Sailing gear is helpful, often necessary, and often specialized gear can get expensive. Below is a selection of gear that we recommend sailors consider, and notably we're only recommending gear that we've tried or keep in our sailing bag.... And, a few less expensive options (yes, we're on a sailing budget too)!
Note: the products we recommend are available on Amazon (the "GO»"): reasonable prices and widely available. If you want, for example, a $300 Saladini Rosolino utility knife, we can point you in the right direction (incl. a free one at the bottom of the Puget Sound). Otherwise, we look at Amazon for more generic and affordable options.
Life Jackets (PFD's)
"The best life jacket is the one you wear..."
Required, and we supply PFD's on our boats. But, it's nice to have your own... A personal PFD is [frankly] cleaner than a used one, and it's sized/equipped for your preferences and size.[expand title="read more" swaptitle="read less"]Inflatables are GREAT, but note they require maintenance to work and be reliable - that said, they're often more comfortable for women (Dood's too, but for different reasons - respectfully not going there). Kayaking jackets are often a good in between, comfortable and lightweight with utility pockets for all your "stuff".
What's important is that you wear a PFD! We can debate details with the best of them, but [really] just find something comfortable that you'll WEAR - that's most important.[/expand]
General Purpose PFD
Your generic, general purpose life vest (this one by ONYX). Typically around $15-$20, this could save your life. It's comfortable enough, gets the job done....
Astral Buoyancy V-Eight
For a bit more (about $100), get a super-comfi' jacket. More "technical" with a high (doesn't ride on rails) vented back, pockets, and freedom of movement, but again worth it if you wear it!
Mustang MIT 100
A quality inflatable at the "low end" (about $130), Mustang makes quality inflatable PFDs (and stand by their gear). Lightweight and comfortable, and the auto-inflatable PFD will self-right most wearers within seconds. But, again, we caution that inflatables require maintenance!
We consider a decent knife and multi-tool as essential. Between the boat hardware and engine, there are gazillion parts and lines - each potentially problematic.[expand title="read more" swaptitle="read less"]Lines or anchor can be safety issues, and if you need a knife to cut one - you'll likely need it quickly.... Marlin Spikes can be helpful when working apart difficult knots, but often a multi-tool will perform that task adequately.
On knives, it's preferred that your utility knife is (a) sheep's foot blade (pointed blades can be dangerous on a moving deck), (b) straight edge (cuts line more cleanly than serrated), and (c) inexpensive. We've owned some extraordinary (and expensive) rigging knives, and most now sit on the bottom of the sea (dropping stuff happens...). However, a quality multi-tool is worth investing a bit more, and we support leatherman products because they're (a) excellent quality, (b) local (Portland), and (c) their warranty is fantastic.
Lights: another essential as you never know when you may be late sailing and after dark. And, even during the day it can be a challenge to rummage around a sailboat's interior compartments. A decent flashlight is critical in a COB situation, and if without running lights (or the battery dies) a prudent backup (it's legal to shine a flashlight on a sale). Simply, for about $20 - it's worth every penny when needed.
Misc: A few ideas, things sailors typically carry in their sail bag....[/expand]
Deluxe Rigging Knife
A classic and excellent rigging knife! Stainless, screw driver, marlin spike & shackle key. The blade isn't the best, but it's a tough knife. At about $20, it's well worth it. By"tough", sailor's pry impossibly bound knots, twist corroded/locked shackles, and occasionally just bang stuff (often out of frustration).
For around $20, this is a surprisingly good utility knife. A few essential tools, clips (bottle opener), and lightweight. The pointed tip isn't ideal, and operation can be "stiff" when new - but, for the money, excellent!
For around $88, one of the best multi-tools around and capable of handling most quick-need fixes on a boat. And, trust we've tested Leatherman's warranty - if it breaks (we've broken a few), they fix it.
An excellent flashlight for about $20. Waterproof, zooms, battery options, 900-lumen LED, and with an SOS strobe. Small enough to be easily stowed/pocketed & bright enough to use as backup nav light.
Waterproof Headlamp (White & Red LEDs)
Hand's free lights are essential when working lines or rummaging around at night. This light is waterproof, and the red light is a bonus (helps retain night vision). Not bright enough to use for emergency purposes, but perfect for most needs.
CamJam Cord Tightener
We'd recommend 2 of these - about $7 and with tons of uses from a tiller tamer to a quick lashing. A 100lb load limit and fits a range of line sizes.
In a pinch, there're a gazillion uses for duct tape - well worth $10 to throw a roll in your bag! We prefer Gorilla - a tad more expensive, but strong, waterproof and applies to most surfaces.
Sailing apparel, esp. foul weather gear, can get technical. With some exceptions, most outdoor gear works well enough, and so often a big investment isn't needed. If sunny...[expand title="read more" swaptitle="read less"]...and t-shirts/shorts are in order - we're not going into detail there (easy enough). BUT, there are a few things to think about:
Temperature & Water: it's usually about +10 degrees cooler on the water, and you're likely to get wet. Simply, landlubber rules don't apply on the water.
Footwear: non-marking and "swiped" soles are critical. Few things anger a skipper faster than black marks from shoes, and swiping (small slits that improve traction on a deck) makes a BIG difference when wandering around a boat!
Clothing: Cotton ain't king on the water (i.e., absorbs water). You want poly, or mixes, that won't retain moisture. Layering helps, and always bring extra layer (plenty of space on a boat).
Foulies: foul weather gear is where sailing becomes technical. Again, if you have decent outdoor gear, it should be OK. If investing in sailing foulies: (a) you go from intense activity to being prone for long periods of time, i.e., highly breathable "lightweight" gear isn't as important, (b) "gusseted" sleeves help - simply, neoprene cuffs that prevent water from rolling down your sleeve (not fun), (c) hoods, believe it or not, are fairly technical. A "deep" hood is often better, and there's a "owl" type hood wherein you can cinch the hood so only your eyes are visible. Collars are also much bigger, again protecting your face from spray and cold. and (d) pockets: sailing jackets are designed to integrate with PFD's.... And, so on - a gazillion details when you're standing watch for hours on end.
Fabrics: modern, high-tech fabrics are GREAT! Breathable and lightweight. But, don't underestimate that wool sweater in closet - often, wool is one of the best fabrics on the water. Virgin wool, especially, is fantastic in cool weather: repeals water, retains warmth when wet, and is 100% natural.[/expand]
5.11 TacLite Pro Pant
Whether sailing or boarding a pirate ship, great pants! Many technical details, incl. water resistant, reinforcement where you want it for sailing, tons of pockets, loops, etc.... For about $40-$50, a much better deal than many of the "sailing" pants.
Gill Coast Jacket
The Gill Coast Jacket is a good all-around sailing jacket for about $175-$200. Features such as fluorescent hood, inner cuff seals, pockets that drain, reflective patches and fleece hand pockets really help when in foul weather. The hood's not as deep as we'd like, but a minor detail.
Grunden's Watch Bib
Most outdoors rain pants will work in sailing, but for extended exposure you'll want a bib. Sailing bibs can be pricey, but this $70 bib will work well - made for Bering Sea fishermen, it'll keep you dry! The thigh pocket is a nice addition...
Wool Watch Cap
Another essential for the noggin when the temperature drops. About $15, and this old-school watch cap design is really warm and fits well under a foulie jacket hood.
Keen Newport H2 Sandal
In warmer weather, open-toe sandals are a no-no on a boat. Flip flops can be dangerous on the deck. These Keen sandals are a little pricey at around $70, but super comfi, non-marking, razor swiped for traction.