I have always believed in people should wear the right kit for the right activity, and dinghy sailing in no exception.
One of my pet hates is disabled people and others bring put in dinghies, canoes and other reasons in their street clothing with the promise of not getting wet. There are two reasons for this. Firstly, if you do get wet or capsize in street clothing it could seriously harm your health, especially if you are prone to chest infections. Secondly, half the fun of dinghy sailing is getting wet by splashing or capsizing or what is the point?
We need to assume the activity involves the chance of getting wet and so appropriate kit should be used. It is often a matter of personal choice although organisers may have requirements on what to wear.
The first decision is whether you use a wetsuit or drysuit, which may depend on the time of year or simply your preference. One or two piece full waterproofs are another option although they could be unhelpful if you capsize.
Wetsuit come in many designs and thicknesses to suit different activities at different times of year, and mostly grouped into full 1 piece back zip suits, two piece front zip suits, and shorty suits.
If you are prone to the cold, you may find the suits you can borrow from organisers do not give you the extra protection you may need and so buying a wetsuit to use for sailing and other activities may be useful to feel warm, comfortable and safe.
After many years of personal research by purchasing a range of different styles of wetsuit, it seems the best kind of wetsuit design for many disabled people is a beavertail wetsuit. This consists of waist height trousers and a full jacket that has wide ‘flap’ that goes between the legs like a crotch strap. The fastening of the flap, the beavertail, can be velcro or metal twist locks, the later can be useful if you have hip thrust issues or just want a secure fastening. The beavertail avoids any unnecessary exposure of bare skin at the waist and the suit being flooded by water.
This type of suit is seen as old fashion and unpopular but it can practical for many wheelchairs, Most of the suit can be put on in a seated position and then just require a short stand or lie down to pull the trousers up and fasten the beavertail. A typical one piece back zip wetsuit will require a lot more standing time and plenty of struggling.
The next issue is what to wear under your a wetsuit. A wetsuit works by being wet and using your own body heat to warm the captured water, and so keeping you warn.
The best thing to wear under your own wetsuit is nothing. If it is a borrowed suit, for males, speedos or other tight fitting clothing is a must, shorts will be uncomfortable under what is a skintight suit. For females, a swimsuit is suitable. If you have continence issues who may consider a swim nappy with plastic pants if you are comfortable with that.
In terms of footwear, you can never go wrong with a good pair of wetsuit booties as being barefoot is not a good idea, especially those with sensitive feet. An alternative is an old pair of trainers without normal socks although there is the option of neoprene socks,
There are two issues for headwear. The first is warmth. A full wetsuit hood may be over the top but you may consider depending on the weather a neoprene skullcap or silicone swimming hat. The second issue is protection, which means wearing a helmet for various reasons. While it often a matter of personal choice, if your movement or understanding is limited, a helmet is a very good idea,
Another option to consider waterproofs over the wetsuit to deal with splashing and rain, and there are two main options, The first is an activity specific waterproof top with neoprene cuffs, neck and often waist called a cag. The second is a lightweight one piece waterproof with neoprene cuffs called a spraysuit.
The final item is a lifejacket, which has to been worn whatever you think, and ideally, they should be fitted with a single or double crotch strap. While crotch straps are often unpopular, they stop the jacket riding up and so without the crotch strap they become useless as opposed to useful.
The alternative to wetsuits is the drysuit. This is a thick waterproof suit a tight latex neck seal and cuffs, as well as built-in latex socks, designed to actually try to keep you dry. It can come with a heavy front diangle zip or a horizontal back zip. They can come with built in gloves and a hood. It is a hard suit to put on,
Under the drysuit you can wear your street clothes, traditional thermal clothes, or a specialist one piece thermal suit called a woolly bear. Since a drysuit is time-consuming to take off, especially if you need to come ashore, regardless of your continence status, you may consider wearing a nappy or pull-up as well as plastic pants to avoid your drysuit socks being full of urine.
In summary, the articles offer many of the options to you on what to wear for dinghy sailing. It remains a personal choice but hopefully now an informed decision. I hope like myself, you have the opportunity to try dinghy sailing in a safe and comfortable way.