Fortifying Marine Fabrics Against the Elements

Posted by at 02:32PM - Comments: (2)

Rain during this year's Miami Boat Show gave our four-year-old foul weather gear a workout.

We had an unusually soggy Miami Boat Show a few weeks ago, which gave us an opportunity to look at something we haven’t paid much attention to in a few years: waterproofing coatings for fabrics. Textile technology has seen some significant new developments since our last complete test of waterproof coatings. Chemical engineers have found new ways to impregnate fibers with coatings that can last through dozens of wash cycles. Some new after-market spray protectants have emerged as well.

One of the more interesting new apparel products that we saw at the Gill booth in Miami this year was the company's i5 layers, a breathable, insulating layer that won't absorb water. We also were attracted to the wide range of softshell jackets that were breathable, yet repelled water as effectively as a conventional nylon shell.

Despite all the advances in material technology, we’ve yet to see a waterproof, breathable material that doesn’t require some maintenance over time—and eventually falls apart. In Miami, during on-the-water testing of foul-weather gear we first reported on in 2008, we could clearly see how sunlight, washing, and regular use took their toll on water-repellency in even our favorite foul-weather gear. Meanwhile, the water beaded like pearls on some of the lower-rated jackets that had spent most their time in the locker.

The unpredictable spring sailing season is just around the corner, so now is a good time to assess your own foul-weather gear. A proper treatment isn’t hard to carry out, but it does require more time than you would expect.

We’ve covered the topic of marine fabrics—from clothes to dodgers to sails— from several different angles over the years, most recently with a look at materials like Sunbrella, used in sail covers and dodgers. If you are interested in protecting the fabrics you have, or reviving your foul-weather gear, here are a couple of articles to get you started: Caring for Marine Fabrics and Water Repellents for Fabrics. And for a limited time, I’ve opened public access to our mildew cleaner test, which is part of our three-part ebook series. Marine Cleaners, which covers everything from gelcoat repair, to boat polishes, to rust-stain removal. 

Also, subscribers can dig a little deeper with our most recent fabric test, Sunbrella vs. Weathermax, and our investigation into inexpensive cordage treatments. Subscribers can also access all of our foul-weather gear tests—men's and women's—from 2008.

Practical Sailor will be updating our test of waterproofing sprays for apparel and for boat fabrics, and I’d love to hear from readers what products they have found useful. Post your comments below for the benefit of other sailors, or email me at

Comments (2)

While I'm not currently in the market for foul weather gear having purchased a Gill OSIJ offshore jacket and West Marine Third Reef bib overalls (when I couldn't find matching Gill trousers discounted on the Internet), out of curiosity I went back to read your 2008 evaluation of men's foul weather gear. I was surprised to see you had not actually tested the gear, but merely reviewed and commented on their features. It would be most useful to scientifically test the gear for how water-repellent and breathable it is. It would also be useful to test how easy or hard it is to don the gear in the pitching cabin of a small sailboat heeled on it's ear. I found I overbought when it came to the Gill jacket. I thought at the time I would do more offshore sailing. In actual use on Chesapeake Bay during the sailing season, I find it doesn't breathe nearly enough to prevent me from ending up soaked in perspiration. With all the various bits of Velcro sticking to each other, it can be awkward to don and the zipper is very difficult to get started. It does repel rain and spray, though. A test of all of these things would have probably led me to choose a different jacket. I was actually as happy with a $35 PVC over canvas set of Helly Hansen gear that lasted 30 years until the canvas dry-rotted. I look forward to reading a comprehensive scientific test of foul weather gear in the future.

Posted by: EDMUND G | February 28, 2013 8:58 AM    Report this comment

And they look like they are having fun and staying dry!

Posted by: ALLENE N | February 27, 2013 12:14 PM    Report this comment

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