations:

Hoodie with sun protection

Sun Protection Shirt For Women

Women’s lightweight pant

Sailing shorts

2. Deck Shoes

Wearing deck shoes during the journey can make you comfortable and protect your feet from the slippery, sun-exposed deck. Look for deck shoes that offer excellent grip and comfort. Perhaps, you can find boat shoes online and order one for yourself.

Remember that investing in proper deck shoes can keep your feet warm and dry during boating. I wouldn’t go with the cheapest ones.

Tip: There are different models, including boots and tennis shoes. Prioritize the weather when you purchase a boot/shoe for yourself. 

Here are my recommendations:

Water shoes – I Love These!

Classic Boat Shoes – Sperry

Water shoes for women – Super Nice!

3. Sailing Gloves

Hats and gloves go hand-in-hand and are quintessential for anyone packing up their bags for a new sailing journey. You may wonder how a sailing glove can make a difference. 

You may sail during hot or cold conditions when your body and skin need extra protection. For instance, wearing a pair of sailing gloves will protect your skin from sunburn and also offer a quality grip. 

Gloves will also help tremendously with hand fatigue.

If you’re looking for the best sailing glove on the market, be informed that it needs to be flexible and made of a genuine material that’s susceptible to wear and tear. Most importantly, it should be waterproof so that it doesn’t experience ill effects when your gloves are exposed to saltwater. 

My personal recommendations:

FitsT4 sailing gloves

Sailing glove with ¾ finger coverage

Water Resistant and UV protectant

4. Sailing Knife (A must any time you sail)

When you’re going off on vacation, you may encounter situations when you need a knife. When things become tangled in a dangerous situation, it’s essential you have a knife ready.

Perhaps, you need a multipurpose utility knife for multiple situations. A sailing knife comes in handy for various purposes. 

Note: Fold your sailing knife when not in use. 

My personal recommendations:

18-function large pocket knife

7 tools in one Gill Tool– My personal choice!

Marlin spike

5. Life Jacket

A life jacket is a key gear item that you need for sailing. Purchase a quality life jacket that can protect you on the cruise. 

An automatic inflating life jacket will protect you when you hit the water. A water sensor will send a signal to the co2 cartridge that will inflate your life jack instantly.

I do like self-inflating life jackets because they are less bulky than the classic models. Just don’t drop them in the water. It’s very annoying when that happens and it inflates for no reason.

My personal recommendations:

Adult life jacket

Float jacket

Inflatable life jacket

6. Sunglasses

Another essential sailing gear item that can add to the quality of your journey is polarized sunglasses. Even if you’re only a passenger, you will always encounter sunny days when sunglasses are essential.  

So, what to look for in sunglasses? The ideal sailing sunglasses are polarized ones that will keep the glare off of your eyes but still allow you to see light. Of course, take a lanyard to pair with your sunglasses.

There is nothing worse than your new glasses falling off your face in the water. If you’re someone who prefers to stay further organized, it’s recommended to purchase two pairs of sunglasses. 

What I recommend:

Polarized sunglasses

Name Brand Sunglasses

Sailing sunglasses that float!

7. Safety Harnesses

When sailing in harsh conditions or alone, a safety harness is absolutely necessary. It can protect you at all times. It’s advisable to keep it handy or connect it to your life jacket so that it’s easy to access whenever you need it. 

Before you buy, ensure that it has a snap shackle that’s easy to assemble or dismantle. Practice it prior to the journey to have a safe experience. 

When you are sailing alone, it is absolutely necessary to have a harness. You cannot fall off the boat when alone.

My recommendations (I don’t guarantee your safety though):

PFD with Safety Harness

Simple Style Harness

Full-body safety harness

You will also need multiple tethers to connect to different parts of the boat while moving around. Never disconnect until you have the new tether connected.

Tethers I recommend can be found here!

One thing to remember is the safety of yourself and all your passengers. If you are the captain it is your responsibility to take care of everyone.

8. First Aid Kit

A first aid kit is a quintessential element that you must have. If not for this gear item, your crew could be in danger. An ideal first-aid kit should contain basic drugs, first-aid accessories, bandages, tweezers, and other protective accessories. 

Always replace items that you use on your journey at the next port. Don’t forget to refill and monitor the expiration dates of your medical aid kit.

Our recommendations:

Waterproof first aid kit

Premium waterproof medical aid kit

9. Main Compass

Perhaps, you have a smartphone and other navigational tools to know your direction. What if you lose network connection or battery life, what would you do?

These are the primary reasons you need the conventional compass that informs you about the latitude, longitude, and direction. 

Also, make sure you know how to use a compass. It’s not complicated.

My recommendations:

Military Grade compass

Basic Compass

10. Waterproof Headlamp 

A waterproof headlamp is a must-have accessory in every boat. This adds an extra level of protection during night sailing. While the boat is fitted with necessary lights, a head torch still helps with its high lumens and is easy to carry. 

The purpose of packing various accessories mentioned in this post is to help you during emergencies. A headlamp does an extraordinary job even when you need to calm people around, offer direction, or brighten the space. 

Our recommendations:

Rechargeable, waterpwroof headlamp

Adjustable headlamp Waterproof

11. VHF Marine Radio

Another essential sailing gear item is a VHF marine radio which lets you communicate with others and has a great transmission distance of up to 60 miles. A fully-powered marine radio includes access to remote stations and also automatically discovers the nearest navigation station. 

If you’re wondering about the rationale behind several navigational devices, well, nothing wrong with being extra protective, right? Devices fail all the time and having a backup can really save you in a bind.

For more radio recommendations and prices, check out my other two articles about handled and fixed-mount radios.

Fixed Mount Radios – Top 9 of 2022

Handheld Radios – Top 8 of 2022

12. Emergency Water Maker & Food Supply

Most sailors underestimate the power of an emergency water maker. As much as you prioritize and set up a first aid kit, an emergency water maker is critical in keeping the crew and passengers hydrated when you’re stuck somewhere, and the rescue team is on their way. 

Depending on the size and type of the sailboat, a water maker is vital. Of course, the model of a water marker can vary depending on your budget and the number of passengers that the boat can hold at a given time. 

Just really consider drinking water when you are planning a long journey.

Our recommendations:

Emergency Water Maker

30-day emergency food supply

Lunch and dinner variety pail

13. Fire Extinguisher

The final essential safety gear item for your sailboat is a portable fire extinguisher. Purchasing one is easy, but knowing how to operate one in an emergency is essential. Ensure that your sailboat is fitted with multiple portable fire extinguishers and the crew is trained to operate one when needed.

Always have one on your boat! Also, make sure it puts out multiple types of fires such as electric and grease. Some fire extinguishers won’t work on certain types.

My recommendations:

Fire suppressor

Personal watercraft fire extinguisher

In addition to various gear items mentioned in this post, there are secondary items like patching materials, depth sounders, WiFi access, wind-blocking jacket, toiletries, binoculars, adapters, sleeping bags, skipper gear, licenses, and electronic navigation systems. Based on your budget, you can purchase these items one by one over time! 

For more gear click below!

Final Thoughts

Every sailboat needs to be equipped with the various items mentioned in this article, and these can improve the overall experience. Emergencies can be stressful but having the right gear on board can help reduce that stress level.

Based on the size of the sailboat and the length of the trip, these items can be stocked in terms of their quantities. Nevertheless, these can help in many ways even on day trips. 

As a sailboat owner, keep an eye on the availability and working conditions of these items every time you plan to go out.

You can also add it to your sailboat maintenance routine and reap maximum benefits!

Sign up below for my own sailboat maintenance checklist! Cheers!


Boatlifehq owner and author/editor of this article.

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