Personal comfort plays a big part in how much you enjoy your boating. If you own a superyacht, all you need to do is adjust the climate control but if your brand of sport puts you in close contact with the elements, you need to know you have the right level of protection. For active watersports fans, wetsuits are usually the way forward and for reliable protection in the most extreme and aggressive conditions, a drysuit is often best. But for almost everybody else who takes a boat out on the water, foul weather gear is likely to be the answer.
Keep the purpose in mind
Manufacturers love to conjure up all kinds of exotic, quasi-scientific terminology to help differentiate their own offerings from those of other brands. But there is no need to let these tactics complicate the issue, because foulies actually have a very simple job to do - and there is a significant overlap in the methods each manufacturer employs.
In the simplest terms, foul weather gear (which most commonly comprises a pair of chest-high trousers and a matching jacket) is designed to keep you dry. It does this partly by providing a barrier against the elements and partly by enabling perspiration to escape. This essential combination of waterproofing and ‘breathability’ in modern fabrics is achieved by means of tiny holes (or micro-pores), which enable the small molecules of moisture vapour to pass through, while acting as a barrier to the larger molecules of liquid water. The result is that while sweat is able to escape from the body, external rain and seawater is kept at arm’s length. And this micro-pore system is often assisted by hydrophillic (water-loving) coatings on the garment, which help draw the moisture vapour through the holes and speed up the process of water movement.
Ingenious though it sounds, even entry-level foul-weather gear from any of the major manufacturers should offer you a very decent level of breathability, so in order to generate a meaningful shortlist, you should pay attention to which of the three general categories (Coastal, Offshore or Ocean) best suits your lifestyle. The level of performance, the quality of build and the price you pay are all defined by the severity of the conditions the kit is expected to face, so you need to take the stated purpose of a foul weather garment seriously…
If, for instance, you enjoy a recreational inshore cruise with your kids, there is no need to equip yourself like Alan Priddy on a death-or-glory circumnavigation of the planet. In fact, quite the opposite is true. Not only is the extra expense unnecessary but you may well find the more restricted movement and uncompromising protection of an ocean-going garment quite aggravating on a casual weekend jaunt on the soft, sunny waters of the Solent. But by the same token, if you own a RIB and your ‘coastal’ jaunts see you going out all year round in all sorts of weather, then consider upping the ante with much higher-end garments designed for Offshore or even Ocean conditions. Apart from anything, the additional durability of more expensive foulies is likely to serve you better in the long run. In general, however, most leisure users will find mid-range lines more than adequate, especially if their boat offers decent protection courtesy of a screen or a forward cabin moulding.
Fit and style
Foulies are much more stylish and fitted than the clumsy garments of old, so it’s now possible to pick something that not only matches your technical requirements but also enables you to visit the bar at your cruising destination with your head held high. Better still, women are also now catered for with garments specifically designed for purpose. That tends to mean a cut with wider hips, shorter arms and an easy-access drop panel in the seat of the trousers to enable an impromptu heads visit without the removal of the jacket.
However, the key job of foulies is to keep you dry (not warm), so you will often need to supplement your foulie gear with some dedicated thermal layers. Naturally, these will depend on your chosen application, but they tend to include a tight-fitting base layer and a thermally efficient (often fleece) mid-layer. Every single foulie manufacturer can also now offer you a range of thermally effective garments, so it is not difficult to get a fully matching set. Just be aware that, when trying to find well-fitting foulies, you should leave enough room to move comfortably with all your required thermals in place.
Good features to look out for on jackets include harness-connecting points, light reflecting patches, fold-away hoods, fleece-lined hand warming pockets and easy access to a dedicated dry pocket. Most good quality jackets have double closures (with a zip and a Velcro storm-flap), plus adjustable fleece-lined cuffs and collar, integrated high-visibility folding hoods and robustly constructed wear patches at high-impact zones like the elbows.
Trousers tend to be chest-high, salopette-style garments designed to generate a substantial overlap for additional protection from the elements. You can expect the provision of adjustable braces for a comfortable fit but look out for useful extra features like a clear frontal pocket on the top of the leg (or indeed on the arm of the jacket) to enable you to read your navigation notes without getting them wet. And whether you’re a man or a woman, look for easy-access facilities to enable you to use the toilet without being forced to remove your PFD and jacket.
Finally, while style is a major modern priority (and rather muted grey and blue designs are now very easy to come by), it is always best to go for bright high-visibility colours and an abundance of reflective strips, whatever form of boating you enjoy.
The most important factors when choosing a set of foulies are application, material, fit, style and price, so decide what you want to use them for, find a product line that caters for your intentions and then make the judgement based on how well they are built, how comfortably they fit and how affordable they are to buy. Take a look at the following four manufacturers and you will quickly get a feel for the product line that makes the most sense for you…